At this point, it’s easy to assume we have seen it all when it comes to celebrity-penned nonfiction. You have your traditional memoirs and your juicy tell-all’s. You have the newly popular strand, the comedian’s collection of essays. You even have a choose-your-own-adventure autobiography (Neil Patrick Harris, King of Doing Awesome Things). There really can’t be any other ways a celebrity can write a book, can there?
Unless you’re Aziz Ansari. Now, if you’ve seen Aziz’s stand-up specials (which if you haven’t, you really should; he has three on Netflix), you know that a good portion of his set revolves about dating in this modern age. He calls audience members up and reads the text messages through which people try to romantically connect. He hilariously recalls trying to simply meet up with a girl, and how what should have been a simple text exchange becomes a week long escapade of missed chances that ultimately ends in silence. So, when asked to write a book, instead of retelling his set and adding some additional anecdotes, Aziz paired up with a sociologist and decided to explore the science behind these romantic-encounters-gone-awry that seem to plague our generation.
With the aid of sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Aziz travelled the country (and the world) to explore how dating today is so drastically different than the dating of yesteryear. First, he talked to the elder generations. Those of our grandparents’ generation said that they met people who they went to school with, who lived on their block, who lived in their building, and as long as a dude had a good family and a good job, the marriage was good to go. But many women expressed that despite loving their husbands, they didn’t have the freedom to live bigger lives. They just did as they were expected to do.
My generation, on the other hand, has huge amounts of freedom and does not squander that opportunity. On the upside, our generation more often marries people they deeply care about, people they refer to as “their soulmates” or “their best friends”. Isn’t that incredible?! But on the flip side, we are burdened with choice. Facebook, Twitter, Tinder, and other sites connect us with people all over the map… We struggle to decide on places to meet for brunch or buy a new pair of jeans. How can we tie ourselves to one person when we can’t guarantee that they are the one?
These are the kind of debacles Aziz Ansari brings up throughout his book. He speaks to this generation, other generations, working sociologists all about romance and our perceptions of it. How has technology played a factor? How has it changed globally? Is love actually dead?
Overall, Modern Romance is hands-down one of the most fascinating nonfiction reads I have ever encountered. We live in a culture that is entrenched in this idea of love — what it is, what makes it special, how that we have to have it, so our lives seem full. And it’s definitely not the same today as it was before. What’s great about this book is that it has the information and research of those countless, stale scholarly articles I had to read for research papers in college, but it comes from the mouth of in my opinion, one of the funniest comedians on the block right now. Aziz Ansari adds his signature flare from his stand-up to this book, so it feels like he’s reading a scholarly article to you, but keeps pausing to tell a related story or add his two cents.
I felt really connected to the content, because the stories of courtship and marriage I heard as a kid is nothing like dating today. My mom and dad had known each other’s families for years. It was hard not to know about Doc Brown, his gregarious wife Jean and the eight kids they had running around. My dad was also the bartender at the popular local bar — Lewis’, aka the Center of the Universe — where my maternal grandfather would eat lunch daily and (not-so) subtly hedged my mom into my dad’s awareness. Eventually, my dad caved and they fell in love and have been together ever since. But almost every one of my aunts and uncles have that story. I was (fortunately) raised in a family of strong marriages that (unfortunately) all emanated from the same little Massachusetts town.
That’s not how I’m going to meet my future spouse. I’m not going to know what sports he played in school or how many siblings he has or whether his parents are good people before I date him. More likely than not, he’ll be someone I have no ties to at all. And for someone who grew up around my family, that’s a little bit of a scary possibility.
But in that way, Modern Romance was a sort of comfort. It’s not just a me problem. It’s an outcome of living in a great, wide world that is more accessible to us than ever before. It’s having choices and being burdened with those choices and making the idea love adapt to this world of dating freedom. There’s nothing to be afraid of, just more things to be aware of while you’re looking for that person.
That’s why I think Modern Romance is a good read for anyone, dating today or not. I think people my age will be more informed daters (if you can be such a thing) and learn a thing or two about how to maneuver in this new frontier from the expansive findings of Aziz and Klinenberg. On the flip side, any parent like mine that has a smaller-world love story might realize how much different dating is today, so they understand when I tell them “they just don’t get it,” because in a way, they don’t, but that’s still okay.
So, if you need to get your head out of the love stories and instead want to learn about love, check out Modern Romance. Trust me, you’ll be captivated from the onset and it will turn you into a believer of Aziz Ansari.
Until Next Time,
Casey Brown | Gal about Town