I first heard about Dating Around via all-caps Twitter conversations about the newish Netflix reality show. Tweets to the effect of “CAN YOU BELIEVE JUSTIN?” and “I HAVE THOUGHTS ABOUT DATING AROUND” really sold it—anyone yelling makes me feel like I’m in trouble for not doing what they want.
So I hunkered down to watch the show, which has an interesting premise: On each episode, an eligible single goes on an identical blind date with five different people over the course of five nights, and ultimately chooses one (or none). I appreciated the show’s diversity; the six-episode series features daters like Mila, a black lesbian woman; Leonard, an elderly widower; Gurki, an Indian-American divorcée; and Lex, a gay Asian man.
Still, as a minority and a woman, watching Dating Around was yet another reminder that straight white men are still the default in America—and that sometimes, they just don’t “get it.” It’s puzzling that the show’s makers decided to kick off with Luke, a straight white dude in real estate. Luke is sweet and all, but the most memorable conversation in his episode involves his date explaining why she enjoys smacking her lips while eating. Contrast that with Gurki’s episode, where she talks about marriage taboos in Indian culture, or Mila’s, which tackles important topics like biphobia.
The first episode often determines if the viewer opts to stay for the rest, so it’s telling that Dating Around launches with Luke. It’s like the audience is being eased in before they’re introduced to the more “ethnic” or “edgy” people, lest Colleen in Idaho has a heart attack while hearing about lesbian scissoring.
The show’s most fascinating discussion occurs between Gurki and Justin, a white guy who looks like the coach of a minor-league sports team in Florida. Gurki tells him about her divorce; she married a person simply because they’d dated for a long time and were from the same region, even though she knew the relationship was doomed. She comes from a culture, she explains, where it’s taboo to date someone for an extended period and not get married. As a Chinese immigrant, I get that. Like Gurki’s parents, my grandparents had an arranged marriage, and in general in my culture, dating a lot of people is frowned upon.
Justin isn’t obligated to agree with her; listening would have sufficed. Instead, he attacks her, telling her she’s a liar who’s ruined eight years of her life. If Gurki hadn’t told him to piss off, I would’ve jumped through the screen and done it myself. Twitter wasn’t having it either.
I'm watching #DatingAround and the episode with Gurki, a Punjabi woman, is explaining the cultural pressures of being married (including arranged marriage) to some white fuckboy Justin who talks over her and calls her a liar and honestly I'm just so mad.
— Vanessa Giron (@vanesssagiron) February 14, 2019
Gurki deserves a thumps up for dealing with Justin and his verbal abusive attacking towards her, her past, her vulnerability to share, and her culture. Smile Gurki and thank him for showing his true colors. #DatingAround
— ThickMiss (@Rainkyri) February 24, 2019
The episode left me torn. On one hand, I think their exchange has the potential to open up a dialogue among viewers about culture clashes, communication, and being open to different perspectives. On the other, why is it that a learning opportunity for a white person has to be at the cost of a person of color reliving her pain and defending herself at every turn? Just so, what, a guy with a neck beard can maybe try empathy on for size?
I appreciate the show for representing the new wave of American, which is less straight, more digital, and more confusing than ever before. I learned about stem (not the academic disciplines), AG, and lipstick lesbians, and got more insight into what it must be like to navigate coming out, gay dating, and being a person who’s looking for a connection after decades of being with the love of their life.
Just binged “Dating Around” and it’s genuinely horrifying what straight women and gay men have to go through. How are men so… bad?
— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) February 24, 2019
If Dating Around season two becomes a reality, I hope the producers start off with a bang and not a smack. Pick better people and hold them more accountable. “White bro refuses to learn” shouldn’t be a genre of entertainment.
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