I have a friend who simply will not say bad words. I, myself, am a lover of language and I do not like to discriminate. I love words. All words. Even the “bad” ones. If my friend were to ever utter one of the even mildly bad (but widely acceptable) words like “damn” or “hell,” I’m sure she would say, “Oh! Pardon my French.” Suffice to say that I am fluent in “French.” But, as a result of not swearing—ever—in favor of such epithets as “Oh, poodle!” and “Fiddlesticks!” my friend, when faced with a situation like a flat tire, will invariably cry. And not just a little bit. Big ol’ heaving, unstoppable, wracking sobs. Personally, I’d rather just cuss and then change the damned tire.
That’s not to say that I don’t also appreciate—and even enjoy—the occasional good cry or being regularly moved to tears. I happen to think it’s really good for us to cry and not just those of us who might (or might not) be female and/or fifty-freaking-four and menopausal. In fact, it’s been proposed that we cry—or at least produce tears—for three basic biological reasons. First, so that we have sufficient moisture in our eyes to allow our eyelids to open and close over them instead of fusing together like old gum to the underside of a desk. Second, we produce tears for protection against foreign matter, just as we do when we’re chopping an onion or happen to be tear-gassed protesting a Justin Bieber concert (or, maybe that’s just me). Third, we produce tears when we are emotionally overwhelmed in some way—by grief, anger or even joy—sometimes all in the same five-minute span (oh, but we’re back to the fifty-freaking-four and menopausal part and I repeat myself).
Remarkably, tears that are sparked by physical protectiveness—as from a dust storm or particularly pungent aroma—contain very little other than water, saline and a few trace elements. Tears resulting from rage or hurt are full of various chemicals suggesting that tears provide a vehicle for cleansing the body of toxins and stress hormones.
Here’s the thing, from a social perspective: I used to apologize for crying, especially when there were men around. I don’t want to be any more stereotypical than I just have to be, but let’s face it: stereotypes come from somewhere. The thing is, women really do tend to express their feelings more freely through tears more often than men—at least in their younger years. Research seems to support the idea that, as they age, women cry less and men cry more. Women go from being apologetic and sensitive when they’re younger to being more ticked off about stuff when they’re older, while men do just the opposite. That means, at some golden moment, you and your opposite sex mate will be perfectly balanced in your teary expressiveness and, once that brief and shining moment has passed, you will grow ever further apart until you’ve completely reversed the tearful expressiveness of the roles you played early in your relationship. Figures, right? Just as you’re finally on the same plane, after a couple of decades together, you start becoming the other person.
Here’s the thing from a vitalistic perspective: Tears are actually a perfectly healthy, natural and powerful way to express emotions, no apologies necessary. Tears are just another of the natural functions—like fevers, sneezing, sweating, etc.—that a materialistic/mechanistic (and, yes, dammit, paternalistic) society finds ways to marginalize or even demonize. People who allow themselves to cry may not be expressing weakness, as our society often implies, but may be using the gift nature gave them to build emotional strength and resilience.
So, the next time you find yourself in a situation that has moved you to tears, don’t apologize. Just tell ‘em it’s all good—that you’re just sweating out of your eyes.