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There was, above all the others, Nora. Because of our shared history of kidding around, we could make each other crack up across a conference room just by lifting eyebrows at the right moment in a boring business meeting.

Robin was a pitch-perfect parody of a Southern belle, slyer than me by a photo-finish. We’d batter each other with witticisms like two club fighters, then collapse after the final round, exhausted.

Finally Nina—the improbably big-boobed ballerina with the Hungarian intellectual DNA. We’d talk our mouths dry bantering back and forth.

But these are all, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, a feminine wit who knew no master, The Women I’m Not Married To.

There is something about a man who can’t keep himself from kidding around that is attracted then repelled—like those black and white Scottie dog magnets—by his wise-cracking female soulmate.

You may recall the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry meets Janeane Garofalo and is immediately infatuated because she seems his distaff carbon copy. The two break up when they realize they could never live together—it would be like sharing an apartment with your doppelganger.

Evidence of this strange plus/minus polarity dates at least from the 19th century. In the 1860s Mark Twain met two cousins, Harriet Lewis Paff and Olivia Lewis Langdon. Paff saw the point of Clemens’ every joke, high or low, but Olivia could not “see anything to laugh at in the wittiest sayings unless” Harriet explained them in detail. Harriet finally gave up after realizing that her “quickness at seeing the point of a joke and the witty sayings that I had considered almost irresistible were simply nothing in comparison to my cousin’s gifts. Mr. C evidently preferred her sense to my nonsense.”

There is something about a man who can’t keep himself from kidding around that is attracted then repelled—like those black and white Scottie dog magnets—by his wise-cracking female soulmate.

Dave Barry, one of the few American males who actually makes a living writing humor, sometimes injects his wife into one of his pieces. It is clear when he does so that—perhaps because she is the mother of the house—she’s not exactly cracked up by him.

Perhaps it’s the search for the toughest audience in the world, the way Sir Edmund Hillary wouldn’t be satisfied until he climbed Mt. Everest, just because it was the highest mountain in the world.

All I can say is, to the fraternity of males I’m talking about, of which I consider myself a member in good standing, there are four words that act like Spanish Fly, a verbal aphrodisiac. Try them next time you find yourself seated next to the life of the dinner party, the guy who’s cracking one joke after another, keeping everybody in stitches:

“I don’t get it.”

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Con Chapman is the author of poetry is kind of important and other books. His articles and humor have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe, Salon, and elsewhere.