Wednesday 12 November 2014

Is It Really All Right to Cry?

I have a theory that babies cry because that is all they can do. Poor things. There they are, helpless and hungry and/or uncomfortable , and most probably bored. No wonder they cry. I would cry. In fact, I am sure I did cry. There I was enjoying non-existence, insofar as one can enjoy non-existence, when suddenly I had being, which was okay for the first nine months, if a bit cramped for the last two or three, and then there I was in the bright, cold and scratchy world, feeling hungry and with no-one to talk to for most of the day except this frightened 24 year old girl.


The 24 year old girl probably cried, too, although I am not sure because the only public crier in the family over the age of 10 is your humble correspondent. This may be because, as far as I know, I am the only one who ever saw a  therapist and my therapist was keen on crying. The theory was that I was pretty messed up and could not be tidied down until I cried out all the mess. Of course, it wasn't that  I should cry in public, but that I should cry at all. Apparently crying is good for you, even if the social norm in Commonwealth countries is to cry in private. And apparently never crying is a sign of great mental distress. Crying, therefore, is a sign of mental healthiness, the natural response to anger or grief.

The last time I cried was on Sunday during the homily. It was Remembrance Sunday and the day began with the BBC playing "O Valiant Hearts". The homily was on the young men of the parish who were killed in the First World War. The priest had looked up their obituaries and addresses, etc. He mentioned, by the by, that some of their mothers hadn't long outlived them. Indeed, perhaps being bereaved had killed them, motherhood being a very powerful and special thing, as the Church has always taught...

Sniff, sniff, sniff. Sniff, sniff, sniff. Poor old Mrs McAmbrose began to search her pocket for a tissue. We know she is a nice lady, but we didn't know she was so compassionate that she would cry along with long-dead suffering mothers. 

In fact, she isn't. She was crying for herself because she has no children and therefore will never discover what a powerful and special thing motherhood is. Sniff, sniff, sniff. She thought perhaps she might flee the church and just go to the Polish Mass at 1 PM. But that would be Making a Scene in Church and her mother husband would be greatly annoyed. Weep, weep, weep.

"This is self-indulgent nonsense," thought poor old Mrs McAmbrose, dabbing away with her tissue, so oblivious to the collection basket that she didn't remember she was supposed to put something in it until an hour later in George Street. "I am not the only childless woman in this church. I can think of five just off the top of my head." Sniff, snort, sniff, snort. Honk. 

Too much crying is from neither grief nor anger but plain old feeling sorry for oneself. I learned that in therapy, too. Authentic crying (in the opinion of my therapist) came from deep in the gut. Inauthentic crying, which really means poor-me-I-feel-so-sorry-for-myself-you-should-too was shallow, coming from the top of the chest. She may have said that to goad me into authentic, deep-gut wailing, of course.

During the homily, I was never in any danger of authentic, deep-gut wailing, so running away would have been very self-indulgent indeed. (Deep-gut wailing in Church is, however, 110% against my cultural norms, so if there had been any danger of that, sneaking out as if to the loo would have been the right thing to do.)  Ladies are allowed to sniffle and weep a bit at Mass, after all, and I think elderly men are too, on Remembrance Sunday at very least, although perhaps they are only supposed to mop  their eyes a bit. 

When it is truly appropriate to cry is, in fact, a very important question, for as we have unfortunately found out, emotional incontinence does indeed bring civilization to a crashing halt. The facts that over 40% of Britain's children are born out of wedlock, and thousands of others are killed before they are born, are not because the British have such wonderful emotional discipline.

The British--and I include myself among them--are inwardly bestial savages painted blue who need as many checks as possible to our natural inclination to live entirely for war, booze, sexual excitement and pretty foreign objects. Helped by Christian missionaries, we developed self-control beautifully over the last two thousand years and were greatly respected by all the world (except the Irish) for it until 1997, when Princess Diana was killed and the island disintegrated into a great bathetic puddle.   

Do away with the stiff upper lip, the phlegm, the false cheer and the sexual hypocrisy, and what you get is a large, bald, drunk, sunburnt, shirtless man with a painted face chanting "Ingerland, Ingerland, Ingerland. Ingerland, Ingerland, IngerLAAAND" at a quiet tram of passing Germans. 

I do not entirely blame Princess Diana for this. She was, after all, born in 1961, after the rot was already setting in, and she was only two when the brakes came off the roller coaster that plunged us all into.... But I digress. 

Our subject is crying, and my therapist convinced me that it is natural (and even healthy) to cry when we are angry or sad. Crying just because we feel sorry for ourselves, however, does not occupy the same moral plane. Indeed, it can be deeply manipulative, especially if we do it in public. 

I have seen my brothers cry as little boys, but I do not remember them crying to manipulate. They were actually splendid little boys, as I am proud to remember. One had a particularly sunny disposition, so the evils of the school playground were a terrible shock to him, and when he cried it was out of real disappointment, grief and loss. The other was born frowning and suspicious and so was better equipped for this vale of tears.  

I have never seen my father cry. I have never seen my brothers cry as adults. Well, okay--one did at my grandmother's funeral and at B.A.'s and my wedding. But as far as I know, that was it for any of them crying in public. Possibly they all enjoy a good weep behind locked doors, but I may never know because they were all brought up strictly in the Men Are Not Women school of thought. Oh, and they are not manipulative so-and-sos.

Because I have indeed seen men, men not as manly as my father and brothers (or my husband), weep and wail before me, and it was not because they were overwhelmed by grief, loss, anger or their sister getting married, but because they felt deeply sorry for themselves. Often they were crying to stop me from doing something I wanted to do or to move me to do something I didn't want to do. And once I figured that out, I despised them for it. 

I also despise scriptwriters who still think it is ground-breaking to force men to cry on television and in the movies. Once upon a time (i.e. before 1963) it was considered a terrible imposition to show an Englishwoman crying on television. Now it is de rigeur to get anyone and everyone to do so. The baying mob who regressed to 54 BC upon the news of the death of Diana even demanded that the Queen herself--the mother of the man Diana publicly humiliated on multiple occasions--burst into sobs. How ridiculous, and what a betrayal of Britishness. Never mind the poor migrants--why can't UKIP do something about all the English crying on the screen?

It was once (and still is in isolated pockets like my family) considered unmanly to cry, and although women were always allowed to cry in public on the grounds that we were not men, it wasn't exactly encouraged in British countries, either. Private howls were quite alright, as long as nobody was made uncomfortable by them. If you mentioned them to anyone, you made a joke of them. The whole point of keeping crying private was not to indulge your own emotions at someone else's expense. That was, and is, the true hallmark of an English gentleman and an English lady. 

I do think it was a bit much to expect English-speaking men never to cry, or to suppose that they were letting down the entire nation by crying like Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, et alia,  But I quite agree that crying in public was a sign of "unmanly weakness", except at funerals and weddings (NOT sporting events). Men have many privileges--excellent shoes that can be kept in good repair and worn for twenty years or more, the right to wear the same suit every day, the freedom to walk through the woods after dark without once thinking about sex maniacs--so I think, in general, they ought to leave public (or, really semi-public) weeping to us. 


  1. Thank you for humouring my request! I was wondering if you were going to argue that men shouldn't cry at all, but am much relieved that you are against male public crying. I think I would agree on that. I've seen footage from Churchill's funeral and although some men were looking misty, none were crying.
    I'm a bit of a trigger switched crier, but I'll try to excuse myself quickly if I start. It's just awkward for everyone to be a blubbering mess anywhere but a funeral. Part of the reason I prefer the EF requiems is that they are so much more sober; and it doesn't feel like anyone's trying to extract tears from you.

  2. I am very glad that I will be having an EF requiem myself when I go.

  3. Thank you for sharing. This post almost made me cry! I've been there too; almost more times than I can count. It's so hard to sit in the pews, completely surrounded by beautiful families. I'm married, and my husband and I are faithful Catholic who would make wonderful parents; so why doesn't God send us a baby?

    I do try not to let anyone else see me tearing up, and I do try to not blubber away all the time :), but honestly, I don't think that crying because of infertility is self-indulgent. I mean, it can become that, like any other reason to cry, but I think it's something that needs to be mourned. It's a grieving process, for the loss of children and physical motherhood, and I think it has to be worked through, just like any other grief.

    Anyway, just my two cents!

  4. Well, no, for most women it probably wouldn't be, but I think it could become so. Fortunately for me (in a way) there are lots of never-married older women in my parish, so I definitely know that I am not the only one without children.


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