Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
My brother is seven years younger than me. As a family we frequently talk about how he grew up in a different family than my sister and I did. My parents were married, my father juggling night-school and a full-time job, while my mom was a stay-at-home mom. My parents were just generally getting started in life (starter cars, starter homes). His parents were divorced, both had busy careers and there was generally more than enough money for travel and fun. As a result our attitudes toward our parents and our expectations are often very different. His experience of dating and romantic relationships is also vastly different than mine and not just because we are different genders. I was married at 21 to someone I met in college, starting a family at 24. He is in his early 30's, had some serious heartbreak and much to my parents's frustration is not even close to settling down. My brother is also Aziz Ansari's age, so as I listened to Modern Romance, I couldn't help but feel it was listening to someone explain the vastly different landscape of love and romance my brother is navigating.
Modern Romance was an interesting but not wholly successful book. The mix of comedy and serious research was often uneven and uncomfortable. In the audio version, Ansari's comedic voice was irreverent, self-deprecating and occasionally biting but didn't always transition well in segments meant to be insightful or argumentative. The chapters that focused on the international dating scene (Qatar, Japan, Argentina & France), were dull and lacking in any real attempt at research. The observations felt superficial and poorly researched.
The more interesting chapters were the ones were Ansari tried to make sense of his generation's dissatisfaction with dating. his own personal struggles to connect, the effort it takes to build lasting relationships in a world full of seemingly endless choices. His advice to become aware and self-conscious about the way experiences in the "phoneworld" bleed into face to face interactions and to invest more than one date into the people a dater encounters were thoughtful and sensible.
I really appreciated the way the book tried to place in historical context the vast changes in expectations people have about romantic relationships, and marriage. They provided a wonderful overview about the way expectation of personal happiness, increased personal autonomy and economic freedom have reshaped how people view marriage and romance.
Ansari does acknowledge in the introduction that the book is not fully inclusive of LGBT relationships and instead deals for the most part with only heterosexual relationships. While I understood their choice, the lack was felt most strongly in the chapters that addressed how and why people have entered marriage relationships over time. Much of his discussion on the rise of soulmate marriage over good-enough marriage feeds into the growing cultural acceptance of same-same marriage. I also felt that the book could have benefited from a woman's voice, as I felt Ansari was often too sympathetic to men who ineptly try to message women online and he generally glosses over many of dangers and inconveniences women encounter in the dating scene.
Overall the book was entertaining, pointing out the positive and negatives of the new relationship marketplace. I feel like I have a better understanding of the unique challenges my brother's generation faces. It makes me wonder how much it will change again by the time my daughters are both out there dating too.