Aziz Ansari just explained to me why that girl from the Northwestern movie premiere didn’t text me back, and this alone might make his print debut Modern Romance worth a read—besides that it’s funny, thoughtful, and genuinely valuable, a scientific journal disguised as a book of laughs.
I had chatted up this girl at a student film event, felt like we had hit it off, and scored her number. When I shot her a follow-up text the next night, I apparently flew in the face of what Ansari calls the “cultural consensus” in regards to texting: it was too soon, the invitation a little too general, and the message probably too long as well. I never heard back, and when I entered What-Do-I-Have-To-Lose Mode and called her number a few days later, the silence continued. I had doomed myself. The revelation of my own first-contact ineptitude sucked for about fifteen seconds, but Ansari let me down gently. He presents his findings like a friend next to you at the bar, and what he has to say is always interesting.
In Modern Romance, the Parks and Rec actor teams up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg to explore the dynamics of dating in 2015. We face challenges now that no one before us ever had to consider. How should we initiate conversation with a match on Tinder? Is it okay to ask someone out on Facebook? During a breakup, is a phone call really preferable to a text? Ansari blends his usual zaniness with surprisingly sharp observations as he seeks answers to questions about love that are unique to the Internet age. In the midst of describing a study on what makes for an effective profile picture, for example, Ansari concludes, “Based on these data, the answers are clear: If you are a woman, take a high-angle selfie, with cleavage, while you’re underwater near some buried treasure.”
The book’s biggest triumph is its unexpected comprehensiveness. Ansari and Klinenberg partnered with psychologists and experts from around the world—conducting studies, issuing surveys, organizing focus groups—and Ansari drew up a huge reading list himself for personal preparation. Bucking the shallow trend of funny-first celebrity writings, he prioritizes depth and meaning over humor. While there are certainly comedic asides, they almost always point toward a key idea, thesis, or truth, and these never seem vapid or contrived. Everything is so engagingly presented you won’t realize you learned something until it’s all over.
Modern Romance urges you to think about how you date, and, as a result, the reading experience comes with a lot of self-reflection. It might even prompt some changes in your approach. (I’m now considering a personal call-only rule for my initial asks: though Ansari’s focus groups labeled it a high-risk MO, it’s also high-reward.) I don’t have a Tinder profile or any sort of online dating presence, but it’s easy to see how someone more deeply immersed in the cyber-dating world could glean even further material for application. Modern Romance does a good job of putting everything in the wider context of romance, continually contrasting old dating habits with new ones. My parents could read this book and find the statistics interesting (or appalling: one in three couples that married between 2005 and 2012 met via an online dating site—my dad would have thrown the book right there).
It all makes for such fascinating reading that I became annoyed when, for one small paragraph, Ansari indulged himself by discussing Tokyo’s food instead of analyzing the Japanese love crisis—I just wanted to return to the substantial stuff. Thankfully, Ansari stays out of his own way for nearly the entire duration of Modern Romance. You plow through the wisecracks and witticisms on your way to the next analytical gem. It’s a unique sort of page-turner, and a universal one at that. It reaches into the human experience and articulates the language of love in a distinctly accessible way. We expect a book like this to make us laugh, but the revelations come when it truly explores the way we feel.
Ansari talks about the book tonight at 8 PM at the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield, 773-472-0449, victheatre.com.