If you were ever curious about just how relationships were formed over the course of human history, particularly in this day and age where your phone tells you when there’s a single person nearby, you’d probably super enjoy comedian Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. And if you enjoy Aziz Ansari, I mean, you are definitely going to enjoy this. I should have led with that. This is why I haven’t written my own bestseller on contemporary dating. Spoilers to follow…
Reviewing nonfiction is always kind of rough. To be honest, reading nonfiction is always kind of rough. I really admire the people who do it on the regular, when I’m just sitting there hoping for snappy dialog and the occasional dragon. (Fun fact: nonfiction never involves dragons, or any sort of magic. Waste. Of. My. Time.)
That said, I was genuinely excited to read Modern Romance. Why isn’t this how we always do these things? Pair comedians up with an expert in the field and have a humorous take on a serious and researched subject. Instead it’s all “humorous essays” about how much Mindy Kaling enjoys social media or how much not like Kim Kardashian Tina Fey thinks she looks. Entertaining, and certainly true, but not particularly informative. But you throw knowledge and research in with a slightly different media presentation, and sparks fly. Just look at Hamilton.
I’m getting off-topic. Modern Romance is exactly what it sounds like, a look at dating and relationships in the modern, digital age. He teamed up with sociologist Eric Klinenberg and they ran a massive investigation, with a subreddit and several focus groups around the world, looking at how people meet, communicate, and fall in love. (Including having some participants actually allow Ansari and Klinenberg access to the participants’ phones, to track these romances in “real time”.)
Some fun things I learned:
You know that thing where friends of yours get together and then your Facebook feed is filled with nothing but lovey-dovey comments and date selfies and other vomit-inducing tripe? That’s something called passionate love, where your brain is actually releasing a series of falling-in-love endorphins equivalent to taking cocaine. (If you’re concerned for the state of your Facebook feed and are too polite to mute these people, fear not; passionate love decreases heavily after about eighteen months, fading into companionate love, which is the sort of love based on long-term relationships. A lot of relationships, post the passionate love stage, do not always make it to companionate stage, since endorphins are no longer filling you with delight. I suspect this is why people have affairs.)
There are also helpful infographics! In 1940, 24% of participants polled had met their spouses and romantic partners through family, and 13% through church, which decreased to 38% family introductions and 7% church introductions in 1995, to 7% family and 2% church in 2010. In 1995, meeting your partner online was already at 16% (again, of participants polled), and by 2010, it was up to 22%. Steady holders in the real world are meeting at a bar or meeting through friends, even throughout the decades. That’s for heterosexual couples. Research done in LGBT couples showed that it’s far less common to meet a partner in a social setting like the bar or even around your neighborhood, if only because of choosing from a smaller pool. The research also showed,
“[online dating is] dramatically more common among same-sex couples than any of way of meeting has ever been for heterosexual or same-sex couples in the past.”
In spite of this data, there is still a stigma attached to online dating. However, it does allow you to be pickier, since there is a larger pool of people to choose from, and more data available to you, that you can more easily search for qualities you like, and eliminate the ones you don’t.
More interestingly, in spite of that, people tend to actually contact people who don’t necessarily fit into the characteristics they’ve pre-chosen to like.
There is a lot more really interesting data (and infographics!) and even more personal anecdotes, both from the focus groups, and from Aziz himself (fair is fair), but it’s difficult to really condense all of that into a helpful summary without just flat-out quoting everything. That said, the book is incredibly fascinating and really funny, so if the subject matter appeals to you in the slightest, go for it.