Oddly (or appropriately) enough, an ex-boyfriend recommended Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. I like his work from Parks and Recreation, so I finally got around to reading it over the Christmas break. This is probably a useful read for anyone who didn’t settle down in their early twenties–which, at this point, is most of us. In my early twenties, I was getting all the degrees, forging deep friendships, and yes, “dating,” as well as staying in a few serious relationships. Mostly, I was writing and making art. I was not pursuing marriage.
I do not look back on the dating eras with any fondness. So, it was validating to read Ansari’s take on modern dating. In his book, he uses a very soft social science approach and couples it with his good humor. Pairing stand up with social science and commentary is actually pretty amusing, if not hard hitting. Oh, and when you’re reading it, feel free to skim through large swatches of some of the repetitive stuff through the middle.
Ansari’s parents are Indian and, like most Indian couples, have an arranged marriage. Like many people in arranged marriages, they report being very happy. Of course, on the contrary, in the US, we’re all looking for soul mates and have relatively low levels of happiness in marriage. Ansari’s exposure to both US and Indian cultural attitudes toward marriage gives him an interesting perspective.
Here are some of the main take aways from the book: technology has expanded our options for coupling, which means we have the potential to find a better match, but it also means we’re paralyzed by options; we’re not great at intellectualizing what we actually want in a partner (i.e. we think we know what we want, but we’re often wrong); the vast majority of men and women pretty much dislike dating and just want the relationship.
This last one was a surprise to me. I mean, I hate dating, sure. But, I would hate dating. I’m an introvert, which means I don’t love going out all the time. I don’t *love* people, which means I don’t particularly love meeting new people. I’m very sensitive, which means the sizing up, and the texting, and the strangers, and the whole process tends to be a bit too soul-violating for my constitution. And so in the end, when it comes to dating, I’m very much just like, “Forget it. Everyone please fuck off.”
But then, eventually, you find your person who gets it and gets you, and it’s all worth it. Until then, it sucks, and it surprised me that most other people also think it sucks. Before reading this book, I thought most people were out there playing the field, meeting new people, and having a great time doing the things I typically don’t enjoy doing. Evidently, most other people don’t enjoy it either.
Here are a few gems from the book:
On previous generations: “People were marrying neighbors who lived on the same street, in the same neighborhood, and even in the same building” (14).
Things have changed: “Until they got married…women were pretty much stuck at home under fairly strict adult supervision and lacked basic adult autonomy…For women in this era, it seemed that marriage was the easiest way of acquiring the basic freedoms of adulthood” (18).
On the prevalence of FOMI (fear of missing out): “…what I see at bars today, which is usually a bunch of people staring at their phones trying to find someone or something more exciting than where they are” (27).
On the influence of technology: “That’s the thing about the internet: It doesn’t simply help us find the best thing out there; it has helped to produce the idea [emphasis mine] that there is a best thing and, if we search hard enough, we can find it” (125).
This and most other social interactions: “I started to despise the bar scene. I had experienced every single version of these nights. I knew all the possible outcomes, and I knew the probabilities of those outcomes” (210).
On passionate vs. companionate love: “Passionate love always spikes early, then fades away, while companionate love is less intense but grows over time…It is love, just less intense and more stable. There is still passion, but it’s balanced with trust, stability, and an understanding of each other’s flaws” (215).
This basically sums it up: “We want a lifelong wingman/wingwoman who completes us and can handle the truth, to mix metaphors from three different Tom Cruise movies” (239).