How can I unlearn this toxic lesson when it’s so deeply embedded in our everyday lives?
How many of you are old enough to remember the last days of June 2007?
It was a gentler, simpler era -- back when people were happy and everyone you knew was singing along to the radio as it played “Lip Gloss,” Lil Mama’s unforgettable #1 hit single that helped to define an entire generation (“They say my lip gloss is popping / My lip gloss is cool / All the boys keep jocking / They chase me after school”).
I was just a young, impressionable lad of 31 with a thick thatch of messy brown hair not yet proudly covered by a glorious comb-negating chapeau. I had the day off and chose to celebrate my freedom by enjoying a picture show in a beautiful, air-conditioned cineplex wonderama. It was an experience I had enjoyed many hundreds of times before, but this one would eventually prove to be uniquely memorable.
I say this because, as the flickering entertainment unspooled in front of my ever-widening eyes, I found myself overcome by an unexpected rush of emotional sensation. Somehow, in that moment, the filmmakers found a way to connect their narrative to my psyche in such a profound, meaningful way that I felt my cheeks suddenly warmed by a flood of manly, manly tears.
Eventually my tears subsided and I assumed I was safe, but then it happened again -- much more powerfully than before. Even at the time, I couldn’t recall ever having such a transcendently moving experience. Only my dignity kept me from vocally expressing what I was feeling with a full-on wailing sob of pure joy.
No bullshit, people, I was crying harder than I even thought I knew how.
And just what cinematic masterpiece was causing me to express myself so forcefully that summer afternoon? It was a cartoon adventure about a rat who dreamed of someday becoming a world-class chef.
Now a lot of people would be ashamed to admit having such an extreme reaction to ANY film, much less a computer-animated trifle featuring the voice work of the fine gentleman who first coined the term “sadness bowl,” but I am not such a person. Rather than deny it happened, I told EVERYBODY I knew. Sometimes I even drew pictures so they could really understand just how much of a pathetic bawling mess that movie made me. They often looked like this:
And I knew that by doing this I was making some people uncomfortable, because I was describing without any embarrassment something they would personally find very embarrassing to describe. I imagine it was similar to what I would feel if they were to give me a detailed account of a particularly memorable bowel movement. And a drawing definitely wouldn’t make that situation any better.
I knew this, yet it didn’t stop me, because one of my odder personal compulsions is to be obnoxiously upfront about my propensity for lachrymosity. Throughout the various social medias I find myself constantly informing the world that I have been moved to tears by something undoubtedly ridiculous. I always suspect at least some of the people paying attention out there assume I’m joking, but I NEVER am -- ever.
Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:
Society, as a whole, doesn’t like men who cry. People may say they don’t have a problem with it, but when it comes time to mock an asshole on the level of John Boehner, they usually skip past his ridiculous fake tan and general apathy toward the suffering of poor people and immediately focus on the fact that he has cried more times on camera than anyone anywhere ever. In fact, “John Boehner crying” is the second automatic search phrase that comes up when you Google his name. And what you find when you click on it is a lot less than positive.
I get it. There’s something very appealing about the implied strength required to adopt a mask of stoicism in the face of extreme emotion. I would love to be able to spend my life as a Clint Eastwood capable of mercy killing a crippled Hillary Swank without so much as a single tear, but I long ago accepted that I’m not that guy. No, I’m the asshole who starts getting verklempt when his eyes just browse past “Million Dollar Baby” in his DVD collection, much less actually watches it.
So, if I can’t be that other guy, I might as well own who I am and embrace it. Especially, since doing so has allowed me to figure out exactly what kind of person I am. By giving in to my emotions, I have been able to more effectively determine where they are coming from.
For example, I have found that I rarely cry out of personal grief or sadness. There have been exceptions to this, of course (“Ratatouille” aside, I’ve never cried more profoundly than after my father called me from a hospital emergency room to say my mom likely wasn’t going to live past the night after suffering what appeared to be a heart attack. Turned out he misinterpreted what the doctor said to him and she’s still with us 7 years later, but as a result I can still describe that feeling of loss in painful, excruciating detail), but I find myself more often moved by feelings of joy and empathy than anything else.
The most recent example of this I can think of that occurred out in the real world -- rather than in the privacy of my living room -- came during my nephew’s recent Grade 9 “Farewell Ceremony.” It’s usually not the sort of event I’d attend, but that afternoon I received a text from my sister-in-law saying he had specifically asked if I was going to be there.
Since, at 14, he’s already 6’2” and 220 lbs, it’s in my best interests to keep him happy (I’m always going to have furniture I need moved), so I agreed to go.
For the most part it was as excruciating as I expected (it didn’t help that many of the graduates hadn’t yet learned how to properly sit in the -- yeah, I’m a mean old fuddy-duddy who’s gonna say it -- age inappropriate dresses they were wearing, forcing those of us who didn’t want to feel like guys walking around shopping malls with hidden crotch-level video cameras to stare up toward the ceiling for most of the ceremony), but near the end one of the students came up to perform the event’s theme song. As you probably already guessed, it was Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”, a very popular choice whose full title is almost never mentioned in these situations. They also played Vitamin C’s “Graduation (Friends Forever)” because of course they did.
I was expecting the worst, but it turned out to be a beautiful performance of the song. That wasn’t what affected me, though. The tears came when the song ended and the audience burst into thunderous applause. The expression on the girl’s face was one of tremendous shock and elation -- clearly she had not expected to receive anything like this response and, as a result, I felt like I was serving witness to a defining point in a person’s life. This was going to be a moment she would revisit many, many times in the future -- one that might even have an affect on the choices she would make throughout it -- and I found this incredibly moving.
Rather than fight my urge to give in to these moments, I completely surrender. There’s something extremely liberating about this loss of control, but I understand it isn’t for everyone.
Many people resent any overt displays of sentimentality because they can’t stand the thought of anyone manipulating them. I, however, think of it much less cynically than that -- joy and happiness can be so rare and fleeting I don’t mind if the people who try to propagate them juice them up a little with the right music and some clever editing. I’m smart enough to see the artifice and recognize the burdensome reality lingering beneath the surface, but in the moment I choose to separate myself from my intellect and give in to my feelings, because doing so allows me to feel connected to humanity in a way my everyday experience does not.
So, yeah, I’m a crybaby, but rather than be ashamed of it, it’s something I’m proud of. It’s who I am. It might make others uncomfortable and open me up to mockery, but the one benefit to being mocked for most of your life is that at a certain point you stop giving a fuck. It’s a beautiful feeling. Makes me teary-eyed just thinking about it.
It also helps that I’m pretty certain Mariana Diamandis wrote this song for me: