Thoughts: Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

Excuse the lateness… I’ve been planning for NaNo, and now that I’m mostly all plotted up, it’s time to clear my backlog of bookthoughts before the madness begins.

Modern Romance isn’t my usual thing (as I say about pretty much every book I read…), being not only non-fiction, but more sociology-oriented than the other non-fiction I’ve dipped my toes in, PLUS about finding love, which is something I like to think I’ve got down (two years married woooo!). But a friend recommended it, and on the list it went! Enjoy my thoughts below.

This was a lot more academic than I expected! I assumed it was just a celebrity book with a theme, but comedian Ansari and sociologist Klinenberg draw on a lot of research, both their own and others’, in this exploration of all the different aspects of romance and how it affects our modern lives – and how our modern lives affect it. It’s upfront about its self-imposed restrictions, too. This is a book about straight American romance. Some of its conclusions and broader trends are probably applicable elsewhere, though. I’ve always been hugely bad at dating so don’t quote me.

I was a little worried that it would come to the sort of depressing “*shakes fist* MILLENNIALS!” conclusion you see in pretty much every article about modern… anything, but it was refreshingly balanced in the end. The section on how our expectations for a romantic partner have changed over the years was particularly interesting, contrasting the very local, “sure why not get married” relationship stories of the older generation with the more modern agony of choice, “he/she is my best friend and ultimate cheerleader” relationship (and relationship-seeking) stories of the younger generation without ever reverting to portraying the one as cosy/dysfunctional or the other as correct/picky.

The whole book manages to walk this line of portraying how our modern lives have changed and how our ideas of romance and means of seeking it out have changed with it, without judging. Ansari commiserates with the difficulty of it all, and shares anecdotes about his own time on the dating track, but he never longs for a life without screens or online dating. It would be useless to do so; this is the world he and his readers live in. This is the only world in which we can find romance, so we’d better learn to navigate it. He offers some common sense advice but it’s not a how-to book by any means.

Oh, I lied when I said it was a book about straight American romance – they do go into a few other cultures and explore other concepts of romance, in Tokyo, Paris and Buenos Aires. These aren’t as in-depth as the rest of the book, which is understandable, but still pleasantly full of citations and statistics.

OK, here’s the part where I lose friends… Some of the jokes fell flat for me. They were just a bit too cheesy. I haven’t seen any of Ansari’s stand-up or acting, so I assume he’s better in person! And it absolutely didn’t detract from the book, which is interesting in its own right. I’m amazed so many people were willing to talk about such personal stuff, sharing even the contents of their smartphones (which is like letting someone look directly into your brain at this point in human history), but I guess romance is one of those subjects people find interesting to analyse about themselves. It’s personal, but also shared/public experience.

It was a quick, fun, educational read, and I should definitely watch Master of None.

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