Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
It’s no secret to anyone who’s ever watched Ansari perform (as Tom Haverford on the dearly departed Parks and Recreation, in a stand up routine, or making the late night talk show rounds) that he’s a pretty funny guy. And, because he’s a pretty funny guy, this book is pretty funny. But it’s also a lot of other things, including approachable, thoughtful, and informative.
Though the book is just under 300 pages long, Ansari and co-author Eric Klineberg manage to examine the evolution of relationships across time, describing the rise of the soulmate-ideal as a basis for union and commitment over a relatively short period of time. Sitting down with some seniors in a retirement community on the Lower East Side of New York City, they hear story after story from men and women living there that they met their future spouse because they lived in the same building, on the same block, or in the same neighborhood. The retirees told stories of how they met someone who seemed nice so they went on a few dates, met each other’s parents, and after very little time, decided to get married. For many, it was the only way they could conceivably leave the umbrella of their parental homes and enter the adult world, and it was a contract much more on the level of historical contracts of marriage than marriages we’re likely to see today. Some statistical contrast provided in the book throws this into starker relief: in a study conducted in the 1960s, 76 percent of women and 35 percent of men said they would be willing to marry someone they didn’t love. In a similar study conducted in the 1990s, 91 percent of women and 87 percent of men said they wouldn’t be willing to marry someone unless they were in love with them. That’s a pretty big switch over the course of 30 years, and it’s brought on a different phase of life, one which the majority of the book focuses on: the pursuit of love in the modern world.
The aspect of seeking romance that the authors focus on the most is the impact of the revolution in communication. From the torture of deciphering text messages (or just the ‘…’ bubble) to how to choose a person when online dating makes it painfully obvious that there are a seemingly endless number of potential partners, instantaneous communication has complicated how people seek and find love. The authors conducted a number of interviews with groups of young people during one of Ansari’s recent tours, where the groups discussed how they meet people, how they ask for dates, and what their expectations are, among other things. Throughout, the book is punctuated with text messages shared in these focus groups and during Ansari’s stand-up shows which help illuminate some of the many struggles of modern courtship (the repetitive ‘hey’ message; the endless back and forth without making plans, the game of the delayed-but-not-too-delayed response, etc.), with Ansari’s humorous flourishes thrown in for measure.
Not content with discussing only the American (straight, middle class) experience, the authors also seek to investigate ideas of modern romance in other cultures, including in their interviews young people from Tokyo, Buenos Aires, and Doha, Qatar, which offer an interesting contrast to much of the rest of the book. Over all, Ansari’s humor makes what might otherwise be rather a droll read engaging on an unexpected level and helps the information seem more approachable, if not always more nuanced.
Marina reads and writes about poetry and nonfiction. When not staffing the reference desk, she is making terrible jokes, cooking, gardening, or riding her bicycle. If you have a suggestion for something that should be included in a future blog post, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.