I have a strange relationship with crying. When I was little —little as in, those indeterminate years between birth and 1st grade, where I could have been a baby or a fully formed small person–I remember crying a lot. I cried at everything. I was “sensitive” and I was “shy” and I don’t remember doing a whole lot of talking to anyone. (In this way, I consider myself the O.G. millennial feminist: Go away, I don’t want to talk to you, and I don’t have to talk to you!) I suppose I didn’t have the words to express how I was feeling, and I didn’t have the maturity or self-awareness to understand that I was just frustrated or tired or annoyed, so I just cried instead. It was easier that way. It’s possible that I cried just as much as any small child, but looking back now, it seems like it was a lot.
And then one day I stopped crying. I learned to express myself in other ways: I started writing, doing theatre, giving shit back to my brother. I read cool books for teens. I stayed up all night watching MTV and late night comedy specials and fancying myself a pretty cool teenager even though I was nowhere close to being a teenager. I filled myself with language, words to use when I needed them, even a bunch of words I probably shouldn’t have known at all. But I was obsessed with not being a baby who cries anymore, so I did what I thought I had to do. I aged myself out of cry baby via a healthy diet of self-imposed angst.
Where did these rules come from, that I wasn’t supposed to cry? You can probably guess. Crying is weak. Crying is for girls. Don’t be a girl. But if you absolutely have to, you better be a cool girl! Don’t be disruptive. Crying is disruptive. Crying is distracting. No one wants to deal with you if you cry. Crying means you’re difficult. Just don’t cry. Don’t be difficult. No boys will want to talk to you if you’re difficult, and if boys don’t want to talk to you, then where will you be? How will you matter at all? Don’t do it! Look down on it! Are you seriously crying? You’re never going to make it if you cry. Make it in what? We don’t know, we didn’t really think these rules through, but we did make them, so now you have to follow them. Do. Not. Cry.
These phrases bounced around in my head through much of adolescence and high school. I’d absorbed them through cultural osmosis, simply watching and participating in spaces that valued masculinity and stoicism. (My Midwestern readers, you get this, and I see you.) It was an unspoken tenet of life, and I followed suit. And I was good at it! I could hang, I could deflect shit that hurt me, I could bust balls with the best of them, I could be exposed to any kind of media and compartmentalize and not let anything get under my skin. (Quick aside: HOW ON EARTH are dudes allowed to throw absolute shit fits over sports, I mean full-on throwing-spitting-destruction tantrums/lock themselves in rooms and go despondent and silent and scary, but crying is coded as “difficult”?) The point is, I was conditioned not to cry.
Then tears started to creep out in surprising, alarming ways. It began with movies, stuff that would have been totally inane to another viewer, but flipped weird switches inside of me. If someone happened to catch me in the middle of one of these totally embarrassing freak outs, and they asked what was wrong (they usually phrased it as a very scared, “What is…happening right now?”) I could usually only offer “I don’t know.” And that would be partially true. I would understand what made me so upset in the moment, (literally things as innocuous as people getting together at the end of movies) but I couldn’t figure out why I was this bummed out. Then it was books I read, things I saw on the internet, people meeting me again and not remembering my name, dogs, literally all music, live performances of anything, meeting people with really whack opinions and getting really in my head as to why those opinions were so whack. A valve had been opened, but in a too-much-at-once kind of way. A lot of it was hormones. I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you otherwise, because it was definitely hormones, and then I went on the pill and ohhhh buddy was it hormones again. But the other part of it–and this is so obvious it hurts–was that I was retroactively processing things that had upset me years ago. Like, of course that’s what was happening, but when you’re 17 or 18 or 19 (and LOL lots of years after that) you just think, “I am the same child who cannot process anything. I have no words, only tears. I have failed at being the coolest girl and now I am just some girl, weak and emotional, making everyone uncomfortable with how difficult I am. Now please, leave me alone, I have to listen to The Shins.” Of course the flood gates had to open at some point, of course I had to finally confront the fact that I had been swallowing a bunch of feelings, of course it happened during the formative years of no sleep and a steady diet of Natural Lite and meeting really smart, really rich people who made me feel small. Of course.
I’m pretty good at crying now. I figured out how to close the valve, control things more like a faucet: distinct handles for on and off. I also learned to not care as much. Don’t get me wrong, I still care a lot. I’ve never asked for help in a single store ever and I’ve subtracted hundreds of minutes from my life by pretending to know where things are located. But I don’t care as much as I did in high school when I blinked at nothing, and I don’t care as much as I did in college when I blinked at nothing but would then go secretly cry somewhere else for awhile. I’m getting better at being a cool girl who ALSO cries. We can have it all!
I started mentally drafting this post the other night when Tony and I were at a concert. Tony is really good at my crying too, by the way. He never makes it out to be some deviant, crazy-girl thing that he just has to wait out because “ya know, women.” But before the show started, I turned to Tony and said, “If Jason Isbell plays Stockholm, I will cry. I just wanted you to know.” And then Jason Isbell played Stockholm and I cried. Not because I said I would and I’m that stubborn, and not because I am now a CryBot who is programmed with a finite number of tears (stockholm_tears=true), but because I know myself and I’m trying to take the time to process more feelings as they happen. I am not perfect at this. I still spend a lot of time steeling myself, letting words and situations and people and the news slide right off me. And then there are other times where I am sobbing uncontrollably in a bar on a Thursday afternoon, because I’ve lived in LA for 3 days and all the women here wear hats and I don’t wear hats and it makes me feel dumb and ugly and different and also I hate hats, why is that a thing here? (I turned on the tear faucet for HATS you guys.) But my brain and my heart are finally getting good at talking to one another, at emotional triage, at saying “hey, you take it” to one while the other takes a seat.
I have a strange relationship with crying. It grows and expands everyday, reminding me what I care about, who is important to me. I cry about lots of things, and it feels good.
First of all, I have cried over approximately 9000 boys. I am not a sociopath. Boy rejection cut me DEEP, I was the master of teenage angst, and it got to the point where I would look at myself in the mirror while I cried…over boys. I am who I am and this is my truth. Many of these boys were celebrities that I loved but knew would never love me back, such as but not limited to Shane West. Second of all, a heartfelt thank you to any friend in college who watched me cry very hard and stood next to me, patting my shoulder, and saying “I don’t really know what’s going on, but I’m here,” and then I would trick them into buying me mozzarella sticks.