& Review: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. Nonfiction. Publisher: Penguin Press June 2015

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. Nonfiction. Publisher: Penguin Press June 2015

The Book Itself: Get it? The hears in his eyes stand for romance! This cover is very Aziz – punny yet modern.

My ReviewAt some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

Some of our problems are unique to our time. “Why did this guy just text me an emoji of a pizza?” “Should I go out with this girl even though she listed Combos as one of her favorite snack foods? Combos?!” “My girlfriend just got a message from some dude named Nathan. Who’s Nathan? Did he just send her a photo of his penis? Should I check just to be sure?”

But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone. In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically. A few decades ago, people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-four. Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.

For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.

In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

I like Aziz Ansari’s comedy. I’ve watched and enjoyed his stand-up specials on Netflix, and I have watched an episode of Parks and Recreation or two. But what made me pick up his book was that it wasn’t a series of humorous essays or short stories. A lot of comedians are doing that these days, and they’re hugely popular…but I find that I’m less prone to laugh at loud when reading the comedy than when I’m seeing it.

Not that Modern Romance is so serious. There were definitely moments where I read almost an entire chapter and heard Aziz’s voice in my head. But for the bulk of the book, Ansari takes a look at what “dating” in the modern world looks like, and how and why it is so different from how our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents dated.

For starters, and for enders, the internet and cell phones have made it all harder and easier at the same time. That is the moral of the story. The topic sentence. The lead. The synopsis of this book in a nutshell (with some mention of Aziz Ansari thrown in there for clarity).

It’s also…I don’t know…kind of obvious? We’re glued to our phones and the technology around us and use that technology to find people to date. We have millions more options than our great-grandparents did, who often married their neighbor or at least someone a friend of a friend or family knew. This makes it harder to date because there is constantly someone else you could be swiping, “liking,” or expressing other electronic positivities toward. And you’re more tempted to keep dating even when you find someone pretty cool because there are so many options at the dating buffet!

And so on and so forth. All of this makes sense when you read it, but after a few chapters of it, it begins to seem so logical it’s kind of obvious. Yeah, dating apps are a cool leap forward, but it’s changing how we meet people and stay faithful and live our lives, etc. And after the third or fourth iteration of that, you begin to go “Okay, yeah…now what?” As in, tell me something I don’t know.

Cue the international contingent. Aziz and his sociologist/research buddies went abroad and researched the modern dating lives of cultures not of the North America variety. And I found that fascinating. Especially the powerful online presence of young Saudi Arabian people, and how social media and dating/meeting people apps were affecting dating and meeting people in a country with much stricter rules than us over here in the continental US. And the lackadaisical mindset of Buenos Aires 20 somethings – how those apps are helping or hindering their opportunities to meet, date, hook-up, and hook-up again.  I wanted this section to be the whole book! I loved seeing the way modern invention and technology was changing people’s love lives that weren’t mine.  I wanted to read about the whole world!

But alas, that was only one chapter. I wished it were more, because I really found that interesting, and would have really sunk my teeth into a book like that. As it stands, Modern Romance is good, funny, if a little predictable. It has moments of real insight and clarity, and Ansari lets some things loose, but it wasn’t a manual I was handing off to friends to devour.

My Grade: C


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