Last week, I picked up a copy of comedian Aziz Ansari’s new book Modern Romance, which tackles how to date in a world with smartphones, online dating and social media sites.
Who wouldn’t want to read about that? After all, I'm sure every one of us knows the anxiety of seeing an iMessage “Read Receipt” on a text sent to a love interest.
As you'd expect, the book is funny, but it's also rooted in sociological findings from a research project designed by Ansari and sociologist Eric Klinenberg. They gathered information from in-person focus groups, along with a “Modern Romantics subreddit forum” in which people around the world could answer questions about dating in the digital age.
Ansari qualifies that most of his research involved speaking with college-educated, middle class heterosexuals who have "quite intense relationships with their expensive smartphones."
Well, enough of that. Below, I’ve gathered some of his most surprising pieces of dating advice. Read ‘em and weep … or laugh, or do whatever it is you want because you're probably reading this in private on your smartphone anyway.
1. In Ansari’s words, “Don’t text back right away. You come off like a loser who has nothing going on.”
While this is funny and has a grain of truth to it, I'm not sure I agree 100%. In fact, I find myself repeatedly arguing that dating is more functional when people say what they feel, when they feel like saying it.
But after speaking to hundreds of men and women, Ansari found out that most people don’t want to feel like the person they’re interested in is glued to a phone. Fair enough.
A compromise between our points of view? Don’t play games and “wait to respond.” And take a break from your phone if you’re interested in someone. It will make you anxious, and more likely to obsess.
2. Avoid "boring-ass" first dates by doing something unexpected.
Ansari refers to the things most of us do on first dates (i.e. drinks or dinner) as “boring-ass dates” in which we basically exchange resume information. But he also provides a fun alternative. Ansari’s research and personal experience led him to believe that it’s better to participate “in novel and exciting activities.” An example? A monster truck rally, according to a Stanford sociologist with whom Ansari spoke.
According to Ansari, being in an interesting environment with a first date will “help you experience what it’s really like to be with this person,” as opposed to exchanging information about your past jobs and college extracurriculars.
3. Treat potential partners like real people, not “bubbles on a screen.”
Ansari certainly believes that texting is important, and his research substantiates this belief. That said, we can’t get too involved in texting such that we forget the people we are interacting with are real. But they are. So remember that.
4. Be aware (and self-aware) of how you express yourself via text.
After interviewing a massive number of singles, Ansari found out that most people put a ton of stock into how their romantic prospects text. Are they funny? Do they know when to be straightforward? Do they have good grammar and spelling? Apparently, all of these things matter … so be mindful of what you say, and how you say it, over text.
5. Be direct about asking people out on a date.
After interviewing straight women specifically, Ansari found a common thread of dissatisfaction they felt toward straight men: the tendency to ask women to “hang out” instead of explicitly asking to go on a date.
In my opinion, this is something to keep in mind regardless of your gender and sexuality. Being direct is sexy, and there’s no shame in asking someone on a date. It’s a lot less sexy to be evasive and kind of bro-y as a defense mechanism. If you want to go on a date, say that.
6. Get real with yourself about dating expectations ... even in everyday scenarios, like before going out at night.
In the book, Ansari tells a self-deprecating anecdote about how he used to always be the “hopeless romantic” waiting at the bar until 4am in order for the love of his life to walk in. What he realized is that most people walking into the bar at 4am are not looking for love, and so he stopped looking for “love in a hopeless place,” as Rihanna once said.
From this, I see a clear insight: be honest with yourself about what you are looking for, in general, and also when going out on the weekends and so forth. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll avoid making choices that leave you feeling exhausted, disappointed, hung-over, etcetera.
7. Think of online dating as “an online introduction service.”
After delving deep into the world of online dating, Ansari comes away with a refreshing piece of advice: “Don’t think of online dating as dating.” You’ll avoid getting your hopes up, and constructing fictional relationships with Tinder matches, for instance, if you simply look at online dating platforms as a cool new resource for being introduced to new people.
8. Give people a fair chance.
Perhaps most surprising was Ansari’s most simple piece of advice: give people a fair chance. Just because there are so many new opportunities — and hurdles — in the digital dating universe doesn’t mean that you should forget what it means to “properly invest in people.”
And first and foremost, realize that dating is ultimately about investing in yourself. (PS: This is my advice, not Ansari's.)