It’s been a week since the female-centric drama Age of Youth ended, and I’m just now starting to feel that familiar emptiness knowing there won’t be a new episode every week. That happens with every drama I watch, but with Age of Youth, it’s a little different.
With a lot of my favorite shows, the characters feel more like real people I’ve bonded with rather than actors on the screen no matter how outrageous or even how bland they’re written. If I personally click with that character or just plain fall in love with them, that person is real in my eyes. So when a slice-of-life drama like this one comes along, it’s a hundred times worse. Meaning I’m totally fucked.
But I’m used to that. Usually, I can handle the tears that come with dramas exploring more realistic, everyday issues. I loved Misaeng and I loved Cheese in the Trap (before it screwed up and made me want to throw something heavy at it), but what made AoY different from those shows was that I saw so much of myself in the characters that it actually made it difficult to get through a majority of the episodes.
When I first heard about the show, I figured I’d like all the girls and then seriously connect with maybe one or two of them. But AoY did something that I find so rare for a Korean drama to do—it made each character drastically different, yet I connected with each and every one of them fully. When does that happen? For me, almost never. The only other time I remember feeling this way was with School 2013, a drama I praise for getting me to connect with almost all boys (especially Lee Jong Suk as Nam Soon and Kwak Jung Wook as Jung Ho). Man, that drama messed me up FOR LIFE. In a good way, of course.
Now, moving on—the five girls at the Belle Epoque house had very specific problems they were going through: (Spoilers after the picture below; save yourself if you haven’t seen the series yet and eventually want to. I can guarantee you right now that you want to.)
Eun Jae was consumed by her father’s death, Ye Eun was trapped in her relationship with her boyfriend, Yi Na was sleeping with multiple men as a way to cope with her near-death experience, and Jin Myung was living through life in a haze because of her comatose brother. And that was just the tip of the iceberg for those girls. On top of that, their personalities were just as different as their problems. They were very obviously their own people—not only could you tell by their wardrobes, but you could also tell by the way they carried themselves (props to the actresses for that). So with such a diverse group of girls, how was I able to see myself as each and every one of them?
I definitely have to give credit to the writers of the show for managing to make them so relatable while still maintaining their uniqueness. And they did so by taking their individual problems and still making the emotions that came with them universal. Once you broke one of the issues apart, you could see that the smaller pieces are easier to connect with.
Going into personal territory here, but I think it’s important for this post. I’m nothing like Ji Won, but like her, I’m frustrated with my lack of love life, and I’m constantly weighed down by it. I’m nothing like Ye Eun, but like her, it’s hard for me to let go of something I know I should give up. I’m nothing like Yi Na, but like her, sometimes I worry it’s too late for me to start anew. I’m nothing like Jin Myung, but like her, my obsession with obtaining a secure job often keeps me from enjoying life to the fullest.
Then, there’s our maknae, Eun Jae. If there had to be one girl in the house I’m most similar to, it would be her. One hundred and ten percent. I’m terribly shy, to the point of being socially inept, and it’s always hard for me to express how I’m feeling to others. When Eun Jae first moved into the house, I was getting so many flashbacks to my freshman year of college that I got just as angry and frustrated as she did. And when all of her pent-up emotions finally blew up at her housemates and she cried, “Can’t you be a little nicer to me?” I had to pause the episode because I could barely see through my tears.
Every time we focused in on one of the girls’ storylines, I was put in their shoes for a few minutes and I felt every single ounce of heartbreak they felt—almost like I was playing an interactive game that allowed me to “play” as a certain character for an episode—but Eun Jae was always a special case. I was her. I can say with total confidence that she is the one and only drama character I’ve ever related to like this, heart, mind, and soul.
Seeing Eun Jae’s journey—all the girls’ journies, really—to friendship and self-love was the reminder I needed that we can’t let all the negative moments in life consume us. The smaller moments of happiness may not come to us every day, but when they do, they’re always worth the pain and tears we have to endure while waiting for them. Thank you, Age of Youth, for introducing me to five girls I could see as both friends and as many different versions of myself. It’s great to have friends to love, but sometimes I forget it’s great to just love myself too.