Joseph Edwin Haeger

Book Review: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari.

 

I was first introduced to Aziz Ansari on Parks and Recreation and my first impression was, Oh man, that’s the kind of person I’d never want to work with. Though, the more I watched, the more endearing the character Tom Haverford became. After a couple years of watching that show, I began to equate his fictional character to who Ansari actually was; never entertaining the thought that he was, you know, an actor (this isn’t the first—or probably the last—time I’ve made this mistake).

I was then fortunate enough to watch one of Ansari’s stand-up specials. This is where he shines. Within minutes I saw how smart and perceptive he is, as opposed to the self-aggrandizing goof he is on Parks and Recreation (see: actor). His bits on interpersonal experiences are hilarious (you’ll have to take my word for it, this isn’t a review of his stand-up [I know! I’m getting to the book]), so the subject of Ansari’s book, Modern Romance (Penguin Press, 2015), makes sense.

I say all this to try and prove I’m a fan of Ansari and his stand-up. Even though I like him, I was reluctant to read Modern Romance. In my experience, comedians (that will remain unnamed because I still hold onto hope of being their best friend) who put out books aren’t necessarily great writers. Telling jokes involves precise timing, and it’s hard to translate that humor to the page. While the books are generally entertaining, they rarely live up to the reputation of the comedian and are mostly a disappointment. Ansari, though, succeeds. The reason he is able to pull this off is because he isn’t trying to write a humor book. He’s writing about actual modern romance with the help of co-writer and professor of sociology Eric Klinenberg, all the while peppering jokes into the text. Ansari took a subject he was interested in and has transferred his curiosity to the reader.

In the beginning, Ansari differentiates dating and marriage from fifty years ago to how it is now. He visited, along with Klinenberg, retirement communities to conduct group interviews with the elderly. The major difference between the two time periods boils down to options. In the sixties and seventies, couples got married after meeting on the same block or even in the same building. They got together and proceeded to grow into a life rather than having a life and then trying to find someone to fit into it. Fifty years ago, people made a relationship work for them; and now it seems young people are trying to work themselves into a relationship. This is partly due to the rise in the concept of the “soul mate.”

Ansari points out, the internet “doesn’t simply help us find the best thing out there; it has helped to produce the idea that there is a best thing.”

The internet has shrunk our world. We are now able to look at exotic pictures of places we’ll probably never experience, and we can learn about other cultures without ever leaving our homes. We can also date people that live more than a few blocks away. The concept of true love seems more obtainable and, because of that, the idea of settling down is more frightening. Sure, the expansion of dating sites seems better, but as Ansari points out, the internet “doesn’t simply help us find the best thing out there; it has helped to produce the idea that there is a best thing.” No one is perfect, and the whole appeal behind a soul mate is that they are without flaw. Personally, I think it is a naïve mindset to have when going into dating because it lessens every individual’s worth. Sites like Tinder and OkCupid only perpetuate the concept of an ideal companion and it creates issues for modern romance.

In the introduction, Ansari says he was going to focus primarily on cisgender/heterosexual relationships, and part of his reasoning was the magnitude of the subject. Having written this book, he said he could have written different volumes to address the nuances of the gender and sexuality spectrums. Late in the book, though, he has a chapter devoted to the romantic atmosphere in Tokyo and Buenos Aires. The chapter is interesting enough, especially following his Wichita, Kansas, and Monroe, New York, sections—where he interviewed people from America’s “worst dating cities.” But the Japan and Argentina chapter seemed shortchanged as if they were included to hit a minimum page length. It felt like he was rushing through the info and not giving it the same amount of weight the rest of the chapters got. He had already made a caveat at the beginning, so why not say the book was specific to America? Or write subsequent volumes—God knows I’d read them.

Aziz Ansari has shown us modern romance and, while some of it ventures into a how-to manual, most of it reads as a sociological study of our (cis/hetero) romantic behavior. It is a fascinating exploration in what is happening right now on- and off-line with relationships. This book shows us how things have changed and he takes an unbiased standpoint between the way things were and the way things are now, providing pros and cons in each chapter. He adds in his own relationship anecdotes here and there giving the whole book a personal touch, while rounding it out. The subject of Modern Romance is enormous and Ansari is able to pare it down into an enjoyable and fulfilling read.

 

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Joseph Edwin Haeger

Joseph Edwin Haeger is the author of Learn to Swim (University of Hell Press, 2015). His writing has appeared in The Pacific NW Inlander, RiverLit, Hippocampus Magazine, and others. He lives in Spokane, Washington with his wife and son.

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