Find Yourself, Part 2: A Thesis on Themes

There’s still so much left to unpack in this show, but since we didn’t want to kill our readers, we took a snack break and now we’re back to dissect its themes and take a closer look at a few key scenes/plotlines that we really wanted to nom over.

It turned out to be a greater undertaking than we anticipated—we always joke “I could write a thesis on this show!” so…we kinda did. This is our thesis.

This post is definitely brim-full of spoilers! You can navigate around this post by just clicking on the titles in the contents table below. And just in case you missed it, don’t forget to go check out Find Yourself, Part 1: A Postmortem. We hope you enjoy reading these as much as we enjoyed writing them!

Love,

Saya, missvictrix, and Paroma

P.S. Make sure to take snack breaks of your own!

Contents

(Click on the titles to get to the segments)

I. Blind dates and expiry dates

II. Skinship, waist-massages, and kisses

III. Secret relationship

IV. The breakup, or: Luming’s scheme comes to fruition

V. Sugar Mama and the adjectives

VI. Bedrooms, privacy, and personal space

VII. Happy birthday to…WHO!?

VIII. Your romance is problematic

IX. Style and styling

X. Girlfriends over scumbags

XI. Office life and other lovelines

XII. The universally relatable and the culturally specific

XIII. Conclusion

I. Blind dates and expiry dates

Saya: What I find refreshing about Fanxing is how she’s totally fine with being single. Because she’s a certain age, she’s expected to trade in her personal hopes for upholding some invisible societal standard, and everyone and their aunt tells her to settle. But she offers her own bright-eyed response to that. “I want more than just a match. I need to like him.” I have literally said the same things, word for word, as Fanxing. Doesn’t get realer than that.

I also love her defence of the blind date. Usually, noona heroines hate them, but even though she clearly meets a lot of duds, Fanxing remains endearingly uncynical. Who’s to say she won’t meet a person she likes via a blind date? It’s only a mechanism, after all.

missvictrix: She’s also a cool #girlboss which I think helps colour in the fact that she’s an awesome, capable woman who doesn’t need to get married to be complete. But that being said, her office is filled with a) young women yearning for love and marriage and b) young men that need marrying. But Fanxing is the “mother” of the office almost—as the executive in charge of the staff, and the newbie interns too. She’s looked up to with a sort of reverence, but she’s also side-eyed a bit for being so very single.

Saya: She’s the woman that everyone thinks is amazing but nobody wants to actually be because her prospects are dead at the ancient age of 32.

missvictrix: I’m not sure if I’ll be able to explain it properly, but even though Find Yourself did look at the quick, get married! pressure, I didn’t find it upsetting to watch, if that makes sense? Sometimes in noona romances or stories about “older” single women, I find myself feeling dragged down after watching. Like Oh My Baby, for instance. For all the silly, the lightness, and awesome Jang Nara-ness, that drama’s first few episodes left me feeling upset. In contrast, Find Yourself left me feeling joyful (even if we do get a close look at what it’s like to be a woman in your 30s).

Saya: YESSS to this show not making it HURT. I think this is because Fanxing is essentially a joyful character, not a broken or beaten-down one. But I also love that the show takes some really good time to examine the fact that with age—shock!—comes ageing, and the struggle to accept a new type of “first times”—the first white hair, the first age spot, the first time you pull something in your back and can’t get up for a week. I mean, awkward waist massages aside, there’s an emotional weight to all of these things. I just can’t get over how fantastically authentic this show is on all points.

missvictrix: It really is! Oh, and yeah, even right down to the thrown out back (I’ve been there!). Let’s move onto that, shall we?

Saya: Sorry, can’t move, I think I hurt my back…

II. Skinship, waist-massages, and kisses

missvictrix: Yuan Song is working as an intern in Fanxing’s office when we first meet them, and we’re told they’re somewhat at odds. But when Fanxing sprains her back and little Yuan Song helps her out with a waist massage…things get interesting.

Saya: Oh that waist massage, haha! Cracks me up! It’s SO AWKWARD, but the seriousness with which it happens is so funny!

missvictrix: Yeah, I cracked up too! It was so inappropriate, and yet, somehow worked? It’s funny how that moment of touching was the catalyst for their romance. In fact, I kind of found that the skinship was super strong in parts of the drama, and yet missing at other points.

Saya: One of my very few complaints about this show is that there overall is not nearly enough quality Fanxing-Yuan Song time, and I sorely could have done with more. I mean, yes, I am thrilled to death that they are FINALLY together…but don’t serve me dessert and kick me out the door! Give me time to eat it! After everything I went through to see them together, I want to see them together. That running hug at the end x 10,000.

missvictrix: Also more kisses would have been nice. I felt a little robbed at certain points.

Saya: Hahaha, although that reminds me that I HATED the elevator kiss, that felt way too Secret Garden, blech. He literally pinned her to the wall and she was struggling O_O …I wiped it from my memory before but now I have remembered it and I am unhappy.

missvictrix: Wait, when did that happen? I’m drawing a blank.

Saya: You know when she leaves his apartment when Minmin and friends come and mistake her for the maid? She hurries out and he follows and then he kisses her in the lift? Super aggressive and frankly disturbing, though thankfully not a pattern, just a one-off. It was one of the only things that went totally unaddressed, which makes me think this is still an overall blindspot, culturally speaking, as it is in the majority of K-dramas. Also! How he joked right at the beginning that he would report her for sexual harassment if she turned him down? Not. Funny.

But to not end on a sour note here, the thing that guts me most is the way he looks at her. Luming got nothin’ on that.

missvictrix: I agree about those gazes. I don’t remember that kiss very much for some reason, but we should probably talk about the other kiss while she’s over his house which leads to them sleeping together really early in their relationship.

Saya: Did they even have an official, Facebook-able relationship status at that point?

missvictrix: If that’s our criterion (hah): no.

Saya: I actually (surprisingly) didn’t hate that. I feel like that was good for Fanxing, because it doesn’t set up sex as a kind of holy grail, nor does it make something out of her inexperience. So often, relationship inexperience—especially sexual—is weaponised against women. Notice that it doesn’t come up later even once.

missvictrix: That’s a really good point—especially when we’re looking at a story about an older woman with less experience than her partner. When you put it like that, I like it better.

Saya: We end up with this really nice balance of disadvantages—he has more relationship experience, she has more life experience. And this kind of…equitable division of experience paves the way for them to be able to meet in the middle. If only they can overcome the 45,975 other obstacles.

III. Secret relationship

missvictrix: Is a secret relationship an obstacle or an accelerant?

Saya: I think it’s both, to be honest. For a start, a public relationship puts you under public scrutiny, and that’s a huge pressure on a new relationship. But there comes a point when the secrecy itself exerts pressure on the relationship.

missvictrix: That’s true. It does feel like we saw more of its negative pressure.

Saya: I think the thing I felt most keenly in the first phase of their relationship was when Yuan Song struggles to understand why she wants to keep it—and therefore him (as he sees it)—a secret, and he takes it really personally (understandably). Her concerns about being found out are very real—like the knowledge that it will lead to her parents being dragged, and consequently affect their place in their community—but she can’t explain them to him. It’s not like it’s ideal for her, either. A secret relationship is hard and she has to experience everything alone, totally without the usual support systems she relies on. When they break up, everything is crashing around her but nobody knows and she has to carry on with life like her heart isn’t in pieces. You don’t choose that because you want it, you choose it because the alternative is worse.

Paroma: I also felt for Yuan Song who could see how Luming as Fanxing’s ‘friend’ had kept her doubts alive. Luming had also been the one Fanxing turned to with conversations she should have been having with Yuan Song.

Saya: Fascinatingly—and incredibly realistically—it’s a miles more frank relationship after they break up, but also, it’s because they’re broken up and their relationship is no longer on the line. It’s certainly frankness they could’ve used while they were together, but at the same time, having a stage of their relationship that allowed them to hurt and be “ugly” to each other (at no cost to their relationship because there is no relationship) is what allows them to recognise, address, and eventually solve their problems. But as necessary a stage it is, breaking up sure does hurt.

IV. The breakup, or: Luming’s scheme comes to fruition

missvictrix: I hated that breakup. Ironically, it’s very public, even though their relationship was not. But beyond that, it was the fact that their clashing and lack of communication definitely reached its apex. She was honest and open with everyone but him, the person that really needed it. So while it was clear they needed to break up, it still felt like death.

Saya: Oh that break-up. It was so raw. Death is absolutely right. And as outsiders, we can see this whole string of mistakes that bring them to this point. Like, I would say Fanxing does more in the lead-up, but it’s Yuan Song who loses his head in the moment. He regrets his break-up outburst IMMEDIATELY, but by the time he turns back TWO SECONDS LATER, Luming has already swooped in??

missvictrix: I almost punched Luming through the screen at that point. Dude was ready to POUNCE.

Saya: I think a lot of what troubles me about Luming is that he has been not-so-quietly undermining her relationship with Yuan Song literally from the first moment. I believe he is sincere but I find him…ungentlemanly, and that creeping discomfort became full-blown as we went on. The other thing it does is undermine Yuan Song as a character, and so we’re deprived of better moments with him because all that screentime and development goes to Luming instead. More importantly, we’re deprived of better relationship moments between our OTP. It’s so much better when it all comes out and Yuan Song can openly “compete” with him.

missvictrix: I totally agree. He seems really pure-hearted in the sense of only “wanting one thing,” but he’s actually way too calculating to be truly pure-hearted. And the more I think about him now that the drama is over, the less I like him. He forced his way into her life and then tried to do a sneak attack into her heart (when someone else was clearly lodged there).

Saya: Gotta admit it’s gutsy, though. He plays a long game by deliberately putting himself into the friendzone in order to later win her—a short-term loss for a long-term victory. But also…the game is his downfall. Whereas Yuan Song runs on pure feeling, and I trust that more than Luming’s calculated manipulations (which are played with the kind of patience only a man of his age and achievement can have). I guess his virtue is that he’s not malicious, just single-minded about obtaining what he wants. (He is also an excellent uncle!)

On the other hand, to Yuan Song and Fanxing, it’s never, ever a game. It’s deadly earnest and all hearts on deck the entire time, there are no head-games, no mindscrews, no games of any kind. Though they are not always wholly forthcoming with each other, they don’t actively engage in manipulation or deceit.

missvictrix: Ah, it’s so pure. I think that’s what made their relationship and romance so delightful—it was just about their joy in being together, and their connection. They didn’t really have an epic romance, and didn’t need one to show us how great a couple they could be. Instead, they grabbed food a few times and mostly walked their dogs together. It’s the outside world that trips them up, takes the simplicity from their relationship, and replaces it with a jumble of problems and pressures.

Saya: So she has to believe he chooses her above younger, prettier or cuter women, and he has to believe her reasons are meaningful, and understand that being with him comes at a greater social cost to her. She’s not wrong to think her relationship with him will bring a set of difficulties she wouldn’t experience with, say, Luming (as borne out by her later experience). But she is wrong to take him for someone he isn’t. And he’s not wrong when he accuses her of coming into the relationship with an intention of breaking up with him, making it a fundamentally disingenuous contract on her part. So it’s all very tangled.

missvictrix: But even though we hate it, we can’t blame Fanxing for her reservations. They’re bubbling up under the surface, and since she’s afraid to communicate them at this point, they come out as (awkward and unfortunate) actions—for example, having Luming pretend to be her boyfriend to save face when she’s already secretly dating Yuan Song.

I struggled at this point in the drama with wanting Fanxing and Yuan Song to talk stuff out more than they did, but knowing at the same time that maybe it wouldn’t have helped them so much. What they both needed was growth. That’s why Phase 1 of their romance is so essential. It gives them a starting point which later acts as a way to correct their courses so they can enjoy an (everlasting) Phase 2.

Saya: What she doesn’t realise is that Yuan Song is not asking her to be reckless in having a relationship with him (which is how it feels to her), but he’s saying to her, believe in me. And what she’s thinking but unable to say is that she can’t. It’s much harder for her to trust him as this younger, damnably appealing man. As she sees it, he has better options. As he sees it, he is choosing HER. When it comes down to not seeing eye to eye on the foundation of the relationship, how could that relationship possibly succeed?

missvictrix: And THAT is the crux of the noona romance. It’s why we love it, and why we hate it. Why we fear it, and why we crave it.

V. Sugar Mama and the adjectives

missvictrix: They have some mountains to climb for sure, but I love how committed Yuan Song becomes in setting them and their relationship to rights post-breakup. He isn’t afraid to discover and confront his flaws or shortcomings in their relationship. He wants it to work, he wants to be hers, and he’s willing to change and grow to get there. He knows what’s wrong but can’t figure out how to fix it… but that’s where his sugar mama comes in. Okay, she’s only suspected to be a sugar mama. She’s actually his step-mama, and her insight and advice were so damn good that I was literally taking notes.

Saya: She’s such a good character, and you can see why she’s Yuan Song’s go-to advisor.

missvictrix: In one great conversation, she explains to him the difference between a sense of security and a sense of belonging. She says that relationships need both. “A sense of belonging is ‘I am yours’. But a sense of security is ‘you are mine’.” This helps our hero see what he needs to do and change, and I love the maturity of this whole thing: conversation, relationship, drama.

Saya: But I would love to see him apply that same level of frankness in his communication with Fanxing. I don’t think he’s dishonest (like remember when she asks him if he would have told her if she’d asked?), but I do think it’s a bit deliberately obtuse not to realise that he actually maybe needed to explain who this hot, sophisticated older woman he called “Meiyin Jie”, and who sent him gifts and kept calling, was. Because “you didn’t ask” isn’t a valid reason. Though that perhaps is the fault of the writing, not the boy.

missvictrix: The boy knows! At least later on. He’s amazingly aware of what he loves and values in Fanxing and tells his father that she’s “independent, capable, and kind.” I loved that string of adjectives so much. I love them to describe a heroine, and even more so that he was able to identify them in Fanxing.

Saya: And that THOSE were his reasons. When he began, I fully expected him to start with “she’s beautiful”, snooorrre.

To be fair, I actually think there’s some value in calling beauty in an older woman (considering that fading looks are another way to put older women down), but I love that it never even occurs to him to go there. It’s just not what he loves about her. He does think she’s beautiful, but that is not his reason. I mean, he doesn’t take note of her as a woman until he first sees her as a person (see: the failed first love fiasco).

VI.Bedrooms, privacy, and personal space

missvictrix: I’m always very interested in how intimacy is displayed on screen and in stories—and by that I mean emotional intimacy. How do you portray it in a way that’s compelling and real? Well, Find Yourself did this in a way that I really loved, using Faxing’s personal space: her bedroom.

Inner sanctum

She lives with her family (and her bro is in an apartment across the hall), so her room is all she’s got that’s just hers. Her sanctuary, her private place. Cue the cool juxtaposition of that very bedroom! Early in the story, Yuan Song is over there house, and “wanders” into her bedroom after his dog (BTW, I love how all three dogs in the drama are used to push the plot forward and then are subsequently ignored when no longer needed). There’s already something in the air between Fanxing and Yuan Song at this point…and there’s something so AHHHH about Fanxing walking in and finding him in her inner sanctum. It adds MORE tension and interest between them, because he’s seeing her in her space, her truest self, and her vulnerability.

Saya: My squee-o-meter exploded!! I also think there’s an element of fantasy to that whole idea of someone you like seeing your private space like that. Because like you say, that space is a metaphor for her inner self, and so, a window to her heart. And also, it’s all about HOW. The way he finds himself there is a genuine accident, he didn’t set out to “spy” on her, even if he wasn’t invited in. And once there, his exploration of it is so sensitive and starry-eyed. It also adds SO MUCH to that other little moment later—when she spends time alone in his space—and he goes into his bedroom (the bedroom that is the stand-in for HIS HEART) and finds that little doll she left him from her own room. And he crouches down and says, “Why are you here, little He Fanxing?” I DIED.

“So this is your room.”

missvictrix: But an important part of Yuan Song scoping out her boudoir is the fact that she al