Like many modern love stories, Deva Mahal’s episode of Dating Around started with an Instagram DM. A casting director from the Netflix show messaged Mahal and said that she would be a perfect fit for the show, and the R&B musician, who found the show’s first season “refreshing,” said her interest was piqued. “I’d never been on a blind date before, and I thought it would be a weird and interesting interaction…which it was,” Mahal tells Refinery29 over the phone.
Over the course of her episode, Mahal goes on five blind dates. While some turn out well — if you’re Googling “Deva and Maria still together” before the episode even ends, you’re not alone — one in particular takes a tense turn. At the end of Mahal’s night with one of her five dates, a man named True, he reveals he is polyamorous. He prefers to date multiple women at a time, but doesn’t want his partners dating other men. “Don’t you think that’s a bit one-sided?” Mahal asks. When he says he doesn’t, she adds, “You don’t think that that’s sexist?”
“No,” he says again. The camera zooms in on Mahal’s reaction, which says it all.
Despite that one date, Mahal said she had a great experience on the show. “I felt like the photographers and the videographers and the producers really took care of me. I felt really cared for while I was doing it, and then I felt really cared for watching it,” Mahal told Refinery29. The one part she couldn’t stand to watch back? Her kiss with Maria. “Just because I was like, ‘Oh, wow. That is super vulnerable.”
Refinery29: You and Maria had incredible chemistry on-screen. At what point did you realize you wanted to pick her for your second date?
"The entire time, I was looking for somebody that I had a genuine reaction to. By the time we were outside, I was like, ‘Wow, I feel connected,’ which is hard for me to imagine in such an odd setting. I kind of told myself I don’t kiss people on the first date. I told myself that I was not really sure if I wanted to kiss somebody on camera, and then when she asked me to kiss her, I was like, 'Okay, we’re gonna do this.' And then afterwards, I felt super warm and tingly, all the butterflies and things like that. When they asked me, I was like, ‘Okay, I know who I want to go on a second date with.’"
How did that second date go?
"It was super cute. We actually went out on a couple dates after that. I, for my part, was really interested in seeing if it was a connection, and I know that she was really, really keen to hang out with me, so we went on a couple dates. We’re both a little bit nerdy."
Do you still talk?
"Yeah, we talk. Obviously it’s been a really challenging time, so it’s been a lot for me to think about dating anybody right now. But we are definitely in touch. She’s great."
"I’ve never been on a date with somebody like that, who really seems to think he has the highest opinion of women, but is living such a sexist and narcissistic existence."
What was going through your mind when True started discussing his interest in only dating bisexual women and his one-sided polyamory?
"At first, it was kind of like, ‘Don’t be judgmental, listen to this person,’ but he was very wrapped up in his own narrative. I don’t think he’s been challenged enough by whoever he’s dated; I don’t think he’s been questioned a lot. I’ve never been on a date with somebody like that, who really seems to think he has the highest opinion of women, but is living such a sexist and narcissistic existence. I never felt at risk in any way and he’s a genuinely nice person, like, if you were just to see him on the street. Obviously, when you’re dating someone, you’re going to get the tea.
He talks about having a partner, his wife wanting to be kept, and first thing I thought was, Relationships take two people. You clearly wanted to keep her, or you wouldn’t have gotten married and stayed that way until you decided it was no longer convenient for you. I don’t know, there were a lot of red flags, but also I felt compassion for him, because I was like, ‘Wow, you are going to have challenging relationships.’"
Especially if he goes on dates with people who have seen this show.
"They’re gonna be like, ‘Oh, you’re that guy.’ I hope he learns from this and takes some time to really look at his choices and his belief systems."
Did you give Netflix any insight into the kinds of people you wanted to be set up with?
"I told them that I didn’t want to just date men, and I told them also that I wasn’t going to date any fascists, racists, sexists, or bigots. I was very clear about that, so it was very interesting that True showed up. But there’s only so much that people will show when they’re being interviewed, so you never know. I just needed a liberal, open-minded, open thinker who was smart and funny and interesting. Also, the other thing that I said to them was I didn’t want to date anyone who only talked about themselves and didn’t know how to ask questions."
Did you have anyone who did that? Was True like that?
"I mean, the tea was that in our date — when I’m like, ‘I’m glad you asked a question’ — was the first time he had asked me a question on the whole date. For me, those are real indicators. If you’re on a date, and they’re not trying to understand anything about you, that’s a big turn-off."
At one point, you mention to one of your dates that your dad is Taj Mahal. What is it like dating with a famous parent?
"If I had a preference, I’d rather people find out on their own, you know what I mean? I often have the experience that people are intimidated by me, so it doesn’t make it less intimidating when you’re like, ‘Oh, by the way, my dad’s an international treasure.’ So I don’t really lead with that, but I also don’t mind talking about it."
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.