By Amy Alkon
Q: I’m a 27-year-old guy, and I’m not very funny. I know women like a guy with a sense of humor, so I was interested in these “Flirt Cards” with funny messages that I saw on Kickstarter. You write your number on the back and give the card to a woman you’d like to meet. Good idea or bad for breaking the ice?—Single Dude
A: Using a pre-printed card to hit on the ladies makes a powerful statement: “I’m looking for a kind woman to nurse me back to masculinity.”
Asking a woman out isn’t just a way to get a date; it’s a form of display. Consider that women look for men to show courage. (The courage to unwrap a pack of cards doesn’t count.) And mutely handing a woman some other guy’s humor on a card is actually worse than using no humor at all.
Consider evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller’s “mating mind” hypothesis—the notion that “our minds evolved not just as survival machines, but as courtship machines.” Miller explains that the mind acts as a “fitness indicator”—a sort of advertising agency for a person’s genetic quality (among other things). Humor is a reliable (hard-to-fake) sign of genetic quality—reflecting high intelligence, creative problem-solving ability and a lack of mutations that would handicap brain function.
But it isn’t just any old humor that women find attractive. Any guy can memorize a joke. Accordingly, in a study of the pickup lines that men use on women, psychologists Christopher Bale and Rory Morrison “distinguish wit (spontaneous jokes that fit the context exactly, are genuinely funny and require intelligence) from mere humor (the pre-planned jokes and one-liners which … do not demonstrate intelligence).”
Anthropologist Gil Greengross, who studies humor and laughter from an evolutionary perspective, suggests that even a guy who’s lame at humor should at least take a run at being funny: “The risk of not even trying to make women laugh may result in losing a mating opportunity.” I disagree—though only in part. If you’re unfunny, trying to force the funny is like bragging, “Hey! I’m low in social intelligence!”
However, you shouldn’t let being unfunny stop you from hitting on a woman. What you can do is be spontaneously and courageously genuine. This isn’t to say that you should give up entirely on using pre-printed notes. Save them for special occasions—those when your message to a woman is something like, “Stay calm and put all the money in the bag.”
Q: My girlfriend’s father is a famous actor, and I’m on my way up. I worry that if things go wrong in our relationship, he could put a big kibosh on my career. I guess because of this, I find myself putting up with more stuff than I might normally. I wonder whether our relationship will suffer because of my secret worries about her dad.—Marked Man
A: There’s doing the right thing, and then there’s doing the right thing for the right reasons. Ideally, you refrain from shoplifting because it’s wrong to steal, not because they show videos of shoplifters on the news sometimes and your nose always looks so big on security camera footage.
It turns out that there are two fundamental motivations for all life-forms—from microbes to men. They are “approach” and “avoidance.” Research by social psychologist Shelly Gable suggests that romantic relationships are happier when they’re driven by approach rather than avoidance motives.
So, say your girlfriend asks that you put food-encrusted plates in the dishwasher instead of leaving them out for the archeologists to find. An approach motivation means doing as she asks because you’re striving for a positive outcome—like making her feel loved—instead of trying to avoid a negative one, like having your fate in showbiz patterned after that first guy in a horror movie who gets curious about the weird growling in the basement.
The research suggests that you can happy up your relationship by reframing why you do things—shifting to an “I just wanna make her happy” motivation. To do that, set aside your career fears and just try to be fair—to both of you. The relationship may fizzle out. Even so, if you don’t do anything horrible to Daddy’s little girl, there’ll be no reason for him to see to it that you look back on a lifetime of iconic roles—like “White Guy With Umbrella” and “Bystander #5.”