A woman takes a seat on the subway. Her makeup is smudged, her nose is red, her face is wet and she clenches her jaw shut in hopes of halting the inevitable. But it’s no use. She’s crying. Some passengers stare as if they’ve just discovered an alien life form on this Brooklyn-bound train and others slowly move away like she’s the sole carrier of a disease with symptoms that include having feelings. Her visceral emotion is too weird, too uncomfortable, too messy. Couldn’t she wait until she gets home to cry? Does she have to make such a scene?
I’ve been that woman on a train. I’ve also been that woman on a bus, in a cab, in a restaurant, at work, at school, in the grocery store, in a public bathroom, (anyone else getting a Green Eggs and Ham vibe?) and the list goes on and on. The running joke among my family and close friends is: “Don’t tell Cara, she’ll start crying.” The reason why it’s even a joke to begin with is because I started it. They’re not being jerks. I make it a point to talk about how often I cry because I find that people like you better when you make fun of yourself and I have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with being liked which isn’t a very good look on me, but that’s an article for another day. Mostly I do it because I want to make it clear that I’m not even remotely ashamed. I certainly used to be. We grow up with the notion that crying is uncomfortable. It means you’re weak, a baby, perhaps even a “wuss” if you’re a schoolyard bully from a movie set in the mid-’90s. I find that so fascinating – water leaking from your eyes somehow determines your inner strength and your functionality as a human being, when in reality, says pediatrician Dr. Harry Hages, crying is “a natural emotional response to certain feelings” and a “release of energy from an emotionally charged situation.”
Imagine if that came up an interview. “Oh, you are perfectly qualified for this position! You have good references, you make a great first impression but it says here you openly weep every time you hear a song featuring a father’s love for his daughter so . . . we’re gonna have to pass.” If that was a question on a standard job application, let’s just say I’d be highly unemployable.
I think it’s beautiful to be overcome with emotion.
It’s important to point out that of all the times I’ve cried in public places, it wasn’t always because my feelings were hurt or something terrible happened to me personally. One time it was because I was listening to a podcast featuring a man who was freed after decades of wrongful imprisonment and he talked about eating a steak for the first time in years . . . so I cried. Another time I saw a little boy joyfully eating an ice cream cone, blissfully ignorant to the dreadful parts of his impending adulthood like heartbreak and rejection and gender reveal parties . . . so I cried. That used to embarrass me deeply, that I couldn’t control my emotions when everyone around me seemed to be so cool and calm and stoic. That wasn’t (and isn’t) true either. Just as crying doesn’t make you weak, not showing emotion doesn’t mean you’re void of it. The idea of “if you do this, then you’re this” is an inherently flawed concept. Every single person on this planet processes emotions differently. I refuse to believe that the amount of tears your eyes produce directly correlates to what is inside of your heart.
As I write this, I imagine the counterpoints that could ensue because, the internet. “What about doctors? Are you saying they should cry during surgery? What about firefighters? You think it’s fine if they get emotional while running into a burning building? The emotion will cloud their judgment. That’s unsafe.” Yeah, Debbie. That’s exactly what I’m saying. (I like to assign names to the imaginary people I’m arguing with). No, I don’t mean that all. Of course there are instances where keeping your emotions at bay is the best option. All I’m saying is that in most scenarios, being a crier doesn’t make necessarily make you weak or dramatic or too fragile. I think it makes you a person. Not stronger or weaker, just a person.
Speaking of feelings, I’m getting married next year. As most of us know very well, a wedding is one giant mosh pit of emotions. I once full-on sobbed at a wedding where I didn’t even know the bride or the groom so I have no idea how I’ll get through being walked down the aisle by my dad, reciting my vows, listening to my pre-husband (I can’t bring myself to say fiancé because it feels like I’m trying too hard to be French) say his vows, watching him dance with his mom without crying like I’ve just watched a This Is Us marathon. But here’s what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to feel embarrassed if (when) I cry a little too hard, if my mascara gets a little too smudged, if I need to use one of my bridesmaids’ bouquets to wipe the snot from my nose (I will make a most elegant bride). I think it’s beautiful to be overcome with emotion.
So yeah, I’m a “cry baby.” But I’m pretty sure I’m in good company. There are some of us who just can’t help it. We’re going to shed a few tears when we experience something that moves us, and if that bothers you . . . go cry about it.