Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Silly Man

Part 5 in the "Men Behaving Badly" Series
Part 1Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Ask a majority of women what is the number one quality they look for in a man, and the answer is "Sense of Humor." Couple that with the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for," and you may be faced with a situation that is quite frustrating. It is true that women love a man who can make them laugh. Men are all too aware of this and willing to serve women in this way. However, a man who is one step shy of being a circus clown can be a huge turn off (at least for me).

I've seen plenty of guys use humor in ways that at the very least will frustrate a woman, and at most will cause her to grow incredibly angry. As with all the "Men Behaving Badly" postings, my hope is to help men understand how and why their behavior is appropriate, and to help men better serve women in these situations. So without further ado, here are the three main types of "silly men" that I personally find challenging to deal with:

1) Inability to Be Serious. I recently had an email discussion with a brother who claimed he "seriously" wanted to know about a particular facet of my life which he found to be rather unusual. I explained that in some ways, my choices in this area were akin to a personal conviction. The man then replied with a dozen jokes about what I had just shared. It seemed every other sentence in his response was followed by "LOL!!!!!" or an emoticon of a smiley beating the ground with his fists in a fit of laughter. Needless to say, I not only did not find his response funny, I found it insulting. I strongly believe that in this case, this man was trying to establish a connection with me, but he ended up putting a bigger wedge between us. Guys, when you use the word "seriously," women want to feel that it is safe to be vulnerable, open up, and tell you - seriously - what makes us tick. If you then turn around and laugh at us, make jokes, or insult something that is very important to us, you make yourself seem very similar to the boy who cried wolf. If you say you want to know something "seriously", and then you don't behave in a serious manner, chances are, we're not going to believe you the next time you use that word. And if we don't believe you are capable of being serious, you will never win our trust.

"Inability to be Serious" is the number one type on my list because it has some very harsh consequences when it comes to how a woman will perceive your leadership ability. Think about it - who in their right mind would want to submit to someone who constantly laughs at everything? As a single woman, constantly laughing or joking in every situation would not be an attractive quality in a husband. But a man who cannot be serious, in my opinion, is even worse in a pastoral role. If your only counseling skill is your sense of humor, I'm not going to feel safe coming to you with a problem.

Tip for Women: As usual, we don't want to make this a man-bashing post, so for women, I'd like to offer some insight on why men do this. I've come up with two reasons. The first is illustrated by the recent example with my friend. In this case, I suspect he was trying to establish a connection with me and it backfired. But more often than not, when a man constantly jokes about something that is important to you, it could be that he is misunderstanding your passion as pain. Men absolutely hate to see people they care about in pain. Men also have an insatiable need to "fix" problems. Therefore, if they see you in pain, the quick fix for this solution is to reverse that by making you laugh. If a man cracks jokes when you are being serious, try not to judge him (like I am tempted to do) but let him know that the joke is inappropriate. Do this gently as it may hurt his feelings. Remember, in his mind, he is honestly trying to help. Getting angry might make the problem worse, because he might interpret this simply as a failure to achieve his goal of making you feel better, and thus try harder! I've known guys who will just turn up the juice in these situations and joke even more. Use that knowledge to your advantage. Instead of getting angry, say: "It would be helpful if you could not joke about this." When you tell him exactly how he can help (as this is his main goal), he should be able to shift gears.

2. Uses Humor as a Defense Mechanism. I feel I can speak from authority on this one because the only safe emotion for men to show in my family is humor. Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and even today, it is very difficult for the men in my family to cry or show weakness. Perhaps this is why "Sense of Humor" is down much further on my personal list of admirable qualities in a man. I've seen one too many men use their sense of humor as a way to mask their true feelings, and it can be frustrating.

This one should be obvious. While an inability to be serious may simply be a man's attempt to help you, using humor as a defense mechanism is a sign that the man cannot accept help in return. A man who uses humor as a defense mechanism is desperately trying to hide anything that he perceives might make him appear weak. By laughing off very serious or painful situations, he is trying to demonstrate that he is strong and does not need anyone's help. Usually men who do this are terrified to show their true emotions in front of a woman. But if you look carefully, men will more often do this to protect their image in front of other men. They often feel that in order to prove their manliness, they need to reject any displays of emotion that are typically perceived as "feminine," even if that means denying that it is a problem at all. Oftentimes, this denial comes in the form of humor. (If I can laugh about it, then it has no power over me.)

Tip for Women: In many cases, the only people men feel they can open up to is their women. So if your husband is acting this way, don't blow it by getting angry. If you become angry when he displays a "positive" emotion (humor), he will not want to share with you any emotion that he perceives to be negative, such as sadness, grief, or despair. Women can be supportive by reminding men that tears are not a female emotion, but a human emotion. Even Jesus wept!

3. The Competitive Comedian. I don't have this last one completely figured out, but I feel it does deserve mention. Sometimes men will use their sense of humor as a way to "one-up" a woman. If you make a witty remark, these men will immediately follow it with something even funnier. If you can top that, these men do not look very happy. I am not entirely sure why this occurs. I have been in situations where certain men (especially the "defense mechanism" guys) will almost feel threatened, as if someone else is stealing their spotlight when it comes to humor. I suppose for these men it is the only thing that gives them an identity in a group. Perhaps they grew up in a family where everyone had a label: Jack is the athlete, Bill has the brains, and Mike is the funny one. Your guess is as good as mine.

In other cases, if the man is interested in a particular woman, he will use humor as a way of being horribly mean to her. He will make fun of her appearance, her mannerisms, the things she's into - whatever he can think of. I've read a few secular articles that explain this one: this is a cry for attention. In many cases it works - when a man is mean to us, he has definitely captured our attention. Unfortunately, we are not drawn to him as a potential life partner. Instead, we're drawn to him in the same manner we would be to a huge pileup on the interstate, or two people who are arguing very loudly in a restaurant. We shake our heads and just think, "That's terrible." It's the same way with obnoxious and rude men. It gets our attention, but it is not attractive.

Tip for Women: I don't have much insight on this one, however I will say that since it is common for men to bond with other men through competition, a man who "one-ups" you with the jokes, or a man who uses humor to insult you may be trying to bond with you on some level. If this is the case, you can use the same strategy as you do with the "inability to be serious" guys. Instead of getting angry or telling him that he's being a rude, obnoxious jerk, use encouragement to direct him away from that behavior. For example, if he is nice to you, use that as an opportunity to smile and say, "Wow, I really like it when you say nice things to me." Or you might say, "The other day at the women's luncheon I mentioned some of the nice things you said to me last week, and they were so jealous!"

Another thing for women to remember is that we do have a tendency to be a bit oversensitive at times. Granted, there are some men who are downright annoying when they tease, but since men do bond with other men through banter, cut him some slack when he jokes with you. Ask yourself, "Am I overreacting?" Unless the teasing is inappropriate, laugh with him and move on.

In closing, I don't want to give the impression that a sense of humor is a bad thing. Far from it! It still remains at the top of the list in qualities that women look for in a man. This is largely because we admire a man who is able to laugh at himself. This is a sign of humility. It demonstrates that a man can have joy of the Lord in the midst of his shortcomings (as well as ours). And although it may not be obvious at first, laughing at oneself is an indicator that you are confident in who you are in Christ. This is a quality that is attractive in both men and women alike!

The bottom line: I would encourage men to use their sense of humor as an asset instead of allowing it to become a hindrance to their character. Many years ago, I read a secular book called Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. This was required reading for a management class, and the one thing I remember most from this book was to never show your nice side up front, because if people think you're nice, they won't respect you as a leader. They will walk all over you. Instead, show that you have a head for business and a strong spine. Then once you gain their respect, you can be nice to them. I would say that a similar principle can be applied to the use of humor. I tend to respect a man who can be serious up front. Then when he shows his silly side later on, it comes as a pleasant surprise. But if a man is goofy from the start, I personally have a very hard time taking him seriously when he tries to switch gears. I can only speak for myself, but I have trouble seeing overly funny men as serious leaders.

What about you? How do you perceive overly funny men? Do you respect them, or are you less likely to take them seriously?


Elessar said...

Hey Jennifer,

Regarding #3, I recalled an article that gives some interesting behavioral explanations of men and their humor that might interest you.

Betsy Markman said...

Very, very good observations. I find such men a big turn-off, too.

I'm reminded of Mr. Bennett in "Pride and Prejudice." Do you know the character? He made sport of everything, and enjoyed other people's foolishness most of all. Then, when his youngest daughter went astray and brought disgrace to herself and her family, he finally realized how he'd failed her. But then he admitted that he was likely to forget the pain all too soon, and go back to his former ways.

Tragic. There's a time for everything, and our culture has convinced many men that it should always be time for funsies. Anytime it's not funsy time, it's a bummer. Those are the only two options available.


Thanks for this entry, and for letting me vent!

Jennifer said...


Elessar, THANK YOU for that link. I finally got around to reading it and it fits perfectly with an idea that I had for a similar post last year but never wrote. I may integrate your contribution into a future article.

Betsy, yes I do know that character and you have provided some interesting insight on how too much silliness can be a detriment to a person as well as those around him. Humor should be an asset to one's personality, not a character flaw.

Thank you both so much for your contributions to this discussion!