The more things change, the more they remain the same – or do they? Aziz Ansari sets out to find out.
When it comes to dating, there’s no denying that there are few aspects of modern life that inspire as much debate or hand-wringing, especially with the advent of dating sites and apps, which means a new generation of lonely hearts now has technology on their side in the quest to find the one – or do they?
Actor (Parks and Recreation, Master of None), funnyman and erstwhile single dude Aziz Ansari explores just this in Modern Romance: An Investigation. The comedian partnered with sociologist Eric Klinenberg to write the book, and what followed was a delightful, fascinating, hilarious romp (see what we did there?) through the travails of dating in the modern world.
The duo travelled to Japan, France, Qatar and America to conduct their research, polling thousands of men and women, both old and young, and even tapped into audiences at Ansari’s stand up shows and Reddit.com, our favourite repository of modern human thought, for an in-depth look into what it’s really like for a single person trying to find love, how things have changed, and what it all means for our chances of settling down with the person of our dreams.
So what did they find? First off, your grandparents weren’t lying to you – love really was easier back in their day, chiefly because most young men and women met and married people who lived within a 5-mile radius, and because expectations weren’t quite the same back then; a healthy, functioning constitution (read: the ability to make babies) and the willingness to accept gender-segregated roles – the man would work to support the family, the wife would raise the kids – was pretty much all it took to constitute a good marriage.
Understandably, there was a fair amount of FOMO among the older couples polled for the book. Given the rise of feminism in the 1960s, which gave women in the West and then slowly around the world greater control over their bodies and their lives, the advent of urban relocation after education – it’s now just as likely that you don’t live in the town you grew up in as it is that you do – and the plethora of options when it comes to meeting people – work, friends of friends, websites and, recently, dating apps like Tinder, (‘a 24/7 singles bar in your pocket’, as Ansari puts it), it’s difficult for the men and women who came of age in a pre-Internet, pre-casual dating world to not wonder what their romantic lives might have been like had they been born a few decades later.
So is it easier now that we have so many new ways to meet people, and more diverse definitions of the perfect partner? It’s a tough question, but Ansari attempts to answer it in his book and without giving anything away, the conclusion he comes to is that it can be easier, but it still involves effort and a willingness to give people a shot, much like it always has.
The desire to find the perfect soulmate coupled with the huge increase in the availability of potential mates (whether because of technology or changing ideas about relationships in general) doesn’t negate the need to actually spend time getting to know them.
Or, to put in in Ansari’s words, “When you hear a Flo Rida song at first you’re like, ‘What is this, Flo Rida? It’s the same thing you’ve always done. I’m not listening to this song.’ And then you keep hearing it and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, Flo Rida. You’ve done it again! This is a hit, baby!’ And that’s what people are like. People are like a Flo Rida song. You need to hear them a couple of times before you really get what they’re about.”
It can be easy, says Ansari, to write someone off in the belief that there’s always someone better matched to you – someone who likes exactly the same kind of jam you do, for example – right around the corner when in fact, according to a study he references, more choices don’t often mean more happiness, just more confusion.
Instead, you might be better off giving a few select people more of a chance – going on more fifth of sixth dates instead of several first ones, for example – than constantly looking for someone who will instantly make it clear to you upon your first meeting that they are everything you’ve ever wanted in a partner.
So who is this book for? Pretty much everyone, really. Whether you’re single or a compulsive cheater or supremely committed, hate dating or can’t live without it, young or old, offline or online, sexual or romantic, coy or confident, there’s something in this book that’ll speak to you.
“They made it far too easy to believe that romance can’t be achieved these days,” Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner once said; so in this digital-crazy world, should we even bother looking? Hells yes, says Ansari.
With inputs from Chandni Doulatramani.
Image courtesy Penguin Books.