When I think about insightful nonfiction books about social issues, "Aziz Ansari" isn't the first name that comes to mind. Actually, his name never came to mind, at all. A recent episode of Freakonomics Radio that featured Ansari, however, piqued my interest and convinced me to check out his new book. Along with Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist from NYU, Ansari has compiled a surprisingly large amount of research in an effort to take a serious look at dating in the modern world.
In the opening chapters, Ansari and Klienberg convincingly make the argument that, in recent decades, society's entire conception of dating and marriage has undergone a significant transformation. Instead of finding a partner within the same town (or even the same neighborhood) and getting married in the first few years of adulthood, the average person is now getting married in their late twenties. Survey data also demonstrates that people are now placing a much higher importance on finding a highly compatible partner and marrying for love; this contrasts with the recent past, where the practical and utilitarian aspects of marriage were at the forefront.
This transition is never presented as "good" or "bad." Greater acceptance of alternative lifestyles (i.e., not rushing to settle down with a partner as soon as possible), along with a bevy of new technological tools to assist with dating, clearly give people plenty of different ways to approach dating and a much larger pool of potential matches to peruse. At the same time, the amount of choice available to people can be overwhelming, and the increasing prominence of text messages as the go-to medium for romance causes all sorts of new anxieties and confusion to pop up.
While I mostly picked this book up for the "data" parts, Ansari's humor is pretty seamlessly integrated in a way that makes this book feel like a cohesive whole. Instead of forcing jokes, the authors tend to tie in entertaining anecdotes and poke at some of the absurdities of modern dating trends after leading with relevant information. I haven't laughed much while reading Modern Romance, but I often find myself smirking or smiling at something, and I'm definitely learning a lot.