*“Jean” has been married to “Louis” (not their real names) for a decade. A little less than half that time, I’ve listened to her complain about the man.
I knew Jean long before she met Louis, an attractive, kind fellow with a vibrant career as an entrepreneur. However, to hear her tell it, there’s always something: Louis didn’t do this, he didn’t do that; Louis is not spending enough time with the kids; Louis paid too much for that car; Louis is driving me crazy with this thing he does, etc.
A hallmark of a good friend is being a good listener. One day though, impulsively, I crashed the barrier. “If Louis is a problem now,” I blurted, “what did you see when you married him?” Jean didn’t hesitate a minute. “He made me laugh.”
She insisted the other stuff—looks, ambition–was simply the cherry on top. “I thought he was handsome and a hard worker, but what got me is that Louis is just stupid funny.“
They met at a picnic in L.A.’s Griffith Park hosted by a mutual friend. “I didn’t think he was my type,” she said. “He was a little stand-offish. When he warmed up, he was still low-key, but his opinions about the world in general were hilarious. He asked me for my number, and we went from there. But our thing started because he was funny.”
You’ve heard it before. The world is filled with impassioned tales of romance sparked, not by physicality, money, personal brilliance or even the ability to communicate, but a man’s knack for making a woman laugh.
Online dating sites are filled with profiles of women who list, more than anything else, “a sense of humor” as a desired quality of the potential suitor. How many movies feature a storyline of a woman who absolutely despises the guy—until he manages to make her chuckle? It’s about a sense of humor.
But if that’s an integral part of getting the girl, where are all the pop songs about making her laugh? Marvin Gaye never crooned a sultry lyric about her throwing her head back in rapturous laughter. Maybe rapture; head, for sure. But nothing about laughter. Unless it was followed or preceded by the word “fool.”
During “Soon As I Get Home,” one of his first solo hits, Babyface, a guy whose lyrics tend to make it hard for men, sang, “I’ll buy your clothes/I’ll cook your dinner, too/I’ll pay your rent.” He talks about supplying her with a “stack of credit cards.” A stack. Had the man in ‘Face’s tune made that chick laugh, he could have saved himself some dough.
But why humor? Randomly, I asked around. “Because looks fade,” said a 20-something college student who waitresses at a restaurant I frequent. “If you’re truly in love, you’re going to be together for a long, long time. You better be able to laugh at life. There’s a time for serious, but if he can’t make me laugh or laugh at himself? Uh-uh.”
A professional in her mid-40s reasoned humor a no-brainer. “Who doesn’t want to be with someone who can make them feel good?” she asked. “Laughing makes me feel good.“ An attorney concurred. “I’m not looking for Jerry Lewis, “ she said, “but I don’t want a stick in the mud. My first husband was a nice man, but way too serious. My second husband constantly makes me laugh. When the going gets rough, you want someone able to brighten your spirit. “
I can dig it. Some of my best memories with women involve moments of hardy, contiguous laughter. To be sure, a shared sense of humor creates a certain intimacy. A subsidiary of love is joy, and there is nothing more joyful or seductive than the warmhearted repartee—not mean-spirited or hurtful, but warm, affectionate fun–of lovers.
The feeling is not exclusive to romance. My best, dearest friends, men and women, love to laugh. I mean, internal organ-aching, if-you-say-one-more-word-I-might-die laughter. Much of our camaraderie is based on our ability to make one another smile.
The concept seems so simple, making her laugh. However, like most things in life, in the simplicity of humor, there is complexity. It’s not as easy as funny man = panty-dropping guffaw.
There’s innate craftsmanship involved. The ability to tell a story. Timing. Wit—intelligence; intuition. Maybe Louis has lost interest in sharing that part of himself. Or perhaps Jean, for whatever reason, no longer finds him funny.
In any case, though women sing the praises of the man with “a sense of humor,” I believe that when decoded, the phrase actually means: SMART man who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Maybe that’s what women want, and they simply aren’t saying it that way. But then, women and clarity is a side-splitting, thigh-slapping subject for another time.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].