Tuesday, January 24

Book: Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari Click for more info

(Or: how to smuggle in a marriage post in through the back door)

Modern Romance is a frustrating book, and that for many reasons but mainly because of how far it missed the mark. Firstly, I had high expectations of the book's author, Ansari being the only brown stand up worth his salt in my view. Secondly, the book had come recommended by friends with similar backgrounds who had at some point in their lives experienced the journey that is the marriage search. And finally, well, it was a book about marriage and relationships which as anyone who knows me will tell you is (perhaps sadly) one of my favourite topics to discuss (which may explain why I took the rare action of taking notes while reading it).

I didn't find the book particularly funny or insightful. It pretty much said what everyone already knows - essentially that needs and wants have changed over the past few decades, resulting in a much more volatile and fragile landscape - possibly one win which marriage might not actually be relevant.

The book suffers from the same flaws any discourse on modern (or perhaps that from any time) romance: it slips into a tirade against douche guys and seeks to defend victimised women, and we hear the same old male bashing anecdotes about their ineptness. This is all true, for sure, just probably not helpful in the context of the book - it doesn't present balance, say, by talking about what goes wrong when things are going right.

Some time is also spent talking about those in Muslim countries (yay), but mainly to tell us how repressed they are (boo). Ansari also visits Japan, where he struggles to explain his findings despite finding the place titillating. I feel that he is either too naive or just not brave enough to admit that those on BOTH sides of the gender divide just aren't fulfilling the reasonable expectations of their opposites.

This lack of bravery usually results in a bit of a judgemental "holier than thou be like us in the west" attitude, which sometimes limits the debate. For example, although Ansari talks a lot about cheating and why it may or may not be acceptable, he doesn't mention polygamy as a valid way of building relationships.

That said, I am glad that I read the book if only because of the vocab and language that it introduced me to. "Companionate" is a much more apt term than "traditional", for instance. It was also instructive, if not depressing on a personal level, to be told in academic terms just how much things have moved on from those companionate times. This was actually valuable enough to inspire me to write a post using the new vocab, so watch this space.

In the end however, it all becomes a bit self helpy, but less so: even though the book concludes that companionate love is more beneficial than passionate love in the long term, it refuses to be explicit about this and still suggests that short term benefits and intensity are valuable.

So perhaps a good enough source of debate, I can't help but feel that the book missed a bit of a trick by not being nuanced or deep enough. Then again, that's probably a reflection of the times we live in, or rather the audience the book is aimed at, where accessibility and disposability is more important than anything of lasting substance.

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