Growing up in a small town I always thought I would end up marrying someone from my original elementary class of nine students. That didn’t happen (thankfully), but I did end up marrying someone from a neighboring town, one only ten minutes away. In the decades preceding my birth, it was pretty common for folks to marry their neighbors. My wife’s parents were around 20-21 when they were married, though they weren’t exactly neighbors, they met through mutual friends and relatives. But getting married at that age was the norm at the time. My parents didn’t exactly follow that stereotype. For one reason or another they only married when my mom was 28 and my dad 36. As the years have gone on, marrying couples have started back on that path, getting married older and having kids later. It used to be that the norm was married and at least one kid before 25. These days you’re lucky to be married by 28. Aziz Ansari, Parks and Rec actor and now author attributes this to choice. With all the technology of smart phones and online dating, people have infinite number of choice in a partner. But is that a good thing and how is that affecting modern romance and dating as a practice?
Ansari’s pitch for his first novel is: what is modern romance and how does it affect our love lives? In the novel he touches on a large number of subjects, but most of them drawn comparisons on how it was done back in the day (50’s to 80’s) and in the modern age. Because of this, texting and social media play a huge influence in where the story goes. Part of Ansari’s research was to work with a sociologist named Eric Klingenberg to conduct study groups on how romance works for people living in the new age. Ansari and Klingenberg conducted these groups all over the world, talking to people living in different cultures like the sexually free French and the liberally loving Argentines. What they found is that romance isn’t just different than it was 20 or 30 years ago, it’s a completely different game these days. Twenty years ago someone getting married at the age of 21 was utterly normal. Today a single person will actually work and maybe even self sabotage for love of vacations and alone time to stay single that long. Because of this we aren’t seeing married couples that have two or three children by the age of thirty. It’s more likely that we see engaged thirty year olds or couples with one kid at age thirty two at best.
Fidelity is also a factor that changed enormously over the past decade even. To catch your partner cheating in the nineties, you would have to pick up the landline and hear them making plans with their other partner. These days all you have to do is spy them texting a lover while sitting at a baseball game and hope that the girls sitting behind you are brave enough to tell you the truth (confused? check your current events, folks). Ansari makes a lot of good points with how difficult it can be to be in a relationship in the modern age. Sure, communication is much easier with cell phones, smart phones and social media, but these things also brew discontent and distrust in certain people too. Just knowing your partner has the ability to message an ex-partner at any moment is enough to drive any semi-paranoid person into full blown accusation mode. Snooping also poses a huge problem. Back in the days of landlines and wireless nothings, the only way to catch a jilted lover might be over the phone, unless you actually see them do it in person. These days there’s any number of places your partner could be emotionally or textually cheating on you. Facebook, Twitter, email and text are just a few of the places that one might check when looking for signs of cheating in their partner.
Modern romance is different than it was when I was born. It seems to change every decade and will probably continue to do so until the end of time. When I was a kid, the thought of finding my potential partner through an ad in a newspaper seemed astonishing. Hell, even thinking I might find my future wife while in high school seemed like a leap of faith (not such a leap after all, we’ve been married three years). Ansari spends a lot of time in Modern Romance talking about choice. Back in the good old days, folks didn’t have a lot of choice. They married their neighbors because it was the closest and maybe best choice they had. But now that we have worlds and options like Tinder, OkCupid and Match.com, the choices seem endless. Afraid to make the wrong choice, a lot of daters keep searching because they are worried they might pick an eight when a ten is just lurking around the corner. 20 years ago, people didn’t give thought to the fact that there might be better mates available. These things don’t make romance in the modern sense inherently bad or good, just different. There are still place and cultures that use the same dating and mating techniques that they did hundreds of years ago and there are ones that have completely abandoned them. The advancement in technique doesn’t make any of the methods better or worse. The choice to settle down is ultimately left up to the people that are either swiping, clicking or meeting a local single in their area.
Rating: 4 out of 5 – Modern Romance is a fantastic little book about the difference in dating over the years. Ansari is able to take a topic that isn’t the most interest and twist it so it becomes interesting. Laden with jokes, fascinating statistics and plenty of Ansari-isms, Modern Romance is worth it’s weight in research. The only thing that could have enhanced this book would have been an off-the-chain foreward written by Jean Ralphio.