Nina Klaff (London, United Kingdom) on the perils of dating as a woman with a sense of humour.
Aristotle said it best: (wo)man is by nature a social animal. There is truly nothing better than enjoying the company of others over a laugh or two. Any of my days are made at least 7% better by simply murmuring “Schindler’s lift” to anyone within earshot as I enter an elevator built by the company of that famous German industrialist. Of course, there are times when I find human interaction totally exhausting. I’d happily tell you about how I will hole myself in my room for weeks on end, only resurfacing to walk to Holland & Barrett to pick up the herbal anxiety remedies that Jill on Mumsnet’s sister-in-law swears by, but I’m told those times don’t make for good content. Let’s talk about something a little more fun.
Now, I consider myself a sociable person. My ammunition of terrible puns and mask of faux-confidence hasn’t done me too badly. I can count at least two and a half people who would call themselves my friends, don’t have too much trouble on the dating scene, but I’ve been single for a while (read: years). Happily so, might I add. I’ve had little interest in spending my Sundays in bed listening to Jack Johnson while an (in)Significant Other makes banana pancakes and makes plans for Our Future. I’ll admit it, I got a little scared of how becoming devoted to someone else might entail curtailing my independence. Call me selfish, but internationally acclaimed award-winning magazines aren’t built off the back of sharing kisses over plates of spaghetti and holding hands while watching a rom-com.
After having successfully rebuffed any advances that came my way for quite some time, my stubborn cynicism and commitment-phobia began to falter. I started putting myself out there again, but not before rehashing my past to see where I’d gone wrong and how I might learn from it. I was struck down by the memory of one guy in particular.
We shared some common ground. He liked books, I did too, I didn’t hate being around him, and he seemed interested. We had fun for a while, but time became an issue and whatever it was or had been between us petered out without my having given it so much as a second thought. Things happen, life gets in the way, yadda yadda yadda.
You can imagine my surprise when, unsolicited of course, he proceded to let me know exactly where he felt I’d gone wrong. Let me set the scene:
It’s Friday night. Everyone is dressed up to the nines, drinking off the pressures of their week, glitter framed eyes shimmering in the colourful lights pounding along to the beats of the playlist the DIY DJ is playing through an AUX cable linked up to a laptop that’s much too powerful for anything they’d use it for. The young are out on the prowl, on the lookout for a fellow lonely heart to approach, slovenly slurring flirtations between sips of the tepid cheap spirit and mixer they forgot to put in the fridge before they left, masking self-consciousness behind the guise of recklessness. Inhibitions lost, no holds barred, this is the time to say what you might otherwise keep to yourself.
He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named leans against a wall, looks over his half-spilled beer at me with a glint in his eye and says:
“You know what it is about you? You’re just too smart and too funny to be with.”
What a lovely thing to say, I thought. I thanked him, letting flattery soothe my ego but for a second before he interjected to assure me that no, this was not a compliment. It was a warning.
Next time, he advised, tone it down. It’s exhausting to talk to you. You make people feel like they have to compete. It’s simply unpleasant.
Curse my British naiveté.
Where I come from, banter is valuable social capital. Flirting is a beautiful to and fro of witticisms from wordplay to cheesy chat up lines to cheeky innuendos. I’ve always found a sense of humour an attractive attribute in a potential partner, too. I’ve been known to overlook a drink and/or drug problem, financial destitution, and even overt misogyny for a guy who can get a good chuckle out of me. I should’ve known there was something fishy about one ex in particular who, as I would soon discover, drank like one. His eely badly spelled texts full of marine puns should have been the first red herring, but I somehow fell hook, line and sinker for him anyway. Jokes are sexy.
Maybe this guy had a point. Perhaps trying to woo someone with crumby food puns is indeed a recipe for disaster. Like a millenial Carrie Bradshaw but with darker hair and cheaper shoes, I couldn’t help but wonder: was He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named right? Am I too much? Is my wit and intellect going to squander my chances of finding Mr Right (Now)?
I did what any wrong-thinking, cripplingly insecure person with a grandiose sense of self-worth would do. I put my personality into question.
My entire life flashed before my eyes. The time, aged nine, I proudly got my joke printed in the Beano. The time I made them stop the car so I could bask in the glory of a salon named L’Hair du Temps in a remote French village in France for just a while longer. The time I called in sick to work and spent hours photoshopping Miss Piggy’s face onto pictures of Samantha Cameron. The time I pitched my idea for a pair of comfy indoor shoes with the father of psychoanalysis’ face on them to the curator of the Freud museum in London, who told me with dismay that they had already been made. To be fair, she did send me a pair of my own as consolation. (True story: you can buy your own Freudian slippers here.)
None of these made me cringe. Thinking back, I just want to high five Past Nina and thank her for taking the time to chuckle. I mean, sure, maybe sending my university professor a fake automated response detailing that I would not be responding to his emails to avoid addressing the fact that I had an assignment overdue wasn’t the best idea.
It didn’t get me expelled, so no harm done. Another professor may not have taken so kindly to it, and that’s why it’s so important to know your audience. I thought that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, as an educated young man and self-professed feminist, would appreciate someone who enjoyed a joke. The more I thought about it, the more I resented him for being so obtuse. Essentially, he was telling me, a self-identifying woman, that I have to tone myself down.
This guy’s criticism follows a long, long, long, long (ad infinitum) history of women being told to keep quiet, to take up less space, and to live in the shadows of their male counterparts.
Well, fuck that for a game of soldiers. Attraction is all a matter of taste. Sure, my penchant for puns may have been a little much for He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. My attempts to maintain an entire conversation using only song lyrics by the Bee Gees did spell Tragedy for us, and I’m fine with that. I’m happy with myself, jokes and all. Perhaps it was that very confidence that threatened him. I found a sisterhood when someone else he was seeing told me he’d said a similar thing to her. This guy evidently had a real fear of losing his status as the smartest person in the room, and being dethroned by a woman would only add insult to injury.
Had I been a little more sensitive, the manifestations of his own insecurities may really have had the potential to dismantle me. Perhaps if my parents hadn’t compensated for their perpetual absence by celebrating my every move, I’d be a little more susceptible to criticism. I may well have taken his on board and altered myself to fit his mould, and where would that leave us? Without my sense of humour, I’m nothing more than an expat Brit with a God complex.
And anyway, Wikipedia says that “punning has been credited as the fundamental concept behind alphabets, writing, and even human civilization”. Jokes are literally the foundation upon which our society is built. Some of them were even made by women. Deal with it.
Dating is hard enough as it is. If we all spent less time trying to change other people and a little more time being kind, introspective, and supportive of one another, the world would be a much nicer place. It can be tempting to change yourself to be liked by someone else, but faking it has an expiration date. If I had tried to mute myself to suit this guy better, it wouldn’t have been long before I’d be blurting out double entendres at the most inopportune moments, my Dr Strangelove-esque compulsion to have a laugh is so strong. It’s just in my nature. The fun is in finding people who appreciate it. And I have. So, stick to your guns, people. For every He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named there’s a Mr or Mrs Right (Now).
As a wise man (hey Dad) once told me: if they can’t take a joke, fuck ‘em.
Or rather, in this case, don’t.
Nina Klaff (London, United Kingdom)