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Discuss: The Crying Game

Last Tuesday, I was having dinner with a friend when she asked how my Father’s cancer treatments were going.  In a split second, I was sobbing uncontrollably.  In a restaurant.  During Happy Hour.  Surrounded by strangers.  Dammit

I quickly grabbed my purse and walked expediently towards the restroom where I composed myself and re-applied my under-eye concealer. 

When I emerged, looking fresh as a daisy and wearing my best no-that-wasn’t-me-who-just-ran-bawling-into-the-bathroom-smile, people were staring.  (Or maybe it just felt like they were?)  I walked calmly back to my table, like a thief concealing a priceless diamond in her cleavage, and retook my seat. 

“Are you okay?,” she asked. 

“Of course.  I’m just not used to experiencing emotions.  I’m usually on enough prescription medication to keep that from happening.”  I chuckled.

“Well, good.  Because everyone was watching, I was mortified for you.”

Great.  It wasn’t my imagination. 

I sipped my margarita slowly, resisting the urge to chug it like it was the elixir of eternal life, and silently hated myself.  I was now that crying girl.  Sure, I was crying for a very good reason, but the dozens of strangers who’d just watched me melt into a puddle didn’t know that. 

Crying is a sensitive and controversial subject for women.  Until recently, I held a simple philosophy about crying.  Crying in private is fine.  Crying in public is forbidden.  And crying during a fight with your significant other is blackmail. 

This was an easy doctrine to follow because I didn’t cry, but now that I’ve fallen in with the weeping willows in the ladies room, I’m wondering what other women consider to be normal. 

When is it okay to cry in public?  What is worth crying over?  And when, if ever, can a woman be judged for crying?

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  1. C says:

    First and foremost, I hope your dad gets well soon.

    Second, I completely agree that crying in public is absolutely mortifying, and I admit to have done it more than a few times. The strange thing is – I don't judge other people I see crying. Apparently, it's something only “I” am not allowed/supposed/expected to do. I've cried at work once too and tried to pretend nothing was wrong. To be honest, I think that's something wrong with current expectations of women. Why is is worse to cry at work than at a bar? Crying implies emotional distress – why should we as women be expected to and expect others to ignore such a basic instinct simply to appear “professional”?

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. B says:

    i'm so sick of women judging each other for crying. belle – cut yourself some slack, you're going through something horrible and anyone with a soul will completely understand. i hope the best for your dad and your family, know that we all support you. hang in there. and if your “friend” is more concerned with the “mortification” you're creating with your tears than the source of those tears, she doesnt sound like a very good friend.

    side note: when i was working on an intense, vicious campaign in college, a mean spirited voter yelled at me on the phone and ultimately made me cry. that night, the candidate himself called me to thank me for all i was doing “for the team” (i could hear his wife in the background, reminding him of my name!). after that he knew my name and i ended up getting a job with his office – coincidence? just saying…crying can get you employed! 🙂

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  3. C says:

    First and foremost, I hope your dad gets well soon.

    Second, I completely agree that crying in public is absolutely mortifying, and I admit to have done it more than a few times. The strange thing is – I don't judge other people I see crying. Apparently, it's something only “I” am not allowed/supposed/expected to do. I've cried at work once too and tried to pretend nothing was wrong. To be honest, I think that's something wrong with current expectations of women. Why is is worse to cry at work than at a bar? Crying implies emotional distress – why should we as women be expected to and expect others to ignore such a basic instinct simply to appear “professional”?

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  4. B says:

    i'm so sick of women judging each other for crying. belle – cut yourself some slack, you're going through something horrible and anyone with a soul will completely understand. i hope the best for your dad and your family, know that we all support you. hang in there. and if your “friend” is more concerned with the “mortification” you're creating with your tears than the source of those tears, she doesnt sound like a very good friend.

    side note: when i was working on an intense, vicious campaign in college, a mean spirited voter yelled at me on the phone and ultimately made me cry. that night, the candidate himself called me to thank me for all i was doing “for the team” (i could hear his wife in the background, reminding him of my name!). after that he knew my name and i ended up getting a job with his office – coincidence? just saying…crying can get you employed! 🙂

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  5. Arielle says:

    Belle,

    You're lucky it was in front of strangers. Sh*t happens. Just be glad it didn't happen in the office.

    Best of luck to your dad!

    -a

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  6. stacey says:

    This has to be an April Fools joke, right?

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  7. Belle says:

    Umm, no. This is not an April Fool's Joke.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  8. Hilly says:

    i don't think belle would joke about her “father's cancer treatments.” that's not really funny.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  9. ME says:

    This just points to the weird expectations placed on women to simultaneously be sensitive and “in touch” with our emotions, but the minute it manifests itself in such a visible and distressing way, we find it unacceptable and “hysterical.” We try to police what constitutes a “good reason” to cry–when in reality, whose business is it to tell us what events are fine to cry about and what aren't?

    I guess in my ideal world all people–regardless of gender–would be able to cry without fear of judgment. Because, when it gets down to it, we're all taught to avoid public crying because it makes other people uncomfortable to witness suffering. We've just rebranded it as humiliating or tacky.

    (I've been thinking about this recently as my s/o has argued that it's not fair of me to cry when we argue about serious things. But the issue is, I cry when I'm angry and I can't control it! I'm not doing it to manipulate, but because it makes him so uncomfortable, he tries to brand it as–in your words–blackmail. I obviously have a problem with this idea.)

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  10. Belle says:

    ME- I think you make a good point about defining crying at all. Also, I don't think women cry to blackmail (at least not all women), but as you said, men perceive it that way, so I make an effort not to. Doesn't mean it's easy, or always successful.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  11. RMS says:

    Belle – I share your reason for crying in public. My mother passed away from cancer when I was in college, and even now I sometimes get teary-eyed having conversations about her or my childhood because I miss her so much. It is beyond annoying that people are quick to judge a female who cries in public because they assume she must be crying for a silly reason (that guy didn't call her back, she can't fit into last summer's bathing suit, etc). The bottom line is that it is never ok to judge because you never know what someone else is going through.

    In the six months I've been dating my boyfriend, I've only cried in front of him 2 times: 1) the day I found out I failed the NY bar exam, 2) on my birthday after a few drinks because I missed my mom. I think we can all agree that those are some legit reasons. However, those both happened in the privacy of his apartment.

    The only time I would ever judge anyone (including myself) for crying in public is at work. I'm guilty of that offense, and it was a mortifying experience. Interestingly enough, I found out that apologizing for crying just calls more attention the episode than necessary and tends to make those who observed it more uncomfortable. If you find yourself in that situation, best to just excuse yourself, go pull yourself together, and move on with your day.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  12. RMS says:

    And Belle, my best to you and your family. I hope the treatments go well for your father.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  13. Leila says:

    For a long time I was one of those that judged those who cried in public. I've had my fair share of moments in the ladies room trying to compose myself becuase I am so overwhelmed/frustrated/hurt/angry that its brought me to tears. But a few years ago I went through a breakup that shook me to my core, then I found myself being “that girl” too often for comfort. I stopped going out and gave up alcohol for a long time till I was able to get back to my normal, happy self. From that process I learned that I'd never judge again and if someone is crying in publc its probably for good reason, so the least I could do is not stare.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  14. Zoe says:

    First up, my thought are with your father and your whole family during this time. I lost my father years ago and I know it can strike a chord no matter where or what you are doing! I can't really engage in whether you should cry or not etc because there is no point in discussion for me; I am a crier. I cry all the time. But the secret is to not resist it. If you feel tears coming on, the worst thing you can do is try to fight it. You get blotchy and possibly sobby. I just let a tear or two fall and move on. Sometimes, people don't even notice.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  15. DB says:

    My thoughts go out to you and yours in such a trying time.

    As far as crying goes, I was actually just reading an interesting article in TIME about that this morning over breakfast. It was more technically about emotions in the workplace, but the anecdotes in that story just confirmed my opinion. I like to think that everyone needs a good cry every once in a while (I, too, prefer to have mind in private). But the longer you go, the more it builds up until it gets to the point where even the smallest thing can set you too (knowing that deadlines are creeping, breaking a glass, waiting for a phone call). What it boils down to is that crying is a perfectly natural reaction to a lot of things, and if people are going to judge you for it, then they should try being in your position. I've gotten over letting what others think bother me. I figure if they know me, they can forgive the occasional tears, and if they don't, then it doesn't matter.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  16. A Lacey Perspective says:

    I just wanted to say: …that this was a beautifully written post. Seriously.

    Lacey
    https://alaceyperspective.com

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  17. Anon says:

    My thoughts are with you and your family.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  18. Chris says:

    First, all of my best wishes to you and your family. As to crying, wherever it happens, you are a human, and humans have emotions, and we can't always keep a lid on them just because we're in a restaurant, a store, or even (gasp) at work! We're not robots. You are going through hell and, if you need to bust out some tears, do it and don't worry about it. Screw everybody else. Who cares what they think … especially in a bar with a bunch of strangers you'll never see again anyway. And surely anyone who knows you at work probably knows about your situation, and if I were your colleague, I certainly would think no less of you as a professional. Everyone goes through hard times … we should all be more empathetic and stop being so concerned about keeping that stiff upper lip 24/7.

    The only reaction anyone should have to this is care, concern and compassion. Certainly not “mortification.” Be kind to yourself and don't fret about this one more minute!

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  19. Emily says:

    Though I used to think of tears as weakness when I was younger (I grew up with three brothers…) – over the years I've changed to thinking of it as a legitimate expression of where I'm at. Just like I want a person's smile or sympathetic face to be stemming from a true, genuine emotion – I want someone to be able to express their sadness or anxiety without inhibition. Now, I'm not saying people should take every opportunity to cry in public of course…but when emotion hits like that, it's okay. It's real, it's for a good reason and you just happen to be out. If people are judging you for that – gosh, who cares about their opinion.

    I pray you and your family will have comfort as you're dealing with this treatment. Best wishes

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  20. harder says:

    The only rule I live by is not to cry at work and not infront of coworkers, other wise, I let the tears flow as needed.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  21. HRB says:

    I was about 15 when my parents were going through a divorce. Every week on thursday my Dad would come into town and pick me up for dinner. We did this every week like clock work. Sometimes the conversations got heavy when it came to, say the idea of selling my childhood home that I still lived in with my mom (they were separated at the time) and how I felt about this. Or how I felt about my father marrying a new woman, not a month after the divorce was final. I remember being at the local sushi restaurant trying to defend how I was feeling through my tears in a very public forum. It is uncomfortable, but to try and suppress that is practically impossible if one of the physical manifestations of your emotions is crying. I tried to stop, I tried to stem the seemingly never ending tears. I couldn't. It came to my realization that trying to stop them, made it worse. So, I essentially stop apologizing for it. If my tears and the situation I am in, that is causing me to be tearful, is making you uncomfortable, leave. If you are that offended by someone showing emotion, remove yourself from the situation, because your stares and glances at the crying girl, aren't going to make her stop anytime soon.

    This may not be a feasible solution for most. I understand the feeling of needing to remove oneself from making others feel uncomfortable and awkward. But, when it is something you are basically forced to endure on a weekly basis, or you are caught off guard by something that truly affects you, one can get tired of apologizing for experiencing human emotion.

    I hope your father is soon back on his feet and feeling better. That is not something anyone, or any family should have to go through.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  22. R says:

    I very heartily “second” Zoe's post! As a person with sensitive tear ducts (seriously) I've learned that the best way to end the crying is to allow it to start. If not, hiccuping, sobbing and funny expressions will follow. If things get too loud/wet/uncomfortable for you, excuse yourself to the ladies room (just like you did). And screw anyone who gives you grief!

    Also, as for crying in front of boyfriends, etc… When I cry, I try to explain why I'm crying (or was crying) and what the tears mean– it doesn't always mean sadness–it can be frustration, anger, self-doubt, foolishness, etc etc. Or just hormones!

    And finally, best of luck to your dad. I'm sure all of the women within a 5 mile radius of the Capitol are thinking of him and your family.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  23. LS says:

    Like several commenters pointed out, I think there's a distinction between crying in front of strangers, crying in front of people you know, and crying in private. I don't think any less of you for having a random outburst in public for a completely valid reason. The best of friends would also understand if you become upset regardless of location when you're going through a difficult period. However, unless you're really close with people in your office, gym, etc, I personally would try to avoid repeated outbursts in those places since they may not know the reason and just label you 'that weepy girl.'

    In general though, crying is a perfectly normal human emotion and can be extremely beneficial in the coping/healing process. I hope it made you feel a bit better…

    All that said, I would really like some input from our group. I've been with my boyfriend for 8 months and positively adore him in every way except he's a crier. A huge one. So far, it's only when we're in private, but he can't talk about anything happy, sad, emotional, etc. without breaking down. I've never encountered any men that cry through family or dating, so if we're talking about something serious and he starts crying I sometimes get pretty angry which obviously doesn't help. I think I feel like it's very un-manly. He's trying to stop, but it still happens frequently. Am I completely horrible since I can't accept him the way he is? Has anyone else encountered this problem?

    Belle, my best wishes to your dad for recovery and to your family.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  24. S says:

    Now you've made me cry.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  25. Lindsay says:

    I know that I would never start crying in public on purpose! I feel like most people are probably the same way. Nobody WANTS to cry in public, but it's an uncontrollable reflex. If I see someone doing it, I don't assume there's a silly reason. I assume it's really serious, and my heart goes out to them.

    I've teared up quite a few times — bad day, frustration at office, sad book — but it's easy to swipe away the moisture. The only time I've flat out sobbed was the day my grandmother died. A friend asked why my eyes were red and the floodgates opened. I went directly home, but cried the whole way. If any passers-by judged me… that's their problem.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  26. Emmy says:

    Thinking of you and your family, Belle. I wish you all the best.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  27. Jay says:

    I sobbed at work a few times (on the Hill! In front of other staffers, though, not in front of constituents) and refused to be embarrassed about it. I figured, well, this is how I feel, and we need the world to be a more honest place. Now I wish I hadn't. Other than an work, though – I think we DO need the world to be a more honest place, and crying happens. Life happens.

    All the best to you and your dad.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  28. ~M says:

    That's funny that you posted this (obviously not the situation), but just today I had an experience with this. I cried once in front of an advisor at work. I was in an extremely difficult and stressful personal situation that some matters at work were prolonging and exacerbating. This happened 5-6 months ago, today I was talking to this advisor about how difficult one of my co-workers is and how she antagonizes coworkers and superiors, wastes the team's time, etc. and my advisor said, I can see you feel strongly about this, I can see you're about to cry. I looked at her oddly and explained I was nowhere near crying; was expressing legitimate frustrations everyone on the team was feeling. and the funny thing is, this is the 2nd or 3rd time that has happened with this advisor.
    I made up my mind today, even more firmly, NEVER to cry at work again because coworkers will assume any time I feel passionate about something, I am over-reacting and going to cry.
    It's a shame life is like that, but I think it is and there is very little we can do about it.
    By the way, I hope you've downgraded your “friend” from the sharing dinner to strictly Facebook status because hers was the only unacceptable behavior you mentioned.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  29. Marie-Christine says:

    I agree, better in front of strangers than at the office. I'm kind of weird about that – kidnapped by sadists at 10, I totally stopped crying in front of anyone, ever. Cried myself to sleep every night for years, till I got back to my mother, but always when alone, and kept up the alone part for 40 years. Then guess what? My mother died, and suddenly I was crying every day.. on the bus, in the middle of a bunch of strangers. I tell you, this is an excellent way to have lots of room on a crowded bus, nobody'll sit next to you :-). But I decided that was OK, I didn't care about these people, and why should I try so hard not to cry when I had such a good reason? I still cry occasionally in public, and now I don't care at all. I won't cry at work, mostly because I work with not very nice men who would only feel contempt, and I don't think it's appropriate there. But on the street I could care less..
    I'm sure you friend was just mortified to be seen with you indeed, but it's unlikely that the whole place was watching. And even if they were, too bad for them if a bit of humanity puts them off. In truth, most people try very hard not to see anything like that at all. Hang in there Belle, and don't let those strangers get to you.

    April 1, 2011/Reply
  30. C says:

    First and foremost, I hope your dad gets well soon.

    Second, I completely agree that crying in public is absolutely mortifying, and I admit to have done it more than a few times. The strange thing is – I don't judge other people I see crying. Apparently, it's something only “I” am not allowed/supposed/expected to do. I've cried at work once too and tried to pretend nothing was wrong. To be honest, I think that's something wrong with current expectations of women. Why is is worse to cry at work than at a bar? Crying implies emotional distress – why should we as women be expected to and expect others to ignore such a basic instinct simply to appear “professional”?

    April 2, 2011/Reply
  31. Lauren says:

    All the best to your family.

    Crying in public is absolutely the worst, but I think the only time to be embarrassed is if you're the drunk girl who can't stand up and is crying because your drink “fell.” Other than that, if I notice, I generally think oh no that poor person, they must be having an awful day. I hate crying in public, in front of people and especially at work but sometimes it just has to happen. If you cry and deal with it (go to the bathroom, go outside, etc) no one is going to think “oh look at that girl” and if they do they're not worth a second thought.

    If it helps you feel any better, every time I laugh (hard) I end up crying buckets. Kind of embarrassing, but also kind of amusing, especially for my friend who made me laugh

    April 2, 2011/Reply
  32. Belle says:

    You're right. It would be worse to be the drunk crying girl.

    April 2, 2011/Reply
  33. BiblioMOMia says:

    I am stunned at the callousness of these comments, especially considering the raw emotion of your post. First of all, your so-called friend's response leaves a lot to be desired. “Good”? Because she was “mortified for you”? Dear god–how about because she was worried about you?! Maybe this is harsh, but I would seriously think about that relationship, as it doesn't seem remotely supportive or caring.

    I'm so sorry for your pain, and your embarrassment–I don't know why or how crying in public has become such a stigma, but I have to agree that it has. Perhaps because of all of those drunken co-eds…

    April 2, 2011/Reply
  34. K says:

    Cut yourself – and the rest of us – some slack. What you described is a biological reaction. Happens. Your acquaintance is a real winner there and needs to be sent to some remedial “Miss Manners” reading. In my limited experience, as we all gain maturity, men included we're less likely to hold it against someone who is doing what you did. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to restrain it, because there are obviously settings – like amongst our business colleagues – where we want to control our image or not pierce the veil between our public persona and our personal. But it happens. And life moves on. And, we should judge people by their reaction to the crier just as much as we judge the crier. Some of us already do.

    April 2, 2011/Reply
  35. B says:

    i'm so sick of women judging each other for crying. belle – cut yourself some slack, you're going through something horrible and anyone with a soul will completely understand. i hope the best for your dad and your family, know that we all support you. hang in there. and if your “friend” is more concerned with the “mortification” you're creating with your tears than the source of those tears, she doesnt sound like a very good friend.

    side note: when i was working on an intense, vicious campaign in college, a mean spirited voter yelled at me on the phone and ultimately made me cry. that night, the candidate himself called me to thank me for all i was doing “for the team” (i could hear his wife in the background, reminding him of my name!). after that he knew my name and i ended up getting a job with his office – coincidence? just saying…crying can get you employed! 🙂

    April 3, 2011/Reply
  36. love it says:

    it's ok to cry! she's your friend! (also, i love that “Father” is capitalized, and my prayers are with your family. i am so sorry)

    April 3, 2011/Reply
  37. KRF says:

    Hi Belle,
    Thank you for starting this post. My own Father recently battled prostate cancer and two years ago bladder cancer, so I understand that emotions can sometimes creep up with little warning. During these difficult times I told a close group of friends who often asked about my dad's progress when we were spending time together. I always felt safe with them to be sad or angry or stressed and they were (and still are) great listeners. So if I can offer up a thought it would be to surround yourself with people who will support you no matter where or when the tears may strike.

    There have been a one or two instances when a stressful work day or situation brought on an emotional response. While I was more frustrated with myself, I learned over time that things happen, we deal with them as best we can, and we move on. All the best to you and your family.

    April 3, 2011/Reply
  38. MidwestChic says:

    Praying for you and your family, Belle. You go ahead and cry whenever you want in front of strangers (as long as its not at work) and screw them if they have the nerve to judge you. We have all been in similar situations, and you handled yourself like a very classy young woman.
    PS-Love this post.

    April 3, 2011/Reply
  39. Belle says:

    KRF-would you email me? My Dad is going through bladder cancer now, and you're the first person I've met who was in the same situation. I'd love to be able to ask someone some questions.

    April 3, 2011/Reply
  40. MJ says:

    I read an article recently that said woman's tear ducts are biologically different from those of men and that it is necessary for them to release tears more often, so i don't think people should think any less of women crying in public, regardless of the situation. However, I am not the type of person who ever shares any of my feelings with others, even with loved ones. So, I actually find myself letting out those feelings by crying before going to sleep at night. I find that if I let out a good cry right before sleeping and let out all of my pent up sadness, anger, frustration, etc from earlier in the day I end up getting a perfect nights sleep and feel much better when I wake up in the morning.

    April 4, 2011/Reply
  41. Montana says:

    The only emotion I have ever felt about seeing someone cry in public is that I hope they feel better and wish that I could help them. The world is a crazy place, I cry when I need too, as you should as well.
    I wish a speedy recovery for your father.

    April 4, 2011/Reply
  42. Allison says:

    Hey Belle,
    My Dad struggled with cancer for 11 years, I have cried in many bizarre locations. (I also learned that cancer isn't a death sentence, he is in great health today due to sheer determination and some wonderful doctors.) What matters is that you had a friend supporting you at a time when you need it, who cares about the strangers that may or may not be judging.
    Best of luck to you and your family.

    April 4, 2011/Reply
  43. southernerinlondon says:

    Praying for your father and family.

    You handled this so well. I wish your friend hadn't been a complete twit. I've cried before and suspect I will again. 'Life is beautiful, life is sad'.

    April 4, 2011/Reply
  44. Jamie says:

    Belle- I've literally been in the exact situation. My dad is currently in his 3rd round of treatments. I've respectfully asked my friends not to bring it up when we're in public because I can't talk about it without crying… so if we discuss it it has to be in my living room or on email. I wish I had a better suggestion for you. But really, sometimes these things are just too difficult to discuss in public. Best wishes to you and your family.

    April 4, 2011/Reply
  45. Tiffany says:

    I'm really not a crier either, barring death and serious personal injury, I do not cry in public, ever if I can help it. If I can't, I make a quick exit and deal with it. I don't really think less of coworkers who do though, as long as there's a reason and they're willing to express it. If they're being super stealth about a breakup and not telling anyone they've broken up, then yes, of course crying at work is going to seem a little odd. But if we all know their parent has cancer or they're getting divorced or something reasonable, then I wouldn't think less of them for crying, briefly, at work.

    Your friend is the one who should be embarrassed, her behavior and response is appalling. She was mortified for you?? A friend who cares at all and has a soul would be far more concerned if you were alright, rather than piling on with “everyone was staring at you”.

    April 5, 2011/Reply