Enrique: You like being home that much? Doesn’t it feel suffocating to stay indoors like that all the time?
Dok Mi: It doesn’t feel suffocating. I like it, and I feel at peace in my tiny place.
I’ve always been an introvert, someone who values solitude and contemplation and doesn’t necessarily need a lot of people around me to be happy. (Extroverts, in contrast, find their natural habitat in large groups of people, where they thrive on interaction with others.) If you’re reading this, I bet you’re an introvert, too—watching enough Korean drama to develop a blog-reading habit seems like a fairly reliable litmus test for the mindset.
Another person who’s almost certainly an introvert? Go Dok Mi, the lovely, reserved heroine of Flower Boy Next Door. Or that’s my hope, anyway—Kdramas tend to see any deviation from the beloved cheery, outgoing character type as a sign of damage and weakness.
Take the drama Protect the Boss: Ji Hun, its male lead, starts off as a loner who prefers being by himself to interacting with other people. In one of the drama’s early scenes, he finds the thought of making small talk so distasteful that he ducks out of a business meeting at a norebang. This Ji Hun may be a chaebol brat, but I love him and his reluctance to be around other people. He approaches the world in a way pop culture rarely allows, and it was a way I can understand in my bones.
But by the show’s last scene, Ji Hun somehow turns into the preening, un-selfconscious star of a wedding attended by a hundred people. While there may be no such thing as a person who’s introverted all the time or extroverted all the time, this still felt disingenuous: It didn’t acknowledge the complex personality the show had established for Ji Hun early in its run. His standard-issue happy ending required that he become just like everyone else, rather than finding a way to be happy as himself.
Flower Boy Next Door’s Go Dok Mi starts off in a similar place. But while Ji Hun’s many fears and phobias literally paralyze him, Dok Mi has found a kind of comfort in her self-imposed solitude. She has a productive job and is able to be independent and make her way in life, however tentatively. Immersing herself in a world of her own devising is a defense mechanism, a form of protection against the unpredictabilities of parents who divorce and friends who betray. Dok Mi’s world isn’t such a bad place—it’s filled with books and dreams and all the other things she loves, and in it she has complete control. She manages every detail of life in her apartment with Godlike omnipotence: from the sunlight to the temperature to the amount of water needed to survive.
Dok Mi’s limited lifestyle might not be ideal, but my greatest concern is that the show—so sure-footed to this point—will eventually lose sight of the true Dok Mi, just as Protect the Boss lost sight of Ji Hun. Dok Mi could have responded to the mean-girl bullying of her high-school classmates in a lot of ways (including by committing suicide, which she considered), but she chose to take advantage of her introvert spirit and turn inward to find strength and shelter of her own manufacture.
My hope for this show is that it will ultimately acknowledge that being lonely is a different thing from valuing time spent alone. Dok Mi’s inward motivation isn’t a bad thing that needs to be fixed; it’s an unhealthy extreme that needs to be modulated. A happy ending for her should’t require that she overcome her personality to turn into an extrovert like Ji Hun. She’s already well on way to doing what’s truly necessary: finding a way to take steps in the outside world without fear.
Flower Boy Next Door has built something beautiful and rare in Dok Mi, a character in mainstream entertainment who is unmistakably introverted. To serve her well it must respect that for Dok Mi (and for me, and you, and lots of other people we know), liking to be alone is not a character flaw; it’s a character attribute.
*** *** ***
In honor of Kdrama’s greatest introvert, I thought I’d share some of my favorite characters with similar outlooks on life.
Amelie Poulain, Amelie
French movie, 2001
Raymond Dufayel: “You mean she would rather imagine herself relating to an absent person than build relationships with those around her?”
Words like “delightful” and “charming” don’t even begin to explain the giddy, fairy-tale wonder that is Amelie, probably my favorite movie. I suspect the creator of Flower Boy Next Door feels the same way—the commonalities between the two are marked: binocular-bearing peeping toms, artists known for making copies of other people’s work, and an introverted female lead who never quite knows how to relate to the people around her. Like Dok Mi, Amelie lives in carefully curated solitude, skipping stones and watching movies and eating dinner all on her own.
Set in a whimsical, color-saturated dream Paris not so different from the Seoul of FBND, this story slowly lures Amelie out of hiding and into the arms of the equally quirky and fantastic Nino, an oddball who collects torn-up images discarded at railway photo booths. I daresay FBND’s outcome will be similar. Here’s hoping it’s executed with as much dignity and respect.
Angela Chase, My So-Called Life
American TV show, 1994
Angela: I’m not saying…see there’s thinking about him, right? which is what I do. All the time. Like this…
Rayanne: Right. So?
Angela: So, it keeps me going or something. Like I need it just to get through the day. It…It’s just …
Rickie: It’s an obsession.
Angela: Right. And, and if you make it real, it’s it’s not the same. It’s not, it’s not yours anymore. I don’t know, maybe I’d rather have the fantasy than even him.
Rickie: I completely understand this.
Rayanne: I totally and completely disagree. You want Jordan Catalano in actuality because…there is no because. You just want him. Only you’re programmed to never admit it.
Rickie: That does have the ring of truth.
Angela has a bad case of adolescence: she’s nervous and moody and at odds with the world. But through it all she’s a thoughtful observer of the people around her, even as she feels fundamentally distanced from them. From hiding inside her sweater during class (see above), to her quiet voiceovers that explain things she would never say out loud, to envying Anne Frank’s years spent in hiding—with the boy she liked!—Angela is both a classic introvert and one of my very favorite characters.
Weirdly, My So-called Life features a character named Enrique (although he’s usually called Rickie). But the show’s real equivalent of FBND’s Enrique is Rayanne Graff, the wild girl overflowing with energy but utterly lacking in impulse control. Enrique may be less tortured than Rayanne, but his hunger for attention and appreciation rivals hers.
Beth March, Little Women
American novel, 1868
“There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.” —Little Women
Little Women famously revolves around the lives of the four March sisters, who live alone with their independent-minded mother while their father is off serving in the American Civil War. There’s spunky Jo, who wants to be a writer; beautiful Amy; and grown-up Meg. And the sister everyone forgets about? That would Beth, shy and quiet, who only wants to play the piano and help people.
Beth is all but a forgotten character in Little Women. But she’s still the one I looked for in every scene—just because she her personality wasn’t as forceful as her sisters’ doesn’t mean she didn’t experience the world around her, too. I think it’s time to reclaim this lost girl, who lived so much inside her head she was never even understood by the author who created her.
Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre
British novel, 1847
“I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.”—Jane Eyre
This quote is taken a bit out of context—in it, Jane is acknowledging the religion that gives her an internal moral compass people with more frivolous natures don’t understand. Still, Jane is serious and studious and often silent, a dignified heroine who’s unyieldingly self-reliant and confident in her faith.
Her lowly social status as a nanny and mindful approach to life set her apart from most of the characters in this book, but it’s clear that she doesn’t mind this much: like any introvert, the company she likes most is her own. (I guess she likes that Mr. Rochester pretty well, too.)
Jane Eyre and FBND also feature a common metaphor:
Jane Eyre and FBND also feature a common metaphor:
“That woman believes that fate is when the thread of her heart connects quietly with another’s. She thinks that that invisible string is what allows people to feel and understand each other, even with the smallest vibration. That woman feels uneasy when one heart suddenly gets mixed together with lots of different ones. So, Fate, please—don’t pull my heart so hard…” —Dok Mi, Flower Boy Next Door
“I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you—especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.”—Mr. Rochester, Jane Eyre
- Susan Cain, “The Power of Introverts” (or check out her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking)
- Jonathan Rauch, “Caring for Your Introvert”
- Radio Palava, “Myers-Briggs Dichotomies in Flower Boy Next Door”
- Idle Revelry, “Flower Boy Next Door episodes 1–4 Reflection”
- Buzzfeed, “37 Reasons Why Staying in Is the Best”
(P.S.: I promise that someday I’ll write about something other than Flower Boy Next Door. It’s got to give me my soul back first, though—either by taking a turn for the suck, or finishing up in a blaze of glory. In the meanwhile, bear with me.)