In a survey conducted recently by Glamour magazine among 350 brides-to-be, 69% said that a sense of humor was one of the traits they admired most in a man.
A clipping on this study, sent to me by reader Don Way, further reports that a romantic nature was mentioned by only 63% of the prospective brides; intelligence by 55%, and good looks by 49%.
I have an idea that the women questioned, like the respondents in most surveys, were giving the answers they thought represented the conventional wisdom of our society.
The one quality in the world that no one will admit to not having is a good sense of humor.
Likewise, no one will admit to not appreciating a good sense of humor.
One can admit to greed, lust, larceny and satanism, but not to the lack of a sense of humor.
If we were to tell the truth, few of us actually have a well-developed, healthy sense of humor, and fewer of us want our spouses to have one.
Husbands and wives are too close to enjoy each other's sense of humor. A situation that might seem hilarious to an outsider does not seem at all funny to its victims.
One of the funniest scenes I have ever read was in a novel by Peter De Vries. His innocent teen-age sweethearts have their first tryst at night in the master bedroom of a furnished model home in an uninhabited tract for which the young girl's father is the real estate agent.
They are snuggled up together in the bed of the model home, their clothes hanging over a chair, in complete safety, they imagine, from righteous eyes.
Suddenly the bedroom door is thrown open, the light is switched on, and there is the girl's astonished father, backed up by two equally astonished prospective buyers.
That is absolutely hilarious. Picture those two teen-agers, in flagrante delicto , peering over the tops of the sheets at the outraged father figure himself, his embarrassment augmented by the presence of two witnesses.
How could anybody with a sense of humor not appreciate that? Nobody laughed. Nobody.
I try to imagine myself in that boy's position. Would I laugh? I hope so.
But if I laughed, do you think the girl would love me for it? No way. She would hate me more for laughing than for having got her into that predicament in the first place.
(Actually, I believe that in the novel, using the model home was the girl's idea.)
Though I imagine that I have a sense of humor, like everyone else, I have found that in the domestic contretemps in which I am involved, I do not always laugh heartily.
Years ago, when my French daughter-in-law was new in this country, I was invited to a black-tie stag dinner. I had an old tuxedo I hadn't worn for years, but it looked all right to me. I dressed in the bedroom and walked out into the living room, where my wife and my daughter-in-law were watching television.
"How do I look?" I asked.
Their eyes turned toward me. Their faces cracked.
They began to laugh. Politely at first. Then they collapsed, holding their stomachs and rolling out of their chairs.
"What's so funny?" I asked, beginning to suspect that I was the joke.
"Oh, Mr. Smith! Nozzing is the matter!" cried my daughter-in-law, whose English was still somewhat tainted by her native tongue.
"You look so . . . quaint! " my wife shrieked.
I walked back into the bedroom and changed into a blue suit.
Does that prove that my spouse has a sense of humor and that I do not? Should I love her for it?
I have always had a treacherous back. One time when our sons were small, I had a spasm and fell to my knees, right in the living room. I cried out. My face was twisted in agony.
I looked up to see my wife and my two sons in uproarious laughter, clutching their sides and staggering about the room.
"I'm sorry," my wife said breathlessly after a while, wiping the tears from her eyes. "You looked so . . . helpless! "
From those two anecdotes you can see that, if a good sense of humor in a spouse is a desirable thing, I am indeed blessed.
A third anecdote involves my Airedale, Fleetwood Pugsley.
When he was still a clumsy but large pup, I let him into the kitchen onto a freshly waxed floor.
His paws skidded out from under him. He scrambled to regain his feet, only to have them fly out from under him again. The more he struggled, the more he skidded and fell.
My wife and I found ourselves laughing helplessly in each other's arms. It was perhaps the best laugh we'd ever had together in our marriage.
Obviously the reason we were able to laugh together was that a third party was the victim; we weren't laughing at each other.
So perhaps it is a good thing for spouses to have a sense of humor.
But my advice to brides-to-be is that if your betrothed has a good sense of humor, and you have one too, you'd better get a dog.