How Dating My Reality Show Director Opened Me Up To A Real Relationship
Gurki Basra went on Netflix’s Dating Around on a whim. She never expected to find love with the man behind the camera.
Gurki Basra worked for 15 years as a retail and fashion strategy expert, managing the businesses of over 50 brands across a wide variety of categories to great success. In 2019, Basra was featured on the Netflix show Dating Around, a spur-of-the-moment audition decision which she hoped would portray a happily divorced woman in her 30s. Her episode was one of the most widely talked about of season 1 due to a contentious date with a man named Justin. Despite that awful encounter, Dating Around proved to be fortuitous for Basra, as it introduced her to director James Adolphus, who helmed her episode.
While she didn’t find love with any of her five blind dates on the show, Basra did spend almost two years in a relationship with a man she now says will be in her life forever. It’s rare for someone to actually find love on a reality show, and rarer still for it to blossom between on- and off-camera talent. Even though the relationship is now one of friendship, Basra says it’s still a love story worth learning from. Here, Basra recounts their unconventional love story to Refinery29.
Dating Around was totally random; one of those fluke things that fell into my lap. I'm not somebody that's ever pursued a career in acting or reality TV, but one of my friends was trying out for it. My friend worked at WeWork, where Netflix was casting, at the time. He saw a sign for the show and told me, “I'm going to go. You have to go with me. You'd be perfect for this." We already had plans to meet up for happy hour after the tryouts, so I was like, Fine, throw my name into the mix, let's go.
I had lived in New York City for three years, and I'd had really shitty luck with men and pretty much written off love. When I was trying to make a decision about whether to audition or not, I was worried that nine out of 10 times there’s always bad aftermath to doing reality TV. But I also thought that maybe if young brown women [Ed. note: Basra’s parents are from the Indian state of Punjab.] saw a divorced woman who’s happy, it would be worth it because they would have a positive role model that I didn’t have growing up.
When I got divorced after five years of marriage, the stigma around it was so negative that I was very depressed. I wanted to prevent that for others if I could. You are not damaged because a relationship didn’t work out. People are complex creatures and relationships in this day and age are very difficult. If you don’t believe me, go listen to my favourite podcast host/therapist Esther Perel! She will break it down for you.
But I digress; back to Dating Around. There were a few rounds of interviews, and I told the casting directors, producers, and Netflix executives that I don't date a lot, because usually after the first date, you realise somebody is not the man that you're going to be with forever. Plus at the time, I was super focused on my career. I told them, I'm kind of picky, and I'm not going to force myself if I go on dates with these guys and I'm not into it. They were totally fine with it. They just wanted to showcase real people.
All the guys I dated — aside from Justin, obviously [Ed. note: Read more about Gurki’s awful date with Justin here.] — were really great. I would totally get along with them on a friendly level, but at the time, I was 36 and in a place where I felt like, Men are fine, but I'm totally happy by myself. And they're not really worth the trouble unless it's somebody really, really special. I was happier then I had ever been while single so I didn’t want to rock that boat. I was looking for somebody that could be more long-term, and I didn’t see it with any of the men on the show. The producers were okay with it.
But something did come from me randomly deciding to do the show. James Adolphus was the director on Dating Around, and we met because he directed the episode I was in. When he first introduced himself, I had just walked on set and was completely overwhelmed because I did not realise that the show was such a production. I thought it was this small-scale independent documentary about singles in New York City. I don’t even remember what he said when he came up to me because I was still processing everything. It was probably something like, “I'm James, I'm the director. Here's how this is going to go." I remember him walking away, and me thinking, I have no idea what he just said, but he's really cute. I felt an immediate attraction to him.
Even though I thought James was cute, I was still very much focused on the show. I wanted to give it a try and made sure every guy I met had my attention and that I got to know them. James is a very hands-off and serious director. He's a documentary filmmaker, so reality TV is not his schtick. He just happened to sign onto Dating Around through a friend of a friend and thought it could be a fun project. The whole time we filmed I was thinking, God, this guy is so serious. I can't even crack a joke with him or anything. Yet there was something super familiar about him, I felt like I knew him the more we spent time together working even though we weren’t exchanging any words except professional ones.
Even though the final episode is only about 27 minutes, we filmed for almost 100 hours. I was exhausted because I was also still working during the day even though we would film until 6 or 7 a.m.. I was disappointed in the dates but on one of the final days of shooting, the producers told me to call in sick and get some rest because they thought the date that night would be “The One”.
Well “The One” turned out to be Justin, and it was an awful and very emotional night. I tried to keep my shit together and reminded myself throughout the date that what he was saying wasn’t personal because he doesn’t know me, and he must have deeper issues that are triggering him. But as soon as the date was over, I broke down crying. Immediately after they cut, James came up to me right away and asked, "Are you okay? Do you need a hug?” That's how the ice broke.
Within the industry, it's taboo to date talent. Usually there's a very clear line of no dating the cast, no talking to them on a personal level, et cetera, when you're a part of the crew. But I think it seemed like an exception because of that horrible situation with Justin. I cried while James and I hugged, we talked a bit more, and then I went home.
The next time I saw him was after we had filmed every single date. It was still the summer of 2018 at this point. Because I didn’t pick anyone for a second date, the producers said, “We’ll do a fun Sex and the City moment.” We filmed the last scene of me shopping in Soho, and James was still directing. He’s actually the guy with the cute butt in the tight jeans that turns around after I walk by at the end of the episode. I had no idea the producers were going to put him in the scene. In between takes, on that final day of filming, James and I were flirting more than usual. Right before the last take he asked me on a date. He was still filming the other episodes and was leaving town two days later, but he made the time and we met up for dinner.
I didn't realise at the time that he lived in L.A. His life is hectic because he’s a film director and has a 10-year-old. We went on a date and had a really good time — he stayed over but said goodbye at sunrise and headed on his flight back to L.A. At the time, he and I barely knew each other and even though we felt a connection, it was too early to try and date long distance.
I had never met somebody like James. The more I got to know about him, the more I fell in love. You could say I was smitten. Not only is he a dad, he’s a director who started as a cinematographer/DP. He’s been to many parts of the world (I mean who the hell goes to Everest multiple times?) and has done many important documentaries about cultural and societal issues. He’s Black, which fuels his drive to work on projects that can make an impact in the world. He grew up with a lot of uncertainty in his family life.
Unlike James, my parents built a very safe environment for my brother and me. They had an arranged marriage and are very different, but to this day are still together. Even with their faults, I admire how dedicated they are to ensuring they continue to make their partnership work. Those values have influenced me deeply and what I am looking for in a partner.
James and I are very much opposite in many ways. He’s introspective and an introvert. I’m an extrovert who loves meeting people. Still, we knew we liked each other.
I'd never really pursued a guy before. I’d always followed those social norms like a guy kisses you first, he should be reaching out, etc. James is very much not like that, and he often rejects anything remotely patriarchal. This behaviour was very different for me, but it’s just part of who he is and why I fell in love with him. I ended up kissing him first, and I always joke to him that if it weren’t for me, we probably would never be in each other’s lives. He always laughs and agrees.
We kept in touch on Instagram — of course, there’s always Instagram. Even though almost no men slid into my DMs post-Dating Around, James did when he checked on me the day after the Justin altercation. He came to New York in September 2018, a couple of months after we had wrapped shooting, and commented on an IG story post of mine saying, “It’s a beautiful day. I’m here as well.” But he didn’t ask me out. It really annoyed me that he was in New York and told me he was there, but he didn’t try to make plans. I was really short with him, like, Oh, that's great. Enjoy your time. Maybe a few weeks later, I had one too many drinks, and I ended up messaging him to vent not being asked out while he was here.
He came back to New York in early November, and that time he apologised about September and begged to meet me. We went out for drinks and started dating more seriously after that. He was still on the West Coast, and I was still in New York, but we were texting and talking more frequently. He sent me flowers for my birthday in December. But a lot was still unknown. He and I are very, very different, and our lives are very different. If it wasn't for the show, we never would have met. There's no way in hell our paths would have ever crossed.
My New York lease was ending in May 2019, and I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with my life aside from continuing to get to know James. I was a bit burnt out from New York life, and I have family in California. So I put my shit in storage and went to Houston, where my family is, and spent some quality time with them while I looked for the right job opportunity in L.A. I went back and forth between L.A. and Houston all of last summer, and James and I were able to spend more quality time together during that time.
We knew we really cared about each other. At this point we had already exchanged I love yous and were talking about the future, but I still wasn’t settled. I didn’t have a job, and we were still doing long distance part of the time. It takes a while to get to know people, especially that way. Luckily, I finally got a job in August, and we moved in together.
Unfortunately, like any good love story, there was drama! A woman from James’ past found out that we were dating and reached out to give me the dirty details. Because I’ve been in a TV show, people feel like they know me. I usually welcome that because it comes from a positive place, but that situation was a bit awkward. At that point James and I had been talking for almost a year but had just scratched the surface on our relationship. I didn’t know anything about his past relationships, and we had never even had a discussion about how we felt about being friends with exes.
That person reaching out was the catalyst for real conversations we needed to have as we explored how we felt about one another’s lives and past. I wanted to go into a relationship 100% honest and on the right foot. However, at that point, we realised that we didn’t really know each other as much as we thought we did. We needed to have a lot of tough conversations with one another that we weren’t ready for.
We decided to take a break in December. I moved out and got my own apartment in L.A., but we were still talking and trying to understand one another. I was trying to figure out what I wanted out of a relationship — what are my dealbreakers, all that good stuff that you're supposed to know at this point, but I'd never really spent time thinking about or communicating. I did therapy in a relationship workshop, and James did some similar work on his end. We obviously really loved each other, but we still barely knew each other.
I was in a shitty place and so confused about my own needs and triggers. I learned that I’m actually very territorial in relationships (something I am working on). After that initial break up, I knew that regardless of James, I needed to work on my own baggage before I could be in a relationship with anyone.
Still, when L.A. went into quarantine in March, James reached out to offer me his spare bedroom in Pasadena. He didn’t want me to be alone if I couldn’t go to my family’s house in Texas. I was one of those people that wasn’t really paying attention to COVID-19 — I never thought it would turn into this. But James is a dad, so he’s always careful and makes sure he knows about anything dangerous going on. His son went to his mother’s for quarantine, so James and I actually had consecutive time alone together for the first time since we met. This was the first time that he wasn’t travelling for projects and we weren’t long distance.
Unfortunately, I lost my job due to the pandemic, which hit me on a personal level because I've always been really independent. I invested my entire career in fashion and retail, which is imploding. It's been a challenging time for me, but James was there when it all first happened and has been really supportive. He listened to all my shit when I sat there feeling sorry for myself, even though I should be grateful because there are a lot more people that are way worse off than me. He really helped me through the shock of it all.
We spent March talking about uncomfortable things, both of us figuring out what we want from life and a partnership. We talked about things we misunderstood about each other and what we both need in order to make our relationship work. I tend to make this assumption that we see the world the same way, and I realised that's not always the case and leads to many misunderstandings. There was a lot of soul-searching and talking about other people we’d dated. Everybody says relationships are work, but I’d never really understood what that meant. Now, I'm like, Oh, this is what people are talking about.
Being in each other’s face all day long, with quarantine and curfew, makes you realise quickly if you can tolerate someone long term because you don’t have the space for pretence. You have to keep it real 100% of the time or shit is not going to work! And unfortunately for us, I didn’t have work, which is what keeps me driven and focused. Being out of a job combined with my own existential crisis has James and I needing to go our separate ways as of right now.
This past year has been the most challenging of my life on many fronts, not just romantic. I find myself two years after Dating Around going from having my face on a Time Square billboard and having a career that most would kill for to living off unemployment and probably moving back home to Texas (even though that is the last thing I want to do). One of my best friends died recently, and it has me questioning my purpose in life. I am an extrovert, and not having that human interaction due to quarantine has been really tough on me.
I am an incredibly strong person, and I am still the same person I was on the show, but I am not going to lie: I am fragile and in need of more support than usual. Unfortunately, no matter how kind someone is, they aren't always able to give you what you need when they are stretched so thin themselves. James’ work is ramping up and he’s a dad, which means he doesn’t have much left for anything else. I kept getting frustrated projecting what I needed him to be for me. We love each other deeply, but we decided our relationship wasn’t going to work at this time and that I needed a break.
I hate saying that we had a failed relationship. James is incredibly special and I was still head over heels in love with him when I realised it wasn’t going to work right now. I now realise that no matter how hard you want it to work, there is no amount of therapy, self help, bending over backwards, or compromising that can be done if the person you are dating doesn’t have the space for what you need in that moment, even if it’s no fault of. Unlike my parents who made it work because they felt they had to, it's 2020, and no one has to be together. As of right now, I am going off on my own continuing search for what I need to be my best self.
I realise now that I do want to build a future with someone. This is a very different attitude I had when I went on Dating Around. At that time, I was still very cynical about dating, and that’s taken a long time for me to break out of. Falling in love with James made me realise I am capable of love, and there are plenty of fish in the sea.
Even if the relationship didn’t last forever, this whole thing still feels very serendipitous. I can honestly say after being with James, I was meant to be on the show… to learn not only that I want a relationship and love, but to learn what I want love to look like for me.
In its early days, reality TV was an easily mocked amusement that “serious” people talked about in hushed tones. Today, it’s an Emmy-awarded genre in its own right, and perhaps the most important and relevant form of entertainment in a world where we document and distribute every moment of our lives in high definition. But now, against the backdrop of anxiety-inducing headlines and societal upheaval, the previously low-stakes genre provides welcome relief (See: Hyori's Bed & Breakfast ), cultural commentary (see: Survivor ) and an examination into how the country got here (see: Vanderpump Rules). In 2020, there’s truly no escape from reality, whether it is playing out on our screens or outside our door.
As told to Lauren Le Vine.