10 February 2016
Aziz Ansari

·         More than 80 percent of millennials admit to doing online research on their partner before a first date

·         The most popular time to sext is between 10am and noon

·         The average Tinder user spends 1.25 hours on the site per day

·         People who own iPhones are twice as likely to sext as people who use Androids

·         Between 2005 and 2012, one third of couples who got married in the US met via a dating site

·         Ashley Madison, the online dating website designed to help people have affairs, has 11 million members

·         Moral confusion: in the US, 20-40% of married men and 25% of married women will have at least one extramarital affair, yet 84% of people say infidelity is morally unacceptable

·         56% of 18-30 year olds have broken up using digital media, but 73% said they would be upset if someone broke up with them that way

So why did I decide to write a book about modern romance?

A few years ago there was a woman in my life—let’s call her Tanya—and we had hooked up one night in L.A. We’d both attended a birthday party, and when things were winding down, she offered to drop me off at home. We had been chatting and flirting a little the whole night, so I asked her to come in for a drink.

At the time, I was subletting a pretty nice house up in the Hollywood Hills. It was kind of like that house De Niro had in Heat, but a little more my vibe than the vibe of a really skilled robber who takes down armored cars.

I made us both a nice cocktail and we took turns throwing on records while we chatted and laughed. Eventually we started making out, and it was pretty awesome. I remember drunkenly saying something really dumb when she was leaving, like, “Tanya, you’re a very charming lady…” She said, “Aziz, you’re a pretty charming guy too.” The encounter seemed promising, as everyone in the room had agreed: We were both charming people.

I wanted to see Tanya again and was faced with a simple conundrum that plagues us all: How and when do I communicate next?

Do I call? Do I text? Do I send a Facebook message? Do I send up a smoke signal? How does one do that? Will I set my rented house on fire? How embarrassed will I be when I have to tell the home’s owner, actor James Earl Jones, that I burned his house down trying to send a smoke signal?

Oh no, I just revealed whose sick house I’d rented: King Jaffe Joffer himself, the voice of Darth Vader, film legend James Earl Jones.

Eventually I decided to text her, because she seemed to be a heavy texter. I waited a few days, so as not to seem overeager. I found out that the band Beach House, which we listened to the night we made out, was playing that week in L.A., so it seemed like the perfect move.

Here was my text:

Hey - don’t know if you left for NYC, but Beach House

playing tonight and tomorrow at Wiltern. You wanna go?

Maybe they’ll let you cover The Motto if we ask nicely?

A nice, firm ask with a little inside joke thrown in. (Tanya was singing the Drake song “The Motto” at the party and, impressively, knew almost all the lyrics.)

I was pretty confident. I wasn’t head-over-heels in love with Tanya, but she seemed really cool and it felt like we had a good connection.

As I waited for her response, I started picturing our hypothetical relationship. Perhaps next weekend we would go see a movie at the cool outdoor screening series they do at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery? Maybe I could cook Tanya dinner later this week and try out that brick chicken recipe I’d been eager to attempt? Would Tanya and I go vacation in Ojai later in the fall? Who knew what our future would be? This was going to be great!

A few minutes went by and the status of my text message changed to “read.”

My heart stopped.

This was the moment of truth.

I braced myself and watched as those little iPhone dots

popped up. The ones that tantalizingly tell you someone is typing

a response, the smartphone equivalent of the slow trip up to the

top of a roller coaster. But then, in a few seconds—they vanished.

And there was no response from Tanya.

Hmmm…What happened?

A few more minutes go by and…

Nothing.

No problem, she’s probably just crafting her perfectly witty response. She started a draft, didn’t feel good about it, and wanted to get back to it later. I get it. She also probably didn’t want to seem overeager and be writing back so fast, right?

Fifteen minutes go by…Nothing.

My confidence starts going down and shifting into doubt.

An hour goes by…Nothing.

Two hours go by…Nothing.

Three hours go by…Nothing.

A mild panic begins. I start staring at my original text. Once so confident, now I second-guess it all.

Hey - don’t know if you left for NYC, but Beach House

playing tonight and tomorrow at Wiltern. You wanna go?

Maybe they’ll let you cover The Motto if we ask nicely?

I’m so stupid! I should have typed “Hey” with two y’s, not just one! I asked too many questions. What the fuck was I thinking? Oh,there I go with another question. Aziz, WHAT’S UP WITH YOU AND THE QUESTIONS?

I’m struggling to figure it out but trying to keep calm.

Okay, maybe she’s busy with work. No big deal.

I’m sure she’ll get back to me as soon as she can. We had a connection, right?

A fucking day goes by.

A FULL DAY!

Now my thoughts get crazier:

What has happened?! I know she held my words in her hand!!

Did Tanya’s phone fall into a river/trash compactor/volcano?

Did Tanya fall into a river/trash compactor/volcano?? Oh no, Tanya has died, and I’m selfishly worried about our date. I’m a bad person.

I shared my dilemma with a friend.

“Aww, come on, man, it’s fine. She’ll get back to you. She’s probably just busy,” he said optimistically.

Then I look on social media. I see her logged onto Facebook Chat. Do I send a message? No! Don’t do that, Aziz. Be cool. Be cool…

Later I check Instagram, and this clown Tanya is posting a photo of some deer. Too busy to write me back, but she has time to post a photo of some deer she saw on a hike?

I’m distraught, but then I have a moment of clarity that every idiot has in this situation.

MAYBE SHE DIDN’T GET THE TEXT!

Yes, that’s what’s happened, right? There was a glitch in her phone of some sort. Of course.

This is when I contemplate a second text, but I’m hesitant due to the fact that this scenario has never happened with my friends:

“Hey, Alan. I texted you to go get dinner and you didn’t write back for a full day. What happened?”

“Damn! I didn’t see the text. It didn’t go through. Glitch in my phone. Sorry about that. Let’s grab dinner tomorrow.”

Back to the Tanya situation. At this point it’s been more than twenty-four hours. It’s Wednesday. The concert is tonight. To not even write back and say no, why would she do that? At least say no so I can take someone else, right? Why, Tanya, why? I start going nuts thinking about it. How can this person be rude on so many levels? I’m not just some bozo. She’s known me for years.

I kept debating whether I should send anything, but I felt it would just be too desperate and accepted that she wasn’t interested. I told myself that I wouldn’t want to go out with someone who treats people that way anyway, which was somewhat true, but I was still beyond frustrated and insulted. Then I realized something interesting.

The madness I was descending into wouldn’t have even existed twenty or even ten years ago. There I was, maniacally checking my phone every few minutes, going through this tornado of panic and hurt and anger all because this person hadn’t written me a short, stupid message on a dumb little phone.

I was really upset, but had Tanya really done anything that rude or malicious? No, she just didn’t send a message in order to avoid an awkward situation. I’d surely done the same thing to someone else and not realized the similar grief I had possibly caused them.

I didn’t end up going to the concert that night. Instead I went to a comedy club and started talking about the awful frustration, self-doubt, and rage that this whole “silence” nonsense had provoked in the depths of my being. I got laughs but also something bigger, like the audience and I were connecting on a deeper level.

I could tell that every guy and girl in the audience had had their own Tanya in their phone at one point or another, each with their own individual problems and dilemmas. We each sit alone, staring at this black screen with a whole range of emotions. But in a strange way, we are all doing it together, and we should take solace in the fact that no one has a clue what’s going on.

I got fascinated by the questions of how and why so many people have become so perplexed by the challenge of doing something that people have always done quite efficiently: finding romance. I started asking people I knew if there was a book that would help me understand the many challenges of looking for love in the digital age. I found some interesting pieces here and there, but not the kind of comprehensive, in-depth sociological investigation I was looking for. That book simply didn’t exist, so I decided to try to write it myself.

When I started the project, I thought the big changes in romance were obvious—technological developments like smartphones, online dating, and social media sites. As I dug deeper, however, I realized that the transformation of our romantic lives cannot be explained by technology alone; there’s much more to the story. In a very short period of time, the whole culture of finding love and a mate has radically changed. A century ago people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood.

Their families would meet and, after they decided neither party seemed like a murderer, the couple would get married and have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-two. Today people spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate. The tools we use on this search are different, but what has really changed is our desires and—even more strikingly—the underlying goals of the search itself.

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