Monday, June 27, 2011

Yesterday's Lessons

There are 3 types of tears: 1) the type you produce constantly in order to keep the eyes moist and free of foreign bodies, 2) reflex tears, the type that occur when a foreign body (think eyelash or onion or pepper spray) enters your eye, and 3) what they call psychic tears, the tears produced when you are emotional (sadness, anger, humiliation, joy, etc). The last type of tear has a different makeup than the others. Psychic tears apparently contain a natural pain killer for the eye, since otherwise, all that crying might cause pain or damage your sight.

Research suggests that tears might serve evolutionary purposes as well. For example, The Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel concluded that emotional tears from women have been found to reduce sexual arousal in men. From an evolutionary standpoint, it suggests that crying may have been a way to drop testosterone, thus reducing aggression, and potentially stopping a male from violence that may get him killed or that may interfere with mating and perpetuating a species. This effect also seems to hold true in animals. Blind mole rats rub tears all over their bodies as a strategy to keep aggressive mole rats away.

When we're born, we lack the ability to cry psychic tears for awhile. We don't yet have the brain and nerve wiring that allows it. Thus, you see the infant or child who wails and gets red faced, but there are no tears rolling. We expect infants to cry. We allow it through toddler stages, seeing temper tantrums and emotional meltdowns as par for the course. Even teenagers are given leeway, as tears are pegged as part of adolescent angst. Moodiness and emotional outbursts are expected and depicted often. Think James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

Adult crying is a different story. people fall into different camps. The stereotype that women are emotional seems to have a backbone of truth, and there still seems to be the mindset that men should not cry.

Some are uncomfortable with seeing people cry in public, and others are cheerleaders, encouraging tears as beneficial. Essentially, they assume once you've had a good cry, you'll feel better. Crying is therapeutic.

Is it? Frankly it makes me feel weak and out of control. And I can't control it. Trying to contain tears seems akin to those people who stifle sneezing. It seems...dangerous or bad for the body.

So they roll.

Crying makes you ugly: red face and nose, puffy eyes, saline streaks on the cheeks, makeup running. Come to think of it, those researchers in Israel might want to factor ugliness into their tears-reducing-testosterone theory.

In the last few days, I've conducted my own involuntary research about crying and the reactions to it.

* Tears aren't produced while industriously cleaning the pantry down to its intricate nooks and crannies. They don't come while alphabetizing your spices and rearranging rice grains.They aren't produced while pulling weeds. But the moment you stop working, and you have a moment to think and remember, there they are, and they seem to have brought friends.

* Tears infere with speech. You may be trying to communicate your sadness to others, but they haven't a clue what you're saying and will ask you to repeat yourself because your sobbing is basically a foreign language.

* Tears make others uncomfortable. They have no idea what to do or say. When they do speak, they will inevitably say things that are not helpful. This includes but is not limited to:
- there are plenty of fish in the sea
- name calling the person who caused your tears or attacking his looks or something not
remotely related and are comments which make you fierce and defensive because you love
- they remind you to do things that aren't possible like eating and sleeping
- they compliment you and tell you how awesome you are when you feel like a piece of shit
- they check in with you and trigger more tears with the simple question, "How are you
- they tell you each day will make you better, but they do so while out at a concert with their significant other or while playing with their children
Basically, they also are speaking a foreign language, and you can neither process nor apply their suggestions.

* Animals acknowledge sadness with an abundance of love. They follow you everywhere you go. They sit on your lap more. They look up at you with wet noses and big brown eyes and a wrinkle in the brow, and you suddenly become an animal behavioralist and think they KNOW. They understand, when really they want to ensure that you'll get your ass out of bed or off the couch and feed and walk them. It's survival of the fittest, and they know, in your condition, you are not fit.

* When there is a pause in your crying, you will hit Play by reviewing the final transcript of texts. Or you will look at photos or, God help you, you will play songs all of which are sad. Black Keys and Dan Auerbach will rip your heart partially out of your chest, and then fully when you remember Him imitating Dan Auerbach and singing a particular song.

* You will cry thinking about the day you won't cry over your loss anymore because that, too, is a scary day--that limbo day when you've healed your heart sufficiently to take the risk of opening it.


  1. I cry often, and without discretion. Sad, happy, frustrated (most common), angry. I'm weary of people who don't cry, either holding in their feelings, or ignoring their possession of emotions altogether.

    I'm new here... lovely post.

  2. I am going through a period of heartbreak and - you hit it on the head - and yes I look ugly when I cry and yes my furbabies "know" - thanks for the post...

    For some reason I can't get my name to show up
    Jen Phillips