I think one of the things that Korra illustrates beautifully is that what people want out of relationships differs from person to person, so I decided to write an analysis/musing on each of the semi-canon ships in the snarly tangle that is Avatar shipping.
So why does Bolin like Korra? And why doesn't she like him back? I think it comes down to the fact that right now they want different things in a romantic partner, but before I dive into that, I want to talk about an initial issue between them, one that seems to have already been worked out!
The initial issue: So why does Korra shut down Bolin within seconds of meeting him? He's handsome, friendly, and he's helping her! I think the problem is that A.) Korra is accustomed to people shamelessly hitting on her and B.) She really doesn't like it.
I came to this conclusion while watching her little upset in the bar with Tahno. She's just so confident! Yes, Korra is a confident person, but she's also easily flustered when it comes to dealing with people. But with Tahno, despite his absolutely shameless innuendos, she doesn't blush or flip out or anything. She just deals with him, confidently and smoothly. And she's just as confident with Bolin when he first hits on her, though of course she's a lot less harsh, which is perfectly appropriate since Bolin is a lot less creepy.
Korra is used of this. Why? Perhaps because she's hot and she's famous? Maybe she even had a creepy little fan club down in the southern water tribe. But just because she's had experience with people shallowly hitting on her, doesn't mean that her experience goes any further than that. Before Bolin, it's possible that no one ever tried to pursue a sincere romantic relationship with her. In some ways, the shallow come-ons probably only contribute to her insecurities. (And even if it's not specific flirtatiousness that bothers her, I think Korra is wary of being objectified in general - a product of often being seen as more of a symbol than a person).
Korra wants someone who she's certain likes her for her, so it's no wonder Bolin's quick infatuation is such an immediate turn off. Indeed the success of his attempts to woo her seems directly related to how focused he is on her as a person. She likes the gift and the flowers (even though she's distracted) because they are a thank you for what she specifically did. On the other hand, she is completely dismissive of his "Alone. Together," routine. Korra does not like swagger.
But Bolin's real triumph comes in the scene in 105 where he asks her out. Sure, Korra was on the rebound, but I think what he said also made a big difference. "You're the buffest, talendest girl in the world etc." He conveys that likes her a lot, as a person, and not just in a casual/player sort of way. Indicatively she blushes and immediately asks, "That's how you really feel about me?" He's been hitting on her for several episodes, but I think this is the first time she truly realizes he's serious, and thus, the first time she's willing to even consider him romantically.
Note the word consider though. They get past this particular disconnect thanks to Bolin's honesty and persistence, but there are other roadblocks. Bolin's flirtatiousness has already considerably impeded any potential relationship for one thing, giving Korra plenty of time to fall for Mako.
What Bolin wants: At first, I thought Bolin just wanted to have fun with girl he loves. And in some ways he does! Bolin's great in that he's very open about his feelings, so I don't really have to write much here. He's very attracted to Korra and he has a great time with her, so in his mind, why shouldn't they be dating?
I do think there might just be one subconscious nuance to Bolin's interest though. He seems to really fall for her after she saves him from Amon, he gives her the "one of a kind" line after she chases off Tahno (and Bolin is clearly scared of Tahno) and he forgives her immediately after she heals him with her waterbending.
Maivry over at Avatarspirit.net made an excellent point to me that Korra's strength inspires Bolin: "I don't think Bolin explicitly wants a protector. I mean, he has Mako, so the only time he lacks a protective figure is when Mako's absent. Korra can be, too, so that doesn't really fix his problems, right? But Mako has come off as a little condescending towards Bolin a couple times, and I wonder if that encourages Bolin to be less assertive when the going gets tough. Korra, on the other hand, hasn't criticized Bolin that I can think of, but she just stands up and faces problems without saying something like, "I guess I have to handle this." She's so confident and open to helping people just because that's what she ought to do -- and she's good at it.
Although I think Bolin appreciates what Korra has done to help him, I think her actions are more conducive to inspiring him compared to Mako. He's already dependent on Mako. Perhaps what he really needs is to have some who helps him become independent."
If these are the things Bolin wants out of a relationship, then Korra suits him just perfectly. As he says, "She's fun! She's strong!" But does Bolin give Korra what she wants?
What Korra wants: As I mentioned in the Makorra essay, Korra is looking for a comrade-in-arms. She likes having fun, no doubt about it, but it's not what she equates with romance. In fact, I don't think it's even what she equates with close relationships period. Despite her perky personality, Korra seems instinctively drawn to serious people. Right now, her closest relationships in the show seem to be with Lin and Tenzin, Mr. and Mrs. Serious. And I think it's interesting that Katara was her mentor, who always seemed like the most serious, dutiful member of the original Gaang (though I'm not counting Zuko here).
I have heard arguments that it's somehow "the show" that's not taking Bolin seriously, but I don't think Bolin is a very serious person period. My mom is a little like Bolin (and she instantly connected with him) in that even when she's sad or scared, she's still putting on a bit of a show. She's flamboyant, just like Bolin is when he plays with Tenzin's limp body, tries to reason with Amon, or calls out Mako at Narook's. It doesn't make Bolin's sorrow or endangerment any less legitimate, but it does say something about his character. One of the few times I can think of that Bolin is entirely serious is in the second fight in 106. And Korra is a bit too preoccupied with Mako in that scene to really appreciate it.
Potential: Like Makorra, I think in order for this couple to happen, they are going to have meet somewhere in the middle. First off, Bolin is going to have to take life a bit more seriously. He is also going to have to prove himself as someone who can fight by Korra's side. As with the Masami essay, I am not trying to make any gender commentary here! Bolin doesn't need to "man up" in order to find a girl or anything. It is perfectly fine to have a relationship with a weaker man/stronger girl and I have seen many happy ones. But because of what Korra specifically wants, as an individual, I do think Bolin's going to have to see some more development for Borra to work. I also think the couple just needs to spend more one on one time together in general. In order for Korra to see Bolin as a comrade, they may need to go on a "life changing field trip," if you will.
But Korra may also want to reevaluate what she wants out of a relationship. She's the Avatar, so by the time she's fully realized, no one is really going to be her perfect equal. Korra may eventually realize the value of having someone she can laugh with at the end of the day, not just someone she can kick butt with. Starting with episode 4, we've seen a lot of Korra rejecting fun and pleasure for the sake of her Avatar duties. Bolin is one of the few people who can help her balance things out in this area, and she may come to understand how important that is.
Bottom line? A great couple with lots of potential. I really look forward to seeing more moments between them, and how their relationship could develop both their characters.
Excellent Borra essay, written by RuonJian @ avatarspirit.net forum. (In case you might wonder, I have his permission to post it as journal.)
There is also a Masami and Makorra version available in the forum...