Can I live without laughter?
November 17, 2009 4:38 PM   Subscribe

Have been dating this guy for almost three months, am feeling very serious about him, and he about me. There’s just one thing: he doesn’t laugh. Hardly at all. Almost never. I am trying to figure out if I should move forward with a relationship which is wonderful in pretty much every other way.

So this guy: he’s great. Smart, kind, thoughtful, bringing me little presents all the time to let me know he’s thinking about me, texting me sweet little texts, always doing what he says he’ll do, planning interesting dates, we’re into the same things and almost hilariously compatible in so many ways. He’s loyal and good to his friends, and cares about his community. Whenever I have a problem or an issue, he’s totally willing to hear me out, communicate with me about it, and deal with it. We have talked about marriage and kids. I really, really care about him.

I plan to bring this up with him and see what he says, but I’m reluctant for fear of hurting his feelings -- because I am afraid that this is something that is not within his ability to change, and I fear that it may be a dealbreaker for me.

He doesn’t laugh. If I say something I think is funny, he doesn’t laugh. His facial expression doesn’t even change. Not even in that little “I don’t think what you said is funny but I’m acknowledging you made a joke” way. He says he just doesn’t “get” comedy or comedians. Not that I care about comedy, but I do want joking around and laughter and good-natured teasing and tickling and giggly joy to be a part of my life. He does not attempt to be funny or try to make me laugh. He doesn’t do the social smiling or social chuckling thing with other people, either. I notice this particularly, almost painfully, when I do or say something a little embarrassing, and he does not do what I would consider to be the normal thing, which is to laugh it off, or socially chuckle, or smile. He just sort of stands there with no facial expression. And makes no attempt to reassure or comfort, it’s like he doesn’t get that anything just happened.

He will occasionally do little sardonic chuckles to himself about something he thinks is funny, but I have never heard him actually laugh.

Also: does not chit-chat, at all. Very, very seldom makes eye contact with me, but when he does it is sincere and loving. Seldom talks about how he feels about things. I fear that the emotional depth of this relationship can only go so far when I cannot open up with him and bond through laughter or tears or intense emotion. I believe that he feels a lot for me, but I also feel like he does not actually understand how I feel most of the time. It’s very difficult to explain. But if I explain to him that I am feeling sad or frustrated, he does his best to comfort me.

Metafilter: should I make this a dealbreaker? It breaks my heart to think of leaving him -- he’s wonderful in so, so many ways. But I am afraid that I am going to starve for lack of that warm, giggly feeling when you laugh together with somebody you love, or the feeling you get when you are sad and somebody who cares about you holds you and feels bad that you feel sad. I don’t know if I can do without that. If I don’t make it a dealbreaker, how can I work around/through this with him?

anon answers or questions to
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You seem afraid of a lot. Why don't you just live, since you can't predict the future? If, in the end, you find yourself missing the playfulness, then you'll break it off. There is just no way to protect yourself from every possible hurt.
posted by runningwithscissors at 4:51 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you mean "dealbreaker" as in, "tell him this has to change or you'll walk"... then I don't really see the point in going that route. What do you think you'd accomplish by bringing it up with him? Even assuming that he could manage to pretend - would it really help if he faked it?
posted by moxiedoll at 4:55 PM on November 17, 2009

I plan to bring this up with him and see what he says

I can't even imagine how this would go. How do you politely tell someone that they need to laugh more or you'll potentially break up with them? You really can't. I agree with runningwithscissors, you need to go with the flow, and time will tell if you can do without it or not.
posted by desjardins at 4:55 PM on November 17, 2009

Sounds like a deep thinker, to me. His lack of outward joviality doesn't mean he can't have fun, as you've said yourself.

There is a theory in human behavior research that laughter is a preternatural response. Most agree it's an impulse that's entirely out of our control (we're talking real laughter, not the polite kind), and a good many think it's a response mechanism prompted by fear; more precisely, the passing of it. In this case, it's a non-linguistic method of consolation between beings: "Phew, I'm fine, but man was I nervous. Thank goodness that danger has passed!"

How it translates to humor is a little bit more vague. It's possible that it transmuted into that realm after we developed language to replace its more primitive use.

If it makes you uncomfortable, you have every right to discuss it with him. But I'd advise to avoid casting a negative light on it. If you're too convincing, he might actually start to believe he's unhappy, with every self-conscious realization that he doesn't laugh when everyone else does.

There's nothing more subjective than humor.
posted by pedmands at 4:56 PM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Personally I could not be with someone incapable of laughing. It just seems like this is a sign of some more complicated underlying issues. It sounds like somebody that's really unhappy. Maybe he has aspergers?

Think about it. Spend your life with someone who you couldn't even watch a comedy with? No one to laugh with or share a joke? Think hard about that.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 4:59 PM on November 17, 2009

Some people are just weird. When I go to concerts I just sit there blankly and listen to the music. It doesn't mean I'm not enjoying myself, it's just the way I am.

I think Monty Python is funny. I hardly ever laugh during it. Again, it's just a weird thing.

All of that being said, if it's that big of a deal for you then it's a deal breaker. Everybody has flaws, but you have to do what makes you happy too.
posted by theichibun at 5:02 PM on November 17, 2009

It doesn't sound like you are enjoying the relationship less because he hasn't laughed yet.

Just keep it going and wait until you no longer are attracted to him. Speculating on the future isn't helping you.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:03 PM on November 17, 2009

Very, very seldom makes eye contact with me, but when he does it is sincere and loving.

This seems like the more serious problem to address.
posted by water bear at 5:05 PM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

Very, very seldom makes eye contact with me, but when he does it is sincere and loving.

This seems like the more serious problem to address.

Yep. You've got someone you care for who can't laugh, can't make chit-chat, can't look you in the eye and is socially inept.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 5:09 PM on November 17, 2009

you know, and i've probably been on both side of this equation to be honest, but i've dated women who seemed never to laugh at the right things. maybe not a dealbreaker, if ever there were rules for these things, but in my cases and in hindsight i've realized that there was something about it that i ignored when first noticing it that pointed to an incompatibility in senses of humor. i don't think i ever could have brought it up in a way that would have been productive, since you can't reason someone into finding something funny (i.e. the very definition of explaining the joke), and for me the best thing to do is to have broken up with them rather than feel unfunny.
posted by rhizome at 5:18 PM on November 17, 2009

I really, really like to laugh, and it took a relationship with a humorless woman to make me decide that "also likes to laugh" goes in the dealbreaker category. Of course, lots of people don't put it in that category. Your task is to decide whether or not you do.
posted by Rykey at 5:20 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Asperger's comes to mind.
posted by bz at 5:41 PM on November 17, 2009 [7 favorites]

None of us can decide for you. But this would be a dealbreaker for me. I wouldn't even be friends with a person like this, let alone date them. A sense of humor is among the three or four things I look for in every person I let close to me.
posted by meadowlark lime at 6:09 PM on November 17, 2009

When I read your post my first reaction was that his condition was indeed a deal-breaker. But I just want to throw out this thought. First, laughter is not hard to find. People you don't know well can make you laugh. I'm not diminishing laughter and humor; I'm just saying you might be able to find ways to get your needs met outside the relationship. Second, is there something he gives you that is scarce, that you need, that you can't get from a casual relationship? Does he have a depth and a way of understanding and relating to you that is rare and special? Maybe you shouldn't throw that away because he doesn't do comedy. If you have lots of friends who make you laugh, then maybe you don't need him to do that too. People aren't perfect; you'll never find someone who has it all.
posted by conrad53 at 6:14 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Wow, this would totally be a deal-breaker to me. It's not just that I like laughing and hey, great, I can do that with my partner too. It's that laughter is a huge part of how we diffuse tension, how we build our connection... I mean, it's not quite sex, but it's close. I can't quite imagine anything else replacing the role that laughter has for me in a good relationship. YMMV, of course, but if you're worried I'm guessing YMDoesen'tV.
posted by wyzewoman at 6:43 PM on November 17, 2009

That's difficult. But his lack of laughter doesn't necessarily mean he lacks a sense of humor.

That would be the deal breaker for me. That would mean he's incapable of picking up on nuance (at best), or feeling empathy or expressing joy (at worst).

There's something about someone not having the full range of human emotions that wouldn't sit well with me.

I say "dealbreaker"
posted by marimeko at 7:05 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe you got so close so soon because he is so earnest and "deep" because he's handicapped in the lightness and fun category? That is, perhaps you are prematurely involved in this "deepness" because that's the only direction he's capable of going in?

Blah blah blah, what I mean is, for me it would be a dealbreaker. Thank god it's only been three months. Keep looking. A lifetime without laughter is a jail sentence.

And try not to feel too guilty, because this guy is going to have a hell of a time finding somebody, but you have to tell yourself it's not your job to provide him with a relationship.
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:18 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

There’s just one thing: he doesn’t laugh. Hardly at all. Almost never.

Better than one who does laugh, violently, all the time, at everything. I've been with girls of both flavour and frankly I'd much prefer the one who seems to be contemplating suicide 24 hours a day.

As for this guy, he sounds as though he has a personality made of plastic. Laughter is absolutely vital not only to a relationship, but to the mental health and overall wellbeing a fully-developed human. Saying you don't "get" humour is akin to saying "there is a part of my brain that is shrivelled like a sad little raisin".

Not having a sense of humour is not a sign of a popular psychological condition, and it certainly isn't evidence of a mind packed to bursting with deep philosophical insights about the state of the world. All it says to me is "hello, I am a tedious bore".

Sorry, I'm sure he's a nice guy, he sounds quite loving, but in the long-term this isn't going to be good for you.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:30 PM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Why don't you simply mention to him that you've noticed this (the laughter) and ask him about it? Sounds like it could lead to a really interesting conversation.
posted by hermitosis at 7:36 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just because he doesn't LOL doesn't mean that he has no sense of humor. The facts that he's dating someone (i.e. you) and apparently has friends that's he's good to indicate that he doesn't seem to have major social issues. Some people are a little bit awkward, it doesn't necessarily mean they have a syndrome or problem. It's only been three months and you seem to be enjoying the relationship- I definitely wouldn't make the no laughing thing a dealbreaker. Who knows, maybe in a few more months you'll get a kick out of his deadpan response to funny situations. Or maybe you'll be bored and not getting any joy out of the relationship, in which case you should break up. But as for right now, I think you're overanalzying things.
posted by emd3737 at 8:25 PM on November 17, 2009

You say that you've been "dating this guy for almost three months." That's not a very long time. You might both be in an infatuation phase still. I suggest that you hold off on trying to decide whether his lack of laughter is a dealbreaker or not. Wait another three months and see whether you still feel so compatible with him.
posted by LBS at 8:31 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's not that he doesn't laugh that would have me running for the hills, it's the fact that he doesn't make jokes. Total dealbreaker. I personally could never imagine being with a humorless guy for the rest of my life. I couldn't imagine being with a humorless guy for a one-night-stand.
posted by mckenney at 9:31 PM on November 17, 2009

Does he make you laugh?

I agree that 3 months isn't that long. Like others have said you don't need everyone to be everything to you. If you still find joy and happiness in your relationship --you still really enjoy being together-- then I wouldn't worry about it. Just make sure you don't forget how great it is to laugh with people.
posted by ropeladder at 9:40 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

No laughs=dealbreaker.

I need the useful lubrication laughter, joke-telling etc supplies to creating intimacy and comfort. I lived with a very clever, engaging yet unfunny, unlaughing man once, and now I live with a totally hilarious fella. I prefer the hilarious one. I didn't realise how much I missed not having the laughs. It's a big deal for me.

I think you can really like someone and recognise their good parts but still know that you need something different. Sounds like this is the case for you.
posted by honey-barbara at 11:37 PM on November 17, 2009

Could be that he's just a joyless person. Empathy and sense of humor are pretty important to any relationship. Sounds like you're not getting either. How does he act around other people?
posted by bunny hugger at 6:21 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

What an important question. Since the first few months of a good relationship can be insanely rosy, it's wise of you to think long and hard about it. The trouble, though, is that (I think) 3 months is too early to see what happens with this trait in your relationship. If you're seriously talking about marriage/kids, the advice to chuck it without further ado seems ill conceived.

I wonder if you may ultimately manage to help him see humor in things in the way you do? For example, my husband and I have different senses of humor, and over the past ten years, I have "taken on" his sense of humor a little, and take joy when I recognize something as being funny from his point of view. It's kind of like learning to speak another language. Similarly, I've noticed that he has come to appreciate my sense of humor, and I love it when he gets into my "humor character" and points out a joke to me in the way I would appreciate it. Essentially, it's just another way that we care for one another.

So, in answer to the brief question in the heading ("can I live without laughter?") the answer is an unequivocal no--life brings us a lot, and we really need laughter to put things in perspective and lighten our hearts. But just because he's not laughing now doesn't mean that he never will.

You say you're going to raise the issue with him, which seems like a good first step. More than that, though, I think you just might have to wait a bit and see.
posted by dreamphone at 6:31 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I brought up lack of eye contact with my current boyfriend and it's getting better. I'm not sure he'll ever look deeply into my eyes for minutes on end or anything, but it's definitely improving. Total lack of eye contact would have been a deal breaker for me. When he makes eye contact, I reward him with smiles and sometimes "thank you"'s. This isn't always conscious - it comes because I feel good when he looks me in the eye. Since he likes it when I'm happy, these are enough for him to make an effort to make more eye contact and get used to looking me in the eye. So yes, basic habits of communication/body language/whatever can be changed. And yes, if it is important to you, you need to address this with him so he can decide if he'll make an effort.

The chit-chat thing can become a point of pride with some people (maybe because they reject chit-chat at first, then get bad at it, then realize it's actually an important skill, so they have to elevate it to a high level of importance on principal in order to justify being crappy at it), so you might get resistance on it. Maybe best not to address it at first, or to let it go. This stuff gets ingrained in a person and personally while I think it's sometimes an indicator of someone who's too stubborn in their thinking for their own good, lack of chit-chat in itself isn't as bad as the laughter and empathy issue.

On laughter, if he's capable of finding anything funny at all, then what he has to do is work to amplify that feeling so he feels it more frequently and intensely, and work to express it more. If that's what it takes to make you happy, he should be willing to give it a try. It sounds like you need this - you're already afraid it's a dealbreaker, and that's got to be because it's already making you sad. So the "go with the flow and see how you feel" advice might make sense, but if you already feel a hole in you and it's growing, then the "go with the flow" period is over, you've seen how it makes you feel and how it makes you feel is "bad", and you need to talk with him and see if he will change this.

Also, you briefly mention something that indicates he doesn't hold you when you are sad. This sounds like a lack of empathy, and can be really problematic. You should address this with him as well. It actually sounds like more of a problem to me than the laughter issue. If your mom died and you were crying, would he not hold you? If not, you need to educate him a little on how to show care for you.

Loving text messages are great, but laughter and empathy seem really basic. Be careful if he doesn't try to change these things, because that, combined with the chit-chat hate, make me concerned that he's inflexible. Over the course of a lifetime you and he will change a lot, and you'll both have to be flexible to manage those changes.
posted by lorrer at 11:02 AM on November 18, 2009

I can't quite imagine anything else replacing the role that laughter has for me in a good relationship. YMMV, of course, but if you're worried I'm guessing YMDoesen'tV.

On the other hand, the fact that it's a question and she's lasted 3 months, and says in the post "not that I care about comedy" may mean she has different standards. Personally I can't imagine I'd get past the intro stage with someone I didn't share a sense of humor with - not just that they had a sense of humor at all, but that they had one I could relate to and appreciate. For me this would be a no brainer, not an Ask Mefi level conundrum.

You say he occasionally does "little sardonic chuckles" to himself - what are those about? Is there a sense of humor in there that you just disagree over? Is he sarcastic rather than goofy or something? Does he not watch TV/ Movies at all?

You say you want giggly joy & tickling to be part of your life - see, that to me is nothing to do with laughing and I would find it generally annoying to have a partner who tickled or was too silly. But I consider laughter extremely important - I just find it in books, conversations, ideas... is it possible you just have very different conceptions of what is funny?
posted by mdn at 11:41 AM on November 18, 2009

I notice this particularly, almost painfully, when I do or say something a little embarrassing, and he does not do what I would consider to be the normal thing, which is to laugh it off, or socially chuckle, or smile. He just sort of stands there with no facial expression. And makes no attempt to reassure or comfort, it’s like he doesn’t get that anything just happened.

Behaving this way when someone does something embarrassing is exactly what I was taught was good manners when I was growing up. Pretending that the embarrassing thing did not happen, rather than joking about it or otherwise calling attention to it, is considered by many people to be the more polite route.

I don't have Miss Manners handy for a cite, but I doubt she would suggest chuckling or laughing at someone's embarrassment.
posted by yohko at 4:40 PM on November 18, 2009

Except (to the last poster):

He doesn't fail to smile or change his expression in any way because he's polite, though. There's something else going on, that the original poster is trying to explain by giving us examples. She's talking about social empathy, about being in sync with another. And she's shown us very well what she's talking about, and it seems like a pretty serious characterological issue that's expressed in almost all situations.
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:10 AM on November 21, 2009

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