I am not particularly familiar with Aziz Ansari’s work. I know he is a stand-up comedian and a comedic actor. I do know I was surprised to hear a non-fiction decently-researched book around how dating has changed with the addition of the internet and SMS was published under his name. Immediately, I was intrigued. I grew up straddling these dating worlds. How did my experience line up with what Ansari was discussing? I must know! In Modern Romance, I found a laugh-out-loud funny book with some poignant sociological study and interesting personal notes. Certainly worth the read!
How did this book start? Obviously, Ansari had a life crisis one day. One of those where you text someone to ask them on a date, you see the dots appear indicating they are typing a response, you imagine all the ways your life will be perfect together, and then the dots vanish. You get no response. Ever. Ansari freaked out, as most humans would. Upon later reflection, Ansari realized that he experienced a ton of anxiety because of those dots, and he began to wonder: How has the invention of cell phones and the internet changed the world of dating? How has romance changed in the modern day? Does modern romance vary between countries? Ethnicities? Or are these anxieties universal? Teaming up with a New York University professor of Sociology; Public Policy; and Media, Culture, and Communications, Eric Klinenberg and Ansari put together almost 300 pages of research on the change in romance from the 1950s to modern day (2015).
If you are someone who believes books need to fit neatly in a genre, you won’t be satisfied here. Ansari and Klinenberg worked together to conduct a massive research project. They traveled the world, asked questions, heard stories. They interviewed social scientists from all over the globe. So, on one level, this is a non-fiction sociology book. And yet, Ansari tells a lot of personal stories. Does that make it more memoir? But we hear stories from people involved in the studies. All romance stories. Is this romance? What about his humor? Ansari is practically incapable of ignoring a possible joke– and this book is filled to the brim with laugh-out-loud moments. So, is it humor? Whatever it is, it’s thought-provoking.
In Modern Romance, Ansari and Klinenberg ask some crucial questions: What is texting doing to our lives? How has it changed our social interactions? Do we have more anxiety from the dating technology? Has technology changed what is socially acceptable in romance? After all, Ansari falls between the cracks like I do: Remembering dating before cell phones and the internet was prominent, but young enough to still understand Tinder and Snapchat. He also falls into a unique position as a comedian: People are willing to talk to him. In fact, they are willing to embarrass themselves and their potential partners to share their stories. Through both focus group research and his stand-up, Ansari got to see a lot of people’s first texting interactions when they moved from internet dating sites to speaking to each other. Let me just say, the embarrassing moments we experience in person seem so much more embarrassing via text…
The book is divided into easily digestible chunks with thought provoking statistics. I spent a lot of my time reading this in the room where my significant other was quietly working away. I found myself often stopping and asking him questions about our experiences. How did we compare to this? Would we have been different with less technology involved in our courtship? More technology? I even logged on to some internet dating sites to see how things compared between reality and what was discussed in Modern Romance. Personally, I found this to be a freak springboard for reflection.
Little of this book was revolutionary to me, but it was immensely interesting. In particular, I enjoyed learning about how the experiences of different communities across the world are so different. From the people in NYC overwhelmed with the possible number of partners to the people in small towns willing to travel 50+ miles to meet someone new. From the Parisians who are tolerant of multiple partners and don’t really believe in infidelity the same way Americans do. To the Edokko (people of Edo, or Tokyo) who are too scared of rejection even attempt finding a partner. Ansari just reinforced my personal opinion that we need to get away from technology and experience each other more in the end. That was fulfilling. (Now, if only I can follow my own advice…)
All in all, a wonderful, short read with many great moments. I certainly would recommend this to anyone interested in romance, sex, and technology working together. Or, well, anyone who likes easy-to-read non-fiction. Or fans of Aziz Ansari. Or, well… anyone.