Modern Romance, Book Review

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Your phone holds the key to the greatest force in the internet — love (and, slightly less great but definitely still compelling, sex). Apps, websites, emails, and texts form the brunt of our new age wooing, and in the massive onslaught of humanity that is the internet we often feel overwhelmed. The main problem is actually starting to be that there is plenty of fish in the sea.

Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance is a medium-weight sociological and anthropological undertaking that attempts to look at what it is to be single and ready to mingle in the 21st century. Through focus groups, subreddits, and interviews, Ansari and his sociologist co-author Eric Klinenberg chip away at modern dating habits. They even take their study on the road when they visit Buenos Aires, Tokyo, and Paris to compare the way people in their 20s and 30s pursue romantic partners. Altogether, this book is a satisfying and quick nonfiction read that approaches cringe-worthy dating habits with slapstick humor and statistical evidence.

Generally Ansari and Klinenberg confirm most of what we already know about how we find love nowadays — online dating, while initially stigmatized, is more prevalent than ever and that people are getting married in the US later in life because we’re using our 20s to go to school, travel, and figure out what we want first. They even sit down with some older folks to discuss these new trends; in the 1930–1960s, most people in America married, literally, the girl (or boy) next door. These people married earlier and often to someone just down the street or hallway from where they lived because marriage was more about security than anything else. Then something changed — we started wanting soul mates. We began demanding and expecting more from our love lives.

Personal ads gave way to online dating as the internet became more widely available. In the beginning it was embarrassing because if you found the love of your life online it was because you weren’t attractive or desirable enough to meet someone at a bar. Then, slowly, the possibility of being able to practically Google your ideal partner made internet dating more acceptable. And now we have websites and apps to suit every preference and desire, from religion-focused sites like Christian Mingle or JDate to marriage driven sites like eHarmony and Shaadi.Com to hook up/quick date apps like Tinder and Grinder. Whatever you’re looking for, in a partner or in your future, there’s an app for that.

As Ansari says, it’s like having a 24/7 singles bar in your pocket. But the ease of this makes other things a lot harder — women are disproportionately facing high rates of online harassment on dating sites, unsolicited dick pics are so common they’re joked about, and there are so many choices people just aren’t finding The One. Basically it’s like the end of civilization because women aren’t safe outside or online. Even their phones are ticking time bombs waiting to explode with pictures of anonymous penises. Oh, and we can’t even seem to settle down and continue the species.

Ansari seems to know that his readers are looking to him to confirm all their beliefs about dating in the digital age, whether it be that the internet is single-handedly ruining love or that it’s a godsend. He ends his study on a pragmatic yet hopeful fact — technology has always affected how we relate to each other socially and romantically. The plow created gender roles in pre-industrialized societies, postal services allowed lovers to stay in touch, and now texting lets us racy messages to each other without a second thought. New tech brings a mixed bag, so don’t put too much faith in whatever the current model of finding love is — our kids will probably work out how to telepathically nudes, and we’ll need a whole ‘nother book to sort that out.

Modern Romance is fairly typical in its analysis of dating today, it neither takes a side or makes complete conclusions. Ansari’s humor maintains an easy flow and the information shared is compelling but not surprising. This book travels well, adds spice to dying conversations, and is overall an entertaining offering from a comedian who has entered this statistical landscape thoughtfully and unexpectedly.

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About Author

Nadya Agrawal is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Kajal Magazine. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and wherever fine Bollywood movies are bootlegged.

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