By Erin Moyer || Senior Editor
As Liz Lemon once told a pregnant teenager, “There are so many different things for men to ignore you on now.” The context of that specific quote involving a teen mom would take me too long to explain right now, but I bring this up because Lemon is right. When she was growing up in the 1970s, there was “the phone.” It was your family’s phone. You could employ a certain amount of wishful thinking about never hearing from your love interest: “Oh, my line was busy.” “Oh, my voicemail was full.” “Oh, my sister forgot to take a message.” It was a simpler time.
Well, show’s over. (30 Rock is literally over.) And dating now is anything but simple. We hook up, we overanalyze, we ask friends to read drafts of texts, we send, we stare at our screens. We’ve all been there. You may even be there right now.
(If you want to check your phone, I can wait.)
(Nothing? They must be busy.)
Anyway, this is exactly how Aziz Ansari, beloved comedy force, stand-up, and personality behind the prolific Tom Haverford, opens his June book, Modern Romance. He meets a girl at a party. They have a great time. They go home and make out. Sure of himself, excited about their mutual interest, the next day he drafts out a playful text and invites her to a Sugar Ray concert. And then there is no. response. They hit it off, right? Didn’t she say she liked Sugar Ray? What happened?
Whatever happened was, as Ansari points out, something totally unique to the way we get with other humans now. None of our parents ever agonized over sending a text. These situations just didn’t exist twenty years ago. So with Modern Romance, we get to dig into Ansari’s quest to understand the new ways we find, and hopefully go to town on, other nice people. He teams up with Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist from New York University, and off they go into focus groups, in-depth research and analysis, and even to Tokyo, Chile, and Paris in cross-cultural studies. You are along for the ride, and you will have a blast.
Here’s what I have learned: Marriage once happened at age 18. It was when you moved out of your house, and began to shift into being an adult. And it was a local thing at that: According to one 1932 study in Philadelphia, as Ansari cites, 30% of couples lived within five blocks of each other when they met.
Now, we get married at 25 or 27. More of us go to college. We move to new cities. We’ve generally spent more time leading our own lives. We have emerging adulthood, and that has been a gamechanger.
We also expect something different out of our partners and marriages, too. Your boo can’t just have a decent job, no history of wife-beating, and maybe a mustache if you’re lucky. Now we sort of want whoever we’re with to have everything: dreams and values that align with our own, a shared love of Ramen, totally “getting” your issues with your mom. We expect to find a true soul mate now, who can be a confidant and friend and lover all in one, perfect package. And still with a mustache if you’re lucky.
As Ansari writes, courtship has gone from “oh, this gentleman across the street seems pleasant, I’d better book a honeymoon flight” into a thing where we “date,” take time, and find ourselves. And dating, formerly rooted in playing phone-tag, has gone digital. We don’t really ask “Oh, did he call? No? Maybe your line was busy?” anymore. Now we’re all, “Oh man, he didn’t reply to your message? He probably doesn’t have his data on?”
Modern Romance also notes something else about our ongoing shift in dating, too. The fact that we have so many devices and apps and ways to communicate means that we have so many more options. So when a first date doesn’t go well, we’re more likely not to try for a second, a third, or even a call afterward. Hey, there are plenty of fish, right?
True. But as Ansari and Klinenberg found, it may be a bit unreasonable to expect such a swift connection with other people. You may not really hit it off, may not really click, until the eighth time you see someone. Preferencing other options, always going back to the abstract “who else is out there?” can work, maybe. But we may be on the hunt for that soul mate at the expense of missing other, seriously possible connections, too.
This book is a straight-up delight, the precise right balance of serious research and light, often good-hearted humor. And for that tone, I think we owe Ansari. This book is all written in Ansari’s voice, colored with that smooth-yet-spazzy, nerdish personality we all know and love.
That said, it gets to point that you will begin to idly wonder about the sociologist he teamed up with here: Eric Klinenberg. Remember him? Who is this Klinenberg human? You will never really learn. Ansari mentions working with Klinenberg throughout, but make no mistake, this is his book. Is Klinenberg content with his lower-billing? Did he read the final draft, give it his okay, and then find himself cut out of the published book? How much of this work did he actually do? I found myself wondering if this was a celeboir sort of situation. You know, that thing where someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger writes a book, and at first you think, ‘wow, he wrote a book! Way to be, Terminator,’ until you notice the microscopic fine print on the cover that says ‘with a sad freelancing writer,’ who definitely did all of the work and will never get the credit. Most likely, I think Klinenberg brought the research and Ansari, the team spirit and general distillation of material.
Even so, you will love Modern Romance. You will think and laugh out loud and read passages to your friends. You’ll wish this research duo could write all of your textbooks. To echo Ansari’s sweet words to his girlfriend in the book’s Acknowledgments section: Aziz, if every writer were as thoughtful, sensitive, and funny as you, I doubt there’d be a market for many other writers at all. You spoil us, sir. You spoil us rotten.
And don’t worry, reader: they are totally gonna text you back.
Erin Moyer is the Senior Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.