Last summer, New Yorker Gurki Basra went on what Netflix would later describe as “a really bad date.”
The set up was part of the streaming network’s new reality series Dating Around. Each episode follows someone who is single and ready to mingle as they go on five blind dates leading to one second date. Gurki’s adventures in love were the subject of the second episode, and out of her selection of five men, one *really* stood out—but not for a good reason.
If you haven’t seen the episode yet (in which case, add the entire series immeds to your must-watch list), here’s the gist of what went down: During a conversation about her previous marriage and subsequent divorce, the dynamic between Gurki and her date Justin Tuinstra turned sour and, frankly, seriously problematic. It became clear that Gurki and Justin had different ideas of what being in love entails. When Justin insinuated that Gurki wasn’t a credible authority on love because she is divorced, Gurki clarified that though she had been in love with her partner, she also still had doubts.
“Who says ‘yes’ to getting married when you have doubts?” said Justin.
“This is called culture clash,” responded Gurki, referencing the pressure she felt from her Indian family to get married to get her then-longtime partner.
“So this is like an Indian thing?” said Justin.
“It is. It’s a very cultural thing to not understand societal pressure on getting married,” Gurki responds.
Rather than hearing her out, Justin gets frustrated, talks over her and ultimately leaves. It is the type of interaction that is a reality producer’s dream; there was drama, conflict and even tears—but more than that, there was truth. This interaction was a real reflection of what it’s like to date as a brown woman where cultural differences are often treated as strange, exotic or even deal-breakers.
Watching this episode, I was immediately brought back to the numerous times I’ve had guys grin and ask if my parents were going to arrange my marriage. These questions were never posed because they were genuinely curious about this deeply cultural Indian tradition, but as a way of mocking me, my family and my background. In Dating Around, Gurki is upfront that her parents had an arranged marriage—which, according to an 2009 ABC report is how 60% of marriages worldwide and 90% of marriages in India occur. As I watched Gurki talk about her ex and her parents, I realized dating as a brown woman can also mean doubling as a cultural educator, explaining and defending Indian cultural practices and traditions. As someone who is still learning and negotiating their Indian heritage, this is a requirement of dating that I often don’t feel properly equipped to handle. I find it exhausting, but I had long accepted that these types of interactions are just part of the dating game—until I got a window into Gurki’s love life.
I wasn’t the only one struck by Dating Around‘s second episode. After the show began streaming on Feb. 14, people were quick to point out how Gurki and Justin’s interaction exemplified how women are conditioned to think the issues of sexism and racism are in their heads.
HOLY SHIT THAT SHITTY STRAIGHT MAN IN GURKI'S EPISODE I NOW UNDERSTAND DOXXING
— E. Alex Jung (@e_alexjung) February 15, 2019
1) Gurki needs a high five and a hug 2) people defending this guy seriously need to shut the fuck up. Stop blaming the woman for not walking away. Commend her for her calmness and call him out for his ignorance and gaslighting FFS. https://t.co/2qmTpawxiY
— Poorna Bell (@poornabell) February 21, 2019
Justin was the only dude on Dating Around’s second episode with a close-minded response to the traditions and pressures Gurki was describing. That said, it wasn’t the first culture clash she’d experienced while dating—and watching it back made her rethink her previous experiences, she tells FLARE.
“As a brown woman, there are cultural nuances that you have to describe. You get stereotyped, ‘Oh yea, you’re Indian, you have those beautiful crazy weddings’—you just get so use to it. I didn’t even realize on the date what was happening until I watched it afterwards,” says Gurki, who was born in France, lived in Texas and is now working in New York as a buyer. “I just thought he was judging me for being divorced, but there was this whole other cultural thing he wasn’t even getting. I think I’m so use to it that I’ve never called out a guy on that before, but now I kind of want to.”
On Valentine’s Day this year, when Dating Around began streaming on Netflix, Gurki woke up early and signed in to watch her episode. She hadn’t seen any of the footage since it happened.
“Going through it again and seeing how horrible [Justin] was, and the fact that I was able to hold my own and that it’s OK—and getting all the love from people on social media was great closure for me,” she says. She notes that the response from viewers, of a wide variety of backgrounds, has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive.
“If it helps [provide] sympathy, understanding or empathy to people in terms of cultural nuances or being divorced, then that’s great,” she says. “I didn’t find anyone, which is fine, but even if one person is able to be better out of this, that’s so f-cking worth it.”