By Jack Whitmore
Editors’ Note: 3wm is hearing stories about mental health issues of Koreans and foreigners who are mostly living in Seoul. We re-post this story and earnestly ask anyone who has experienced or is experiencing a difficult relationship–which might be affected by Mental Illness–to contact 3wm about telling your story. Confidentiality guaranteed. email@example.com
3WM also contacted the author to get an update on his life as it is today. His response follows:
Life Goes On; That’s a Good Thing
Yes, we all face traumatic events, but it’s important to move forward. I’ve had much time to reflect and even if the memories fade, they will never go away. But, I’ve learned some deep truths about myself and hope others can learn from my mistakes.
I take responsibility for entering a marriage destined to fail, but public awareness is needed on mental health issues. When I escaped my marriage and a few months later divorce papers were dumped on me, I found it disturbingly ironic that I was to blame for the breakdown of the marriage, because I went to see a psychiatrist to deal with a depression over the circumstances of my marriage.
I felt panic, but a turning point occurred. At my first meeting with divorce lawyers, they’ve heard it all before so nothing surprised them. But after a long discussion, suddenly one attorney cracked jokes about my predicament and mimicked what he would say in the courtroom: “Judge, I agree that my client suffers from depression and this caused him to run away from his wife, which she calls abandonment, but judge, if you were married to this psycho-b****, you would need therapy, and flee for your life, too.”
My laughter alleviated much of the pain I felt over the years. It’s no excuse for her behavior, but life is often unfair and to obsessively dwell over these matters, makes your life stay at a standstill. I made the right decision to get out of the marriage, and I stand behind what I wrote.
Many others suffer from abusive relationships and they have similar stories to tell. Many assume it’s too unbelievable. But those who lived under similar circumstances, know that, yes these incidents occur and usually on a frequent basis if you stay in the destructive relationship.
But you still feel sorry for the one you previously loved. You want them to get psychiatric help, but unfortunately in Korea, that request will simply be ignored by the Korean-born wife. Because in the minds of a borderline woman, they think they are the only ones not suffering from a mental health issue. They see character flaws in everybody but themselves. Telling them otherwise, just means you sparked another out-of-control rage episode. Of course, they will then say, “it’s you’re fault,” and become violently abusive.
Walking away is the best solution.
A man victimized by over five years of spousal abuse from a South Korean woman tells his story. For reasons of his safety and that of his children he writes under the pseudonym of Jack Whitmore and changed names, dates and locations. Hence, Jack’s ex-wife will be identified as Lee Hae-jin, which is not her real name.
I’ll be honest, if a woman wanted to find a man who could be an easy target for manipulation games, it was me at the age of 31. I was living in Seoul, lonely and in search of a soul mate so I could get married and raise children. I was so desperate for love and companionship that I would overlook severe character flaws to make my marriage dream come true. In hindsight, my dream turned into a nightmare and it was my fault, since I saw the warning signs beforehand. But I still married her.
Let my story be a warning for any man or woman who is afraid to break off an engagement with a partner showing signs of abusive character traits. Trust me; these people only get worse and it’s better to leave sooner than later.
I remember the first night I met Lee Hae-jin. I got a phone call from a South Korean friend, Mr. Park and he asked if I wanted to go drinking with him and two women. I said I wasn’t interested, since he always brought women who have boyfriends. He said, “Jack, don’t worry these two women don’t have boyfriends, they’re fun girls and you’ll love drinking with them.”
Mr. Park gave an accurate description. They arrived together at the bar and one woman was gorgeous, while her friend was average-looking. When I saw Hae-jin (the stunning one), I saw stars in her eyes, but because I had low self-esteem, I focused my attention on her friend. To add insult to injury, Ms. Lee’s friend was not interested in talking to me.
I anticipated a long night until Hae-jin used Mr. Park as her translator and asked me questions. Many women had complained that I talk too much about myself, so I wanted to deflect the questions by asking her questions, but she said offered little information about herself and insisted I tell my story. I felt she seemed genuinely interested in me and she was a fantastic listener.
We were drinking heavily and she was smoking. She ran out of cigarettes and I went and bought a pack for her. It was a cold night and when I returned she grabbed my hands, rubbed them and placed them on her face to warm them up. Her friend and Mr. Park were so surprised by her sudden display of affection that they left.
So, I kissed her. At first, I thought she was drunk so I kissed her a second time. She kissed better than any woman I had met before. The night was magical and when it ended I thought I had found my soul mate. But, Mr. Park was in an angry mood after the blind date.
He said he had known Hae-jin all his life and never did she show so much affection to another man at the first meeting—it was clear he didn’t approve of her behavior. The public display of affection had irked him. He also hinted that her past boyfriends and suitors were emotionally wrecked by her.
But, Mr. Park called the next day and said Lee wanted to meet me again, adding that had stopped talking to her, so I must meet her without him. I agreed. I met her at the movies and she was late. We had another wonderful evening together.
But that night, alone in my apartment, I couldn’t sleep. I had odd nervous shakes and I felt an impending doom. I couldn’t understand: I finally found love and the prospect terrified me. Was I being paranoid?
I ignored the scared feelings and invited her to a Bible Study meeting at my church a week later. When I introduced her to the priest he whisked her way and demanded she leave the church and never see Jack again. He claimed he had the power to see evil in the hearts of others and believed she would destroy me. But Hae-jin ignored him and joined my Bible Study class.
Ironically, we first had sex the night after that Bible Study class. I asked her about her conversation with the minister and she told me the details. I spoke to him later and he apologized but said he worried about me—since I’m a hopeless romantic and he didn’t want me to get hurt—but promised he would never confront her again.
Well, she was wonderful for the next few weeks and introduced her family to me. They were wonderful people, especially her mother. But then, she changed. One night she cooked kimbab and insisted I eat it. I have an allergic reaction to kimbab which causes me to gag at the mere smell of it. But, she demanded I eat her food, if I loved her. Well, I tried, but I vomited. (I have an allergic reaction to the soy sauce ingredient in the kimbab, which causes my throat to close-up involuntarily.)
I never saw the same Hae-jin again. Her smile disappeared and whenever we met she was more critical than complimentary. She would scream at me inside restaurants, in public subway stations, on the streets and become insanely jealous.
One night, she called to say she wanted to leave me. I was scheduled to spend Lunar New Years holidays the next day with her family. When I spoke to her parents about the incidents, I explained I should stop seeing her. But her mother, a wealthy businesswoman, had just one question: “Do you want a BMW or Mercedes Benz?” I found this preposterous and brushed it off.
Nevertheless, I was invited to travel with them to celebrate the Lunar New Years’ days. I agreed to go, but Hae-jin talked to me very little on the trip to the rural countryside. I was planning to break-up. But a few days later, she called to tell me she was pregnant and that I must marry her. I consented to marry her, but a few hours later her friend called to say she wasn’t pregnant but still wanted to marry me. “She’s been crying and worries you won’t marry her,” she said. I told her friend, don’t worry, I’ll marry her.
But Hae-jin’s mood swings got worse. After a while, I was trying to avoid meeting her in public. Once again, she called and claimed her parents wanted her to move in with me at my apartment—she said her mother consulted a psychic and was told that Jack would break the engagement unless she lived with him before they got married. Apparently, the fortune teller failed to mention that her emotional tirades were the real reasons why Jack wanted to end the relationship.
She then promised to improve her behavior once we started living together. Nonetheless, she broke yet another promise. Within days after the move, she would start coming home late (2 a.m. or 3 a.m.) bringing friends she was partying with. If I complained, she would fly into a rage and be physically abusive. One night, she threw a sharp knife aimed at my head. I flinched but the knife stuck to the wall (another time she threw a coffee mug at me).
The terror just worsened. When she cooked meals, she would continue her tirades. In just three months, I lost about 40 pounds. I couldn’t eat. In addition, she was obsessed about suicide. She would plead with me to kill myself. I remember her saying, “I want to divorce you and you can go kill yourself.” Every day she would threaten to leave and I would plead for her to stay. When she calmed down, she would reward me with sex. This strategy worked.
Finally, enough was enough—I left the apartment and called my family to send a one-way plane ticket to California. They did and I showed up at the airport with no luggage which led to me being questioned. In embarrassment I had to explain that I was escaping my partner’s abuse. They let me get on the flight.
When I got to California, my dad confronted me and said, “Lee Hae-jin is pregnant,” while accusing me of abandonment. He ordered me to return to South Korea. I broke down and told my story and said we must think about what to do. Noticing my weight-loss, my family realized something was wrong. Simply, they said to eat.
I tried to calm down in California, but I had nightmares when I was asleep and I kept feeling her presence. My friends and family said I looked like an inmate at a North Korean prison camp, since I was so skinny and my face was devoid of emotions. They were shocked that a man, who loved to talk, was too afraid to talk anymore.
My dad received daily e-mails from Hae-jin saying that she loved me and wanted me to return. She promised to improve her behavior. After a month, I decided to return to South Korea. But it was a mistake. I can’t get into any more details, because that would fill a book; but let’s just say that the next few years were even more horrendous. I eventually got a divorce from my wife and I will be relocating to another country to escape from her abuse.
On a side note, I made it a habit to ask Korean husbands for advice. When I told them my story, I got the usual response. “You obviously don’t understand Korean women, my wife is the same, and it’s a cultural issue. Just do what we do, which is work hard and keep finding excuses not to go home. That’s why we got out drinking late at night so that our wives are asleep when we return home and we leave for work before they wake up in the morning.”
Editors’ note: Due to the extreme circumstances of this article 3WM followed up with the author who had been inspired by Thomas Holloway’s piece about a relationship gone awry. Further specific details were provided to the satisfaction of 3WM; these details have been withheld due to their possibilities of identifying the couple and fears of litigation. 3WM includes only a snippet from the follow-up correspondence with the author:
I agree it does sound far-fetched and that’s why it took so many years to explain to my family that this woman does act this way. After my separation, my sisters attempted to negotiate with her to let me see the kids. But when they witnessed her behavior, they realized I was telling the truth.
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Originally ran on Oct. 11, 2010.