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Breaking the taboo on breaking up

Lee Jong-min publishes nation’s first divorce magazine, looking to open up the subject


When Lee Jong-min was going through his divorce a few years ago, he had to face everything alone.

He had no access to any sort of information, and the worst part was that no one willingly stepped forward to help out. Even his closest friends left him.

The now 50-year-old Lee has since recovered, and is now remarried. Now he wants to help those going through a similar process. Despite Korea closing in on the No. 1 divorce rate among OECD nations, the general sentiment about divorce is still “put a lid on it.”

Despite the public view, Lee has stepped up to open that tightly-sealed lid. He launched a monthly magazine on divorce, the first of its kind in the nation, this February. So far, “Divorce Story” has published two issues.

Though the public is slowly moving toward opening up about the subject, Lee said the way media approaches it is myopic. “Internet divorce communities are limited to divorced men and women. Divorce-themed TV programs almost always approach it in a suggestive manner. I noticed that people were in need of a magazine that touches upon it in a broader sense,” Lee told The Korea Herald.

When the magazine first hit bookstores, people immediately criticized the launch, dismissing it as an obscene publication, and even worrying that it would encourage divorce.

Lee was rather calm in response. “It’s because Koreans have this mentality of thinking that it is ‘romance’ if it involves themselves, but ‘adultery’ when others do it. It means that people just don’t realize how painful it is unless they get directly involved.
Lee Jong-min, publisher of the nation’s first divorce magazine, talks about his intentions in launching “Divorce Story” at his office in Cheongdam-dong, Seoul. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
Lee Jong-min, publisher of the nation’s first divorce magazine, talks about his intentions in launching “Divorce Story” at his office in Cheongdam-dong, Seoul. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

“Someone had to bring the subject to the surface, I couldn’t just let the subject remain under the carpet any longer. People are aware that it needs to be talked about more overtly. In that sense, I believe I did the right thing,” he said.

Until now, out of thousands of magazines in Korea, none had touched on the subject of divorce. According to Lee, readers are already over-exposed to the idealistic charade of consumer magazines, but none were “practical.”

Despite the bumpy road ahead for the publication, Lee is positive that it will soon attract more readers. “The readership will eventually increase. Now people are just hiding their desires, but soon will start reading it. We will try our best to bring the topic out to the public. People should really start talking more about the subject. Covering up will not help solve the social problem.”

Today, on average, 300,000 couples marry annually, about 120 of whom get divorced. “The divorce rate is about 30 percent. If you count the immediate families involved in one divorce ― be it their parents or children, the magazine will have quite a huge readership that’s much more than a culinary or golf magazine I bet.”

Lee thinks both marriage and divorce should receive the same amount of attention, preparation, and significance. “Divorce and marriage are both a matter of choice, and I believe that people should give the same amount of preparation for divorce as for marriage.

“The desire for divorce is actually stronger and more passionate than desire for marriage,” he said.

He believes that the magazine can also work as a means of preventing divorce. “Since many divorce cases are attributable to the anger of the moment, I believe, readers of the magazine will get help in avoiding impulsive divorce.

“The magazine is not just for divorcees, but also a guide for the remarried couples, a solace for divorcee families, a counseling material for children, and for anyone who is interested,” he added.

Lee disagrees with those who think that the theme is limited and will soon be out of material to cover. “Fashion magazines talk about one subject, which is fashion, but has a trend to follow up every month. Likewise, divorce has a trend to chronicle and a large amount of content to fill upcoming editions,” he said.

Content also extends to related subjects like remarriage, single life, single parenting, financial advice for singles, legal advice, psychological counseling, cohabitation, match-matching, domestic violence and even dating tips, just to name a few.

“As long as people find this magazine helpful and practical, I don’t care if I make a huge profit out of this,” he said.

Lee said that he will highlight such concepts as dignity and class and goals to make “Divorce Story” a refined, top-notch reading.

“Divorce does not only affect two people, but also their children. If someone does not bring this up onto the surface now, it will only snowball into a bigger social problem. Someone had to do it.”

By Hwang Jurie  (jurie777@heraldcorp.com)
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