Q: I’ve always made people laugh with my self-deprecating humor, but I was complaining about not having much luck with the ladies recently, and my buddy told me that my humor is a problem. He said I come off as kind of a downer to women. Other guy friends told me not to listen to him; women love a man with a sense of humor. So, who’s right?
— Overweight, Poor, And Ugly
A: Self-deprecating humor works best when a man seems to be kidding, not confessing: “Hey, ladies! Look who’s barely holding it together over here!”
So, the question is, exactly how much of a self do you have to deprecate? Evolutionary psychologist Dr. Gil Greengross sees self-deprecating humor as a social version of conspicuous consumption (outlandish spending implying that a person has so much money, he could use packets of dollar bills for firewood.) Poking fun at yourself can suggest that you have so much personal and emotional capital that you not only don’t need to sweat to impress a woman, you can laugh at what a loser you are. (This works especially well if you’re a loser like George Clooney.)
Greengross cautions that it’s risky to shine a spotlight on actual flaws, so if there’s a ring of truth to “Overweight, Poor, And Ugly,” avoid opening with “Hey, babe, how bout I sell my plasma and take you to dinner?” But say what you lack in looks and money you make up in confidence. You could show off how cool you are with that uncomfortable moment of hitting on a woman with “Hi, I really wanted to talk to you. Can we talk about the weather while I’m thinking of something to say?” And instead of mocking who you are, you’re probably safer poking fun at something you’ve done, like, oops, splashing beer down the cleavage of the woman you’re hitting on: “They usually just slip my water dish into my cage so these sorts of things don’t happen.”
Still, although some humorous self-condemnation can be fun, a constant barrage of it may make a woman’s ears try to coerce her arms and legs into a suicide pact. Also, it’s easy to fall into the habit of using humor as a force field so you never have to open up and get real. This tends not to go unnoticed or go over with the ladies. So, sure, disarm a woman with humor, but after she’s disarmed, see that you actually talk to her, person-to-person, not comedian-to-person. Your goal should be finding out things about her that resonate with you and responding to them and seeing whether there’s a connection there. It’s connecting with a woman that will make her stick around — and for far longer than if you just try to hammer her with jokes until she loses consciousness.
Q: I’m a screenwriter with a job-job, so the early morning is the only time I have to write. When my girlfriend stays over, she’ll come in and start talking to me as I’m trying to work. I love her and don’t want her to feel ignored, but these interruptions really pull me out of my thoughts.
A: Writing and solitude tend to go together. Just think about it: Where was Thoreau’s girlfriend? Bottom of the pond?
Writing often looks dignified in movies, but in real life, it’s a grubby business that tends to involve some sobbing into the keyboard and humiliating attempts to bribe God in exchange for a working plot twist. In between, however, there are moments of what’s called “flow,” a term by psychologist Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describing the blissfully productive state where you get so single-mindedly immersed in some activity that time and everything else fall away. Interruptions, no matter how well-meaning, are the death of flow, and not exactly fantastic for lesser states of concentration, either.
Explain this to your girlfriend so she can understand that your need for solitude isn't a form of rejection and that, when you're writing, the sweetest and most supportive thing she can do is act like she’s not speaking to you (but without the door slammings and mumblings of “remorseless turd!” that usually come with). Block out a few hours in the morning as “do not disturb” time (which she should feel free to ignore whenever she catches fire). And when you aren’t blackening pages, maybe make an effort to be extra-affectionate in addition to expressing appreciation for her support. This should help keep her from feeling bad and acting out, and you, in turn, from rebelling against any such rebellion and, say, revising your pet name for her from “Sugarbooger” to “Writer’s Block.”
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