HELIUM-VOICED stand up and actor Aziz Ansari is having what some might call ‘a moment’. He stars in the cult hit TV series Parks and Recreation (the show also responsible for jump-starting new Hollywood blockbuster boy Chris Pratt’s career) and his live stand up show at Madison Square Garden premiered on Netflix earlier this year.
Now he’s written a book. Don’t sigh, this isn’t another behind-the-scenes comedian’s cocaine confessional, Ansari has turned his attention to dating.
If the book, Modern Romance: An Investigation was a recipe for salad dressing then it’s ingredients would be one part first person humour, one part brilliant behavioural research and a dollop of excellent dating anecdotes that make for a zingy and satisfying read.
It will make you laugh, nod in agreement and ultimately feel better that you are not alone in trying to navigate the uncertain world of romance in the 21st century.
As our tour guide through the maze of singledom, Ansari is a pro. Although he’s dating now, he has experienced the single jungle. However, his personal tales alone, amusing as they are, would be a bit light and frothy without Ansari’s secret weapon — Eric Klinenberg — his accomplice in the quest to find answers about how our romantic options have changed since the arrival, and takeover, of social media and mobile technology.
Klinenberg is a sociology professor at New York University and together he and Ansari have undertaken a massive research project conducting hundreds of face-to-face interviews, focus groups from Tokyo to Buenos Aires and gathered their own findings on Reddit (an online bulletin board where users can post messages).
As well as using the thousands of Reddit messages, Ansari also throws in some of the exchanges he had with audiences on his stand up tour around the US, which in many cases involved trusting singles handing their phones over for him to read their texts live from the stage. The results are real, revealing and in many cases riotously funny.
Looking at generations before us, Ansari examines the patterns of marrying people within your geographic proximity and how that trend was turned on its head when we starting moving miles away to go to work, study and live; the increase in the average age that people get married today and the shift in mentality from searching for someone who would make a good companion to today’s obsession with finding our soulmate.
What he discovers is that while the days of marrying the girl next door or the college sweetheart are gone and today’s singles are faced with a staggering, unprecedented amount of choice — which is amazing, but also brings a whole new set of problems.
By far the most gory and gratifying parts of the book are the peaks into the phones of others. From the ‘Modern bozos’ (the normal men who transform into ‘douche monsters’ over text), so much so that there is a whole website called White Boys Texting devoted to these horrifying and sometimes hilarious messages.These are the ‘Hey, what’s you bra size?’ Or ‘What would you do if you were here right now ;)’ messages that have mystified women for years. Just knowing that other people have scratched their heads over them too is heartening.
One of the most interesting conclusions Ansari comes to is regarding rejection. He asks the public what they do to give someone the message they aren’t interested (you should answer this question right now in your head too).
So, do you pretend to be busy, go silent until they get the hint or be honest with them? The majority of respondents (myself included) chose the cowardly former options, but when the question was reversed and Ansari asked how we would like to be treated, overwhelmingly people wanted honesty.
Of course we do, that way there is no confusion, no why hasn’t he texted me back? Has he fallen down a well? Does he like me so much he’s intimidated/overwhelmed/saving on his phone bill so he can buy me jewellery?
None of that, just the little stab of ‘Oh, he’s not into it, now I can move on with my life and stop boring my freinds to death.’
There are lots of other insights from the world of online dating — what messaging strategies work and what doesn’t (depressingly, men who cut and paste the the same message to multiple women get more results), the most ‘succcessful’ profile pictures (flirting with the camera and selfies taken from above for gals and outdoorsy, muscle-revealing and pics with animals for men) to the rise of sexting and of course, bad dates.
Throughout, Ansari questions trusting algorithms to find the ‘perfect match’ while examining how online dating has led many of us to treat people like products that must match certain specifications, but I’ll leave you with this ‘ah ha’ moment.
It’s called the ‘scarcity principle’ — and to illustrate what it means, one study had women look at the Facebook profiles of men who had already viewed and rated their profiles. The men rated the women’s profiles as Best, Average or Uncertain. Which group were the women most attracted to?
The men who were ‘uncertain’. Why? Because we find what’s less available more desirable.
Something to chew on before you compose your next flirty text.