Tears. They’re a tricky business. Keep them all bottled up and you risk being seen as a heartless so-and-so. Turn them on whenever you feel overwhelmed and you are in danger of being dismissed as an emotional wreck.
You can see tears in a hundred different ways. They are the mark of a sensitive soul. They are a sign of emotional incontinence. They are the weapon of last resort for women. They turn men into helpless puddles of contrition. They are a sign of weakness, the preserve of those who don’t know how to keep their feelings under control.
Oh, and did I mention that men aren’t supposed to spill them at all. No, never ever. That is not the ‘manly’ thing to do. It doesn’t matter if their feelings are hurt or their knees badly scraped. Boys are not meant to cry unless they want to be asked, “What are you? A girl?”
Well, what can I say? I am a girl and have the tear-stained handkerchiefs to prove it.
I have to admit it doesn’t take much to make me cry. I well up whenever I am singing the national anthem. I get all teary watching soppy rom-coms like Sleepless in Seattle. I cry with laughter while catching up with the new season of Modern Family. I blub when I hear a particularly moving bhajan. A beautiful painting or a perfect sunset can move me to tears. The spectacle of Barack Obama being sworn in as the first African-American President of the United States had me sobbing on my couch.
My tears are very versatile. They can express almost every emotion across the spectrum: anger, frustration, sorrow, joy, love. Which, I concede, can sometimes get a bit overwhelming for people who are trying to figure out why I am welling up all over again.
To be honest, though, sometimes I don’t quite understand the process myself either. Why is it that I can sit through a regular tear-jerker of a Hindi movie and find myself completely unmoved? And yet, the sight of a man sitting down to a lonely dinner on a table set for one on a TV show makes me feel all weepy? Go figure; I certainly can’t.
In fact, sometimes the smallest, most insignificant thing, can set off the tears. The wizened face of a grandmother as she holds the hand of her granddaughter and helps her cross the street (or is it the other way round?). The toothless grin of a baby. The strains of a long-forgotten song. Hell, on one embarrassing occasion, I even had tears rolling down my cheeks because a bowl of chilli in a Washington restaurant wasn’t quite as I remembered it. Yes, I know, it’s silly beyond belief; but there you have it.
But whatever the reason for their appearance, my tears are invariably cathartic. As the cliché goes, there’s nothing quite like a good cry to make you feel better about yourself. There is a complete cleansing of emotions; an overhauling of your nervous system that leaves you feeling both light and exhausted, both wrung out and ready to take on the world.
The only problem is that crying gets a very bad rap these days – especially if you are a woman. If you are arguing with your boyfriend/husband and begin tearing up out of sheer frustration you will be accused of playing dirty. “Ah, here come the waterworks.” (Don’t bother explaining that you’re not crying on purpose; that you simply can’t help it. Nobody is going to believe you.)
And don’t even think of letting the tears flow when you are at work. Not unless you want to be dismissed as a hysterical, hormonal, pre menstrual/menstrual/menopausal (choose any one that fits) cry baby. Just do the smart thing. Retreat to the ladies room whenever you feel your eyes welling and your chin beginning to tremble. Lock yourself in and let the tears flow. Then blow your nose, wash your face, re-apply your make-up and head out to face the world again.
Strangely enough, though, even as women are being marked down for being emotionally overwrought and teary, men are increasingly being applauded for being in touch with their emotions when they let a tear or two escape their eyes. Clearly, political correctness has come a full circle on this one.
Our hearts well up when we see our cricketing heroes like Yuvraj Singh and Sachin Tendulkar with tears flowing down their cheeks as they celebrate their World Cup victory. David Beckham’s confession that he gets all teary when he looks at his daughter, Harper Seven, is enough to make all of us go, “Aww, how sweet!”
But while I am all for men being in touch with their emotions and expressing them in a honest way (and what could be more honest than tears?) one part of me is a little scared that this may just open the floodgates. Remember that Friends episode when Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) finally gets her boyfriend Paul (Bruce Willis in a hilarious cameo) to open up and express his emotions? And then has to drop him because he simply won’t stop blubbering?
Well, none of us wants that now, do we?
Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami
From HT Brunch, April 15
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