Who cries more, men or women? Silly question? Studies tell us that boys and girls cry with the same frequency until they are about 12 years old. After that, it’s the ladies who take the lead. At 18, we cry four times more than men.
Men are told early in life, “big boys don’t cry.” Time and again parents, especially dads, admonish their sons to “take it like a man,” that crying is for girls and sissies, that tears are not macho.
Boys grow up to be men who feel the need to keep their emotions reined in. They believe that their image is to be tough as nails and to never give in to emotional outbursts or sentimental nonsense. Tears and crying (in public, anyway) are considered huge obstacles in their pursuit of success.
Men and women are equally aware of their own emotions, but we express ourselves differently. Women traditionally let loose, the waterworks are turned on long before common sense kicks in. Men are uptight. They struggle to be in control. It is a discipline taught early, probably right after his first fall off a bike. And when he didn’t make the team, he learned how to bite his lower lip to stop it from quivering.
In my family, tears are frequent and abundant. Crying is part of what we are all about. It takes very little to start a deluge. Weeping unashamed tears is a regular sight at Sunday church, especially when my pastor son preaches. It starts with him.
Music moves me to tears. So does a spectacular sunset, a love poem, the sight of children paying homage to our flag, homeless people, funerals, weddings, a well-worded speech, a romantic chick flick, saying goodbye and sometimes, saying hello. I get teary-eyed when I see a man and a woman of age walking in the park, still holding hands. These are tears not of sadness but of delight.
The memory of beautiful moments and missing beloved family and friends, all gone now, makes me weep.
Why do we cry? And what are tears? Voltaire called them “the silent language of grief.” One of my favorite writers, Paulo Coelho, writes, “Tears are words that need to be written.”
When words fail us, tears jump to the rescue. These are expressions of what our hearts can no longer keep in, of thoughts that would hurt too much if ever verbalized. Crying releases bottled-up joy, sorrow, anguish and pain.
Tears are secretions that keep our eyes clean and lubricated. They are made up of layers of mucus, water and oil. Like sweat, tears are salty and work like saline solution to cleanse and disinfect. The oil prevents evaporation and drying. Also found in tears are lysozymes, or natural antibiotics to keep the surface of the eyes free from bacteria. There are no blood vessels on the cornea, but tears provide the necessary nutrients.
A study categorizes tears as basal, which means they are just there, doing their job, cleansing and protecting the eyes; reflex, released as soon as an irritant is introduced; and psychic, described as an increased flow caused by strong emotions. Emotional tears have hormones, including one known as leucine enkephalin, a natural painkiller. That’s why when you “cry your heart out,” you actually feel a lot better.
Tears are useful. They raise your spirits, lower stress levels and allow you to release feelings that would otherwise remain pent up inside.
At one time or another, most of us have felt completely out of sorts. For whatever reason, nothing seems right. You have too much on your mind. Your heart feels heavy. Your nerves are as taut as violin strings. All you probably need is a good cry. Crying is a form of catharsis.
When women cry without the slightest provocation, it may be hormone-induced. It is probably “that time of the month.” New mothers cry copiously when they get the baby blues. Regardless of the reason, it could involve quiet simpering or loud sobbing. It may also be a manipulative exercise. Who knows? Crying can be a woman’s most clever weapon. Whatever it is, it is an area where a woman reigns supreme.
Here’s a word of advice: when the torrents come, men should run for cover and assess the situation, hopefully from a distance. Proceed with caution. Most of the time, men have the mistaken notion that a woman in tears is a sad woman. It is not necessarily so.
Tears are not gender exclusive. I don’t know about you, but I like men who are secure enough to let you see them cry. Masculine eyes filling up with tears may have more meaning than six-pack abs.
What makes women susceptible to tears? It seems that even the bravest and toughest little girls grow up to be soft and emotional, especially when they become mothers.
Erma Bombeck, my favorite humorist, wrote a beautiful book, “When God Created Mothers.” Let me share one scene.
“God was into his sixth day of ‘overtime’ when an angel appeared and said, ‘You’re doing a lot of fiddling around on this one.’”
Then the story goes on to show the Lord giving a detailed explanation of what He is creating. The angel then tells God to go to bed and finish the job the following day. God insists on going on while the angel watches.
“Finally, the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek. ‘There’s a leak,’ she pronounced. ‘I told You, You were trying to push too much into this model.’
‘It’s not a leak,’ said the Lord. ‘It’s a tear.’
‘What’s it for?’
‘It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness and pride.’
‘You are a genius,’ said the angel.
The Lord looked somber. I ‘didn’t put it there,’ He said.”