The wisdom of Groucho

A friend and I were discussing the phenomenon whereby people are often more attracted to people who are not as attracted back. I told my friend about the great line by Groucho Marx: “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member” (invoked so memorably by Woody Allen in Annie Hall).

My friend pointed out that this actually makes sense. If some club (euphemistically speaking) is aggressively courting you, then (1) you still don’t know what it’s really like being a member of the club, and (2) you realize the club doesn’t really know who you are either. So much premature enthusiasm can come off as a little nuts.

Which made me realize that feeling wary of strangers who seem to be very into us, rather than being a dysfunctional response, is actually sensible. We all know that sexual attraction has a large instinctive component. On some level, our genetic code is really using us to propagate itself, and our conscious selves are mostly along for the ride (and to be sure, it can be a very exciting ride).

Which means that if somebody is aggressively pursuing you before you think they have any real sense of who you are, then there is a good chance it’s just the instinct talking. And that does not bode well for the long term prospects of a relationship.

Ah, the wisdom of Groucho! And of my friend. :-)

5 Responses to “The wisdom of Groucho”

  1. Sharon says:

    At the risk of being annoyingly argumentative about a light-hearted post, I interpret Groucho’s quote as meaning something different than what your friend was talking about. The Groucho joke (supposedly originally from Freud, according to Alvy Singer: expresses a kind of self-loathing. Like, “if they like me they must not have very good taste”. OTOH, being wary of someone who you suspect is infatuated with you (and with whom you are not infatuated back) is a sensible reaction to the inherent unreality of infatuation—a desire to avoid being drawn into the other person’s fantasy, which is really more about them than about you. I guess infatuation is a common form of insanity that even the most sensible of us succumb to at one point or another :)

    I agree with your conclusion: both Grouch and your friend are wise :)

  2. admin says:

    As it happens, Groucho was referring to something quite specific. After having joined Hollywood’s Friar’s Club, he soon found he was bored by the members and their activities. He tried to quit, but the club continued trying to convince him to stay.

    Finally, he delivered his resignation in a short telegram containing the famous quip. Faced with the unarguable absurdity of his statement, the club gave up and left him alone.

    So in actual fact Groucho was not acting out of any feeling of inadequacy. On the contrary, he was cleverly disentangling himself from people he found not up to his own standards, in a way calculated to be inarguable yet not insulting.

  3. sharon says:

    Ah interesting! I didnt know that background. And do you think that’s the way Alvy/Woody meant it too?

  4. admin says:

    I agree the Alvy Singer character in “Annie Hall” was indeed supposed to be neurotically self-disparaging, just as you describe.

  5. Sharon says:

    So, according to“, the joke does not appear in Freud’s book in any form. I just thought I should mention it for the record. Today’s xkcd ( shamed me into it 😉

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