My parents had an arranged marriage in the 50s, shortly after the Korean War ended. Although their families lived within 10 miles of each other in a small town, they had never met until the wedding day.
Being in the military, my father was stationed somewhere close to the North-South border at the time. He also had a girlfriend, and according to my mom, they were living together. Gasp.
Some 200 miles down south, their parents arranged the marriage with the help of a. My father received a letter from his parents, letting him know of the arrangement and to come down for the wedding on his first available leave.
He chose not to take his leave for a long, long time.
My mom had to endure rumors and gossips flying around the small town. In those days, a young woman like her, tall with big eyes, were considered ugly. Totally opposite of today! A rumor was that the groom-to-be saw her picture and was refusing to come for his wedding. How humiliating for my mom!
Then finally one day after several threatening letters from his parents, he came to town. The town buzzed with news that the groom-to-be was getting a haircut at the barber shop. Her neighbors ran to the barber shop to get a look at the long-waited groom.
A couple days later, the wedding took place without a hitch.
My father stayed faithful to my mom. During their first year of marriage, he did receive several love letters from his former girlfriend, but he always showed them to his wife and didn’t hide his past from her.
The ancient style arranged marriages like my parents’, I think, were cruel because it allowed no room for a participant’s free will. Nowadays in Korea, arranged marriages are more of arranged dates, and the couple can either agree to or refuse the marriage.