Like a cold beer from a newly discovered microbrewery, I had such high hopes for Aziz Ansari’s co-authored book about romance in the modern age. And, like a new-to-me IPA, I kept diving into the book hoping it would grow on me, but for the most part, I experienced, or tasted, disappointment.
I will continue trying IPAs, but sadly, I don’t think I will read Modern Romance again, and not just because surely by now there are more updated data on the facets of dating Ansari and sociologist Eric Klinenberg covered. While I expected a few humorous moments to be sprinkled throughout the text, those moments never seemed to be in the right place, or they interrupted a point or statement that I wish had been discussed further. Like when Ansari writes about “Heather” realizing she had more connections with a love interest than she expected; he asks the reader to imagine the love interest being connected by actress Gwyneth Paltrow:
…only to discover that he’d once slept with a girl she totally despised. This soured the whole thing.
The girl? Actress Gwyneth Paltrow.
Not really, but can you imagine?¹
Um, what? No, I can’t really imagine that…and in the same distracted state Ansari doesn’t let this random mention go, by soon after making a similar mention, this time of O.J. Simpson:
He soon figured out that the guy she’d lost her virginity to was a close friend and coworker of his.
That coworker? Football star O.J. Simpson.
Not really, but again, could you imagine?¹
Again, no. Honestly, this distracted me until the end, 113 pages later. Why these people? Why were these “imagine” challenges necessary? Truthfully, it made the supposed true-stories Ansari was discussing less real, or serious, which implanted a doubt in my mind for other areas of the book.
Earlier, when discussing his and Klinenerg’s talks with seniors², Ansari calls the marriages of people in the same neighborhood or apartment building “a bit bizarre.” Why would that be bizarre? Wouldn’t it be more bizarre for people living in a world with significantly less communicative devices to meet and marry people way outside their vicinity? It felt like instead of thinking about the time in which those people were living, which is mentioned quite adequately in this section of the book, today’s dating and romantic atmosphere was being applied to those relationships, which is disappointing both for my thoughts on Ansari and for the credibility of the book. I’m not saying his own data is unfounded or he didn’t use outside sources to support the talking points; I felt more like he undermined common sense and those sources he confided in.
This is not to say Modern Romance is not uninteresting; on the contrary. It is fascinating, and useful, I think, to see how relationships, stigmas, and romance have changed over time. Especially since it all seems to come back to our media and technology. My favorite sections of the book are the last chapter and the conclusion, which, expecially for old-fashioned or “traditional” lovers out there, Ansari comes to this comforting conclusion:
For me the takeaway of these stories is that, no matter how many options we seem to have on our screens, we should be careful not to lose track of the human beings behind them. We’re better off spending quality time getting to know actual people than spending hours with our devices, seeing who else is out there.³
If you’re an Aziz Ansari admirer like myself, I would say read this book so you can say that you have, and to gain the knowledge his and Klinenberg’s research and travels will bring you, but don’t expect to be fully satisfied with his jokes, even if you read them in his voice. Generally speaking, modern romance is much more technology based than it used to be, and although that may lead us to different parts of the world and people we may never knew existed without digitally connecting with them, romance is still about people, no matter the arrangements or situations we find ourselves in. Romance is still about finding love, comfort, and happiness; and if you’re looking for it, all of the above.
Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance (New York: Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2015)