Saturday, April 1, 2017

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

There are a lot of books that I am interested in reading but don't really get around to unless the book is selected by a book club or for a buddy read. This is because sites like Amazon and Goodreads have made the whole prospect of choosing a book so stressful. Up-and-coming books, out-of-print books, esoteric books from small presses - there are so many options. Before Goodreads, I would select books based on the cover, the synopsis on the back cover, and whether I recognized the author (usually from a magazine or a friend/family member's suggestion). Now? I have books thrown at me from all directions in the form of ebook sales, ARCs, and thrift shops, and it's so overwhelming, because there are so many books I want to read, and I have a finite amount of time to get through them all. It's frustrating, to say the least.

Why is this relevant? Because Aziz Ansari takes this same concept: the infinite permutations of options offered to us in the digital age and the difficulty of prioritizing or selecting between them. Only, instead of books, he applies it to dating and relationships. When we use dating apps, we're exposed to way more people than we would ever encounter in real life (sometimes, in the case of d*ck pics, 'exposed' in the literal sense), in cities that we have never personally been to, with interests way outside of our own social groups.

While this is compelling, and in some cases - especially in the cases of those with specific sexual needs/desires or niche hobbies - extremely beneficial, Ansari argues that this can actually be detrimental for others. He argues that in the old days, people often married someone they knew, and became complacent about their partner, with a sense of compansionship that occurred later on from shared history and interests. In the modern age, people are far less willing to settle down, he argues, constantly wondering what's behind that figurative door number two. Is it someone better? Are we missing out? Digital dating might help us find people, but it also makes us less willing to stay with people, and can enable us to cheat or indulge in flaky behavior like text breakups or flimsy plans.

I was expecting this to be a dating memoir, so you could cover me shocked when I found out that one of my favorite male comedians was writing a semi-scientific book about dating habits in the modern age (hence the title), with a focus group he created, information gleaned from a subreddit set up by him, and many, many studies cited from actual sociologists and psychologists, and literature I'm actually acquainted with, such as Barry Schwartz'z PARADOX OF CHOICE and Sheena Iyengar's THE ART OF CHOOSING (both must-reads, even if you're not a psych major). I studied psychology in college because I love finding out what makes people tick. I knew this was going to be good.

And it was!

Ansari covers a wide variety of topics, starting from how older people in his focus groups met their spouses and what their motiviations for marriage were, and what their courtship rituals looked like. He discusses various dating sites at length, as well as their humble origins in speed dating and video dating, as well as touching upon hookup culture. He also talks about what dating looks like in different parts of the world. He discusses the U.S., but also what dating looks like in Qatar, in Argentina, in Japan, and in France, and how their attitudes are changing in the modern age, as well.

While this book is drier than some would like, I think it's especially relevant to anyone who has dated in the 21st century or anyone who rolls their eyes at people who say, "I just can't find anyone" when they live in a city with several million people for being overdramatic. Finding people is hard. Finding people to settle down with is even harder. Ansari manages to take a very complicated topic and do an admirable job of examining it from multiple perspectives, while also keeping it fresh with light humor that I imagined him delivering in a Tom Haverford sort of tone.

P.S. When Ansari talks about the present his girlfriend his girlfriend got him for their 1 year, I smiled so hard my cheeks hurt.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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