Whether we're looking for love or lust, we look for someone with a good sense of humour. Studies of courtship on Tinder and Facebook show a sense of humour is the most valued quality in a potential mate.
A philosophy of humour as a virtue sheds light on why it's so important.
A virtue is a valuable trait - something that elicits admiration, pride or love. Common examples include prudence, honesty, chastity and wisdom.
Is a sense of humour comparable?
Of course, whether you're looking for casual dates or seeking a life partner influence what you want in a mate.
But research suggests humour doesn't just land you that first date or first kiss; it's also associated with keeping a relationship together.
When we eulogise someone's life, having a sense of humour still stands out. My research on obituaries shows we tend to treasure the capacity to laugh and make others laugh.
Why are we so serious about not being too serious? One reason is laughter is enjoyable, and laughing with someone is even more enjoyable. Part of the value of a sense of humour derives from its ability to counter negative emotions.
We want to be with people who make us laugh, especially if they help us laugh at things that cause us stress, anxiety or despair. But why value humour more than, say, being a good cook or owning a beach house?
Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is stand-up comedy.
But someone needs to be there to consume humour as well, to do the laughing. And in the typical case, humour is also about someone or something, the object of humour. This producer-consumer-object triangle is the matrix in which a sense of humour finds its home.
Although the research on Tinder and Facebook doesn't draw these distinctions, they're essential to understanding its value.
To have a good sense of humour, you have to be skilled at occupying each of the corners of the triangle.
Someone who can't make us laugh is deficient in humour.
And there's nothing less attractive than a person who laughs at their own jokes while everyone else sits in stony silence.
Likewise, someone who isn't able to laugh at the absurdities of life is a humourless boor. Different people find different things laughable. It depends on what you value, expect and hold sacred.
This explains why we feel so in tune with someone who laughs when we do and doesn't laugh when we don't. Testing the boundaries of someone's sense of humour is a shortcut to discovering whether you share their values.
The third corner of the triangle is probably the hardest to occupy. It isn't fun to be the butt of the joke. But an inability to admit your own faults and laugh at yourself is a sign you have an over-inflated ego or take yourself too seriously. Who would want to be with a jerk like that?
Of course, I don't want to suggest the best romantic partners are constantly laughing at themselves, even when the humour is mean-spirited, cruel or just lame. My point is someone who is unable to laugh at themselves when a little self-contempt is appropriate is likely to be either an arrogant self-deceiver or a puritanical saint.
Neither makes a good mate.
And so it makes perfect sense that, when we look for a partner, we'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.
- The Conversation