I’ve always had a soft spot for comedian and actor, Aziz Ansari. A fan of the TV show “Parks and Recreation,” I could have easily found Ansari’s character, Tom Haverford, an annoying hipster blockhead. But Ansari’s natural humor and charm, made young Mr. Haverford a bit palatable. Plus, Tom, along with Donna Meagle (played by the incomparable Retta) gave us “Treat Yo Self,” which is wise advice indeed.
Now with “Parks and Recreation” being a fond televised memory and “Treat Yo Self” being a notable Internet meme, Mr. Ansari has published his first book, Modern Romance.
When I first found out about Modern Romance, I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, “Oh, no. Not another comedian writing about romance, love, sex and the like.” I wondered if Modern Romance would be a memoir of sorts featuring muses on Ansari’s romantic history. Or would it be a tired trope of endless jokes like, “What’s up with women and shoes?” Yes, the tired women and shoes joke, the airplane food joke of relationships.
Or goodness, even worse—a millennial’s version of Steve Harvey’s Think Like a Man, Act Like a Lady.
Fortunately, Modern Romance is none of those things. And it is a delightful and eye-opening read on the current state of dating, sex, relationships in the 21st century, giving us the good, the bad and the ugly.
Now, Ansari does not do this alone. He joins forces with notable sociologist Eric Klineberg in dissecting our dating culture in an age of on-line dating, texting and sexting, speed dating, hooking up and other assorted romantic encounters and unknown to our parents and grandparents when they were young.
Speaking of our parents and grandparents, in Modern Romance, Ansari begins by asking older folks how they met their spouses. Most of them met their spouses simply due to their proximity—in other words—location, location, location. These people lived in the same neighborhood, on the same block or sometime even in the same building. Many of the couples met at their houses of worship or while in high school or college. My mom met my dad through her older brother. And Ansari’s mother and father met through a marriage arranged by their families.
For the most part, the older interviewees met their spouses this way because they didn’t have the options we have today. Many of the couple got married very young, especially the women. Those whose marriages survived described their marriages as happy and strong. Maybe they didn’t initially feel the bolt of instant attraction, but they grew fond of each other as time went on.
However, many of the women interviewed were a bit wistful, wishing they could have spent their younger years getting an education, traveling, working, dating and just working on themselves before they got settled into their lives as wives and mothers. And they were thrilled their daughters and granddaughters got to experience these very things they wished they could have had when they were in their twenties.
Today we meet our potential betrothed old school, but we also meet them in ways our elders couldn’t even imagine—online dating sites, speed dating, dating apps, swiping left and right on Tinder and various hook-ups. But are these almost infinite options of finding l’amour allowing us to look over our shoulders (literally and figuratively) for someone “better?”
Also leading to romantic confusion in this modern age is our various ways of communicating, especially when it comes to those gosh darn smart phones. Sure we talk to each other face to face and have actual conversations on the phone. We text and we Skype. We send selfies and sexts. As for me, well, I have a confession to make. I have never taken a selfie. As for sending sexts of my yoni? Out of the question.
As for sending texts? Well, I don’t have a problem with sending texts regarding minor things. But I miss the actual art of conversation, especially when it comes to the opposite sex. Not to brag…okay, I’m going to brag. But men have told me I’m a delightful conversationalist and I’ve been told I have a beautiful speaking voice, no vocal fry here, my friends. So you can imagine my frustration when guys only want to converse in texts, and not have actual conversations.
But enough about me…back to the book.
Ansari also leaves the confines of the USA and travels to Japan, where everyone seems to have their genitals on ice, to Argentina, where icing up the genitals a wee bit might be a good idea. In Japan, people don’t have sex, but they sure like to cuddle up. And in Argentina, the sexual energy vibrates from every corner. Ansari also travels to France where people just expect their spouses to cheat and for the most part are “c’est la vie” about the whole thing.
Throughout the dating detective work Ansari puts into Modern Romance (with a lot of analysis and data most likely due to Klineberg’s help and expertise), provides us a glimpse into his own issue with dating and relationships, and admits at times, he truly screwed up. But being a self-aware kind of gent has learned from his mistakes and is now in a lovely relationship that is going quite well.
Now I’m sure some people reading Modern Romance will have justifiable complaints. Ansari and Klineberg mostly focus on heterosexual, college-educated, middle class professional-types, which leaves out quite a few demographics, those in the LGBT community, non-college educated, working class, etc. Perhaps someone out there can write a book on romance for certain varying demographics.
In the end, I found Modern Romance to be at turns funny, wise and filled with empathy and charm, and one quite comforting in a time when our Facebook relationship status is might be, “It’s complicated.”