I know that a man ain’t supposed to cry


(c) Alison Oddy

Today I’m writing about a line from my favourite song, prompted by the WordPress.com Daily Post.

Picking my favourite song is incredibly difficult, it often changes and depends entirely on my mood but the one that tends to be top of mind when someone asks the question is Marvin Gaye singing “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” so that’s the source of this post’s title.

I cry a lot. I don’t just cry when I’m sad, I’m one of those people who cries in the movies. If there is supposed to be some male prohibition on crying then I missed out.

I’ve been doing it from an early age. My mother used to tell a tale of coming in to my bedroom and finding me reading “The Silver Brumby” and crying my eyes out at the death of the brumby’s mother, despite having read the book many times before. I’ve been described as “emotionally labile”, so my moods change quickly.

When do I cry?

So when exactly do I cry? I certainly cry when I’m sad, at a recent wedding of my niece Sarah I found myself thinking of her grandparents and cried a little. I also cry when other people start crying, at the same wedding ten minutes later I noticed Sarah’s sister Paige crying and that started me up again. I cry when my depression takes over, that overwhelming sense of desperation brings me to tears.

I also cry when other emotions overwhelm me. Ten years ago I went to Europe for the first time, visiting Rome, Florence and London. I have a quite distinct memory of standing in front Michelangelo’s ‘The Pieta’ and feeling the tears start down my cheeks, I also remember standing in the reading room of the British Museum looking at T.S. Eliot’s reader card and Lenin’s favourite desk in the same condition. It was the overwhelming strength of my feelings that led to the tears.

Sometimes I cry because I’m anxious. I do suffer a little from anxiety and it can bring me to tears. For example I get anxious when dealing with large institutions over the telephone, more than once I’ve started crying when the frustration of dealing with them gets too much. Sometimes I find myself crying for no reason I can fathom at all.

Why do we cry?

What’s behind our crying? Why do some people cry so much more or less readily than others? And what’s the best way to handle all those tears?

The answer to “why?” seems obvious, we cry when we are happy or sad but that’s quite a simplistic answer.

Crying is a natural response to certain feelings usually sadness or happiness but we also cry under other conditions. People sometimes cry in response to something of great beauty they are letting go of their guard, letting down their defenses.

Crying also has a biochemical purpose, it’s believed to release stress hormones and toxins from the body.

It also has a social function. It will often win you support from those that see you cry. Indeed we sometimes use it’s social function in a manipulative way, we cry to get what we want.

Men or Women?

So do men cry more than women. It seems that until puberty boys cry as much as girls but that pesky testosterone seems to slow us blokes down. Researchers estimate women cry four times as often as men. But that isn’t because you are moody messes, one possible reason is the protein prolactin which gets the endocrine system going making you more prone to crying, women may have as much as sixty percent more prolactin than men.

The reason may also be psychological, in testing women on the whole have more “emotional intelligence” than men, characterized by a sense of empathy and understanding of others.

Have a good cry

People sometimes say they feel better after a good cry. Are they right?

Not always. While a lot of people say they do feel better if you suffer from anxiety or depression often feel worse after crying.

How do you handle tears?

I find that the hardest thing to do is fight them. If I try to stifle my tears it’s almost painful and I know they will almost certainly come back later.

It can feel embarrassing to just let the tears flow but I think it’s the best. If surrounded by people when inexplicable tears arise I try and find myself a quiet corner to let the emotion subside. If I’m with friends I just let the tears flow and know that they will understand. One of the truly interesting things is that I have never started crying somewhere truly impossible such as at work.

When do you cry? How do you handle your tears?

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