Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari (2015) ($15, amazon.com link)
“The brain is the best algorithm,” Fisher argues.
Having read a number of relationship books before it, Modern Romance wasn’t groundbreaking, and I wasn’t surprised all that much by data or original thoughts. Nonetheless, it was worth my time – especially if I return to the dating world .
The authors start with a brief history of older marriages and relationships from the US: we used to be satisfied with companion love, having had only a few options in a partner. Today, we suffer from dozens – or millions – of options, and we know from psychological research that in human decision making, more is certainly not always better.
Thus we have created internet-based technological services to help us find a partner. And since the world, and our beliefs, have changed, this technology is good. However, it has its consequences. It has turned some below-average guys into acting like charming, perfect studs; it has overwhelmed many females, and even males, to the point of apathy; and it continues to delude:
“No compelling evidence supports matching sites’ claims that mathematical algorithms work,” they wrote.
…and as such, these sites should be used as introductory services! “Have faith in your ability to size someone up in person.” Ansari says in his final paragraphs. It’s easy for me to say, “Duh!” but hard for many teenage- and early twenty-something’s to internalize.
Unfortunately, the concept of “a perfect soul mate” is likely to do more harm to anyone trying to find this elusive partner than it will help anyone actually be happier. As I’ve read before, happiness is largely about managing expectations. The problem is the idea of the ideal:
That’s the thing about the Internet: It doesn’t simply help us find the best thing out there; it has helped to produce the idea that there is a best thing and, if we search hard enough, we can find it. And in turn there are a whole bunch of inferior things that we’d be foolish to choose.
Notably, everyone (anecdotally, but still!) says they prefer honesty in rejection…yet nobody is actually honest when they reject another person. Ansari’s explanation seems perfect:
If we’re honest with ourselves, we realize that, however bizarre, we actually prefer to be lied to. If someone lies and says they are dating someone or they are moving to another town soon, you don’t feel rejected, because it’s no longer about you. This way, our feelings aren’t hurt and we aren’t left confused or frustrated by silence or “pretend to be busy” issues. So I guess what I’m saying is the next time someone asks you out and you aren’t interested, the nicest thing you can do is write back: “Sorry, can’t do dinner tomorrow. I’m leaving on a secret mission with the space program! When I return to earth, I will have barely aged at all, but you’ll be seventy-eight years old. I just don’t think it’s a good time for me.”
A similar area of psychology Ansari discusses is that we do not know what we really want in a partner. I suppose an algorithm or service that took data cross-referencing personality data on couples, time together, and overall happiness just might have a shot at finding correlations, but unfortunately it seems like we’re a long way from that.
They also write about another psychological point: cheating and being faithful. Technology makes it easier to cheat, some on Reddit argue, but it doesn’t make it more difficult to be faithful. Likewise, we should understand that a single fuck or blowjob shouldn’t ruin a years-long relationship. I’m excited to see how American culture changes over the next few decades – and even more excited to be part of changing it.
In early sections, the authors give some good advice on how to craft an ideal profile picture, some minor suggestions for profile information (and the better suggestion to not waste too much time on the text parts of profiles and communication), and how to message prospects. He presents great psychology on why we play the I’ll-text-you-back-in-twice-the-time-you-waited-to-text-me-back games!
The authors later spend a little time in Japan, Argentina, and France (I think?), writing about a few of the differences, and on topics like snooping, sexting, and the like.
He also hits on Sherry Turkle’s argument, that kids – college kids especially – are “losing their ability to have spontaneous conversation,” not using those parts of their brains, and opting instead to craft perfect text messages and emails. The human species is in a sad state, and I hope this generation has its leaders who rebel against these alarming trends, remaining human!
The best relationship tips were to continue doing exciting things – exactly those to help make first dates seem more exciting and increase attraction between couples. But the book wasn’t much on information on retaining relationships. As such, Strauss’ The Truth will almost certainly be the next related book I read – if not the next nonfiction book I read.
Stilll, for this “modern” “snowflake” generation, this might be the best book to start with, because a) it gets them reading, and b) it’s comedic.
My full highlights (34p) are worth reviewing every year or so.