It’s an undeniable fact that the art of courting and dating is changing with the times. Between websites like Tumblr, and the rise of online matchmaking services such as Match.com, OkCupid and Tinder, you would think we would be spoiled for choice, easily finding happiness in a loving relationship. But is this really the case? Aziz Ansari teams up with Eric Klinenberg – a professor of Sociology at New York University, to ask just that.
Straight off the bat, readers should know this isn’t your standard ‘humour’ novel, nor is it one of those ‘How-To Pick Up’ guides such as Neil Strauss’ The Game which is a welcome relief, as I was afraid I’d have to use bear mace on myself if I were to read that particular genre. If anything, what sets Ansari’s Modern Romance apart is that it’s more akin to a thesis on the current state of the ‘dating world.’
As the offspring of an arranged marriage back in India, Ansari offers an interesting perspective from the outset. His parents didn’t go through the usual courting that takes place in a modern relationship. In Chapter 4: ‘Choice and Options,’ Ansari raises the question with his father Shoukath as to how the whole process worked for him.
“He told his parents he was ready to get married, so his family arranged a meeting with three neighbouring families. The first girl, he said, was a ‘little too tall,’ and the second girl was a ‘little too short.’ Then he met my mom. After he quickly deduced that she was the appropriate height (finally!) they talked for about thirty minutes. They decided it would work. A week later, they were married.”
Ansari points out this is in stark contrast to the way he performs even the most basic of tasks. For example: to plan a meal Ansari spends hours consulting multiple sources, spending hours of research to the point where most restaurants have long since closed up for the night. While Ansari and Klinenberg cover a vast array of issues relating to modern romance, they revolve mainly around heterosexual relationships.
“Early in the process Eric and I realized that if we tried to write about how all the different aspects of romance we address applied to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transsexual relationships, we simply wouldn’t be able to do the topic justice without writing an entirely separate book.”
In further chapters of Modern Romance, Ansari explores ways in which dating agencies have developed and evolved throughout the last 40 years. Personally, I’d forgotten VHS dating agency videos were even a thing. The world is a much brighter place now that I remember.
One of the highlights of Modern Romance is the interviews and research Ansari and Klinenberg perform in foreign countries, specifically France, Brazil and Japan. All three countries have drastic approaches to romance, dating and fidelity. Japan in particularly has some very peculiar factors with its rise of ‘Herbivore males’ – a term identifying males who are “very shy, passive and show no interest in sex and romantic relationships.” This now applies to 60% of the population, so much so that Japan’s birthrate is now ranked 222 out of 224, with one third of Japanese people under thirty yet to date. Japan’s government considers this so much of a crisis they have state sponsored singles nights and government run dating apps, one of which will send gifts on your wedding day if you meet your partner through the service. However, due to strong ideals around their society, many users’ prefer their dating profiles to show photos of their pets or rice cookers in lieu of a self-portrait (not a joke, apparently it happens frequently).
This stands in stark contrast with France which has a far more liberal approach to extra-marital affairs, whereas Brazil has a more sexually aggressive approach to courtship altogether.
One of the few detracting factors of Modern Romance is that the comedy and research rarely seem to flow well with each other, though there are moments. Ansari certainly isn’t an amateur when it comes to humour but sometimes the jokes are jarring and break up the natural rhythm of the information. As a reader I had the strongest feeling this sort of combination would have perhaps worked better as a documentary series.
Truly the anecdotes and interviews within Modern Romance are fantastic eye opening experiences, well worth getting into, but perhaps not as well utilised as they could have been. It’s clear some of the material has been adapted and refined into Ansari’s comedy Netflix series Master of None to arguably greater effect.
None of this should stop the reader from thoroughly enjoying Modern Romance by any means. The information and research is presented in a clearly digestible format and remains interesting from beginning to end. Modern Romance is a must for anyone curious about the evolving state or relationships in the digital age.
Image Attribution: Goodreads