May-December Romance In K-Dramas: A Couch Kimchi Roundtable


Noona and oppa romantic relationships seem to be a standard in K-dramas. Every year, the networks roll out one or two, with either a rom-com or melo storyline, showcasing a female lead with a much younger leading man or vice versa. Since there are a couple of those airing right now, the Couch Kimchi ladies decided to discuss this issue.


Clockwatcher: Generational gaps can be funny. Girls are often taught that they mature faster than boys, which is why women think that men their age are immature. Even though it’s becoming more commonplace in reality, there’s still a fantasy aspect of older women with younger guys, so, we like to see noonas go against the grain and stop fighting their feelings; likewise, we like to watch men stand up to society (and their parents) and date older girls.

Tessieroo: For me, it’s all about the chemistry – the sparks and sexual tension. If I don’t see it, then that tells me the actors themselves aren’t comfortable with the age gap. When I do see it, it helps me cheer for the OTP, no matter the age difference. I live in a society where the “dirty old men” thing was brought to my attention fairly young while the “cougar” idea is more recent. That might be the reason I’m okay with most noona relationships? I’m not sure; maybe it’s about woman power.

Goodange: I’m the same way, Tess. Regardless of the age, I always go by how good the couple looks together and if the story does a solid job of selling the attraction between them. I’m also for the empowerment of women. A month ago, I heard about a study that found that men in general (no matter how old) are hardwired to find women in their mid-20s the most desirable. So, be it in reality or fiction, when a smart, kindhearted, and beautiful older woman catches the attention of a younger man, it’s impressive to me. Romance is not a one size fits all.

Clockwatcher: Yeah, awhile ago I read something similar, that men from 15 to 45 all like girls in their 20s. LOL. It’s kind of silly and sad. I don’t know if an older woman dating a younger man is about empowerment, though, because there’s also a difference in their dynamics. Society has taught women to lean on their man or even submit to them which many find difficult to do with a younger man. But I think because of societal norms, it is nice to see younger men find older women attractive, even if society in general thinks that he shouldn’t.

Goodange: Yeah, I understand. There is that long-standing tacit understanding that women should only be with people the same age or older. It seems much more acceptable for men to be with younger women than the other way around, which I think the entertainment industry has had a hand in propagating. So, what I find empowering is some women past their 30s are no longer complying with the double standard and without any agenda, just by following their heart, they’re sending a message that they’re just as attractive as women in their 20s.

Tessieroo: So, if men prefer a woman in her 20s, what happens when I hit 30? Does that mean it’s all over? *Sigh.* I need to avoid reading whatever you guys are reading. LMAO.

Goodange: LOL. Tess, you have great genes. You still look very young! I’m sure when you hit your 30s, you’ll look like you’re in your 20s.

Clockwatcher: Well, once you hit your 30s, Tess, you can simply embark on your own noona-romance. 😀



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Clockwatcher: Noona romance is more fantasy or wish-fulfillment while oppa romance is more common and “normal” in most societies. Ahjussi romances can be disturbing and is what most people reject, especially with the stereotype that men like much younger girls because they are easier to dominate and control. So, there’s nothing really special about a man dating a woman who’s six years younger because that’s really common and if anything, the character who wants the oppa relationship is the second lead childhood friend who turns evil when she realizes her oppa is in love with someone else. So, when it comes to romances where age is a factor, many people prefer the noona romances in which no one thinks the younger man is being taken advantage of; he is even considered broad-minded or daring for dating an older lady. To be honest, I’m getting more depressed thinking about this and how significant age is in determining a woman’s attractiveness to the opposite sex.

Back to dramas, what I don’t like about ajussi romances is casting young idols against men much older than they are, and then, not following through on the sexual aspect of the romance.  I think this is because the idol’s fans are vocal about their displeasure in seeing her with an old dude.

Tessieroo: I know. I got depressed earlier, Clock, but you’re right. The viewers do not want to see their female bias kissing some old guy… No, just no. I think it comes down to who the man is: Are we talking about acting opposite Rain (who is 12 years older than his current leading lady) or Kam Woo Sung (who is 20 years older than his leading lady)? Does the number of years matter? Does it depend on chemistry or is it all about who the actors are?


I love the idea of noona romances. There’s a suggestion that she’s more experienced and can teach her (potential) young lover a thing or two. *Winks* It’s both fascinating and rewarding to me when she finally gives in to those feelings. Noona actresses are also usually okay with very passionate kissing scenes and don’t do the dead fish kiss.

Was anyone besides me waiting with bated breath for Yoon Eun Hye to kiss either Yoon Seung Ho (“I Miss You“) or Yonghwa (“Marry Him If You Dare“)? We got cheated.

Goodange: The fact that Rain can still pass for a person in his 20s might make it more acceptable than Kam Woo Sung who does look his age.

Men falling for younger women has been so common on screen. Even in the earlier days of Hollywood, actors were always being paired up with younger actresses, like Fred Astaire with Leslie Caron in “Daddy Long Legs” or Gary Cooper with Audrey Hepburn in “Love in the Afternoon.” However, even Cary Grant became wary of the “dirty old man” image (probably because he tended to be in relationships with women who were young enough to be his daughters) that when he agreed to do “Charade” with Audrey Hepburn, he asked that her character be the one to pursue him. None of those pairings ever bothered me. However, upon further reflection, I think Hollywood glamorized the idea of young women with older lovers because the men were usually rich, debonair, and worldly. They had the wisdom and the financial means to fulfill the lives of their younger counterparts; conversely, the young female leads had the ability to be the only ones to tame them. I would liken Lee Beom Soo and YoonA‘s characters in “The Prime Minister and I” to those types of Hollywood leads.


Noona romances seem to reflect the cougar movement, and I agree with Tess. I like the suggestion that noonas can teach an inexperienced younger guy some things;). And it is too bad that Yoon Eun Hye couldn’t have used her skills on Seung Ho and Yonghwa. With her fantastic reputation as good kisser, they could have learned something from her. LOL.

Clockwatcher: But in Korean dramas, the noonas don’t usually teach the guys much. The ladies of “What’s Up Fox?” and “Dalja’s Spring” were inexperienced before they met their guys. The woman in “I Need Romance 3” wasn’t inexperienced in love but was a complete mess and needed the younger guy to lead her. Romantic dramas are all about couples overcoming obstacles, and I think viewers like watching the characters get over their age prejudices because it’s something we all wish we could do.

Goodange: True, though I don’t mind watching a cable drama where a noona could be a “guide” in the bedroom. LOL.