Book Love: Modern Romance

I’ll start by saying I’m a bipolar sociopath when it comes to romance. I’m currently listening to “What Kind of Love” by Childish Gambino. I long for human contact of some sort.   A swirl of emotions are currently swelling within me: regret, loneliness, fear, self-loathing. However, I know that in an instant I’ll revert to this jaded version of myself that abhors contact of any sort and relish in my current single status. It’s a curse being so consistently inconsistent, I tell you.

Recently I went on a late night Netflix binge and ended up watching the entire first season of Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” in one sitting. For the uninitiated, it’s an episodic romp about a young New York actor, Dev (played by Ansari), trying to wade his way through life in the big city. We follow Dev as he tackles issues that all emerging adults face; he loses relationships with close friends as they marry off and have children, his relationship with his parents suffers as he struggles to find his own identity and reconcile that with his culture, he spends hours searching Yelp reviews for the best restaurants, and perhaps the most relatable of them all: we follow Dev on a few of his romantic outings and watch his relationships wither and grow. It was here that the show really shone through to me.  Seeing my fellow man struggle to find love in this digital world was surprisingly refreshing. Why go to the bar when we have Tinder? How long do I wait to text this person back, or do I wait at all? The semantics of modern dating is something that I had never really taken a step back to consider in its absurdity.

 

Thanks to the internet, there is a sea of a literal million faces at the tap of a finger. For better or worse, we have more romantic options available to us than at any other point in history. Yet, there is still a struggle to find the “right” person. Not only that, there are so many rules for meeting people and getting to know them online. It’s infuriating! If I text someone back too soon I come off as overly eager, but if I wait too long then I seem cold and uninterested (and the proper window to message someone back is different for everyone!).  I was determined to do some research on the wild west that is Modern Romance, so I turned back to Mr. Ansari.

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Modern Romance is a collaborative effort between comedian/actor Aziz Ansari and New York University sociology professor Eric Klinenberg that sets out to make some sense of the current dating landscape in the age of cell phones, internet, and emerging sexuality. I honestly expected more of a humorous approach given Ansari’s background but the entire book was incredibly well researched and presented. It is filled with statistics and graphs that are pulled from several different study groups spanning the globe, as well as input from some of the premier dating websites. A few major points it tackles are deconstructing the idea of a “soul mate”, looking into what people expect and are expected of when making first contact, confronting all of the choices available to us, and “settling down” in an era when infidelity is only a click or text away.

 

One of the ideas that struck me the hardest was the concept that it’s so easy to treat people on the internet and on our phones as just bubbles on a screen. The actual person behind the post gets lost somewhere in between. We end up doing and saying things to people that we would never do otherwise. I know I’m a victim of this:  Of treating someone as less than a person, just because they’re a bubble on my screen. I’m about to roast myself publicly, take this message exchange in to consideration (super cheesy opening line incoming). I match with this young woman on Tinder, I see a quote in her bio that I find interesting, and I use that as an entry for our conversation:

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And then… that’s it. I never responded. I didn’t like her response, so I just went about my life and forgot all about it. I’m trying to imagine this same exchange happening in a face-to-face encounter. I’m at a coffee shop.  I see an attractive lady sitting at a table alone, and she’s reading one of my favorite books.

 

Me:“Hey, I don’t mean to interrupt, but that’s one of my absolute favorite books that you’re reading. What do you think of it so far?”

Her: “It’s really good, I like how the plot is just kind of flowing from one event to the next, it’s really refreshing.”

Me: *cold malice in my eyes, turns around abruptly, paces out of the door, and never returns*

Her: …

 

COULD YOU IMAGINE?!?!? I was such a jerk, I initiated that conversation and then just never said anything back. I would like to imagine that I would NEVER treat a person like that face-to-face, and just because it’s a message on my phone shouldn’t make it any different. Ansari had this to say on the subject:

 

There’s something uniquely valuable in everyone, and we’ll be much happier and better off if we invest the time and energy it takes to find it.

That young woman could be absolutely amazing, perhaps even my soul mate, but I’ll never know because I  completely brushed her off after the first sentence she said to me, EVER. Wow… low blow, Joe.

This leads me to another pitfall of modern dating. With the advent of social media, we’re all more connected to our fellow man than we’ve ever had the ability to. The advantages are unmeasurable. The ability to meet people we never would have otherwise, being able to stay in contact with loved ones who are away, etc. However, when it comes to social media we only see the best of what people have to offer. We wouldn’t post any old picture of ourselves, only the best pictures of ourselves. The way we talk online has likely been curated and processed into the best string of thoughts we could create. It’s important to remember that the way people are on the internet is not who they are in reality. It’s quite easy to misconstrue the two. The temptation to idealize people and put them on some sort of pedestal is overwhelming, if not downright unavoidable.

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How well can you know a person based on a couple of pictures and a few sentences?

For instance: I was talking to a girl recently who I had met through happenstance on Tinder. The moment I saw her profile come up on my phone, my heart sank into my stomach. I knew who she was. I had seen her almost a year prior on Instagram and had been absolutely smitten with her. She was dating someone at the time, and I’m incredibly shy and would almost never approach a woman without some sort of prior contact, so I just cut my losses and decided it wasn’t meant to be. However, seeing her now on Tinder, a year later, I was gripped with anxiety. This was it. Either we match, or we don’t. It’s all out of my hands once I make my decision. I talked myself down before I decided to swipe right (meaning that I “liked” her profile, for those who are unaware). I told myself that there’s no way that she would like me, she’s way out of my league, etc.

 

So I swiped right.

We matched.

My heart proceeded to melt into my shoes.

 

The wonders of the internet had managed to give me the perfect introduction to this woman whom I was interested in, so in this way the digital age had done my dating life a favor. On the other hand, I had to learn the lesson that I alluded to earlier: People are not their online persona. They are not the person that you create them to be in your head. These are dangerous waters, and can doom a potential romantic encounter before it ever begins.

So, we message back and forth for a few days before I gather the nerve to ask her out on a date.

 

*aside: I think a man should always be intentional with his interactions with a female when it comes to romance. A woman should never wonder if she is or isn’t on a date. If this is the case, you’ve already failed. Let her know what your intentions are, and ask if she’d like to go on a date, not to “hang out”. Just my two cents*

 

The day of our date, I go and get a fresh haircut, consult a friend about my outfit choice (our very own Tome Raider, Chelsea. Hi, Chelsea! I looked fly), and as anxiously and nervously as possible, I drive to her apartment to pick her up. My heart is racing, my palms are sweaty. This is the woman I’ve been swooning over for a year, the woman who I thought was completely out of my league. I almost can’t even handle the pressure. Then, I see her for the first time. She says her first words to me. We hug. We get in the car and head to our destination.

 

the wind had been taken from my sails

 

She’s not the person I thought she’d be. She’s not the goddess I had unfairly created in my head. How could she be? I’d made her into some unattainable symbol of perfection, no one would ever have measured up. Don’t get me wrong, we had great conversation and she looked absolutely gorgeous. We stayed at the coffee shop until they kicked us out, but there had been a damper on the evening. I tried not to let it show. I had absolutely no reason to be disappointed, she was a wonderful date, it was my own fallacy that had brought the date down. As the night winded down we listened to music in my car and it came to the point to part ways. I remember stupidly contemplating whether or not I even wanted to ask for a second date. Then, she did something I didn’t expect. She told me she had a key to the roof of her apartment and asked if I’d like to go up and see the view. Of course I did it, IT SOUNDS AMAZING. And guess what? IT WAS AMAZING. We sat in the chilly night alone and looked out at this astounding view of the city skyline, sparkling against the darkness. It was there on that roof that she opened up to me, if only a little bit. She told me bits of her life. She told me some of her fears. I did the same.

 

and then I absolutely fell for her, right there on that rooftop

 

An hour before this I was contemplating if I even wanted to go on a second date because I had put this woman on some ridiculous pedestal that she couldn’t aspire to, and now I was ready to spend all night talking to her. I took the chance to put my perceptions aside, and get to know the actual person that I had taken out on a date, not some imaginary person I had seen on Instagram.

 

There’s something uniquely valuable in everyone, and we’ll be much happier and better off if we invest the time and energy it takes to find it.

 

She was an actual person with aspirations, fears, ambitions. Underneath the ludicrous filter I had placed over her was a wonderful woman that I had almost completely dismissed because of the asinine assumptions I had made from the internet. I learned a valuable lesson on that rooftop that night. I’ll never again count someone out because of some preconceived notion of who I think they should be. Regardless of how a relationship may end up, the time you spend getting to know someone intimately is never wasted.

 

So, I’ve gotten this far, and I haven’t really talked about the book much, I get that. It wasn’t really my goal from the beginning to review the book. I think most of you have a good idea of whether it’s something you’d be interested in or not. If anything I’ve written here was of any interest to you, then go out and buy Modern Romance, it’s a real treat. I really wanted the opportunity to use this book to speak a bit about my experience with dating in the digital world. It’s tough. We’re all searching for something, and there are a plethora of ways to find it. How do you choose? How do you know what’s right? What if you pick someone, and then the next best thing is one OkCupid match away? Your ex is only a Facebook message away. A Snapchat can lie between a happy marriage and a ruined one. The landscape of modern dating is tumultuous, but maybe we can all learn to look at the underlying purpose of it all: to meet people we care about, invest in them, and have them do the same.

 

Modern Romance gets 4 out of 5 stars.

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