Laughing for Love

Why humor is a great third wheel on dates

The first time Ashley and Logan Rencher spent time together, it was by accident.

They had met in a larger group of college friends at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, but were separated soon afterward. Instead of searching for that large group, they sat on the floor of their dormitory’s common room and played silly card games like Spades and Egyptian Rat Screw for hours on end. It wasn’t the games that kept them interested — it was their shared laughs.

“I was really entertained by him, so much so that my face hurt when I came home, and it made him really intriguing for me,” Ashley Rencher said.

They’ve been married for 10 years and live in Austin, Texas. Logan Rencher continues to make Ashley laugh every day — “sometimes a really hearty laugh,” she said.

“It bonds our friendship,” Ashley Rencher said.

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A quick survey of the profiles on shows an easy majority of women list a good sense of humor as a requirement for potential dates.

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“Funny is better than money — a great sense of humor is priceless,” said someone known as BlondEmeraldEyes, 45, on the site. “Make me laugh, and you’ll likely get a second date.”

“This is part of a courtship script,” said Hall. “Men are supposed to entertain, to help the woman get her guard down.”

So why is good humor such a valuable trait in dating? Some researchers suggest being funny is a way to show intelligence.

But Jeffrey Hall, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, said the link between humor and intelligence is weak. In his research, he found subjects who scored high on the humor scale did not necessarily clock in high on test scores or their GPA.

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That said, Hall did find that laughing together can indicate romantic success. To test this, he brought together 51 pairs of single college students who didn’t know each other. The pairs sat alone in a room and talked for about 10 minutes. Then they filled out a survey about their level of romantic interest.

Hall found that when two strangers meet, the more a man tries to make a woman laugh, and the more the woman laughs with his efforts, the more likely it is that she is going to be interested in him. He also found that when the man and woman laugh together, it’s an even better indication of their romantic interest.

The more times a man tries to make a woman laugh, and the more the woman laughs with his efforts, the more likely she is going to be interested in him.

Brad and Melissa Elder of Salt Lake City met in high school and have been laughing ever since. Brad was pretty shy, but because Melissa had a sharp wit and could keep a room laughing, he was able to relax and be himself around her.

“What I really liked about him,” Melissa said, “is that we both secretly had a really crude sense of humor. For some reason there were no boundaries, and I was able to say whatever I wanted. It kept things that could be depressing really funny.”

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Although good humor could have evolved from playfulness and social acuity, Hall said there may be another explanation.

“This is part of a courtship script,” he told LifeZette. “Men are supposed to entertain, to help the woman get her guard down. And the woman is supposed to judge and evaluate him as a potential partner. Although there have been huge changes in the attitudes about the roles of men and women and big shifts in how we use technology in dating, this script has remained largely intact.”

Hall said this traditional courtship script is a strong part of Western dating culture, and although other regions — such as the Middle East and Southeast Asia — also have gendered scripts, they don’t necessarily feature humor as a centerpiece.

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Hall said humor in relationships to be a “co-constructive process.”

“Mutual laughter is a way to step around this traditional gender dynamic,” Hall said. “When you’re co-constructing a joke and playing off each other, it’s a cue that this person gets you and adds to your humor.”

In fact, Hall said that “two people sharing a sense of humor is the most powerful indicator of interest.”

So even if you laugh at inappropriate moments, if you have a dark, morbid side or an aggressive humor that pokes fun at other people, it can work in your favor if you find someone who shares it.

“Your sense of humor is not just for your health, it’s for the relationship’s health,” Hall said.

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