Going on a first date always sucks. Correction: Going on a first date usually sucks. OK fine, there’s the hope of a connection and the off chance that you get to learn something new. But, in my experience, a first date typically disappoints. You usually know within the first 15 minutes whether you’re interested in a second date, and if not, you have to spend the rest of the time being polite, when all you want to do is bail. For me, add the complexity of being divorced, Indian, and 38, and I usually spend most of the date hearing questionable comments and trying not to react negatively to them.
Even though first dates are miserable, when I got recruited to be on Dating Around, I assumed that since I would be committed to at least five first dates, perhaps the odds of a connection were in my favor. With a Netflix team of casting directors that knew what I was looking for, I was also hopeful that they had the resources to find me better dates than I had had luck with in the past.
I don’t discriminate on race or religion when I date and have gone out with all sorts of men. This was also the case on the show. My Dating Around dates on Netflix were a smorgasbord of bros from Puerto Rico, Lebanon, Israel, The Bronx, and Wisconsin (plus someone from the Caribbean and another Indian-American, but both were cut from final edits). We filmed Dating Around over 7-8 days and had 12-15 hour days. All that filming was then boiled down to the 26 minutes of glory you saw on Netflix.
There were many interactions that weren’t shown in the final edit, and I was surprised at the similarities between the comments I heard from my Netflix dates and what I’d heard from other dates in the past. These comments have always been off-putting, but I’ve heard them so often that I assumed they were just par for the course of dating. After getting thousands of supportive messages due to the visibility on the show, I realized that most of these interactions warranted calling out in the past.
One guy on Dating Around decided to tell me that he was spiritual and respected all religions, but that if your religion included multiple gods, he wasn’t into it. Huh?! Mind you, he had supposedly dated Indian women before and knew the odds of me being Hindu were high. The Hindu religion is based on multiple deities, and I could not figure out if he meant to take a dig, or was just so self-involved he really thought he was woke despite that comment. Did he not realize he was contradicting himself saying he was respectful of all religions except if you believed in multiple gods?
Very early on in the date, he proclaimed his motto: family, faith, and football. I knew the minute he said that it was going to be downhill from there, but I didn’t want to write him off so early on in the date, so we kept talking. When I asked him what he was looking for in a relationship, he told me that he wanted a girl that could dress up for his real estate parties but that could also sit with him in a T-shirt and jeans and watch Sunday football. I can respect someone that wants to spend time with their significant other, so I asked if he’d go to yoga with me if I wanted him to. He responded that “Stretching in a room full of chicks and gay men” wasn’t his thing.
“I see… so you want your partner to watch football if she isn’t into it, but you won’t go to yoga if she wants you to? Isn’t that a double standard?” I questioned. I don’t even remember his response as I buried myself in another rosé to make it through this date. I didn’t realize I’d end up in tears and berated for my culture, but live and learn.
In hindsight, I probably should have called off the date as soon as I saw red flags. But gaslighting at its finest had me second-guessing my own opinions of him. He was so sure about his stance. Was I the one too demanding about equality in relationships and openness to my culture? How could someone that’s lived in multicultural New York for over 10 years be so confidently close-minded? Maybe it was me that had the wrong opinions of how a relationship should work? The producers had also told me prior to the date that they really thought we would have a connection. It wasn’t until we stopped filming and the entire crew came up to me for hugs that I realized he was in the complete wrong and that a connection was never going to happen. (Next time someone orders a Miller High Life on my date, I’m paying for my check and walking out with zero explanation.)
Aside from fellow divorcee Manny, the most benign comment I got on the show about being divorced was that it was “different”. Different? More than half of marriages end up in divorce, so was it actually that different? I think it would be different if you were on a date with a person who was still married. Another guy on the show told me that he had never gone on a date with anyone divorced because he felt it showed they had different family values than his and he wanted someone family-oriented. How is being divorced an indicator that you don’t care about your family? Anyone that knows me will tell you how much I cherish my family and commit to my partnerships when in a relationship, why was the fact that I was divorced negating that?
Most dates, on- or off-camera, are disappointed when I tell them I’m divorced. “I’m sorry” is the first thing I usually hear, and then there is an awkward silence and you can see the guys’ wheels turning in their heads as they decide whether they want to salvage the date or not. I don’t judge men for all of their breakups and still being single, so why am I getting this treatment for a divorce?
Dating someone that’s divorced but still wants a long-term partnership means they actually understand the value in that commitment, I would argue more so than someone who’s never been married. They’ve experienced the negative aspects of marriage, which means they’re aware of the challenges. Plus, they’ve gone through the hoopla of a big fancy wedding, so you know their motivation to be in a relationship isn’t driven by an engagement ring, fancy dress, or Instagram photos.
Being divorced makes you that much more appreciative of a relationship where both parties want to make it work. It also makes you more understanding of how important compromise is. I’m not here to play games or win an argument, I’m here to find a partner to grow with and support. Having a piece of paper from the state provides a false sense of security, and I understand how little that piece of paper actually means without real commitment. Any man would be lucky to be my second husband.
The best (yes, this is more sarcasm) is when a guy finds out I’m of Indian descent. If they have dated other Indian women before, they will usually claim that fact proudly and say they, therefore, understand where I’m coming from. When I probe further it usually turns out that their past girlfriends were from another part of India far remote from where my family is from. There are 100+ languages spoken in India and if you looked at the diversity of cultures, that country could be its own continent. Where my family comes from (I am Jatt Sikh Punjabi; that’s right, three different superlatives to dig into) makes it so that most of the time, the only thing I have in common with the other Indian women these men have dated is skin color and a childhood diet full of turmeric and mangos.
The other guys that haven’t dated Indian women will usually be proud of the fact that they love Indian food despite the spiciness or that they know all about Indian cultures because they have been to an Indian wedding. It’s not that I don’t appreciate these men’s eagerness to connect to my Indian heritage, and I understand that our weddings are amazingly memorable, but it often just makes me feel like a token. I don’t group all white, brown, or black men in the same buckets, so it’s a mystery to me why these modern, supposedly woke, men bucket women this way.
All women regardless of culture, marital status, or age have these types of challenges while dating and it’s downright exhausting trying to manage these interactions. Looking back, I should have listened to my gut more and educated these men on the proper way to interact with a multi-dimensional woman instead of second-guessing myself. Had these men known their comments were regressive, perhaps the ones that showed potential would have taken the steps to grow.
I am by no means perfect and have done so many things in my life that others would call mistakes. But, I always appreciate it when I am made aware of my own ignorance because it gives me the opportunity to evolve. If I’ve learned anything from years of dating, it’s that the more front we can be with one another, the more opportunities we can provide for growth. In moments of frustration after dates, I’ve been totally guilty of saying that there are no good men left (I mean seriously, where are they?). But instead of complaining or settling, I think it’s due time to woman up and speak up. There’s plenty of fish in the sea, they just might need a little guidance.
Gurki Basra is an Indian-American fashion industry executive whose experience on Netflix’ Dating Around went viral when one of her dates aggressively judged her for her divorce and parent’s arranged marriage. She has an MBA and has successfully managed the businesses of over 50+ brands. She is most well known for her time at Barneys New York as Senior Buyer of Jewelry and Watches. She recently launched TeamGurki.com to empower women to break paradigms and set new standards. Additional information and Gurki’s portfolio of work can be found on her website or Instagram.
Image: Courtesy of Netflix