Day 92: what was the last book you read?

July 6, 2015

I just finished Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, a “sociology/humor book” on various aspects of dating and relationships in the digital age (limited in scope to heterosexual, middle class, college-educated individuals with strong attachments to smartphones). It was every bit as hilarious as I expected it to be — his introduction opens with: “Oh, shit! Thanks for buying my book.” (you’re welcome, Aziz) — and is surprisingly informative and grounded in research. The book was written with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and cited everything from social scientists like Eli Finkel to OkCupid data to personal testimonials on the Modern Romance subreddit they used for research. He combines statistics and graphs borrowed from legitimate studies on relationships, but complements them with insightful thoughts from Pitbull and innovates his own concepts like the Flo Rida Theory of Acquired Likability Through Repetition.

I’m a huge Aziz Ansari fan and this book did not disappoint. I’ve watched him on Parks and Recreation (in true Tom Haverford fashion, he makes some references to Ja Rule and Tyrese Gibson), seen all of his Netflix specials, and was lucky to see him perform on his Modern Romance tour at the Chicago Theater in June 2014. Modern Romance is as entertaining as his stand-up. Even though it’s educational and largely factual, discounting his Photoshopped recreations of Japanese Jurassic Park-themed love hotels, what really ties the book together are his chuckle-worthy footnotes (“Shorty had them apple bottom jeans…boots with the fur…(with the fur)…”), personal conclusions (“step it up, dudes”) and advice, and amazing continuity.

you were wrong aziz, i looked at this photo again

The reason I enjoyed this book so much was because I’m currently living most of it, and so many of the things he discusses like online dating stigmas, cultural differences, and the stomach-plummeting, heart-wrenching, throat-closing three bubble sign of texting that suddenly disappears and is never heard from again (see “ghosting”) are ones I’m intimately familiar with. Aziz (I feel weird calling him “Ansari” as if this were an official book review on The New Yorker or something, so I hope he’s chill with me referring to him as I would if we were finding a good taco place for lunch on Foursquare or Eater) notes that more and more people are spending their lives in what he calls “emerging adulthood,” typically the years after college in which we’re supposed to get jobs, find ourselves, but still manage to have fun and be adventurous before we settle down. I’m currently emerging into emerging adulthood, and many of his findings about the unparalleled choices, challenges, and stress of finding a partner today vs. previous generations resonate with me very strongly.

I have never actually been in a real relationship. In fact, the last guy to tell me he liked me was a real-life Gob Bluth — he wielded a fake sword and did magic tricks — who sent me an email in the sixth grade that said “i think i luv u.” Eleven-year old me swooned. But I’ve had some unfortunate FWB attempts (no matter how much you and your friend-with-benefit think you might be the exception, you will never turn out like Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher or Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake) and tried Tinder for a month, before I realized I was (a) spending way too much time analyzing what should’ve been a simple swipe left or right and (b) getting really stressed over messages suggesting we should physically meet up because I’ve watched too much CSI.

After reading Aziz’s book, I have been thinking about some of my Tinder matches and some of the awkward shitty things that happened, both my fault and theirs. I remember this one guy — blonde and gorgeous and totally out of my league — who ended up scaring the bejesus out of me because he was super forward and really insistent on physically meeting up in a non-public place not during the day time (red flags went up everywhere). He said that texting just didn’t seem like a good way to get to know someone. I ultimately did not meet him because he seemed super sus. I do not regret trusting my gut, however I can now understand why he was adamantly against texting or messaging. Chemistry online vs. in-person is super different. I also get his distaste for meeting in a coffee shop (Aziz recommends monster truck rallies for interesting first dates). To be fair, I suggested a pie place. But I get pretty paranoid just walking down the street alone at night, so I think the big thing for me about online dating was the safety aspect, something that Aziz acknowledged but didn’t cover in-depth. Although guys statistically have fewer matches than women, they also don’t have to worry about as much about being raped or killed.

I did have a handful of good experiences on Tinder, like this one guy who I messaged for a few days and eventually gave my number to. He made grammar puns and punctuation jokes and we engaged in some witty banter — he might’ve been the one that got away. But then he messaged me at the airport saying he was going on a business trip to Canada and never texted me back. I think I was supposed to text back. After all, he’d been the one to initiate the conversation the previous times we talked. Argh! Texting conventions! I am an awful texter — nervous, verbose, and ultimately too analytical.

the rules of texting, as compiled by aziz

I felt like I was reading into everything too much. I am an over-analyzer and optimizer by default, so the idea of casually judging people with a flick of my finger made me feel like kind of a douche. Like maybe all those guys holding up gross fishes they’ve caught are just trying to signal to all the ladies that, in an apocalyptic world of rising sea levels, they can provide for us. I found it really hard to balance my gut feeling (filtering out any message that suggestively asked to “hang out later? ;)”) with that guilt of over-analyzing. And since I’m not even a very good in-person flirter, that did not translate very well to the digital world.

I don’t think online dating is for me, at least not now. It just adds more stress— and some excitement— that doesn’t seem worth it. But I agree with Aziz that regardless, it’s important to treat people like people even though they’re just text bubbles and carefully-crafted pictures. I’ve actually written an essay for a nonfiction class about the idea of the phone self vs. the physical self, which Aziz brings up throughout the book, and the exhaustion that comes with maintaining them both. Even though I’m pretty attached to my phone, I am not huge on texting. Despite being a millennial, it’s just not a skill on my resume. Texting isn’t necessarily a great signal of character, and just like how our online personalities might be quite incongruous to our real-life selves, chemistry online doesn’t necessarily translate to the real world. One of my good friends was messaging me about this guy he was talking to on Grindr who was a French web developer. They even flirted in French! They hit it off well on the Internet, but unfortunately the chemistry fizzled after a first date. I prefer calling or meeting in-person (I suppose I’ll have to risk my safety at some point), and even though it may be a challenging place to start and is becoming less and less like the norm, the in-person connection is the most important.

For any person, especially those of us still going through emerging adulthood, Modern Romance is such a great read. I physically lol’ed at several parts, learned a ton without feeling like I was learning, and most importantly, felt more optimistic about romantic prospects. It seems like our generation is faced with these paradoxes of choice and connection and it can feel like we’re floundering alongside plenty of fish in the sea, unable to find our lobster. There are some unique obstacles that have become commonplace because of technology, i.e. dick pics and snooping through each other’s texts/browser history, but they’re really just modern twists on longtime romantic practices. Even though today’s romantic search seems super ambiguous (why is it so many couples I know started dating only after months of hooking up and dancing around the subject of commitment?) and stressful (seriously, how many people don’t have a text consultant?), we’re making more informed decisions about the significant others we choose to spend our time with. And once we find that person, we’ll spend less time with our phones and more time with each other.