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!
Saya, missvictrix, and Paroma
P.S. Make sure to take snack breaks of your own!
(Click on the titles to get to the segments)
III. Secret relationship
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.
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.
missvictrix: But an important part of Yuan Song scoping out her boudoir is the fact that she also turns up to witness it. It’s squee central (see above), but it pulls them together because she’s there, seeing him see.
Saya: There’s a sense of permission to it.
missvictrix: Contrast that to later in the drama when Fanxing is dating Luming. He’s constantly projecting himself into their household and one time when Fanxing is noticeably absent, her mother lets him sleep in her bed. Fanxing, when she finds out, is understandably horrified and upset. It says important things about how she feels about Luming—but more than that, it’s the contrast between this reaction, and the one she had when Yuan Song was in her room.
Saya: Yes!! I honestly personally felt violated by it, though I think the situation was less Luming’s doing and more her mother’s. Still, Luming’s entire courtship is characterised by how he wiggles his way into intimate spaces (by which I mean getting in with her family and friends, not sexually), and more often than not, just gatecrashes her. There’s a tang of disregard for her boundaries to it, which is another reason why Luming often left me feeling very uncomfortable. If he had but asked.
Paroma: But Luming NEVER asks. He assumes, he guesses, he theorises, and he plans. But he never directly asks, because he’s far too used to negotiations where you avoid the NO and work to make it a YES by piling all advantages quietly on your side.
Saya: Exactly. He’s a stampeding dinosaur where Yuan Song’s entire approach is so much more of a gentle questing. And if they reach a point of decision, he doesn’t force the question in a way that reduces Fanxing’s agency. Consequently, there’s a level of comfort and emotional trust which creates an easy intimacy between her and Yuan Song, that you never see even a glimmer of with Luming. She is close to Luming, but it has a very different quality: the closeness of friends who get each other, rather than of lovers, I suppose?
missvictrix: Bingo! But what’s interesting is that that very comfort/trust with each other doesn’t necessarily equate to an easy relationship. The drama shows us the very opposite. Fanxing and Luming might be comfortable and easy with each other, and their relationship might make “sense,” but that doesn’t make it magic. Contrast that (so many great relational contrasts in this drama!) with Fanxing and Yuan Song, who don’t make “sense” in the way society expects them too—but they have that certain…something which Luming (for all his calculating) can’t cook up between him and Fanxing.
Saya: And it’s not for lack of trying!
Paroma: Which is precisely why I think Fanxing and Luming would never have worked, Yuan Song or no Yuan Song. She may have ended up marrying him because they would be good friends and her family would approve of him, but she wouldn’t have loved him. And Fanxing is ultimately a deeply romantic girl. If she had the choice, she would wait for love.
Saya: I find that a really interesting thought, if you consider how traditional marriage works: they lean almost exclusively to practical and social benefits, and feelings are a bonus, not a given. Choice is a modern luxury.
Paroma: And yet, Fanxing had waited for her first love (crush?) for ten years. She’s a beautiful woman. There’s no way she hadn’t repeatedly met men who were as suitable as Luming in her twenties. But she waited. I don’t think she waited for the Failed First Love dude, so much as she waited to fall in love.
Saya: Aaahh, I love how you put that. You know, in many ways, Failed First Love dude isn’t unlike Luming. Both men crowded her and made demands glomped on her feelings. Except with First Love, she gave in (inexperience?), but by the time Luming rolls around, she knows herself. What I realised when I crunched the data of their respective relationships was that though Fanxing and Yuan Song are all wrong on paper, they are a perfect match of spirit. Their hearts are on the same wavelength. Their mismatch—and therefore difficulties—comes from their external situations, never from their hearts. Plus it helps when someone earns your feelings fairly, not by force.
VII. Happy birthday to…WHO!?
Saya: Ooo can we talk about what happened at the birthday party?? You know how we loved seeing Yuan Song in Fanxing’s space? Well here, it is just as delicious seeing her see him in his native habitat for the first time. DELICIOUS. Rewatch x 54,647.
missvictrix: And then 7,293 more times over here.
Saya: I’m feeling a little smug that I figured Sugar Mama out early on, and then made the !!!! connection to Dad. But despite knowing, it took NOTHING away from that fantastic reveal scene between Fanxing, Yuan Song, Luming, Stepmama and Dad AKA LUMING’S BFF (!!!!) where everything spills deliciously out and gets even MORE tangled. I don’t even know how many times I rewatched it just to see. them. pins. drop.
missvictrix: It was perfectly structured in every way, and made you do one of those cringe-squeal-gasps. Definitely one of my favorite moments of the drama.
VIII. Your romance is problematic
Saya: I was really O_O about the Canyang-Minmin OTP. I thought he was joking/humouring Minmin on her insistence to date him. But you know, she is basically a baby, whatever she says WHAT IS HE DOING
A quick lowdown for anyone who doesn’t remember: CAI MINMIN (Yu Shu Xin) is Luming’s niece and Yuan Song’s college junior. She previously had a huge crush on Yuan Song, confessed to him and was rejected, and then she fell for Canyang…one of her lecturers (after thinking he was first in love with her).
missvictrix: I think it was supposed to be about the appeal of innocence? They show him dating around like crazy, but then this pipsqueak makes him risk it all. I personally didn’t find them compatible, but I think that was The Message of this relationship.
Saya: I didn’t find them a natural couple either, but when I realised they were endgame, it made me think, well, why not? Compatibility is a really weird, unlikely equation sometimes. And I do like that it cements it as an issue of personal choice, not a result of chemistry and/or aesthetics.
Paroma: But did you guys notice that in that scene towards the end where they’re on a date and Canyang’s ex comes over to their table, she tells Minmin that while everyone thinks Canyang is a playboy, all he ever did with her is go on treks. Implying that Canyang isn’t as experienced as he likes to pretend. I think it was the show’s way of making their relationship more equal. (But it was hard for me to buy.)
Saya: Oh, wow, I remember the scene but I never thought of it that way!
missvictrix: You know I was rooting for Canyang with Fanxing’s bestie the whole time. But yeah, you’re right—and the fact that both our siblings were in relationships with a big age gap allowed a lot of cool questions about when/if it was okay. Heck, even Canyang says it’s okay for him to date young, but not his sister.
Paroma: Ah, but this he said deliberately to enrage his mom into being in his sister’s corner. Basically he sacrificed himself for Fanxing. If you re-watch the scene, you can see that once he leaves the parents’ flat, his expression immediately changes. He’s also more or less supportive of Fanxing and Yuan Song before that outburst, and you can see the siblings chilling together a few minutes later, and Fanxing clearly understands why he antagonised their mom. I know they didn’t come out and say it, but that outburst was very out of character for Canyang, so I watched it again and it made sense.
missvictrix: Huh, I didn’t read it like that at all!
Saya: Wow, I feel like I watched that whole scene all wrong! (Or I forgot about it?) But you’re right, it’s very in-character for him to take a hit for Fanxing’s sake. (Though I am still FURIOUS about him running interference in her dating life back in their school days. Or her non-existent dating life, I should say, since he hamstrung anyone who even looked at her.)
Paroma: Oh man yes. That was MADDENING to watch. She’s your sister, not your property, you entitled douchebag!
Saya: THANK YOU, that needed to be said. But that interpretation still doesn’t quite solve the “problem” of Minmin for me. I think I would have been happy to ship them two or three years down the line, and I fully expected a two-year timeskip for AGES (I guess this is not a K-drama?), so we could solve the problem of Yuan Song going abroad and Minmin being Canyang’s student. I mean, was she even 20?!
missvictrix: Well, I’m admittedly biased against her because the “happy virus” girl that bounces around and expects the world to kowtow has never been the sort of female character I’m interested in. (But her zany tangoing with her uncle with hilariousssssss. They’re clearly weirdos and I love them for that.)
Paroma: Hahahaha, “happy virus”! I love this term.
Saya: Aww, you know I actually loved her—she reminded me a lot of Hwi from When the Weather Is Fine…but I didn’t love her as Canyang’s love interest.
missvictrix: You had to bring up Hwi, didn’t you?
Saya: I ADORED HWI…until they ruined her 😦
missvictrix: Wait, no spoilers!! I’m still hung up on Episode 12 or 13. I still don’t know what broke the spell, but that’s a convo for another day. Anyway, I dig the comparison. You should have mentioned sooner—it makes me like Minmin a little more.
IX. Style and styling
Saya: Did you notice how Minmin’s entire styling is deliberately childlike? All bright colours and cute, simple little shapes (check out her earrings!), almost like a grade-school kid cosplay. Don’t get me wrong, it’s adorable…but it doesn’t give off an adult vibe. Now compare that to ultra-sophisticated Fanxing.
missvictrix: Stilettos, pencil skirts, and sharp blouses, oh my! Her wardrobe was so much fun, I screencapped just to remember the outfits. But they’re really made to suit her character too—I mean, not everyone can pull off a cherry red pencil skirt. But if you’re gonna throw out your back, that is the outfit to do it in.
Saya: Hahahahaha! I can’t argue with that. It upped her hotness to melting level. (Sidenote: the very idea of trying to tell us this woman is not WILDLY DESIRABLE.)
missvictrix: Especially that gorgeous nightie I still want.
Saya: Her entire wardrobe is TO DIE FOR. That jumpsuit-nightie was the point I knew this was going to be The Show With a Thousand Screencaps. (Spoiler: there were more than a thousand. I wish I were joking. Though I think IU in Hotel Del Luna still has her beat. Where’s the helpless sweatdrop emoji when you need it…)
missvictrix: I’m glad you mention screencapping the wardrobe because….same! My current desktop picture is that shot of her in said nightie, standing in her colorful bedroom (talk about amazing set staging), thinking about life.
Saya: And that lace dress that Luming loaned her? I was a goner. I’m such a NOT-fashion person but drama outfits can really make me stop dead. My personal idea of fashion is, well, better left unspoken.
missvictrix: Three more words before we stop: hot pink stilettos. That is all.
X. Girlfriends over scumbags
missvictrix: In case we didn’t make it clear, this drama is a lot about romance. But it also features some wonderful friendships too, something I love seeing portrayed in dramas. And Fanxing and her two besties are an important part of the story, too.
Saya: I think we just pay undue attention to the romance!! But yes, EVERYONE needs girlfriends like Fanxing’s. I also really enjoyed how each friend “showcases” a different type of relationship. Fanxing is/was the single one, Xiaoyu was the married-with-kids one, and Song Xue is the childless one in a long-term relationship. They all fulfil a certain archetype. But they are far from cookie-cutter women, and I think it’s just marvellous that her friends have as much complexity as Fanxing herself does.
missvictrix: They both wrap into Fanxing’s storyline (and secret romance), but they also have Issues of their own that become great side stories. Actually, I wouldn’t have complained to see more of them and their stories—I mean, we only meet Song Xue’s significant other after nearly thirty episodes in.
Saya: YES THAT. Then I wouldn’t have shipped her with Canyang and thought the whole Minmin angle was a misdirect. (#sorrynotsorry, Minmin.)
missvictrix: Oh hi, you just mentioned my #1 SLS sadness of the drama—the ship took sail and never sank. I didn’t give up hope until the last frame of the drama.
Saya: You should have watched the credits!! Forewarned is forearmed.
missvictrix: *Runs off to figure out what you’re talking about since never watches credits*
missvictrix: (Yes, I often have to be told to go back for all the epilogues I miss. Like the little tomato plant.)
Saya: THE TOMATO <333 Wait, wrong drama. Derailing!
missvictrix: Again! Back to friendships, though.
Saya: Can we take a moment to appreciate how her girlfriends give such great advice? They don’t automatically take her side, and they aren’t afraid of being critical of each other when it’s called for. That, I feel, is only something that comes with a loooong, lived-in friendship. But it doesn’t make them stint on their support. Like, I LOVE how they rallied for her after her break-up. These busy women MADE a way to run away together and take care of Fanxing while she was hurting. They’re not just there for each other emotionally, they also support each other in incredibly practical, useful ways, and can make big life decisions with each other in mind.
Paroma: Also, I like how much they respect each other. This is shown particularly clearly when the friends find out about Xiaoyu’s husband’s cheating, and it never occurs to them to hide it from their friend. They believe that she deserves to know. It’s another matter that Xiaoyu knew and wanted to save face in front of her friends. And, I love how the confrontation that resulted between the friends, where all of Xiaoyu’s hurt and frustration spilled out on them, was so naturally built into the scene. Like, you could see the tension building and breaking. This drama never drops the ball when it comes to creating setups and perfect payoffs.
Saya: I’m honestly still haunted by the horrible texts Xiaoyu read about herself that her trash husband sent to his mistress.
Paroma: But what a marvellous revenge she cooked up. Such a clever woman!
Saya: Really. And so strong. I found it really effective in the way it challenged my own conceptions of Xiaoyu—like, I fell into a kind of unconscious assumption about her because of her married, homebody life. Which may not have been what the show set out to do, and especially as it’s something I try not to do IRL with my own friends.
missvictrix: I agree with that—we definitely see a different side to Xiaoyu as the drama progresses. And I need to talk about how much I loved when she’s giving birth and the girlfriends FLY onto the scene. It was so authentic, and so heart-warming. And the relationship between the three girls and Canyang is equally touching—they do a great job of portraying these childhood friendships that have transitioned into adulthood. They’re so full of stories and history.
Saya: Yes! They’re a gang! I love it! I also love there’s the not-so-secret group-chat that excludes him for the girls-only part of their friendship WHICH HE TOTALLY KNOWS ABOUT.
missvictrix: LOL, I love them. I love that they could just be their worst on their worst day on each other’s couches and it was all okay.
Saya: Now that we’ve started talking about them, I’m recalling so many moments of their friendship that I loved. Song Xue finding out about Fanxing’s secret boyfriend, the way Song Xue and Canyang stake out Cheating Husband, Fanxing striking out on her own in a venture that is designed to provide for both her and Xiaoyu (and therefore surrogate niece and newborn nephew). It’s like the twins extend the dragnet of their twinliness to encompass the other two friends. There’s no repaying friends like that.
XI. Office life and other lovelines
missvictrix: Not gonna lie, there were points in our main love triangle where I actually found myself more interested in the side romance between Fanxing’s co-workers. One of the designers, CHANG HUAN (Wei Zhe Ming) who works with Yuan Song, has looooong been crushing on the girl across the room, CONG XIAO (Yang Zhi Ying), who’s on top of her game in the sales team. They have a clash of circumstances that runs a bit parallel to Fanxing and Yuan Song’s, but for very different reasons.
Saya: I thought this was such a great storyline, because it dealt with the unromantic reality of the kind of choices you are forced to make. See, Cong Xiao clearly really likes him. But she weighs it against the practical concerns of whether he is long-haul husband material, and she finds he isn’t. It’s a fair reasoning, and I’ve made those same calculations. I realise this isn’t necessarily a universal experience, especially in western cultures, which aren’t really as marriage-oriented as they used to be.
missvictrix: Yeah, because I reacted to this storyline totally differently. Chang Huan has some great qualities: he’s steadfast, honest, kind-hearted, and not driven by material needs. He also has eyes only for Cong Xiao. For me, I’m not really sure I could get behind her objections 100%—or her strong-willed desire to marry a rich man and live an upper class life.
Saya: Whereas I would argue that in life, you have material needs, so it makes sense to be pragmatic in considering whether you can meet those needs with someone. This goes back to my general refrain that love is easy, but relationships are hard. Love is something you do with your heart, but relationships are a joint venture that involve all the other areas of your life. There’s a balance one always seeks, I think, when it comes to a question of marriage in a marriage-oriented society: to meet practical needs sufficiently, as well as to fulfil the emotional ones. Can’t lie though, I think it can often err on the side of material concerns (it’s not always downright materialism), particularly with elders.
But I also totally get this being quite difficult to support from a western perspective, because it just isn’t the way our societies really work anymore. Which actually brings us back around to Fanxing and her rejection of that model, which itself is still quite revolutionary.
Paroma: I would only add here that Chang Huan wasn’t just unmaterialistic, he was unambitious to the point that if they had dated earlier their relationship would have become quite bitter as Cong Xiao hustled alone to raise their socio-economic standing, while he slept in on weekends, played video games, and didn’t bother to wash his clothes for days. She needed a partner, and in the first half of the story Chang Huan was too complacent—too happy with where he was and what he was earning—to be that partner.
Saya: You make a really good point, and also very importantly to me, his drive to change demonstrated that he was able to take her needs into account. He definitely overdid it at the start, but I think it’s really important to know in a relationship that the other person will stir themselves for your sake (and you for theirs). Of course, balance in all things (don’t kill yourself Chang Huan!!), but there’s a give and take to life that every relationship requires. The ratio of giving to taking is probably one of the biggest things that predicts the healthiness and possibly longevity of a relationship, and not just in love.
Paroma: Exactly. And I just really liked that when Cong Xiao saw that potential in Chang Huan, she easily gave up on her rich-man husband-hunting. I also just liked her. How flawed she was, but also how quick to introspect and regret.
Saya: Me too! The office was a microcosm for so many different types of personalities. It really felt like people you knew in a place you worked. Like the secretary who had a crush on Chang Huan—I kept expecting her to be like an evil second-lead, but she actually turned out to be, well, real. It’s what missvictrix noted in Part 1—the drama didn’t have a villain, and it didn’t need one, because real life is so challenging and complicated all on its own.
XII. The universally relatable and the culturally specific
Saya: It’s probably clear by this point that a large part of the reason this drama resonated so much for me was because it felt so personal. Not just because I’m a single woman in my 30s, but because I’m an Asian woman. It makes me sometimes wonder, as we watch our Asian dramas, how differently a viewer experiences the perspectives within it depending on their own social contexts. As a non-native audience, we often talk about what makes our dramas universal, but particularly with this show and those like it, I feel like there’s a lot of specific personal meaning for an eastern audience, which extends to immigrants living in the west.
Paroma: It did occur to me that while Fanxing fought a hard inner battle to find the path right for her, most of the pressures on her were ones she put on herself. Her parents, while initially uncomfortable with the idea of a younger partner for her daughter, never reacted the way we know ours would.
Saya: I wonder if not having to engage in the culture actually adds more enjoyment to the drama as a whole.
Paroma: That point when Fanxing confesses her choice to her parents is the climax of the story, whereas in real life, it would be the beginning of the long war for Asian kids going hard against conventions. It would be after that point when the real battle would start, because you’re no longer fighting yourself, but the ones who have cared for you and are worrying themselves sick because of you. It would be the hardest fight because you will understand all their reasoning and know that you’re hurting them.
Saya: And that is usually a point of impasse between the generations, because knowing doesn’t mean accepting.
Paroma: Yet, in Find Yourself, Fanxing found out that once she had made the hard decision, the world outside her head was kinder than she had been to herself. So, in many ways the drama dealt beautifully with the first half of our struggle, but wished away the second, nastier half. But yes, you’re right. We definitely enjoyed the drama more because the story didn’t make us go through that aspect of reality. It’s almost a wish fulfilment fantasy tailored to fit the bruised hearts of unmarried, Asian women. (Look at me boldly mixing my metaphors. XD)
Saya: I have two stories to leave you with. The first was when I was about 20 or so, I was received a marriage proposal—no, not like that, lol, as if! Some of the elders of my clan found someone they thought would be a good match for me. I wasn’t so sure, but like Fanxing, I was doing my best to talk myself into being happy with it for the sake of my family. I remember confiding about it to a friend—Anglo-German and as white as you can imagine—who said, “…but what really strikes me is that you don’t love him.”
“Of course I don’t,” I retorted with some asperity. “That’s not how it works.”
The second is about a friend. When she was applying for housing, the clerk told her that her chances were best if she could produce a baby. “But I’m not married!” my friend replied in dismay.
“What’s that got to do with anything?” the clerk asked. What indeed!
Saya: That was long. I need a snack.
missvictrix: I need a coffee.
Paroma: I need to go watch it again.