You'd like to hope any author researching a book of social and anthropological interest would go pretty deep with his research. In comedian Aziz Ansari's case, he went deeper than anyone could rightfully demand: jerking off into a silicone egg as part of a chapter about the love lives of Tokyoites. What did he learn? "It felt like I was masturbating with a thick, cold condom on. I didn't understand the appeal."
Thanks Aziz, you've saved us a lot of heartache. But the book, 'Modern Romance', which he wrote with the assistance of Eric Klinenberg, a sociology professor at NYU (which Ansari attended), is actually a more serious study of the mechanisms of contemporary courtship than the aforementioned experiment might suggest.
In an age where, according to a survey cited in the book, 80 per cent of millennials will Google a potential partner before a first date, and teens send each other photos of their own genitals as readily as pictures of kittens puking into teacups, there's clearly some re-evaluating to be done.
Ansari's own parents had an arranged marriage: his father agreed to wed his mother after two previous candidates were deemed too tall and too short respectively. The future Mrs Ansari, it seemed, was just right (they're still married, and happily, as far as their son can tell).
But single people now have both the pressure of finding their one true soul mate (rather than someone height-compatible), and also the paralysing luxury of overwhelming options. He quotes Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: "How many people do you need to see before you know you've found the best? The answer is every damn person there is."
Ansari and Klinenberg ran focus groups in the United States and a forum on Reddit to get people to talk openly about dating today, as well as travelling to Tokyo, Buenos Aires and, naturally, Paris.
Their book presents all kinds of fun trivia about how the business of romance is conducted (American men who look away from the camera in their profile pictures have a better strike rate; in Japan, dating profile portraits are seen as gauche — better to upload a picture of your pet, or your rice cooker), as well as raising some interesting questions about how 21st-century humans form meaningful connections. If indeed they do.
Ansari has pulled it off: a thinky book that's funny, too. But could we get through all of it without hearing the voice of Ansari's misguided lothario in NBC's Parks and Recreation, Tom Haverford? Not when he's writing sentences like "I put myself to the test with a thought experiment. Let's say my girlfriend was in Miami for a bachelorette party, and she ran into r'n'b superstar/actor Tyrese Gibson..." we couldn't.
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari with Eric Klinenberg is out on 16 June (Allen Lane)