Everyone my age, and younger than I am, and older than I am, should read this book.
Everyone should read this book.
Full disclosure here: I’m a little biased. I pre-ordered Modern Romance a few months ago, because I’m on Aziz Ansari’s mailing list, and he advertised a potential meet-and-greet situation to those who pre-ordered. So I pre-ordered. And I won! It wasn’t actually a meet-and-greet, but it was a sit-down with Ansari and sociologist Eric Klinenberg, who co-wrote it with him, at the Rare Books Room at the Strand, and it was fantastic. The two talked a lot about the different focus groups they held, the places they traveled, the research they did and didn’t do. It gave the book a nice, full context to dive into. And it was pretty darn neat to be in the same room as Tom Haverford. But what really struck me about this sit-down was when Ansari talked about why he did it. That’s what pulled me in. He didn’t want to do what every other comedian did who’d been offered a book deal, because he knew his work was better said out loud than read on a page. I respect that so much. He also took the time to make the book less about himself — though inspired by his own frustrations — and more about the movement, or the shift, or whatever you want to call it, that is happening in the dating world. See, this is where my other bias lies. I’m in that dating world, too, and much of what was described just in the sit-down rang so, so true for me. It was a relief to hear it coming from Ansari, because even though he’s obscenely famous and rich, he’s got a certain appeal about him that makes him feel like a peer. As he spoke about his own experiences and those he had heard about as he compiled the materials for the book, he underscored to all of us that we’re not alone, and we have concrete evidence proving it.
I haven’t dated much. And I’m not going to explain why. But I will tell you that I’ve gone on about as many dates in New York since moving here six months ago as I did in the previous 27 years of my life. I’ll tell you that I’m doing it as a 3/4-assed attempt to establish myself here, to start over. It’s not really working. I miss California a lot. The greatest people I’ve ever met live there. I don’t particularly enjoy dating, and I don’t really want to do it, but I feel like I have to. I’ll also tell you that all except one of the dates I went on in NY originated on OKCupid, whereas only one of the CA dates originated on that site. Of the fellas I’ve gone out with from OKCupid, precisely none of them have been crazy or creepy. They’ve all been perfectly pleasant. I went on a second date with a couple of them. Not a third. And that’s it. I’ve never been on a third date with someone I didn’t already know. With the internet guys, I found something small I didn’t like about them, or I didn’t particularly notice any sort of spark, and I decided not to contact them again because I could always just go out with someone else instead. It hit me not too long ago that that was probably part of the problem — anyone I’ve seriously liked in my life has been someone I’ve interacted with very often, likely every day. Face time is key in developing feelings, good and bad, for another human. Ansari makes this very point in hilarious, blatant terms on p. 247: “In a sense we are all like a Flo Rida song: The more time you spend with us, the more you see how special we are.”
But we in the dating field are, quite simply, not giving each other a chance, because we have the entire internet to browse through and attempt to find someone better. He says on p. 125: “That’s the thing about the Internet: It doesn’t simply help us find the best thing out there; it has helped to produce the idea that there is a best thing and, if we search hard enough, we can find it. And in turn there are a whole bunch of inferior things that we’d be foolish to choose.” I’ve experienced both sides of this. One evening, I went out with a guy from OKCupid and had a great time. The best internet date I’ve been on thus far. We didn’t even get a drink, we just walked and talked and Sorkin’d it up. At the end of the night, he asked me for my number, and then I literally never heard from him again. The next night, I went out with another OKC dude — after considering cancelling, because I’d had such a great time the night before with the other guy — for the sake of keeping my options open. He was really nice and sweet, and I enjoyed talking to him but I just wasn’t attracted to him. So I said goodbye without giving him the chance to ask me for my number, and that was that. Maybe the guy from the first night felt the way about me, the way I felt about the guy from the second night. We’re all just a bunch of shitheads who can’t give each other that glimmer of hope.
That insecurity, that FOMO, that judginess is absolutely rampant in my generation, and it’s only going to get worse. “Younger generations face immense pressure to find the ‘perfect person’ that simply didn’t exist in the past when ‘good enough’ was good enough” (p. 25). We need to hear that. We need to have someone who’s our age tell us that, because it makes us realize that we’re taking it way too seriously. We’re putting perfection on a pedestal when it only exists in fiction. Ansari goes on to quote Dan Savage several times, and this sentiment (p. 232) of Savage’s struck a chord with me, as I realized how misaligned our society is with its own morals: “When a nonmonogamous relationship fails, everyone blames the nonmonogamy; when a closed relationship fails, no one ever blames the closed relationship.”
Along those lines, a good portion of the book is devoted to discussing courtship and marriage across generations and cultures, and it’s a wake-up call. Women in our grandparents’ generation had to get married to get out of the house! Many men in Japan aren’t even interested in sex! We should be thanking our lucky stars that neither of these problems exist anymore, but instead, we’re hopelessly lost in the spiral of internet dating. This is another aspect of the book that Ansari covers well, the spiral, because he includes actual text and OKCupid interactions from real people to prove just how shitty this whole situation is for us, and how we’re perpetuating that shittiness. On p. 240, he proclaims, “Treat potential partners like actual people, not bubbles on a screen.” You’d think we wouldn’t need that kind of advice, but we do. When an emoting, three-dimensional face isn’t in front of us to add a layer of infinite guilt to the situation, we can — and do — say whatever we want.
Reading this book actually convinced me to reactivate my Facebook account for the sake of giving Tinder a shot. Though I hadn’t been on many OKCupid dates, I was starting to get fed up with the amount of time it was taking up, and hearing those sentiments echoed in print, as well as a decent amount of praise for the Tinder experience, was enough. And Ansari made a great point about the very old-fashioned aspect of Tinder. It’s rooted in proximity, just like romance was when our grandparents were in their teens and twenties. Rarely did they date and marry anyone outside their geographical or social circle. Now, with Tinder, “In a world of infinite possibilities, we’ve cut down our options to people we’re attracted to in our neighborhood” (p. 118). Or so it seems.
I’ve only been on it for a week, so I definitely need to take more time to figure it out, but I’m already frustrated. I thought the point of it was to get offline quickly and meet in person. To waste less time. To not think of the other party as a set of text bubbles. Instead, I’m finding out that Tinder is akin to texting — something I’m terrible at with people I don’t know — whereas OKCupid is like email. I didn’t have the OKC app on my phone, so I treated it as a once-a-day check-in, like email. I’m better at emailing people I don’t know because I like to consider my words, and I like to explain what I mean. When humor hasn’t been established yet, word count is valuable. I’ve messaged with a few guys, and almost met up with one until, I can only assume, he was put off by how “far away” I live. (I don’t live in Brooklyn, the horror!) But mostly, it’s just been an occasional match, followed by zilch. Crickets. The options are so abundant that it’s overwhelming, and it’s almost not worth putting the effort into messaging any of these people, because they’re just faces and they probably won’t respond anyway. I never thought I’d say this, but meeting someone in a bar sounds pretty great right now.
I don’t want to end on a pessimistic note, for my own sake. In this incredibly daunting world of internet dating, you have to force yourself to be positive because there really isn’t another option. And knowing that there’s a term for this stage of life — emerging adulthood — because it’s a stage that didn’t exist before. That’s certainly encouraging. On p. 29, he uses a great door-opening metaphor to describe it, which concludes, “Today we want a bunch of doors as options and we are very cautious about which ones we open. The emerging adulthood phase of life is basically a pass society gives you to hang out in the hallway and figure out what door is really right for you.” No one older than our parents got to do that, really. I guess I’ll go thank a few more lucky stars.
I think our parents should read this book so they know what to expect — or not to expect — from us as we age. I think our younger brothers and sisters should read it to gain an understanding of this aspect of Life Before Facebook. And I think people my age should read it because their — our — mistakes are made abundantly clear. Aziz is right. We’re all just Flo Rida songs playing on the radio, waiting for someone not to change the station for awhile.