Super Junior’s Siwon Choi has never been my type.
He’s traditionally handsome, a devout Christian and super mega rich. All of this defies my goth girlfriend persona. We have nothing common. Hell, I don’t even listen to Super Junior that much.
But then, I saw him in the K-drama “She Was Pretty.”
Although he’s an undeniable main lead, Siwon took the backseat and played second fiddle to everyone’s current oppa Park Seo Joon. The drama is about two childhood friends who were unable to recognize each other after meeting again at a fashion magazine: Siwon the comedic, free-spirited senior editor with a heart beside Sung-joon a former introverted kid who climbed the corporate ladder in the editorial team.
So I didn’t fall for Siwon Choi in a heartbeat, I only fell for him when he was second lead.
Second leads are the key third in K-drama’s classic love triangle. They never get the person they want, but they’re just as deserving as the main character. They’re often the anti-hero of the story. But no matter how much they sacrifice, they always get the short end of the stick with a vague “happy ending” to boot.
Second leads are never the hero of the story they fall in love with.
I’ve never felt sorry for second leads. However, Siwon’s role as Shin-hyuk changed that. The love story of “She Was Pretty” revolved around how Sung-joon (Park Seo Joon) found Kim Hye-jin (Hwang Jung-eum) ugly and annoying until she got a makeover. What made Shin-hyuk stand out was he fell in love with Hye-Jin before all that.
“In my eyes, you’re a hundred times prettier,” said Shin-hyuk when she probed him about a potential girlfriend. Their relationship started out with a lot of teasing and inside jokes shared in the office. Once the friendship bloomed, he found himself falling for how hardworking, funny and amazing she was.
In an episode where Hye-Jin was missing, he got on his motorcycle and scoured the streets. Sung-joon got to her first. But on the way, Shin-hyuk got into an accident before he could get to her. The real heartbreak though was despite the sacrifices, she still wouldn’t look his way.
Shin-hyuk gave her everything he could give, whatever it takes to make her smile. Even giving up on pursuing her to make her happy.
Seeing Shin-hyuk’s fate made me realize I’m suffering from a term I’ve never heard of: second lead syndrome.
“[It’s] when rather than falling for the handsome and charming lead character—the one the plot is gunning for you to like—you set your heart on the second lead, who’s usually infinitely better but somehow not in the eyes of the lead female character,” writes SBS.
Second leads are never the hero of the story they fall in love with. Hopefully, in the distant future, they would find their own happiness. But they never find it in the finale where we can all bear witness.
Fuck the romanticization of unrequited love and hugot culture, second leads like Shin-hyuk and I deserve much, much better.
In a way, my affinity for Siwon’s character reflects my tendencies as a second lead in my own love life. I’m often never enough for the one I fall for. No matter what I say or do for them, they’ll never see me in the same light. I’m always too much or not enough.
This is no longer the case since I’ve found a partner where I’m the main lead. Still, it’s the pangs of unrequited love that stays with you. The pain helps you grow as a person. But at times, a question echoes in your head: What if I’m still not good enough?
“They did him dirty, your honor!” I wrote in my Facebook caption when a compilation of Shin-hyuk’s scenes appeared on my timeline. I still stand by it to this day. Fuck the romanticization of unrequited love and hugot culture, second leads like Shin-hyuk and I deserve much, much better.
I guess that’s the lesson second leads leave us with. Sometimes, someone you love isn’t for you—and we’ll grow from that.
Still from “She Was Pretty”