The last guy I dated was really, really funny. We were in a sketch and improv comedy group together in college, so humor was an important part of both of our lives, but he was the first guy I talked to when I joined the group and the first one to make me laugh — a true recipe for romance.
His humor was somewhat dry and often absurd, which I loved.
Over the course of our three years in the group together, the sketches he wrote were, more often than not, always voted to be in the shows we performed each semester.
Among others, he wrote hilarious skits about a fictional comedy class, commentary on the Israel-Palestine conflict in the form of a musical and a spoof of Scooby Doo.
Somehow, he made even the most unfunny things funny, both in his sketches and in his everyday conversation.
I mean, really — in what universe do college students really care about Scooby Doo?
Contrarily, throughout my first year in the group, I sometimes left practice feeling like my puns during sketch rewrites totally sucked or my improv scene didn’t go as well as I planned.
After all, it was easy to feel insecure about my ability to be funny in a group of 12 of the funniest people I’ve ever met, especially as an underclassman and especially as a female, a classification of person whom everyone likes to deem “not funny.”
And it definitely didn’t help that he was there.
I desperately wanted to impress him, and I honestly feared if I failed at being funny — if my sketches didn’t get voted into the show or if my improv skills were subpar that day — he wouldn’t like me.
I was weirdly threatened by girls I perceived as funnier than me, even those who weren’t in my comedy group.
But, oddly enough, lapses in my ability to make my group members laugh didn’t change his feelings for me. He still liked me. He still asked me to be his girlfriend.
Somehow, I still captured his attention for a long time. And it’s all because of the interestingly sex-specific role that humor plays in romance.
First of all, having a sense of humor is not as simple as it seems. In an attempt to define it, Dr. Gil Greengross, Ph.D, writes in Psychology Today:
If you memorize a thousand jokes, that doesn’t make you a person with a sense of humor. Sense of humor is [subtler]. A good sense of humor is about timing, the ability to say the funny thing at the right time and to the right people. Telling a sexist joke in a room full of women will probably not score many points with the audience. Humor is largely an interpersonal activity that requires a high level of emotional, social and also mating intelligence.
Research indeed suggests there’s an important link between humor and intelligence: The funniest people are also consistently the smartest.
Evolutionarily, intelligence is attractive to a woman because it reflects an ability to succeed in the workplace and obtain enough resources (money, basically) to support a family.
According to Darwin’s sexual selection theory, women invest more of their time, energy and bodies in their offspring, so they’re choosier when deciding on a mate.
Women want someone who can provide them with the most amount of resources for the young they spent all that energy raising — in other words, who is the most intelligent.
Because of this, women are especially sensitive to any indicators of intelligence, including humor. And when men use humor to demonstrate their intelligence, it works: A 2011 study suggests that a woman’s judgment of a man’s sense of humor correlated with how intelligent she perceived him to be.
On the other hand, a man’s judgment of a woman’s sense of humor did not correlate with how intelligent he perceived her to be. It seems that men aren’t sensitive to humor as an indicator of intelligence because, well, they don’t need to be.
In fact, men aren’t sensitive to the existence of humor at all.
In that same study, researchers analyzed a series of online personal ads from a dating website called lavalife.com.
The analysis revealed that when a man mentioned their sense of humor in their profiles, either directly (by proclaiming to be funny) or indirectly (by actually trying to be funny), it contributed to a woman’s romantic interest in him.
When a woman added any semblance of humor to her personal ad, however, it did little to attract men.
A man’s evaluation of the presence of a woman’s sense of humor didn’t contribute to his romantic interest in her.
Overall, whereas women value humor when finding a partner, men do not, so men are more likely than women to incorporate humor into flirty banter when getting to know someone with whom they could see a romantic future.
It’s necessary for men to use humor when trying to attract women, not the other way around.
A man’s motivation for using humor appears to be different than a woman’s motivation for doing so — and this might be where the whole “women aren’t funny” thing comes in.
Evidently, being funny is not a major reason a man finds a woman attractive, which places less importance on a woman needing to be funny in the context of romantic attraction.
If a woman is funny, it’s just a nice addition to her total package. And she certainly could use humor to impress a man if she wants, but it’s more required that a man uses humor to impress her.
Because of this, women haven’t needed to work on improving their skills to compete with other women like men have.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that funny women aren’t out there nor has it stopped women from using humor anyway.
Now that social barriers that once held women back from the entertainment industry are slowly disappearing, there’s an increasing acceptance of women into the industry, so women are getting the chance to compete in their own ways — for movie deals and TV shows, that is. Which means they’ll only get funnier than they already are.
In fact, by the time I was a senior, I had worked my ass off to compete with the other sketch comedy groups in the mini entertainment industry at my school, and my humor was quicker and sharper than ever.
Still, however, studies have shown that women want men who can make them laugh, and men want women who they can make laugh.
And competing for a slot on Comedy Central or in the improv showcase at a small-town college is not the same as competing for a romantic partner.
Not all of us want to be comedians, but we all do want to find love.
I suppose that’s what drew my ex and I to each other during my freshman year and throughout college.
Whereas my jokes were the byproducts of what mostly amused my friends in high school, his jokes were the carefully sculpted and executed byproducts of years of trying to impress women, including me. And they totally worked.
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