There comes a time in a woman’s life when she reaches a new milestone: when she begins to identify with Cathy. You know, Cathy:
“Cathy” is the cartoon you always skip on the Sunday comics page when you’re a kid because it’s not funny. There are no talking animals, no smart-alecky kids, just a cranky lady who seems to cry a lot. Cathy, I misjudged you.
I more readily identify with the updated Cathy, Liz Lemon.
For my renewed identification with Cathy and Liz Lemon, I’m blaming Aziz Ansari. Aziz has written a wonderful book, Modern Romance.
Read it! Just be prepared to feel as romantically hopeless as ever. But you’ll come away knowing you’re in good company, or, if not good company, at least abundant company.
This isn’t just another book of repurposed stand-up material from a popular comedian. This is something else, with a lot of statistics and research and scientists to back it up. Aziz understood how to make this book happen so that it would be taken seriously, but wrote it in a way that doesn’t feel like an overwrought dissertation. The book, as Aziz lays out in his introduction, is largely focused on, and intended for, the 20-30 year old middle class dating demographic. Those of us in “emerging adulthood.”
I feel like I could have done without my emerging adulthood. I could have slid happily into a 1950s-style companionate marriage. I realize this is a terribly unenlightened thing for me to say, but the ticking of my biological clock is beginning to keep me up a night. Being a twenty-something woman in my emerging adulthood stage (which should fast be coming to an end, but feels like could stretch long past what is supposed to be. . .’actual’ adulthood?), I spend a fair amount of time thinking about my romantic life (or lack there of), when I’m not stressing out about my career prospects and figuring out how to just be a person in the world. Friends are getting engaged, getting married, having babies – I’m inadvertently planning my wedding colors and the song I want for the first dance as husband and wife.
It’s the transition from passionate love to companionate love that my relationships haven’t seemed to survive. The transition from passionate to companionate gets mistaken for, ‘You’re no longer interesting and/or exciting and I think we should break up.’ In my (limited) experience, I have yet to find a guy who wants to go from passionate to companionate. Or, maybe I really just am not that interesting and/or exciting. Should I have been given more of a chance? More of a time investment? Should the relationship have lasted longer to see if companionate love could have been in the cards? I’m not saying my potential future husband has already passed on me, or me on him, and too soon. . .but maybe? I am a slow burn; it takes a while for me to warm up to someone, but once I do, it’s lasting. Which is why those “dangerous” points in the passionate-companionate love chart are especially dangerous for me. I’m still building up my fire, and he’s burnt out. To use Aziz’s elegant analogy, I am a Flo Rida song: you have to invest some listening time to realize I’m a hit (“the Flo Rida Theory of Acquired Likability through Repetition”).
I have less dating experience than my fellow emerging adults, I’d say, and I identify with a key problem Aziz and his researchers noted: being overwhelmed by choices. I am paralyzed when faced with too many options (“The Paradox of Choice in Relationships”), especially online, where dating apps are more like games than a way to connect with someone. Online dating sites are not designed for someone like me. With so many available options, I don’t think it’s possible to believe in “the one,” it may be more realistic to believe in Michael Scott’s ‘a “the one.” I think I am a maximizer learning to be a “satisficer” (a word that frankly, does not, and should not exist, but that Aziz explains is ‘a term that combines “satisfy” and “suffice”‘). Meaning I need to stop constructing an ideal in my head and continuously researching and searching for it in real life. It’s ultimately fruitless and leads to dissatisfaction.
Aziz is the perfect person to write this book because he not only has genuine curiosity about the subject, but brings a much needed lightness to what can feel like a heavy and hopeless subject, especially if you’re single and reading it. Not only is it easy to draw the conclusion of ‘I’m going to be single forever,’ but also ‘my phone is potentially ruining my life and my brain.’ (Now there’s a book endorsement if ever there was one.) Dating has become a sophisticated power struggle game, based on, essentially, withholding gratification (who can outlast whom when waiting to text back), with the added layer of who-we-are-online-is-not-necessarily-indicative-of-who-we-are-in-real-life. It’s easy to feel hopeless and want to give up. Fortunately Aziz knows when to swoop in with a joke about the bozo population on dating sites and in texting situations, or words of wisdom from Pitbull.
Ultimately I think the best take-away from Aziz is his mentioned-somewhat-in-passing approach to dating: going to places and doing things you enjoy and would want your potential partner to enjoy because they’re probably at those places enjoying those things. Seems obvious. And yet.
Modern Romance is by no means an exhaustive or definitive exploration of dating and relationships, but it’s a digestible look into how the dating landscape and techniques have changed, largely because of technology and the fact that we’re all now terrible at having conversations in person (among other things). Yes, it feeds into my cynicism, but it also provides a lot of perspective and different ways to approach and analyze my own dating life. Also, it makes me want to eat tacos and ramen. (Just read the book.)