Ellen Gaintner reports today from the trenches of youth on the New York Times bestseller Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari. Ansari, a comedian, sold out Madison Square Garden twice and has over five and a half million Twitter followers. Modern Romance is “an unexpectedly serious work about the challenges and pitfalls of looking for love in the Digital Age via Match.com, OkCupid, Tinder, Twitter, Facebook – the whole techno shebang” (Vanity Fair).
Ellen – pretty, a former dancer – has a shy smile but a playful look in her eyes. Though she has the figure and grace of a dancer, she happily admits loving chocolate milkshakes and making a mean brownie. She also likes baseball quite a lot, “which always surprises people.” She’d love to drive a Fiat “in that cute pistachio green” – and I can just see her sporting around San Francisco in one!
Ellen recently moved from Nashville to San Francisco to be closer to family. She also felt ready for a new adventure and a change of scenery. Instead of being at war within her, the conservative and risk-taking elements in Ellen’s personality seem to get along pretty well. She worries about “Getting it right – whatever ‘it’ is” – and she seems to be doing just that, with quiet grace and good cheer.
Ellen’s always been a reader, remembering fondly all those Nancy Drew books she read as a girl. In every place she’s lived, she’s gotten a library card right off the bat – including the wide variety of cities she lived in for 6 weeks at a time during the summers she participated in “ballet intensives” as a teenager. Today, I’m so delighted for her to bring her love of reading AND a youthful perspective to Bacon.
In the film How to Marry A Millionaire, three models in New York City set out to find rich husbands. They rent a swanky apartment on the Upper East Side and lay some ground rules (“gentleman callers have got to wear a necktie” and “a gentleman you meet among the cold cuts is simply not as attractive as one you meet, say, in the mink department at Bergdorf’s”). Their story translates – roughly, I admit – to the picture Aziz Ansari paints of the dating scene a couple of generations ago in his book, Modern Romance. Young women sought men who could provide for them and keep them safe, what Ansari describes as “companionate marriage,” and who lived more or less in the neighborhood.
There were no boys my age in my neighborhood growing up. Not that it mattered, since by age 17 I had moved out of the house and would spend the next 12 years in London, suburban Philadelphia, New York, and Nashville. As a millennial, I have spent the past decade enjoying what Ansari calls “emerging adulthood.” My time in all of these cities has very much shaped who I am today, even if I remain fundamentally the same girl who was born in San Francisco and wanted to be a ballerina. I have had this opportunity to grow up on my own; in the past, couples grew up and into true adulthood together. People were seeking someone to change with. (Side note: wonderful though emerging adulthood is, do we still hold ourselves to the standards of adulthood of previous generations? Or is that just me?)
So here I am, a mostly emerged adult. Time to find that life partner. Following in the grand tradition of Elizabeth Bennet hopefuls, I want to wait for Mr. Darcy, not settle for Mr. Collins. In the comparison of Charlotte and Elizabeth’s marriages, Jane Austen has provided perhaps the ultimate example of companionate versus soul mate marriage. For people today, it is all about soul mate marriage. It is about finding that perfect someone – part of a greater trend, Ansari points out, of our need to find the perfect everything. In the modern world, we are confronted with an overwhelming number of options of what to watch, where to eat, what to buy, where to buy, etc. Dating is the same.
Dating has gone the way of so much of the world, which is to say, online. There are websites (Match, OkCupid, etc.) and there are apps (Tinder is the best example). And just as when you go online shopping for new shoes and are presented with thousands of options, when you go online looking for love, you are also presented with thousands of options. You’re not limited to who you can physically see at that moment – you’re limited only by the parameters you set, and those can yield many results to be sifted through. For some people, it becomes too much and they throw in the towel. For others, it triggers a need to consider every single possibility, because you won’t know if you’ve actually found the best until you’ve looked at every option (like the brides on Say Yes to the Dress who have tried on a hundred dresses and still can’t commit). Regardless, it’s working: “between 2005 and 2012 more than one third of couples who got married in the United States met through an online dating site.”
Of course, it’s a long and winding path from the initial online match to “I do.” Ansari delves into how relationships develop and play out mostly over the phone and through social media, and I think much of what he says is relevant to all modern relationships, not only romantic ones. Texting – and all comparable forms of messaging – are radically and rapidly changing the way we communicate across the board. Ansari quotes a study that has found that “the muscles in our brain that help us with spontaneous conversation are getting less exercise in the text-filled world, so our skills are declining.” I find that terrifying.
Texting opens the floodgates to issues of tone (there is a real person on the receiving end), content (that real person is going to dissect every word), and games (that real person is going to strategize their response with all the import given a major military maneuver). I have personally experienced all of these. I will also admit to breaking up with someone via text, although I honestly don’t think it counts as breaking up when you’ve only been on two dates.
Ansari does a terrific – and terrifically entertaining – job of providing real-life examples of what does or doesn’t seem to work. With the help of sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Ansari has done significant research and backs everything up with scientific studies and stories from real experiences. Modern Romance is not a how-to guide; it’s an exploration of how we seek love in 2015. In many ways, it made me wish that I lived in an earlier time. But I am a product of now, and these modern methods are a part of my life.
Modern Romance is very funny and very interesting. If you’re married already, you’ll probably come away feeling very relieved. As for me, the quest continues. If you’re reading this post and think I’d be the perfect fit for someone, pass it along! Anything is possible when it comes to modern romance!
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Thank you Susan Adcock for permission to use the very lovely photo of Ellen from Ballet Ball 2014.