If this is how you’re trying to get a date, Aziz Ansari says you’re doing it wrong.
In his stand-up routines, Ansari captures the frustration and excitement of single life. A lot of that plays out over text message: People take forever to write back — or ask for sexts way too soon. Long exchanges fizzle before the texters ever meet up. Breaking up by text is even considered normal.
So it makes sense that some of the best stuff in his new book, “Modern Romance: An Investigation,” written with sociologist Eric Klinenberg, looks at how singles communicate through their phones. In focus groups convened for the book, men and women offered up the messages in their smartphones for Ansari and Klinenberg to analyze. Ansari was not impressed: “I’ve spent hours talking with women and seeing the kind of ‘first texts’ they get from guys,” he writes, “and trust me, it’s infuriating. These were intelligent, attractive, amazing women and they all deserved better.”
I’m glad somebody’s noticed.
Here are five things that bug women and men the most when messaging with a potential love interest, according to Ansari and Klinenberg’s research.
1. Generic “hey” texts. They look something like this: “Hey” / “Heyyy!” / “Wsup!” / “What’s going on?” And they make no one feel special. “I’ve surely sent a good number of them in my own dating life,” Ansari confesses. “Generic messages come off as super dull and lazy. They make the recipient feel like she’s not very special or important to you.” Common sense, but also a common problem.
2. The secretary problem. This happens when two people ask each other what they’re up to but never make solid plans to meet in real life. One person might say that “we should get a drink next week”; the other agrees, but no time is set and the conversation fizzles. Ansari summarizes the problem really well in a 2013 interview with Conan O’Brien: “It’s pretty much, a lot of times like you’re a secretary for this really shoddy organization, scheduling the dumbest s—, with the flakiest people ever.”
3. The endless back-and-forth: This is when two strangers talk about anything but meeting up. And it’s incredibly boring. “I can’t tell you how many girls I met who were clearly interested in a guy who, instead of asking them out, just kept sucking them into more mundane banter with gems like ‘So where do you do your laundry?’ What follows are ten back-and-forths about laundry (‘Yeah, I recently switched to fragrance-free detergent. It’s been FANTASTIC.’)”
Women over 25 have the least patience for this kind of meandering banter, Ansari says. Probably because we’re most likely to remember the days when people called each other on the phone to set up a first date. For daters under 30, that’s pretty rare. According to a 2013 Match.com survey cited in the book, 37 percent of first-date invitations were face-to-face, 32 percent were done via text message, 23 percent happened over the phone, and 1 percent were over e-mail.
4. Grammar/spelling: You don’t have to be a National Spelling Bee champion to make it to a first date, but texting “Hey we shud hang out sumtimez” might kill your chances with someone. “In any interviews we did,” Ansari writes, “whenever bad grammar or spelling popped up, it was an immediate and major turn-off.”
5. Are we “hanging out” or going out on a date?: “The lack of clarity over whether the meet-up is even an actual date frustrates both sexes to no end,” Ansari writes, “but since it’s usually the guys initiating, this is a clear area where men can step it up.” For an example of how to avoid hang-out vs. date ambiguity, Ansari writes about a woman who met a guy at a loud party: “After I left he texted me, ‘Hi [name redacted], this is [first name, last name], we’re going on a date.’ His confidence, straightforwardness, and refreshingly gentlemanly approach (vs. skirting around ‘let’s hang out some time’) made for an incredible first impression and had a lasting effect.” That kind of clarity is helpful for both parties. As my friend Jeffrey Platts wrote in an essay in 2014: “The one question that you never want to have to ask on a date [is]: ‘So, is this a date?’ I’ve been on dates (and non-dates) where that was the question one (or both of) us was asking ourselves. . . . If she’s not interested, you get to know right away. No need to waste time/money/energy/tears on finding out later.”
Not all text conversations are doomed. “We also found some really good texts that gave me hope for the modern man,” Ansari says. Those might involve any or all of these: 1. an invitation to something specific at a specific time (what a concept!); 2. a callback to your previous interaction with this person (you know, kind of like a stand-up routine); 3. a humorous tone (no pressure, but do your best to channel your inner Aziz).
And at the end of the book, readers are rewarded with Aziz’s first text exchange with the woman who’s now his serious girlfriend. This is the chef who made him an out-and-proud feminist boyfriend. For the record, he did call her first, the old-fashioned way, and then followed up with a text when she didn’t answer. Note the callback to their previous conversation — they met at a barbecue in Brooklyn earlier that week — and an invitation to do something at a specific time.
Humorous tone: check!
The next day, plans are solidified — and yes, Ansari waited a day to respond. He “intentionally waited so as not to come off as overeager,” he writes in “Modern Romance.”
For their first anniversary, Ansari’s girlfriend made him a book of all their texts from their first year together. “For certain messages,” Ansari writes, “she wrote out what was going on through her mind, and it was amazing.”
Sounds like perfect material for a sequel to “Modern Romance.”