A sense of humor is a beautiful trait. When times are stressful, it can help to see the absurdity of a situation. A good night with friends is made better by laughter. And everyone knows that a sense of humor is a crucial part of what people seek when they are looking for love.
When men and women are asked to list the most desirable traits in a romantic partner, they both put “good sense of humor” near the top of the list.
This agreement between the sexes masks a bit of complexity. Studies of attraction show that women find a man more attractive and desirable when he is funny than when he is not. But, studies suggest that men value a sense of humor, but do not find a woman more attractive or desirable when she is funny.
What is going on here?
A study by Eric Bressler, Rod Martin and Sigal Balshine in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior suggests that this apparent contradiction comes from a difference between the way men and women define “good sense of humor.”
When women say that they want a man with a good sense of humor, they generally mean that they want someone who will both make them laugh and will laugh at their jokes. In contrast, when men say that they want a woman with a good sense of humor, they mean primarily that they want someone who will laugh at their jokes.
It is important to bear in mind, though, that this study looked at people who were trying to find a romantic partner. Even in these data, men found a woman who could make them laugh to be more attractive as a potential long-term partner than as just someone they were interested in dating.
Finally, once people are involved in a long-term relationship, it is important for both partners to be able to make each other laugh. Any long-term relationship has lots of potential stress. Jobs, finances, kids and health can take away some of the magic from the early relationship. Couples that can keep all that in perspective and find the humor in every situation have a great mechanism for facing those stresses together.
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