Modern Romance: An Investigation by Aziz Ansari is a book that I keep revisiting over conversations with friends. Ansari addresses the pleasures and perils of modern romance in an honest, humorous, insightful and quintessentially millennial manner. His references expand from celebrities and Reddit threads to social scientists like Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer; as a result the book feels like a lighthearted read that has done its research.
One of the points that stood out for me was how the paradox of choice has slipped into our dating lives and transformed them forever. This notion became widely discussed after The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less, a book by American psychologist Barry Schwartz. According to Schwartz, fewer consumer choices equals less anxiety for shoppers. This argument is supported by further social scientists who suggest that when we have more options, we are feel less satisfied and struggle more when making decisions.
Now, how does this apply to modern dating?
Growing up, we are often told that the world is our oyster. Internet, apps and social networks have allowed access to a number of possible partners so vast that we end up being unable to pick and choose, which perpetuates feelings of stress, unhappiness and dissatisfaction. As Ansari argues, “the world is available to us, but that may be the problem.”
Furthermore, the Internet does not only exposes us to a range of people previous generations could only imagine, but it also cultivates the idea that there is a best thing out there waiting for us, and, if we search hard enough, we will eventually find it. As a result, we decide we cannot settle, especially for “a whole bunch of inferior things that we’d be foolish to choose”; it’s a Notebook-esque romance or nothing. [Can I admit that Deadpool is more of my type of love story?] To illustrate this paradox, Ansari brings an excellent example, returning to an old favourite of mine, drawing a parallel between food and human relations:
“This kind of rigor goes into a lot of my decision making. Whether it’s where I’m eating, where I’m traveling, or, god forbid, something I’m buying, I feel compelled to do a lot of research to make sure I’m getting the best. At certain times, though, this “I need the best” mentality can be debilitating. I wish I could just eat somewhere that looks good and be happy with my choice. But I can’t. The problem is that I know somewhere there is a perfect meal for me and I have to do however much research I can to find it.”
Here lies the real challenge for the millennials; a challenge that, in my opinion, we’re ill-armed to take on: after being genuinely baffled, stressed and overwhelmed by the all these choices, we have to figure out how to evaluate them. Abundance has blunted our ability to choose.
Ansari does not attempt to offer an answer or a solution to this issue, and neither will I. [Having my own show would help. Or not.] For most people, the light bulb moment occurs when you realize the far reaching effects of the paradox of choice: we can either continue pursuing the Holy Grail, may that be a specific partner, a job position, a flat, the examples are endless. Or, we can abandon our quest, which inevitably feels like settling. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good – don’t let perfect be the enemy of happy?
Torn (as always),