Fear of tears: What if men were to cry?

Dubai - Women often feel the need to play it on men’s terms, and men — we believe — don’t cry.


Anamika Chatterjee

Published: Mon 1 Mar 2021, 11:16 PM

Last week, a 3am friend called at 3pm. She was at work and had had an emotional breakdown, owing to her increased workload and some tragic developments in her personal life. “I can’t take it anymore,” she told me, “I broke down and sobbed endlessly in front of my boss. Never been this embarrassed before.” I understood her predicament, even if I did not completely agree with it. As the second sex that has entered workforce much later, women often feel the need to play it on men’s terms, and men — we believe — don’t cry.

I wondered if her boss ever has a breakdown himself. Positions of power, after all, demand an emotional invincibility. We look up to leaders who don’t break down, those who can offer solutions to our problems rather than the other way around. But does this strength come at a cost in an organisation and a household? Imagine a world where it would be perfectly normal for a man to cry sans any judgement from others, a world where it would be acceptable for both genders to release accrued pain, anger, disappointments through tears! Would we be a tad happier?

The first time I began thinking on these lines was a few years ago when my father met with a freak accident. For the next 18 months, he was bed-ridden, with the only outing being that of a visit to the hospital. The rod, which had been planted in his leg years ago, had broken into pieces, and doctors said his mobility would be restricted. He was in enormous pain — emotionally as well as physically — but his eyes were never moist. The frustration manifested itself through anger, irritability and impatience. Gifts my brother has inherited from him.

I often wonder if they feel any less than I do? No. Are there reserves of tolerance greater than mine? No. Does strength necessarily mean maintaining composure at the cost of emotional well-being? No. Then why do we expect that men should not cry?

Over the years, I have come to realise that crying is the most beautiful expression, and has just about as many benefits as laughter. It is the vent through which sum total of your disappointments and disillusionments are channelled. Crying gives me a sense of closure, a sense of coming to terms with my grief. But I find it strange that the two most important men in my life have denied themselves tears.

Years ago, I read a scientific study that claimed that the reason men shed less tears than women is simply because they have lower levels of prolactin than women. The science of weeping aside, there are societal mores that forbid a man from crying. Growing up in Delhi, it wasn’t uncommon for me to hear slurs aimed at men who cried. It was the same set of men, who grew up to be fairly sorted individuals — empathetic and less fearful of giving their all to something.

The other problem of bottling your emotions is that more often than not, you tend to pass it on to the others. When pain is channelled through anger and irritability, there is always someone at the receiving end. Sometimes, they suffer in silence. On other occasions, their agitated response only serves to fuel your unwillingness to let it go. When I first moved to Dubai, I had a neighbour who I may as well have called a human troll. Instead of focusing on my accomplishments, he’d hit where she thought it hurt me the most — not having children or not earning enough to support my family. I would respond to him thinking that I was getting even. But I was inadvertently adding fuel to the fire. I stopped reacting and decided instead to be kind to him in manner of speaking. In a few months, he completely disconnected from us.

Keeping up with the world is challenging. The only way to protect ourselves from the onslaught of daily life is to process our emotions in a way that makes acceptance easier. Instead of locking skeletons in a cupboard, I imagine a greater sense of freedom in letting the demons out — one tear at a time.


Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

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