Gurki Basra auditioned for Dating Around, Netflix's first-ever dating show, on a lark. The 36-year-old jewellery buyer was out for drinks with a friend who was auditioning for the show. He put her on the phone.
At first, Basra was skeptical of the idea of going on a dating show. She wasn't the "type" to do something like that. "I told the producers, 'Just so you guys know, I’m not trying to get famous. I’m not going to be making out with people on camera unless I'm really into them,'" Basra recalled on the phone with Refinery29, laughing.
But Dating Around, a meditative show that follows six people going on five first dates, isn't a typical dating show. As a divorcée now single for the first time since 1999, the show's producers decided Basra was perfect for their beautifully shot social experiment. She got it; her friend didn't.
Even after being cast Basra remained skeptical of the show. "Going into it, I was thinking: This will be a hot mess. Who are these guys who want to be on TV?" Basra said. For the most part, though, Basra was satisfied with the dates, which were carried out over the course of a week. "The majority of the guys were really cool. I keep in touch with most of them," Basra said.
This is Basra's polite way of saying she doesn't keep in touch with Justin, one of her five dates. After watching their tense interaction, it's easy to understand why. The date ends with an adversarial discussion about Basra's marriage.
In a word, things get brutal. Basra tries to explain that she caved into pressure from her Indian family to get married after five years of dating. Justin doesn't accept familial obligation as a reason for Basra to marry someone she wasn't crazy about — and he tells her so.
"Who says yes to getting married when you have doubts?" Justin questions coldly. "You ruined eight years of your life. You lied to him and yourself. You agreed to spend the rest of your life with friends and family, and it was a complete lie. How could I ever trust you? How would anyone ever trust you?" Justin then says if she "can't handle that," then she shouldn't date at all. "I'm over this," he huffs before leaving.
The following morning, Basra called in sick to work. "I was like, ‘I need to sleep in and detox from that.’ I reset and took some time for myself," she said. "I had to process a lot of random feelings because we were talking about divorce, family, and culture. It brought up this old stuff."
When Basra first met Justin, she didn't predict their date would end with such a devastating climax. He checked a lot of boxes. "I was genuinely trying to get to know this guy. I was like, ‘He’s cute! He has a successful job. He’s well-spoken. He followed his career on his own, so he’s a hard-worker.’ It took me awhile to process and realise, this is not going anywhere. And not only that, but he needs to be told," Basra told Refinery29.
As the date proceeded, Justin's close-mindedness poked through in small moments. "At one point I asked if there are any deal breakers for you, and he said, 'I would never go to yoga with my girlfriend. I don’t want to stand there and stretch with a bunch of gay dudes and chicks.’ I was like, ‘Let me get this straight. Two minutes ago, you said your girlfriend ideally has to watch football with you, even if she’s not into it. But you never do yoga with her, even if you’re not into it? That’s a huge fucking double standard," Basra said.
Still, she strove to be open-minded. "I was like, 'Maybe I need to say this in a different way. Maybe he’ll be okay after a couple of drinks,’" she said. Basra even gamely listened to Justin admit that he forced an ex-girlfriend to get rid of her cat, then broke up with her.
The point of no return came over their differing ideas of marriage, rooted in their cultural upbringings. Basra's parents, who come from the Indian state of Punjab, had an arranged marriage and met for the first time on their wedding day. Basra herself faced expectations from her family to marry her first boyfriend after a certain amount of time. "That’s what you do in Indian culture. You date someone, you get married. I had doubts, but I went through with it anyway because I wasn’t sure," Basra said. Justin, a white man, didn't try to understand her perspective.
After the first mention of her divorce, Basra said the date with Justin soured quickly. "He immediately judged me, and it kind of went freakin’ downhill from there. He would get a drink, and he would not ask me if I needed a drink. There was a lot of judgment in the whole thing. At some point, I cracked," she said. "I was just like, 'This guy is a chauvinistic asshole.'"
Eventually, Basra started talking back to Justin's proclamations, leading to their final fight. Justin gets the last word in. Basra spent some time thinking on what she would tell Justin, if she could do it over again.
"Next time you go on a date with someone that has a different background to you, keep an open mind and be careful of what you say. Words have a lot of power, and you can hurt someone's feelings by making blatant statements," she said, into the void. "I would also tell him to meet people that are different than him. Go explore and travel. See what’s out there, then make judgment calls."
While the date ends painfully, there's a fitting poetry to the episode's rhythm. After Justin leaves, Basra takes a deep breath, gets up, and walks out to the car. The next day, she goes on a date with Manny. "He was a blast. He was such a breath of fresh air," she said.
Essentially, life goes on. And that's why Basra went on Dating Around in the first place — to show that life after divorce is still a life. "I remember when I got divorced, everyone was so fucking dramatic about it. I think if there are people out there who are unhappy and in horrible marriages, it’s okay. You can make that choice," Basra said. "Life moves on. You can be happy."
While Basra chose not to go on second dates with any of the men from the show, she says going on Dating Around made her more optimistic about dating. "When I was done with the show, I thought, 'Okay, maybe there’s someone out there for me.'"
And she says the worst date of all time made her stronger. "It was almost therapeutic, in a way. Bring on the negativity. I was able to handle it. Now I can move on," Basra concluded.