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Modern Romance
Modern Romance
Submitted by Francesca R
11th August 2016
Modern Romance

Aziz Ansari is a comedian by trade and makes some effort to help the reader remember this every few pages through "Modern Romance". His lighthearted study of searching, flirting, dating, cheating and marrying is part-powered by academic Eric Klinenberg who also wrote Going Solo. Your reviewer recognises the title of Ansari's book as the name of a British boy-band energetically lip-syncing to "Best Years Of Our Lives" on TV when she was very young. Mr Ansari isn't old enough to have had them in mind, she thinks.

The book has quite a lot to say about the role of mobile phones in romantic endeavour (and still calls them "smartphones" quite a lot, which feels a bit last-decade to this reviewer). But it also tries to take a slightly bigger picture of hookup evolution also (which assists fending off the occasional perception that it is an advert / user-guide for Tinder). So--the tools and methods used to search for partnership have changed a lot recently, but so has the nature and objectives of the search. Folks used to regularly marry at 20 (women) and 22 (men), and with someone from down the street or across the hall, drawn from a small pool of potential suitors. In fact the practices of the 1950s and earlier seem closer to arranged marriage when compared to phone apps now which afford the possibility of a couple of hundred interested and potential mates in a day (as long as you live in a metropolis--elsewhere these things apparently work about as well as Uber does which is to say: "buy a car and drive yourself, sorry").

One reason that marriage used to be the first step in adulthood, rather than the swansong of today's "emerging adulthood" was that quite often it was the surest way to get out of one's parents' house. (Today it is housing affordability rather than social mores which is a hindrance in that regard). There are rather a lot of more thorough explanations for the trend to later marriage, fewer children and so on better covered in other books. What's more of interest to Mr Ansari is the nature of single people's new priorities and the part that the digital world plays in that.

The vastly expanded array of choices--which came about first from the ramping up of female presence in the workplace, and relaxed permissiveness of social spaces like bars and restaurants, and then later included personal ads, dating sites and now hookup apps--fostered and reinforced the change from pairing off quickly with a suitable partner to looking for a soulmate, which is what the author suggests is what has evolved. This sketches a picture of limitless possibilities for potential happiness today, but also of extreme fussiness and easy disappointment compared with yesterday, so it is a double edged sword exemplified by more senior married folks fairly unanimously applauding their granddaughters approaching marriage differently from how they did, yet nodding in agreement that they "would not like to be single in today's world"

And choice presents psychological difficulties. It feels good but has downside. Maximising rather than satisficing can often result in greater frustration with the outcome, which also usually involves more stress and work to reach. So as people get more selective about things like marriage, divorces also rise. Mr Ansari spends a moment wondering if his parent's arranged marriage (which was in India) was superior to the modern romance condition (Sheena Iyengar, who the author consulted for the book, also does that). But another paradox of choice on top of the one sketched here (and covered by Ms Iyengar extensively) is that folks do choose (ha) to have it, rather consistently.

Hence online dating (which really should mean online searching, interaction that stays in the ether more than a short while fizzles out according to Mr Ansari's findings). Amid some worries that everybody is losing the ability to interact face-to-face, or even voice-to-voice since phone calls are on the decline in relationship markets as well, cyber search and text-flirt has mushroomed in popularity much more than any other romance/sex platform ever did. Particularly for thin markets where search costs can be lowered proportionally more (for this read LGBT and subsequent initials). But even though modern technologies allow the masses to have many more coupling possibilities before them, there isn't necessarily much more of it taking place, a logical conclusion being that "most people stink at online dating". Apparently having a 24/7 singles bar in your pocket mostly lowers the quality of its clientele, (including you). Limited profile information becomes massively over-valued. Rejection for tiny grammatical imperfections is rampant. The science of the wait time to respond to a text is analysed. Profile photos gobble up 90% of the decision weight, so get those right! On a slightly deeper level, it's also that we are not great at all in knowing what we're looking for (see Daniel Gilbert). There's not much evidence that the algorithms in services like match.com make any difference, hence the rise of minimum effort swipe-left/right Tinder and others. Mr Ansari's conclusion is that first impressions are so fallible that people should really gather fewer of them and give those few more of a chance each, meaning more follow up dates (and not be screening for future dates while on the way to one, as a woman in one of the book's fieldwork studies owned up to).

A brief exploration outside the metropolitan United States takes in "herbivore" Tokyo (generally, timidness in hooking up) and more omnivorous and ravenous Buenos Aires. Dating apps ought to help shy Tokyo singles but the stigma of being a player extends to their use as well as in personal interaction. Approximately nobody in the Argentine capital needs to use them. In Paris, which is the global capital of cheating, there are many platforms designed for the unfaithful which are in use. But florists have long reminded the French to not forget their extra-marital partners on Valentine's Day too.

Somewhat frustratingly source references tend not to be provided for such hard data as does get included. Of course this is not necessary for the occasional appearance of not-too-profound text message examples that Mr Ansari also chooses to reproduce, and these thankfully only take up a single digit number of pages. "Modern Romance" doesn't break new ground and is light and easy and somewhat entertaining. But your reviewer doubts that many people remember "Everybody Salsa" and "Don't Stop That Crazy Rhythm" as landmark pop songs thirty-something years on either.
Aziz Ansari
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