Modern Romance by US comedian Aziz Ansari (of Parks and Recreation fame) is just another in a growing list of books I have started reading expecting one thing, but which turned out to be something else entirely (looking at you, High-rise).
What I had expected was a comedic look at modern courtship, man-woman relationships in the internet age etc. Having previously watched a bit of Ansari's stand-up via YouTube, I knew this was a topic that he touches on a lot, so I expected to read a more or less extended stand-up routine. One man's humorous philosophy on the opposite sex, feminism, relationship blunders and so on. Something similar to what Chris Rock was writing 10 years ago.
Um, yes. But also...no.
In fact, Modern Romance, is solidly non-fiction. Ansari, himself caught up in the changing courtship habits of a dating populace now fixated with mobile devices, became intrigued with what seemed a very flawed and frustrating process -
I got fascinated by the questions of how and why so many people have become so perplexed by the challenge of doing something that people have always done quite efficiently: finding romance. I started asking people I knew if there was a book that would help me understand the many challenges of looking for love in the digital age.
He didn't find exactly the book he was looking for SO HE WROTE IT.
He wrote the book with help (Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology at New York University is co-author), and after undertaking quite a bit of research with the help of online dating websites like OKCupid, as well as interviews, and focus groups. Most comedians don't quote focus groups in their books, unless by "focus group" you mean "crazy cab drivers I've conversed with". Nor do they have thorough indices and footnotes for the many research papers they cite.
So rather than being a written comedy routine with the occasional fact thrown in, Modern Romance is a book about the effect of technology on modern dating mores, (but with swearing and jokes). What Ben Goldacre did for Bad Science, Aziz Ansari has done for the sociology of modern dating.
But does it work? On the whole, yes. For someone who wasn't intending to learn anything particularly much from Modern Romance (I am not on "the market"), it does a good job of entertaining and informing. I've learned that less choice can actually be a good thing, that the search for perfection in a mate is a fool's errand, and though I've never used the dating app Tinder, I now understand better what it does and why it's so popular. I've also been given a window into differing dating "cultures" via interviews with singles in Tokyo, Paris, and Buenos Aires.
And this isn't really related to anything but I really wanted to include this quote about a Tokyo barman with an apparently quite active love-life who Ansari describes thusly -
Like most fedora wearers, he had a lot of inexplicable confidence.
This book has a lot of wisdom to offer, on a great many things, it seems.
So what are the takeaways from Modern Romance, other than ramen recommendations from Tokyo (Ansari is something of a "foodie" and the book is liberally littered with references to delicious meals), and the characteristics of hat-wearers?
- Don't get so caught up in the multitude of options that you forget to actually pay attention to and invest time in the person you're with.
- Make introductions online but don't date online. Dating is a real world activity.
- Treat potential partners like real people, not a bubble on a screen.
If you're a bit sensitive to swear words then Modern Romance probably isn't the read for you but thankfully Ansari and Klinenberg have included a bibliography of titles they consulted when writing their book, so one of the below may be of interest instead.
Any thoughts on how modern technology is affecting our approach to courtship? Is it okay to ask someone out on a date via text message?