Aziz Ansari, the Indian-American comedian of Parks and Recreation fame (who always gets the deepest and greatest laughs out of me), is set to release a book about love and relationships entitled Modern Romance on June 16. What could a comedian possibly know about finding love? Not a whole lot according to Ansari.
The funny guy admits on a Conan O’Brien interview that dating today is “like you’re a secretary for this really shoddy organization scheduling the dumbest sh*t with the flakiest people ever.” Isn’t that the best description of dating in the digital age you’ve ever heard?
Technology and our access to too much information and too many options is the culprit, says Ansari. And to prove it, he teamed up with sociologist Eric Kilenberg and interviewed hundreds of people from around the world—from Tokyo to Wichita—in order to create a well rounded and diverse survey sample. His research findings are simultaneously strange and not strange at all.
His desire to get to the bottom of this generation’s dating and mating issues began with his own issues dating and possibly choosing a mate. Ansari’s parents’ marriage was arranged, and the comic remains unendingly fascinated by that idea. He writes, “I am perpetually indecisive about even the most mundane things, and I couldn’t imagine navigating such a huge life decision so quickly.” Ansari describes his parents’ marriage arrangement like this:
I asked my dad about this experience, and here’s how he described it: he told his parents he was ready to get married, so his family arranged meetings with three neighboring families. The first girl, he said, was “a little too tall,” and the second girl was “a little too short.” Then he met my mom. He quickly deduced that she was the appropriate height (finally!), and they talked for about 30 minutes. They decided it would work. A week later, they were married.
Ansari’s parents have been happily married for 35 years. It seems that most of us can’t maintain a relationship longer than 35 months (or 35 days, for that matter). So what’s the culprit? What do we lack that many of our parents possess?
My own parents, although they didn’t marry via arrangement, grew up in the same very small town. One of my uncles was my father’s best friend. Each of their families knew one another intimately. They worked on neighboring farms together and spent time together socially. My parents married soon after my mother finished high school, and they were married for nearly 40 years before my father passed away.
According to the comedian/author, my parents, like his, were products of the “phenomenon of ‘good enough’ ” marriage, a term social anthropologists use to describe marriages that were less about finding the perfect match than a suitable candidate whom the family approved of for the couple to embark on adulthood together.
Good enough marriage?
When I began dating and thinking about long term partnerships, I rejected my parents’ traditional love story, which they shared in common with many of my aunts and uncles (who are all still in long-time marriages). I definitely wasn’t trying to get married at such a young age, and I couldn’t fathom marrying my high school sweetheart, although he was amazingly kind and dedicated to me. Two marriages later, I’m still trying to figure out the formula for the perfect relationship that leads to the perfect marriage. And maybe my thirst for perfection, along with the many options I have for dating and partnering, is the greater issue. Ansari adds:
Today’s generations are looking (exhaustively) for soul mates, whether we decide to hit the altar or not, and we have more opportunities than ever to find them. The biggest changes have been brought by the $2.4 billion online-dating industry, which has exploded in the past few years with the arrival of dozens of mobile apps. Throw in the fact that people now get married later in life than ever before, turning their early 20s into a relentless hunt for more romantic options than previous generations could have ever imagined, and you have a recipe for romance gone haywire.
We use online dating apps hoping to narrow down our search for Mr. or Mrs. Right, but many of us hit a wall because we have no idea what we really want in a partner or “soul mate” to begin with.
It’s… a lot of work. We have limitless options, but we spend a lot of time maneuvering through those options and not enough time getting to know one another. And when a person isn’t a perfect match (and believe me, nobody is) our attention and interest quickly fades and it’s on to the next!
Maybe our parents knew better than we do: marry someone who is a part of your community, figure out how to get past the “cocaine stage” of your relationship, and choose your relationship every single day.
Josie Pickens is an educator, culture critic and soldier of love. Send her your love + relationship questions here. Also, follow her on Twitter @jonubian.