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Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance Review

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (Credit: Penguin Press)Shakespeare wrote that "Jesters do oft prove as prophets." Humor has a way of harmlessly broaching a subject, yet piercingly asserting a point in an indirect fashion. Peter Berger would agree, observing that sometimes we must laugh in order to perceive. In comedian Aziz Ansari's newest work, Modern Romance, he discusses the contours of the current dating scene, provides thought-provoking original research, and makes a few jokes about Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

Ansari believes that the most intimate relationship we have today is with our cell phones. This cell phone is the vehicle that will get us to our desired location: love. Differentiating us from history, he writes that: "We each sit alone, staring at this black screen with a whole range of emotions. But in a strange way, we are all doing it together, and we should take solace in the fact that no one has a clue what's going on."

This is not only a radically different approach to courtship and marriage than previous generations, but we also have a drastically different mentality towards marriage as well. Citing Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History, Ansari writes that "until recently a marital union was primarily important for establishing a bond between two families. It was about achieving security— financial, social, and personal. It was about creating conditions that made it possible to survive and reproduce." Thus, marriage was less of a luxury and more of a necessity. For men, marriage was the next step to establishing yourself. For women, it was the "easiest way of acquiring basic freedoms of adulthood," freeing yourself from the confines of your parents.

Coining it the "good enough marriage," this union brought two people together not only for their benefit, but also to contribute to the community. Love was not absent in this type of marriage, it was just not the primary priority. "In the past, people weren't looking for something boiling; they just needed some water. Once they found it and committed to a life together, they did their best to heat things up."

The other type of marriage is the soul mate marriage. It is not about finding someone decent to start a family with, rather it is about finding someone who you are passionately in love with and want to share life with. "We want something that's very passionate, or boiling from the get-go…Younger generations face immense pressure to find the "perfect person" that simply didn't exist in the past when 'good enough' was good enough."

With the assumption that more choices will yield to greater chances, the world of the Internet opens up endless possibilities to find the soul mate. On that blank screen located in the palm of our hand, there is a search for Mr or Miss Right. According to his research, the dating website OkCupid creates some 40,000 dates every day. The average user gets on Tinder, another dating website, 11 times a day and spends 90 minutes a day on it. There are 1 billion profile swipes per day, with men swiping right (signifying their interest in the female) three times as much as women. Among the 1 billion swipes, there are 12 million matches per day. So that means there are 988 million rejections each day on Tinder. "It's a stunning number, and I think it's beautiful that all these tools are able to help people find love and happiness... If you look at it one way, it's creating all this love in the world that wouldn't be created otherwise."

While it is creating love, it is also generating a high level of rejection. However, this goes unnoticed to oblivious singles. In this instance, ignorance is bliss. But this ignorance is creating what Ansari calls a stud mentality. This is a mindset where confidence has not been appropriately shaped by rejections, but disproportionally enlarged by only hearing yes repeatedly.  

This disproportional individual is alive and well in this brave new world. With souls divided between a cell phone self and real self, there is a propensity to objectify individuals through the phone and a stunted ability to interact with people face-to-face. To put it another way, someone is more prone to say something that might not otherwise say due to the security of a screen. They are more likely to assume the posture of a recluse in public, due to their inability to interact with an actual human being.

While Aziz focuses on the dating world in his book, this is not a new problem but a human problem. Instead of valuing people and using things, we at times use people and value things. The love of self is strong, abiding, and understood in the Scriptures (Ephesians 5:29). But the admonishment from the biblical narrative is to emulate the One who is love.

Married or single, the Bible is clear in the call to deny yourself and love both your enemies and friends. This love is a choice that causes a variety of feelings, but is first and foremost a choice. The feelings may fade, but the command is always present. Some feelings make the choice easier and other feelings make the choice harder, but feelings do not determine whether the choice is made.

After all, there was a time when God made a choice to love us, and we were not acting in the most loveable manner (Romans 5:8). However, he still loved us and now calls us to love others in turn (1 John 4:19). As the great Taylor Swift said, "It's a love story, just say yes."

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