By Dr. Helen Fisher
I’ll take a man with a wry, quick wit over a handsome man any day. A perpetually serious partner, or one whose sense of humor is crude or childish is, for me, a deal-breaker.
So Chemistry.com and I did a study of more than 1,000 members to see how others felt about humor in courtship. We asked 19 questions, including “How important is it that your date laugh at your jokes?” “Have you ever fallen in love with someone because of their sense of humor?” And “Have you ever ended a relationship because your sense of humor was incompatible with the person you were dating?”
Men and women agreed on many points: 78% of men and 84% women believed it was “very important” or “somewhat important” that their date laugh at their quips. Both sexes were “most attracted” to witty, highbrow humor (Men 52%; women 55%) and far less drawn to sarcastic humor (men 19%; women 19%) or bathroom jokes (men 9%; women 4%). Both sexes also agreed that the worst time to use humor was during a fight or while having sex. And 89% of men and 94% of women regarded it as important that a date be able to laugh at themselves—an essential ingredient in a long-term partnership.
Moreover, the sexes were equally funny—according to their answers to three standard questions that measure sense of humor. Men and women were just as likely to make faces to themselves in a mirror; both sexes doodled with more curvy lines than straight lines; and at the zoo, both sexes preferred to watch the monkeys and apes than the lions and cheetahs. Both men and women also regularly found themselves entertaining others (64% of men; 63% of women).
One vivid gender difference popped up, however. Men were far more likely to want to be the funny one in the relationship (Men 79%; women 50%). Apparently for a good reason: When asked, “Have you ever fallen in love with someone because of their sense of humor, 57% of women said “yes,” as opposed to 40% of men. A man’s sense of humor appears to be an aphrodisiac for many women.
Why is a man’s wit an elixir for female love? Perhaps because humor advertises one’s creativity. And creativity has been linked with intelligence, energy, vigor, resilience and versatility—traits women have long sought in the father of their young.
Around the world both men and women value humor, perhaps because laughing boosts the immune system, elevates heart rate and blood circulation, builds muscle tone, reduces inflammation after injury, stimulates brain growth, and triggers the dopamine system—producing energy, focus, motivation and optimism. Laughter also alleviates social tension, reduces fear, eases pain, kills boredom, lessens stress, creates intimacy and unites individuals. People seek funny partners because funny people are good for their health and well-being.