Over the past decade, Aziz Ansari has made the bizarre world of 21st-century dating a centerpiece of his comedy. But when the 32-year-old Parks and Recreation alum decided to write a book on the topic, he wanted to do something more serious than his fans might expect. “I didn’t want it to be a book of funny essays, ’cause I’d rather just use those ideas for stand-up,” he says. Ansari’s publisher suggested he co-author the book with Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at NYU who wrote Going Solo, a study of the global rise of single-person households that also touches on the way technology has transformed relationships — a favorite theme of Ansari’s. “Once I decided I wanted the book to have this vibe, I needed someone to help me do it properly,” he says. “Eric seemed to really get it.”
The result, Modern Romance, is a hilarious, often unsettling account of what young singles go through as they search for love in the digital age. It shows how the simplest minutiae — How long should you wait to respond to a text? What’s the best angle for your Tinder picture? — can become the stuff of existential dread.
Ansari and Klinenberg traveled the globe convening focus groups to quiz young people about their dating lives. In Japan, where taking your own picture is considered tacky, they found that people were using photos of their cats or rice cookers for their online profiles. In Buenos Aires, they encountered singles who arranged late-night meet-ups at telos, hourly hotels that seem to carry little stigma. “People were sharing their phones with us,” Klinenberg says. “We had access to something no one other than the NSA has access to.”
Watching people navigate infinite dating options made Ansari, who has a girlfriend, feel justified to have changed his own strategy not long ago. “I would go on so many first dates and get frustrated when that spark wasn’t there,” he says. “So I tried to spend more time with people and go on more fourth and fifth dates and really get to know someone.”