Aziz Ansari is straight-up hilarious. He stole our hearts as lovable wannabe entrepreneur Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation (who could forget his snack invention “Saltweens: Saltines for tweens”?), had us cheering when he spoke about being a feminist, and always slays with his stand-up, describing everyday behaviour in the most comically insightful ways, often taking aim at dating and romance. When we heard Ansari was writing not simply a book on dating but a “comprehensive, in-depth sociological investigation” into finding love in the modern world, complete with extensive research and legit social scientists lending their expertise, we had to read it.
For Modern Romance (on sale today), Ansari teamed up with New York University sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews, worldwide focus groups and a Reddit online research forum. He also tapped some of the world’s leading social scientists for help.
We have to hand it to him: he did the legwork. Read on for what we learned from Modern Romance (and what made us LOL).
1. People used to just marry the nearest decent person.
In 1932, one in eight of 5,000 married couples in Philadelphia surveyed lived in the same building (!) before getting married. In those days, a person would choose a mate based on who seemed like a nice enough person in their neighbourhood or apartment building. Their families would quickly meet, and after it was determined that neither party was a total psycho, the couple would get married and have a kid or two. “Think about where you grew up as a kid, your apartment building or your neighbourhood,” writes Ansari . “Could you imagine being married to one of those clowns?” (No, we can’t.)
2. They were also more likely to settle for companionate marriages.
Sociologist Andrew Cherlin describes a companionate marriage as one in which each partner had a clearly defined role: the man was the breadwinner and head of the household, while the woman took care of the home and children. Most of the satisfaction gleaned from the partnership depended on how well each partner fulfilled their assigned role. If you were madly in love, that was a bonus.
3. But now, modern love-seekers are hyper-focused on finding their soulmate.
Today people are embarking on the oft-unrealistic quest of finding the perfect person for them—their soul mate. Or in Ansari’s words, the person who makes you say: “Every time I touch her hair, I get a huge boner.”
4. “Emerging adulthood” also means people are getting married later and later.
According to Ansari and Klinenberg’s research, the trend of marrying later and seeking a soulmate marriage rather than a companionate one is closely related to the “emerging adulthood” stage of life that was all but nonexistent until around the 1960s. Marriage used to be the first major step in adulthood for both men and women; you finished high school or college and got married. It was also the only socially acceptable way for a woman to leave her parents’ house. Now, most young people have another stage of life when they can go to university, start a career, have relationships, and be an adult outside of their parents’ home before marriage and without stigma.
5. Technology is making us too picky.
Online dating and hook-up apps like Tinder have given single people access to endless potential mates, unencumbered by geography, age or socioeconomic status. “Today, if you own a smartphone, you’re carrying a 24-7 singles bar in your pocket,” writes Ansari. But having more options isn’t necessarily better. Ansari and Klinenberg’s research suggests that all this choice is causing people to set their bars impossibly high and actually hindering their efforts to partner up, because they’re afraid of settling.
6. Text and instant messaging suuuuuuuucks.
A benefit of technology is convenience. You don’t have to ring someone’s doorbell or even call someone up to communicate, you can just type out a quick message. But convenience’s first cousin is laziness. Some of the worst textual offences reported by Ansari’s research subjects: the ambiguous “hey” text message (see also: “heyy,” “hey!” and “wsup”), the unsolicited sexual advance text, and the copy-and-paste online dating greeting. Next-level lazy.
7. The “secretary problem” is killing romance.
Ever get stuck in a seemingly endless plan-making text message cul-de-sac that doesn’t ultimately end in an actual meet-up? Ansari describes this as the “secretary problem,” the result of heavy scheduling chatter that quickly turns both parties from potential romantic partners into secretaries trying to schedule a meeting.
8. Nothing kills a lady-boner like vagueness…
Ansari and Klinenberg found that women were frustrated by the prevalence of wishy-washy texts from potential mates (“Whatcha up to?”) and easily impressed when men used specifics in initiating plans. “I realized that inviting someone to a specific thing at a specific time—that made women’s vaginas explode in our interviews,” writes Ansari.
9. …except for maybe poor spelling and grammar.
Throughout their interviews, Ansari and Klinenberg found that bad grammar or spelling were immediate turn-offs to both men and women. “Let’s say you are a handsome, charming stud who really made a great first impression. If you first text is ‘Hey shud we hang out sumtimez,’ you may just destroy any goodwill you have built up,” writes Ansari.
10. Most dudes are bozos…
“One firm takeaway from all our interviews with women is that most dudes out there are straight-up bozos. I’ve spent hours talking with women and seeing the kind of ‘first texts’ they get from guys, and trust me, it’s infuriating,” he writes. “These were intelligent, attractive, amazing women and they all deserved better.” To be fair, the sentiment is not new, but the sharp comic insight with which Ansari takes aim at male dating behaviour is both on point (“hey what’s your bra size ;)” is nothing if not an “inept sexual advance”) and hilarious (see: excerpts from the blog Straight White Boys Texting).
11. …but there are still some non-bozos left!
“We also found some really great texts that gave me hope for the modern man,” writes Ansari, before listing the three specific traits that research subjects reported made for successful texts: 1) a firm invitation to something specific at a specific time; 2) a reference to your last in-person interaction; and 3) a humorous tone. And at the end of his book, Ansari treats readers to excerpts from his own first text message conversation with his now-girlfriend. For the record, he made the first move by calling her the old-fashioned way.