Several years ago I dated a man who I’ll call Tim. Tim was kind and creative, and I enjoyed his company very much. He was intelligent without being arrogant and we seemed to have a good time together for the most part. He stuck around for about nine excruciating months. Why excruciating?
For all our decent times together, there was one glaring problem. He didn’t really “get” my sense of humor.
I’ve always been sarcastic and quick witted, but never mean or laughed at anyone else’s expense. I make jokes on the fly that refer back to other things. Tim did not understand ANY of my jokes. I couldn’t understand it. I started having those S.O.S. conversations with my friends about communicating with Tim. It sounds silly but I was completely confused. How could anyone I was thinking might be a long-term prospect not understand my witty repartee?
After the first few months, I blurted out the “L” word to Tim. This was ill advised but I was caught up in the moment and really thought that he had long term potential. I had grown fond of his easy-going kindness and felt passionate about him. He responded in kind, and I thought that we might be on track to a solid long-term pairing. The fact that we never really seemed to laugh together just wasn’t that obvious yet.
Then at the four-month mark, we went on vacation for a week together. I’m a big believer that if you think you might be interested in a long-term relationship with someone, go on vacation with them. There is something about having to navigate unfamiliar terrain that either brings couples together or makes it painfully obvious that it isn’t going to work out.
We got along well on vacation, except for the fact that I was growing increasingly frustrated by the fact that I had to continuously explain my little quips. Tim would give me the same dumb look and say “what?” and I would try and awkwardly explain what I had meant by my joke. He was never rude about it. He would nod at me with his head tilted like I was an ambassador from another culture who he was struggling to understand. Then he would let out a little sympathy laugh, designed to make me feel not terrible about trying. Then the conversation would continue in the same plodding, intellectual way. But we hadn’t fought, and I was so happy with so many other aspects of the relationship that I was willing to remain open minded.
After the vacation, it started to become more and more obvious. I just couldn’t kick the lingering feeling that something wasn’t quite right as the months wore on. Then at month six, the sex slowed way down, without any fanfare or rejection on either of our parts. It had been hot and heavy until then, and there was just not any passion left. The relationship started to feel like a tire with a slow leak. There was just not anything left to keep the fire fanned.
Tim and I started seeing each other less and less. Since we were both self-employed, we had started working together before things started to fizzle, so we had spent a large cumulative number of hours together. We started having fewer and fewer workdays together. I found myself exhausted from our time together rather than recharged. We would still spend the weekends together, and I found that Monday and Tuesday required extensive alone time to get back to feeling normal.
I cared about Tim a great deal, and kept wracking my brain (and those of my long-suffering friends) to figure out what the problem was. He was responsive to communication from me. He still called. He still did “boyfriend things”. It turned out that the problem was what I had secretly thought all along.
The social lubricant- humor- wasn’t there to keep the whole relationship from skidding to a halt.
I had stopped trying to make jokes after the vacation since he never understood them. This led to things becoming very serious and rather transactional. We met. We saw a movie. We ate dinner. We talked. Repeat. Our interactions were devoid of inside jokes or levity. It felt like a college anthropology assignment.
Over time, this muted an essential part of my personality, the part that likes to laugh and play. With the humor sucked out, the whole relationship was dead on arrival. The passion was only a temporary thing, since there wasn’t any sparkling humor with an underlying playfulness to revive it.
At month eight, I actually said to a girlfriend that the relationship felt like the Titanic and if I were a passenger I would abandon ship. That should have made me break up with him. I didn’t, because I felt like I was overreacting. Like I was going to throw away something that was essentially good but just needed some work. Tim didn’t have any complaints that he had voiced either.
Also, we were so compatible in every other way that I almost felt like I just needed to just settle down and see if I could make it work. Being a fan of hard work, I didn’t want to shirk my responsibilities.
So, after nine excruciating months, one morning I woke up and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” It was a visceral, a gut reaction to unhappiness and sexual frustration. He looked at me and said, “I can’t do it either.” We cried. Then he left, and that was it. It was great. It didn’t feel great, and I didn’t have an easy time getting over it. But the experience was a gift because it eventually opened up my life to something I had missed so severely, a man with a compatible sense of humor. I was a total baby about the breakup. I did all the stereotypical things. I felt mourning like I had really lost true love.
But was it really true love?
I had built the relationship up in my head with such high expectations because I thought that since it looked so great on paper, there was no reason why it couldn’t work out for the long term. He seemed amenable to the prospect of a long-term pairing, also but it was just as excruciating for him as it was for me. I just didn’t know it at the time.
This short little relationship turned out to be a big deal because it shaped several of the ideas I still hold about love and relationships.
First, if you’re that unhappy, don’t refer to your relationship as the Titanic and let it limp on for more months. If you’re saying things like this to your friends, you’re already sunk. Abandon ship.
Second, it became painfully clear that no matter what traits a man possesses that make you excited about his long-term prospects, if there is something about him that makes him dull a part of yourself for any reason, it’s time to stop and evaluate the whole messy thing.
Lastly, a sense of humor really IS an aphrodisiac, and a huge compatibility part of any relationship. It really is essential that you can laugh and play with your partner. There is no substitute, compromise or trade. Just like you need lubricant in the bedroom, you also need lubricant in the social world. Humor serves this purpose.