You’re Crying in Public: Now What?

None of us enjoy bursting into tears (or just having tears slide silently down our cheeks, unbidden) in situations that feel inappropriate or awkward. And yet for a person who cries, it is a scenario that is sometimes unavoidable. Some examples of places I have found myself unable to keep from crying that felt inappropriate:

  • In the cheese isle of a gourmet grocery store, because I had enjoyed buying cheese there with the man I broke up with 5 months prior
  • In front of a group of 5 year olds, because they “Weren’t taking Aladdin rehearsal seriously”
  • At work at a summer camp, because one of our campers, a 3rd grade boy with a twin sister, died tragically the day before
  • At the chiropractor’s office, because I was in so much pain, and he was an asshole who was telling me that failing to treat my misaligned back by seeing him for 12 sessions (which I couldn’t afford) could result in my death
  • SOBBING in a movie theater, after the credits for “Captain Philip” have finished, and the lights are on, and the employees are trying to sweep up popcorn because, as I kept repeating to my date: “It’s so complicated, there are no easy solutions!!!”
  • In front of a group of high school students I was teaching, because I was sad that my mom died
  • At a bar, because my husband and I saw a homeless kitten on the way there.
  • Checking people in to a yoga class because I was sad that my mom died
  • Silently sobbing in the back room of a tax office I worked at because my mom died.
  • In the radiology lobby of Kaiser, where I was waiting to get a “I had a miscarriage” ultrasound
  • Buying shampoo at CVS because I was sad that my mom died.

The list goes on and on (and on), but you get the idea. The reasons may be completely stupid or profound, but the result is the same: you are crying when you really don’t want to be crying. You are horrified, and would like to make it stop, and yet that just makes the crying happen more. Sometimes also with snot running down your face.

In the aftermath of my mom’s death in February of 2016 I’ve been in this situation so many times that I’ve (almost) become comfortable with it. At the very least, I have accepted that it is a part of life. And here are some strategies that I have found helpful:

1. Leave. I’ve left in the middle of yoga classes. I’ve abandoned shopping carts in grocery stores. I’ve just quietly excused myself and left the room. Sometimes the best thing to do is simply to quickly get yourself somewhere that you feel less awkward crying. Just go. No need to explain yourself (because you’ll probably just burst into tears AT the person). You can always tell them later that you had to step out for personal reasons.

2.If you can’t leave, don’t try to fight it. The more I try to resist crying, the worse it gets, and the longer it drags on (and sometimes results in that AWFUL sound that is a cross between a ragged gasp and a snort that results from trying to hold back sobs and that is roughly the same volume as a sonic boom). So if I feel those tears building up in a place that is awkward and I cannot leave, I just accept that it’s happening, cry some cries, and then move on.

3. Warn those around you that crying might happen. This one is a biggie and, frankly, my personal favorite. I’m a big fan of transparency and disclosure. There are some days when I wake up knowing that I will not get through the day without multiple cry-fests, and that I will have no control over when they happen. On those days, I give my students, friends, or co-workers some version of the following heads-up:

            Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I’m having a really emotional day. I’m fine and everything is okay, but you’ll probably see me cry at some point. And I want to assure you that if that happens you don’t need to do anything to fix it. 

And then, when the inevitable crying happens, I once again reassure them that I am okay, and continue to work/teach/hang out. And when I do that, something magical happens: people stop caring about the fact that I am crying, because they see that it is not a problem that they need to fix. They see that I am just a person, and that having visible emotions doesn’t interfere with me going about my day or being competent at what I do.

4. Phone a friend. Do this literally or figuratively. If you are alone, call someone that you can talk to through the episode. The time I was crying in the cheese isle, I called one of my very best friends who had been roommates with me and my ex boyfriend, and told her about my emotional breakdown at the sight of dill havarti (it was his favorite!). Walking down the street with my husband in downtown San Francisco one day, I had a panic attack because the sight of a man’s leg injury brought on flash-backs of my mother’s emaciated body in the hospital when she was dying. I tapped on my husband’s shoulder and managed to squeak out that I needed a minute, and we stopped walking, stepped out of the way of other pedestrians, and he just hugged me for a few minutes while I calmed down. If you are by yourself and you cannot hug or call someone, put on music that is familiar and comforting to you, find something nice to look at nearby, or just buy yourself a hot chocolate. These are not suggestions intended to help you avoid crying, but rather to provide comfort and support, so you can feel the feelings, cry the cries, and then move on.

While these tactics have been incredibly helpful to me, I’m sure they’re not everybody’s cup of tea. Do you have a go-to trick for when you start crying in public? I’d love to hear about it.

Until next time,

The Cry Babe

What if there was crying in baseball?

It’s a classic scene. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve probably heard the line. It’s right up there with “I’ll have what she’s having” and “Nobody puts baby in a corner” (although I was a little surprised it didn’t make it onto this list of famous movie quotes). Just in case you are unfamiliar, or if you’d like to get re-acquainted, here is the scene from the 1992 sports comedy-drama, A League of Their Own

 

Disclaimer: I love this movie, this is a great scene, and Tom Hanks is bae. I’m not attempting to criticize the movie, but rather examine the dynamics of the interaction portrayed, which while more dramatic and entertaining than everyday life, nevertheless depicts some pervasive social norms.

Let’s look at what’s going on in the first minute and a half of this scene. Jimmy Dougan (Tom Hanks) is the coach of the baseball team that Evelyn Gardner (Bitty Schram) plays on. Evelyn makes a mistake that costs the team their lead, which makes Jimmy yell and Evelyn cry. And what strikes me about the scene is that it’s not Jimmy’s anger or Evelyn’s sadness and shame that get in the way of everyone’s day moving forward: it’s Jimmy’s reaction to Evelyn’s crying. Which leads me to 2 questions:

  1. Why does it make Jimmy so angry that Evelyn is crying?
  2. Why is it perfectly acceptable for a him to yell for an extended period of time and make everyone uncomfortable, but unacceptable for a woman to cry softly and make him uncomfortable?

Think about how this interaction would go if Jimmy wasn’t bothered by the fact that Evelyn was crying–if he expressed his anger and disappointment in her performance on the field by yelling, and she expressed her sadness and shame by crying, and then they moved on with their day. While it would make a crappy movie scene, it would make everyone’s lives involved so much easier.

I’d like to argue that the “problem” with crying in public (at work, in social settings, on the sidewalk when you see a homeless kitten) is not the person crying, but with the extreme discomfort crying elicits in many onlookers. But what if it wasn’t a problem?

Allow me one brief story to drive my point home. In 2008 I worked with a performance art company in Amsterdam, Netherlands. One day we were in a company meeting, and somebody’s cell phone rang. “Ooooooooh!” I thought, “Someone is going to be so busted! God, how embarrassing for them that their cell phone is ringing, how unprofessional, they must feel like such a jerk.” But then, something shocking happened: nobody cared that the cell phone was ringing, and the meeting just continued on as normal. You see, I had been conditioned to think that an errant cell phone ring was a problem big enough to warrant bringing everything to a grinding halt and shooting death-glares at the offending party. And because that’s what I’d been conditioned to think, I never considered that there was an alternative. Nobody had to fix the problem because there was no problem. Nobody had to get mad, or embarrassed, because there was no problem. It blew my mind.

What if seeing somebody cry didn’t have to make you feel uncomfortable? What if we were as accepting of crying in public as we are of laughing, or yelling, or smiling? What if crying was just another thing that happens sometimes, and that didn’t have to stop everything else that’s happening?

What if there was crying in baseball?

Until next time,

The Cry Babe