My cousin and I were chatting the other night when she excitedly told me about a riveting new book she was reading that was about modern love and romance titled, surprise surprise, Modern Romance, by comedian Aziz Ansari. Setting aside the bitter burning jealousy I may or may not feel about a celebrity having the resources and clout to gather his own private team of historians, sociologists, psychologists, and ghost writers to publish his own musings and reflections on the idiosyncrasies of modern dating while I try to collect and gather my own thoughts with naught but Google and a library of personal failures, a few of the excerpts she read to me really did speak to the unique obstacles and problems of modern love. In that honest yet humorous style characteristic of a talented comedian and actor, the book of course delves into the common stand up fodder of dating. Not knowing when it is appropriate to text, call, or, as the book says, ‘when to just drop everything, stand outside someone’s window, and serenade them with your favorite nineties R&B tune’. He also has this to say about bowling that, in the context of a stand-up routine I’m sure gets plenty of chuckles but, as a big proponent of the advantages of a bowling date, I think is just contrarian for the sake of being contrary.
It is fairly common knowledge that nothing gets a girl more turned on than a bowling lounge. Between watching fat guys tossing bowling balls and the dulcet tones of The Simpsons arcade game, I can’t imagine those encounters not ending in a marathon boning session.
-Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance
First of all, I wonder when the last time was that he stepped foot in a bowling alley. There are plenty of nicer ones nowadays with decent menus and good bars playing the same music you might hear in dance clubs with the same modern interiors and lighting. Bowlers themselves are far more diverse than just ‘fat guys tossing bowling balls’ and while it may not always end in a ‘marathon boning session’, I do still really like bowling or mini-golf or any sort of fun, low-stakes, cheesy corny yet slightly competitive environment for dates, especially those important few first dates. (There are plenty of studies that show that competition and rivalry under friendly terms are proven effective in creating bonds of companionship and romance. They’re also great for playing games of ‘truth or dare’.) If modern dating consists solely of chic boutique coffee shops with judgey ‘baristas’ and $15 craft beers at rooftop bars, I might just stick a magnet in my brain and dive headfirst into scrap metal.
But there are bits in there that do get the ol’ noggin turning. Like the ever-relevant generational question of, ‘is love better or worse now than it once was’? See I think we often have this dual, contradictory, at times paradoxical view of ‘old love’ and ‘old romance’. On the one hand we modern day lovers want to pride ourselves in our passion and amorous adventurousness, the modern reemergence of pure, romantic love compared to the dry, chaste, almost ‘practical’ image we have of ‘traditional, old world’ love. Yet it is that traditional, old world love that sets the standard for loyalty, longevity, and legacy that our modern, often fleeting relationships, lack. We want to think our relationships now are more love driven and open and passionate and ‘happy’ yet for all our dating apps and sites and tools, we lack the strongest indications of successful relationships, that of lasting satisfaction and contentment. And I think it boils down to a case of a strong identity crisis.
Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long. So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide: Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one. Give me comfort, give me edge. Give me novelty, give me familiarity. Give me predictability, give me surprise. And we think it’s a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that. Ideally, though, we’re lucky, and we find our soul mate and enjoy that life-changing mother lode of happiness. But a soul mate is a very hard thing to find.
-Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance
Now I’ve mentioned this before in previous posts, and maybe I just can’t say it often enough, but I think the most dangerous contribution to modern romance is our obsession with ‘soulmates’. It isn’t even that I debate whether or not a soulmate for us actually exists or that we wouldn’t in fact be quite happy indeed were we lucky enough to find our soulmate. No, my big thing is that a) we are ill-advised to spend our time obsessing over finding our one true ‘soulmate’ and that b) we’ve done no justice to the world and to love by failing to give ‘soulmate’ a proper definition.
In an ideal world, at the end of what I can only hope would be a long, fulfilling, and ultimately satisfying life, I would hope to be able to look back and reflect on a great many signs of success and a good use of my time. Not the least of which would be to reflect back on the love and devotion and passion of a life shared with someone special who I can say I loved with all my heart and who loved me back equally. In an ideal world, I would look back and know that I had spent my life loving one who was deserving of everything. Yet at the same time, in an ideal and practical and very real world, I would also know, and be comfortable with knowing, that if I didn’t have that one person, another would have probably, definitely, sufficed. The sheer number of people in the world now, before, and in the future, make the odds of finding our ‘one true soulmate’ near impossible. And to think that something as simple as ‘going to the same high school’ or as trite as ‘having compatible online dating profiles’ would find us our ‘one true soulmate’ after just a few tries in the scope of eternity, is really wishful thinking. The truth is, and I think one of the things old marriage and old relationships had to their benefit, is that nowadays we have become so spoiled for choice that we have become too comfortable, too obsessed, with choosing. Back then we didn’t have the world at our fingertips to swipe left or right endlessly, tirelessly, expecting love and romance and successful relationships to come to us in preformed prepackaged human beings. We’re rarely barely good enough as it is for ourselves, let alone trying to be perfect for someone else. Yet we are expected to be so now just to even get our foot in the door.
It reminds me of a comic song by comedian Tim Milchin, ‘If I Didn’t Have You’. I really strongly encourage you to listen to it below. You see, I don’t think the reality that we very well may not end up with our perfect ideal soulmate isn’t discouraging or takes away from the magic of a real love that we can have and share in our life. In fact, I think it further empowers it. It removes the idea of fate and destiny and places the success (yes and failure) directly in our own hands. How we grow and foster and care for one another and for the love we share. It becomes less about ‘it was going to be only you’ to ‘it was about choosing and making it about only you’. It encourages us to be open to life and romance and opportunities and, when we face obstacles or ultimately separation, it comforts us to know that outside of our soulmate, of the rest of the 99.999% of the world, we are bound to find something that is, and this is important, equally as good.
My other objection to ‘soulmates’ that I think makes it harder and harder for us to find lasting love is that if you ask one hundred people, you could very well get one hundred different answers for what a soulmate actually is. I mean good god, if I showed an object to a hundred people and a hundred people called it a hundred different things, I wouldn’t think the object had something wrong with it, I’d think it was the people. Take Pluto for example. It takes Pluto 248 years to make one orbit around the sun. Between now and its first discovery, Pluto has yet to complete one full orbit yet it’s undergone two name changes. At less than one Pluto year old, it has gone from celestial body to planet to not a planet to dwarf planet. And in all that time, Pluto has done nothing different. It didn’t suddenly change orbit or size or characteristic. What changed was our definition because when we came up with the idea of ‘planet’ we didn’t know any better, or know of the infinite number of variables, and for the longest time we pushed forward with our original definition even though it got harder and harder to classify what we’ve found. We’ve wanted ‘soulmates’ for so long yet we struggle to really figure out what it means to have one. We want to believe ‘soulmates’ are predetermined predestined preprogrammed perfect fits for our own unique personalities. It is appealing because it takes all the impetus for change and effort and growth off of us and onto them. But what of the countless successful marriages and relationships who have become so because of hard work, communication, growth, and sharing. Are they lesser because they weren’t soulmates, and are we to believe that despite the immense happiness they have built and shared together, they’d be immediately and automatically happier the moment they met their soulmate? Is this why wandering eyes and hearts are such a problem these days? Why we are disloyal and prone to infidelity or self-doubt or so afraid to commit? Are we so convinced that there is something so much better on the horizon that we never try to see what is right in front of us? We might never find our soulmate not because we didn’t actually find them but because our definition fails us in so many ways that we’ll never notice them when they are there. But even worse, notice the very real opportunity for love with 99.999 percent of someone because that .001 percent just isn’t soulmate material.
Ultimately, at the end of the day I’m not looking for my soulmate. I want happiness and romance and passion and love and understanding and compassion and all those things, but I know more than one person can give me each of those things and that each of those things can be found altogether in more than just one example of a person. Whether or not there is a soulmate out there for me or for anyone is not going to deter me from looking for someone who I can be incredibly happy with and who I would want to spend my one life, one love, with. That she might not be my soulmate does not take away from the very real possibility that through commitment, communication, dedication, understanding, compassion, and empathy I will have found someone, but moreover made something, worth feeling like it was one in a billion.
Man: 323 Loneliness: 33