Updated: Dec 30, 2020
Question—What do you get when you combine a ferocious fur-baby, 11 disappointing dates, and a healthy dose of relationship cynicism?
Preeti Roy’s new book, Adventures in Datingland, an illustrated insight into the realities of dating as a South Asian woman. We accompany the protagonist Preetybyrd, and her sassy sidekick Lucybear as they navigate online dating, toxic masculinity, fetishization, and just plain awkward dates that make you want to dip. When reading it, it felt as though I was the one sitting opposite the ‘Carnivore’, the ‘too-old Frat guy’, the ‘Masala and Merlot lover’, and all the other awkwardly hilarious men Preetybyrd encounters. This comic book is satire at its wittiest, and an intelligent analysis of what it means to date outside your culture, as an Indian in America.
Lucybear—Preetybyrd’s adopted dog—is her protector, confidant, and all-around best friend, and we can’t stop laughing at her border-line murderous responses. It makes sense when you read it, I promise. Lucybear is often at Preetybyrd’s side at restaurants, park dates, and movie nights, never shying away from giving her own opinion about the guys in her life—“He could be a serial killer. C’est la vie!” Roy’s portrayal of Lucybear is inspired from her own fur best friend, Lucy, who she describes as “a fiercely loyal, woman’s best friend”.
The dialogue throughout the novel is punctuated by snarky jokes, sarcasm, and consistent introspective reflection of dating-life. A resounding theme I noticed, throughout the book, is expectation, rather, more importantly, when a potential partner or date fails that expectation. Expectation and disappointment—yet what we seem to see in Preetybyrd’s character is a sense of hope and self-assurance as she overcomes cringe-worthy moments, rude encounters, and a particular brand of regret when the 6ft 3 Hritik Roshan look alike turns out to be…well, not him. She is optimistic, yet confident in her self-worth, and she knows exactly when to leave a situation. For young women who feel as though the pool of eligible dates is shrinking rapidly with each passing bad date, Adventures in Datingland is a call for confidence, even if you’ve decided you’re too old to still be doing this. It’s a reminder that we as women of colour, should not tolerate casual behaviour or “compliments” (note the quotation marks) that are indicative of racial bias and active stereotypes. Through the various life situations in the book, Roy explores issues of fetishization and appropriation that are all too familiar to our community. Think: Chai Tea Lattes, Henna Tattoos, being called “exotic”. I’m confident that we have all found ourselves cringing at similar situations IRL, wondering if it’s even worth correcting the person in front of us that no, we do not speak Hindu, and no, we don’t know your friend Raj in *insert random city here*.
Introspective, hilarious, and educational- I think it’s pretty obvious that I couldn’t put Adventures in Datingland down. It’s an ode to women everywhere who are struggling to figure out dating culture and the complexities of societal standards. Roy puts it best in the preface when she writes:
“Although these stories are highly embellished, they highlight the hypocrisies in our society that tell people to be unique—but not too different, to care about inner beauty—but spend hours conforming to shallow external standards.”
It’s a tough dating world out there, but this book feels like it’s got your back. I wanted to speak to Preeti herself about the creation of her dynamic duo (Preetybyrd and Lucybear), the balance between education and entertainment, and the overall message of the book.
Q: Adventures in Datingland is a honest look into the realities of dating as a brown woman; it approaches all its complexities with a unique brand of humour and sarcasm. When did have the initial idea to publish your experiences?
Preeti: I’ve always liked to write funny stories for my own amusement, and the subject of dating is rife with opportunities for humour because ultimately it is a fast-paced, high-pressured distillation of human interaction, and there is nothing funnier than two humans trying to get along in their own bumbling way. When I shared these particular stories with my female friends, they really resonated, and this encouraged me to develop them further. I started writing the story lines as if it were a screenplay, but then when I realized how important Lucy was/is to my story, I changed them to a comic. I started pitching the idea to publishers early in 2019 after I had developed some of the stories with my artist Jamie, and when I was able to find a publisher we started working on the rest of the book.
Q: Who is Preetybyrd...truly? And has she given up on dating yet? :)
P: I would say she is sarcastic, no-nonsense, opinionated and with a very low tolerance for dumbness. She loves to poke fun at any and everything, especially herself, but she also cares deeply about those whom she loves and would go to any lengths to help them. She has not given up on dating, but is also content to spend time with good friends, by herself and with smart-aleck talking dogs.
Q: The graphics are so nuanced, and they convey Preetybyrd’s expressions perfectly. Tell me about working with Jamie Ludovise, to illustrate your words!
P: I actually found Jamie on a freelancer website. I asked her to illustrate a story for me without really having an idea of what I wanted, and she turned out to be more than perfect. She is very smart, opinionated, vegan, and an animal-lover—and I knew none of this when I picked her based on just one illustration on that website (which I don’t even remember what it is now!) Usually, I will send her a general idea of what I want along with the script and maybe some stick figure drawings, and we will have about 50-100 e-mails back and forth to get everything perfect. The more we work together, the more I am convinced that she can read my mind, because she truly is a genius with her drawing, and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to be able to work with her.
Q: I’m going to speak for everyone when I say, I wish I was Lucybear’s best friend. I need her to give me serious fashion advice and judge all the men in my life. How did you give this voice to your own dog Lucy, to create the illustrated character of Lucybear?
P: Obviously Lucy is not just a pet—she is more like a funny, angry and opinionated little person who can’t talk, but still makes her wishes known to all. She is also fiercely protective of and loving to her “inner circle,” so it’s sort of like having a little pet lion—who also happens to like belly rubs. In the book, I also use her character to say things that I think but can’t really say, so in that way she is my alter-ego and inner voice. And she really is as funny and entertaining as I portray her in the book!
Q: Your Chai Corner sections (and the whole book in general) deal with issues like appropriation, fetishization, stereotypes, and microaggressions which affect the South-Asian community as well as all BIPOC. Do you think Adventures in Datingland can be defined as “educational” as well as entertaining? Did you intend to make it both?
P: I started out making stories purely for entertainment, but when I finished writing them, I felt there was a big chunk of my story missing. I realized that it was missing context and background by me not addressing my cultural heritage, and I thought I should at least address some of the stereotypes and issues that I have faced, and that every minority person I know has faced. So in that way I did intend to make it educational for those who aren’t familiar with those issues, and also to just give representation and voice to those who do face them, so they can identify with them and feel seen. I didn’t want it to be overly pedantic as I’m obviously not a scholar on Indian culture or history, so I put some of the more factual information just on my website for those who are interested and incorporated some of the general ideas into the sections in the book.
Q: You also explore the experience of being vegetarian, facing pressure (or ignorance) from friends or dates regarding your food choices. This is something I haven’t seen people talk about enough! Why did you include this in your book?
P: Because it is something I’ve dealt with my whole life! I stopped eating meat when I was 12, primarily because I think it’s wrong to eat animals, but for a long time I didn’t want to tell people that, because I didn’t want to be confrontational, so I would say it was for religious or cultural reasons. I quit doing that because I no longer feel that I should avoid “rocking the boat” just to be polite or because it’s the status quo. Eating meat is eating dead animals, and we really shouldn’t sugar-coat it or pretend that’s not what it is. Now I’m not perfect it any way, and I don’t go out of my way to tell people what to eat or not eat, but I also don’t feel that I should have to explain why I am a vegetarian to everyone I meet or convince them that is an acceptable choice. The real question is why do we continue to inflict harm and cause suffering when there are so many more sustainable and healthier options available and why is it still the status quo?
Q: Continuing on with that, tell me about your next venture: a vegetarian cookbook with sous-chef Lucy! I am super excited for that!
P: Thank you! I actually started cooking for myself because I’m a very picky eater, and there are a ton of things I don’t eat. For a vegetarian, there are a surprising amount of vegetables I don’t like! A lot of people I know want to eat healthier or with less meat, but they don’t know how. I was fortunate to grow up with a mother who is an amazing cook and makes all kinds of cuisines, but a lot of people don’t have that background. My idea is to present the basics of cooking in a way that simplifies things that may be confusing to those who aren’t familiar, like how to use different herbs and spices without buying a bunch of stuff that will get wasted, or how to make a basic sauce that you can use with any dish. You know what they say: “You can give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. But you can teach a man to fish, and if he doesn’t like fish, he better know how to cook something else.”
Q: If you could give Adventures in Datingland to one person in your life (past or present), who would you give it to?
P: Now this is easy—I would give it to my boyfriend Sean who passed away in 2018 from a brain aneurysm and partly inspired me to write this book because he loved my writing so much. He used to quote lines from my stories because he thought they were so funny, and he laughed more than anyone I know. A lot of people ask me if these are true stories, and I would say that every story has some element of truth in it, whether it is something I directly experienced or vastly embellished, and most stories are a combination of different encounters. So, I would like some of the men who inspired these stories to read them, just to get a clue, but chances are they wouldn’t find it very amusing or be receptive to that.
Q: This book can be described as ‘Sex and the City’ for brown folk - and I can seriously see why! It’s fun, fresh, and we all want to be your best friend. Do you see yourself as a Carrie Bradshaw character (or more a Miranda, Samantha, or Charlotte)?
P: I do see myself as Carrie, especially since I am a writer! But I want to move more towards being Samantha, not because she is wilder and more rambunctious than the others, but because she seems the most comfortable in her own skin. She doesn’t need a man to complete her and doesn’t apologize for being amazing. I think we all need that kind of self-confidence and bravery to unabashedly be ourselves.
Q: Finally, what is the main ‘message’ you want readers to take away after reading this insight into your dating life?
P: To not be afraid to go against the crowd and to treat yourself as well as you treat those that you love.
To follow Preeti’s journey and learn more, check out her website and socials:
@preetybyrd on Instagram and Twitter.
Ketki currently studies Classics and English Literature at King’s College London. She is the deputy editor-in-chief of Strand Magazine, KCL’s ‘Arts and Culture’ publication. She explores what "multi-cultural identity" looks like, in London and beyond, within her writing. She is the author of the exclusive digital column "Ketki & The City", which explores life at the intersection of Gen Z and diaspora.