What seems insane to one generation

That Aziz Ansari wrote a book is no surprise.  The comedian is at that stage of his career where a book is almost required. That he wrote about contemporary romance is also no great shock as his current series is about life and relationships. What is unique is how he went about doing it.

Instead of simply sharing his own romantic misadventures as most comedians would have, he partnered with a sociologist to conduct a thoughtful, in-depth study of the evolution of romance and relationships in the 20th century and the changes and challenges unique to the current age. The result, Modern Romance, is a fascinating blend of humor and science, with Ansari’s wit serving as a vehicle to deliver factual information.

Admittedly, dating and relationships aren’t front-and-center in my life–having been blissfully married for some time now–but I did, in fact, meet my wife via an online dating site, a fact made more interesting because…

between 2005 and 2012 more than one third of couples who got married in the United States met through an online dating site.

We fall neatly into that bucket, so the validation that we are painfully normal in that respect was nice to hear. Less nice to hear were Ansari’s comments directed at people like me:

Okay, why are you even reading this book about relationships? So you can see what mistakes sad, lonely people are making to cause them to have so much shittier lives than you?

Point taken, but I have a number of friends on the dating scene now, and I found this window into their challenges fascinating.

Ansari provides a cogent analysis of how expectations have changed from generation to generation, driven largely by the shift of women into the workforce, but especially eye-opening are the sections on how recent technology shapes relationships–things like texting, Tinder, and sexting that didn’t exist in any meaningful way even ten years ago (when I started my own journey into online dating) and are now seen as integral components of romantic life.

He made me realize that my attitude towards these things have been shaped more by ignorance and prejudice than a realistic assessment of how they can (and arguably should) fit into a relationship.

For example, at the end of the section on sexting, Ansari shares one woman’s explanation about how she feels about sexting (and the attendant risks) that concludes:

“So when I sext with my boyfriend…. it’s also my little way of reassuring myself that I decide what to do with my body, and I get to decide which risky behaviors are worth taking.”

Ansari follows that by suggesting that…

For the generation that grew up in a smartphone culture, sexting has become a common step in the journey toward becoming sexually active. Along with a first kiss, now, at some point, there is often a first sext…. And, as we’ve seen with other aspects of modern romance, what seems insane to one generation often ends up being the norm of the next.

Where initially, I would have said he and the woman he quoted were being foolish or, to use his own words, insane, by the end of Modern Romance, I had to grudgingly concede the point.

Seeing how profoundly dating and relationships have changed in the last twenty years (let alone fifty years) forces me to face the fact that my children’s romantic lives will likely be far outside my own experience (How soon is too soon to jack your brain directly into your significant other’s to share your senses? Is virtual reality sex with someone else cheating?).  So while Modern Romance is a little late to help me with my own romantic life–and it turned out just fine, thank you very much–it gave me some much needed perspective for when my children turn thirty and I give them permission to date.

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