The last time I cried in public it wasn't because I was sad; I was, instead, angry, frustrated and ashamed.
This was particularly meaningful–translation: "unnerving"–because I have engaged in passionate arguments with good friends about the need for women to avoid crying in a public places.
I keep Kleenex in my office so that I can offer it to my students, but when I do so, I make a point of counseling them–especially the young women–about the fact that tears are regarded as the Premier Sign of vulnerability in our culture.
Tears can be dangerous; they alert not-necessarily-nice folks to the fact that you are feeling weak and in need of reassurance. This can be scary because not everyone who sees that you are feeling weak will help you feel stronger. Some will fall upon you like wolverines on a kill, tearing into your tender parts while strengthening themselves on your susceptibilities. Or maybe that’s just my sentimental, girlish, Hallmark-card way of looking at things.
Put it this way: When I cried that night, I was shocked and horrified at my own reaction. I’d given a talk in a venue for which I had certain high expectations and those expectations were not met. It had been a tough week, both personally and professionally. I thought this would be be easy gig and it wasn’t.
Was it the end of the world? No. Were individual people kind? Yes.
Did I disgrace myself? No, I only let go of my emotions once I was off the microphone and getting ready to walk to my car.
But I can’t emphasize enough how awful I felt, not only in my own responses, but in light of the fact that they were visible. I’m the humor lady, after all, I’m Miss Make-the-Best-of-a-Bad-Situation. And I was acting like a kid who fell off the stage at the third grade Holiday Pageant.
I thought a person stopped doing some things after a certain age. I believed that, one day, a person would stop crying in public, stop worrying about her weight, and stop getting crushes on nearly-perfect strangers. I figured that the day would come when you stopped waiting for phone calls and re-playing messages in order to help you discover the absolutely correct interpretation.
But then, I also thought that once you started looking menopause in the face, you stopped breaking out.
Turns out that none of this is true.
You still stare in the mirror at night before you go to sleep and hope you’ll look better in the morning.
You still raise your eyebrows and smile at your reflection in the mirror in a manner wholly and wildly unlike any expression you have ever created in a natural setting.
You still lie awake at night wondering if somebody you really like really likes you back. (Okay, so after a certain point in many lives, this will happen in terms of your work. Instead of thinking, for example, “Will I get a date for the prom?” you think “Will I get a raise this quarter?).
You still wake up while keeping your eyes tightly shut, hoping against hope that there will be a snow day, a fire-drill, or some kind of diversion from the usual routine.
Sunday evenings still make your stomach flip over in anticipation of what you have to face on Monday.
And you feel astonishing guilty about almost everything that makes your eyes fill with tears.
Lesson: You go through a lot of changes in your life between sixteen and sixty. But not all that much is different.
Learn to express anger as anger rather than as sorrow, so that your outrage isn't misread as grief; get the wiring sorted out so that the lines of emotional communication are as clear and direct as possible.
And carry a handkerchief.