You're So Funny: The Role of Humor in Relationships

Cute, smart, and funny: three common words to describe someone you just had a great date with.  Physical appearance and intellect are quite important factors in finding someone attractive, but apparently so is sense of humor. In fact, a good sense of humor is often considered one of the most attractive qualities someone can have.

But what constitutes a “good sense of humor”, and how does it affect the potential for intimate romantic relationships?

Without a doubt, humor can be subjective and multifaceted, making it a nuanced and complex behavior to measure scientifically. Today, we’re interested in one method that defines humor based on the positive or negative social effects it has: affiliative vs aggressive humor

Affiliative humor is gentle and playful, used to create cohesion and enhance social relationships. On the other hand, aggressive humor is more hostile and used at the expense of these relationships, often tied with motivations to enhance self-image. Think about the lighthearted teasing you might do to a friend when they have a crush which is affiliative, versus a sarcastic remark about how (not) attractive they are which is aggressive

Humor can also be a potential indicator of one’s social capabilities, intelligence, and creativity. Affiliative humor has been associated with extraversion, warmth, and agreeableness, whereas aggressive humor has been associated with neuroticism, hostility, and anger. People who regularly produce “good humor” are seen as more intelligent, and are more likely to have more short-term relationships than those who produce less. But short term relationships aren’t the only relationships that humor plays a role in.

In one study, men and women were presented with vignettes (short stories) of potential partners and asked to evaluate that partner’s long-term potential. Across genders, vignettes with positive, affiliative humor were reported to generate more romantic interest from the participants than vignettes with aggressive humor. This suggests that even if aggressive humor is found to be funny, individuals who often use this type of humor are not seen as great long-term partners. 

So it seems like it’s affiliative humor for the win. It is a positive behavior that strengthens relationships and can be a proxy for desirable social traits. But as prefaced before, humor is subjective. Maybe you have a niche sense of humor about beetles or are by nature very sarcastic. This doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from having a meaningful romantic relationship. It’s all about finding someone who finds your jokes funny and can appreciate your unique sense of humor.