Rarely does the proprietor of JFW write about matters of the heart. However, there are currently discussions on perhaps a hundred different weblogs regarding what has sometimes been referred to Theory Six, which is basically the idea that boringness seems to be rewarded on the mating market, especially in contrast to various categories of the seemingly-swell-but-empirically-romantically-downtrodden (most notably, witty people). An interesting phenomenon about Theory Six is that often it is endorsed as a gender-specific theory that, whenever it is endorsed as such, is always done so with respect to one's own gender. Meaning: women will sometimes complain that boring women seem to be unusually romantically successful (without saying the same about boring men), while men will sometimes complain that boring men seem to be unusually romantically successful (without saying the same about boring women).
Anyway, I think there are two different paradoxical observations which give rise to Theory Six:
The funny-duckling paradox: Surveys of what qualities individuals prefer in a romantic partner regularly have "sense of humor" very high on the list. And, yet, in the aggregate, it doesn't seem like there is any great premium for being funny in the mating market. How can this be?
The boring-swan paradox: Surveys of what qualities individuals prefer in a romantic partner never have "boring" anywhere on the list. And, yet, in the aggregate, it seems like there is some premium for boring-ness in the mating market. How can this be?
My belief is that both these paradoxes reflect separate, although related, cognitive illusions of courtship. I could be wrong about both; indeed, since they both are deeply cynical, I would prefer a world where I was wrong about both. Anyway, here goes:
My theory about the funny duckling: Being humorous does not actually make one (at all? much?) more attractive or appealing to (many? any?) prospective romantic partners. However, being attractive or appealing to prospective romantic partners does make one seem more hilarious. Not only then might a person really believe that sense of humor is one of the things that has attracted them to another person, but also sense of humor is often a more acceptable and seemingly less short-sighted account (both to others and to oneself) of one's attraction to another person, especially if that attraction is parlayed into A Relationship.
(Also, once two people are in A Relationship, it becomes much easier for a not-particularly-funny person to actually be more funny, since relationships give one so much more and better material to work with, not to mention all kinds of possibilities for running "jokes" which are funny to no one else. I mean, imagine someone who would score in the 10th percentile on an objective funniness test. To someone to whom they are attractive, the attraction alone pushes them well past the median to maybe the 60th percentile right there. Then, give them a month of relationship material, and they are up around the 85th percentile, if not higher, as seen through the eyes of their beloved. If someone developed a method of standardized test preparation that was as comparatively influential on scores as attraction and intimacy are for assessments of wit, within a decade that person would raked in enough cash to buy the planet.)
My theory about the boring swan: Being boring does not actually make one (at all? much?) more attractive or appealing to prospective romantic partners. However, at least boring-but-not-boorish boring people do provide another person with greater leeway for interpretation of what traits they do and do not possess. In other words, when people provide an objectively bland stimulus, it's easier to project particular personality characteristics onto them and not be obviously contradicted by their behavior. Specifically: if a person is attracted to another person that is boring, it is very easy to project all kinds of other positive traits onto them, including but not limited to amusing-ness and not-boring-once-you-get-to-know-them-ness. Boring people are thus the chameleons or shape-shifters of the dating world, not through any duplicity of their own, but as beneficiaries of the aspirations of those who are attracted to them.