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So, You Want to Impress Her? Make Her Laugh

The importance of humor in romantic relationships.

Key points

  • Humor and sexiness tend to be more romantically attractive than wisdom and beauty.
  • Men tend to look for a partner who appreciates their sense of humor, while women tend to look for a man who can make them laugh.
  • Humor and laughter, when shared by both partners, is more likely to generate an optimal bond.

Men tend to look for a partner who appreciates their sense of humor, while women tend to look for a man that can make them laugh. These two complementary factors work in favor of any blossoming relationship: If, on a first meeting, a man is able to make a woman laugh, it increases the chances of her being interested in forming a relationship.

Humor and intelligence

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” —Victor Borge

Wisdom without a sense of humor is not fun. The most attractive trait is a sense of humor, showing my date doesn’t take himself too seriously.” —Anat

Intelligence (and wisdom) is vital in our lives, enabling unique human activities, such as understanding complex issues, writing books and creating works of art. Though a sense of humor expresses a form of intelligence, not all intelligent people have a sense of humor. Studies have found that those with a strong sense of humor have higher intelligence than less funny people, and suffer less from depression and aggression. Laughter may have a serious impact on us all; it changes our brain in a manner that makes us wiser, more friendly and more satisfied with our lives (Willinger, et al., 2017; Dowthwaite, 2017).

Self-humor and an ability not to take ourselves too seriously, involve self-confidence, humility, the capacity to see alterative perspectives and respecting others. G. K. Chesterton contends that “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.” The importance of humor relates to our playful nature, where we express happiness and childhood naivety. Albert Einstein attributed his wisdom to having a childish sense of humor.

Humor in relationships

“Many of my best memories with exes come from laughing together about something. Shared laughter is one of the best ways to bond with someone.” —Rebecca

Humor is perceived as one of the most important traits in a romantic partner. Research shows that those with a strong sense of humor are perceived as more attractive than intelligent people. Intelligence is also perceived as a desired trait in an ideal partner, though is initially considered less important than a sense of humor. Indeed, the search for an optimal partner should not be a search for the person with the best personal traits, but a person with whom a connection forms easily (Ben-Ze’ev, 2019). Intelligence does not guarantee such a bond. Humor and laughter, when shared by both partners, is more likely to generate an optimal bond (Nicholson, 2012).

Humor is not only expressed in the jokes we tell each other but in the playful, enjoyable interactions involving flirting and pleasant teasing. Humor, which is based upon unexpected surprise, breaks tension and can help ease anger and conflict.

As with all extreme behavior, extreme laughter can be damaging. Thus, a discerning woman said that she ended a romantic relationship when the man was too cheerful and contented. In her view, this attitude, different from a good sense of humor, revealed superficiality and lack of seriousness. Indeed, one study has found that increasingly twisted humor and laughing at inappropriate times could be an early indication of dementia (Clark, 2016).

Gender differences in humor

If I can't joke around with a guy and hold at least a decent conversation, there is no way sex will ever be on the table.” —Julia

Both genders prefer a partner with a sense of humor, believing that it is important not only in flirting and dating, but also within an enduring relationship. However, whereas men tend to look for a partner who appreciates their sense of humor, women tend to look for a man who makes them laugh. These tendencies are complementary. Indeed, research suggests that when two strangers meet and the man succeeds in making the woman laugh, the chances of her becoming interested in forming a relationship increase (Hall, 2015; Cassata, 2016).

This gender difference may be due to the fact that traditionally women have been courted, and laughing is a sign of readiness to create a bond. In any case, the most significant sign of mutual attraction and the desire to form a relationship is when two partners laugh together. The importance of active humor (making someone laugh) compared to passive humor (laughing when being told a joke), is evident. A study has shown that actively funny men are three times as likely to receive a phone number from women than men with a passive sense of humor (Geher & Kaufman, 2013).

Both women and men use humor in order to attract others and to show an interest in a potential partner. As a relationship develops, humor becomes a kind of private language between partners and a tool for diffusing tension. In enduring relationships, there is some role reversal. Contrary to the courting period, where men usually make women laugh and women tend to favorably respond, over time, humor can become harmful. Within enduring relationships, it is less important to entertain and impress one’s partner than to use humor in order to reduce tension in showing understanding and sincerity. Women are often better in circumstances that require greater sensitivity.

Humor and wisdom, sexiness and beauty

“For me, a lack of intelligence and having no sense of humor are two of the biggest turnoffs in women, when it comes to their personality.” —Jack

A good sense of humor is sexually attractive as it expresses wisdom, creativity and other positive traits. The relationship between wisdom and humor is similar to that between beauty and sexiness. Wisdom and beauty are personal characteristics that exist regardless of a connection, whereas humor and sexiness depend on such a connection.

Beauty, often perceived as close to perfection, does not invite interaction—rather, it can be likened to works of art and beautiful landscapes we are invited to adore from a distance. Sexiness constitutes more than a painting hanging in a museum—rather than adore it from afar, there is an invitation to share in activities (Ben-Ze’ev, 2019).

Wisdom and a sense of humor do not guarantee sexual attraction, but a lack of them often reduce attraction. Nevertheless, one can enjoy sex with an unintelligent or humorless person. It seems that in cybersex, where verbal capacities are more important, the issue is more complex. A woman who participated in cybersex writes: “I suppose that in face-to-face activities, someone stupid could still be extraordinarily sexy. But stupid doesn’t work online, at least not for me” (Ben-Ze’ev, 2004).

Wisdom (and intelligence) have some value in sex; when humor is added to the mix, the party becomes even more exciting.

References

Ben-Ze'ev, A. (2004). Love online. Cambridge University Press.

Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2019). The arc of love. University of Chicago Press.

Cassata, C. (April 22, 2016). Why women love funny guys. Healthline.

Clark, C. N., et al. (2016). Altered sense of humor in dementia. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 49, 111-119.‏

Dowthwaite, L. (October 19, 2017). Funny people are also more intelligent. World Economic Forum.

Geher, G., & Kaufman, S. B. (2013). Mating intelligence unleashed. Oxford University Press.

Hall, J. A. (2015). Sexual selection and humor in courtship: A case for warmth and extroversion. Evolutionary Psychology, 13, 1474704915598918.

Nicholson, C. (October 1, 2012). The humor gap. Scientific American.

Willinger, U., et al. (2017). Cognitive and emotional demands of black humour processing. Cognitive processing, 18, 159-167.‏

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