Aziz Ansari Is Making Us Feel A Little Less Alone In The Dating World

Photo: Matt Baron/BEImages.
Out today, Aziz Ansari's book, Modern Romance, is an exploration of dating in the digital age. Peppered with comic anecdotes though it may be, it's more suited to the sociology than satire section, where Amazon places it. As Ansari writes, he "got fascinated by the question of how and why so many people have become perplexed by the challenge of doing a thing that people have always done: finding romance." Ansari enlisted a roster of sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, and journalists with whose help he embarked on a global research mission to trace the evolution of the search for love.

The result is an engaging look at the often head-scratching, frequently infuriating mating behaviors that shape our love lives. (Ansari stresses that his findings speak primarily to the experiences of the heterosexual, middle-class, college-educated, and smartphone-obsessed, as well as to a paradigm in which men make the first move — which they in fact do far more frequently than straight women.)

We sat down with him today for a roundtable, complete with sandoozles, on dating discoveries ranging from why monster truck rallies lead to romance to the one kind of text Ansari thinks men should stop sending immediately. No, it's not dick pics, although you may want to think twice about those as well, gentlemen.
What makes a successful date?
"So many dates are just like, 'Let's go grab a drink' or 'Let's get dinner,' and what you realize is that those are situations that are set up to fail. It's kind of hard for that to become the most special, fun night... I was talking to this sociologist from Stanford, and he told me about this thing that he and some of his other sociologist buddies were doing, where they would take women out on dates to monster truck rallies. The dates went really well, and people had a good time, because it put them in this situation where they're out of their element a little bit, and it kind of gave them a chance to see what kind of vibe they got from the person — it wasn't just this résumé exchange."
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When you go on a date now, your expectations are very high

If a date is just so-so, how can you tell whether you should go on another?
"We all are kind of quick to go on one date with someone and go, Eh, I don't know; I don't really feel anything for them or I don't feel this amazing spark. When you go on a date with somebody now, your expectations are very high — you want this amazing, Oh my god, and not every date will have that.

"So we're quick to move on and be like, All right, well, let's try someone else, because we have more options than anyone has ever had before. And it's kind of a big mistake, because people have so much more to show you than what they can show you in one session of drinks. If you go out with someone and you thought the date was a six out of 10, maybe give them one more shot and see."

How is dating different for people in their teens and early 20s and people who are older?
"Someone like my age — I'm 32 — if they don't get a text back in a couple hours, they'll go, What's going on? If someone in college doesn't get a text back in like a minute, they're like, WHAT THE FUCK?! THEY HATE ME! NOOO! When I asked people my age, 'What if a guy called you?' They're like 'Oh, I think that would be really refreshing. That'd be really thoughtful; I'd really appreciate it.'

"We asked younger women, 'What if a guy called you?' [They were] like, 'I don't know what I would say, that would be terrifying, why would they do that, why would they call me, that'd be like an emergency or something, no I wouldn't want that!' Point being: Young people are crazy."

You have your real self and your phone self

Which texts work, and which don't?
"You have your real self and your phone self... The thing you see the most — and if you're a guy, it doesn't seem very bad — is just saying nothing. Saying 'Hey.' 'What are you doing?' 'What's going on tonight?' If you're a guy, and you're sending it to some person you met at a bar...it seems totally harmless; it seems nice, right?

"But, when you interview hundreds of women, and you see it from their end, women most respond to just the basic thing of inviting someone to a specific thing at a specific time. Which seems very common sense, but so few guys do it. The other thing is a callback to a previous interaction — just showing you were engaged in whatever conversation or thing that you guys were doing together. We asked people, 'What's the best text message you ever got?' and this woman was like, 'Well this one guy, we met at a bar, he texted me a couple days later and was like, hey, how was your move? Let's hang out sometime'... Oh my god, the bar is low!"

Everyone's dealing with the same nonsense

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Dating is frustrating. Did you take away anything positive from the experience of writing this book?
"We're all in it together. Everyone is sitting there, staring at their screens in a dilemma that seems totally their own, very unique to them, but in a way everyone's dealing with the same nonsense. At my one-year anniversary, my girlfriend gave me this book that had all the text messages we ever sent to each other, and in some of the beginning ones, she made little notes about what was going on in her head... She was like, 'Oh, I was really nervous here, because I didn't hear from you and I thought [my text] had offended you' and I was like, 'Oh my god, that's so funny, I remember sending the message afterwards and being nervous about it!'"
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