What Makes You Cry?

I don’t cry, not the boo-hoo kind of weeping, I’m more of a Mr. Spock when it comes to emotions.  But I do get misty-eyed from time to time, and as I’ve gotten older, those wet eyed moments come more often.  What makes us cry?  And obviously, we all cry for different reasons.  Yesterday my friend Mike sent me a video, “Bittersweet Melodies” by Feist, that choked me up.  If I wore mascara it would have run.  It had gotten to Mike too.  I forwarded the link to some of my friends and to the online book clubs I’m in.  So far I’ve heard from about fifteen women and a handful of men.  Men get choked up.  Women think its nice, clever, but no tears.  I’m waiting for more responses, but so far it’s quite gender specific.

Like I said, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe that everyone has different buttons to push to turn on the waterworks.  But of my  small sample, it seems the Feist video worked with men but not women.  So here’s an experiment, watch this video and let me know how you reacted.  Do you think it’s just clever, or does it choke you up?

[The original photographs used in the video can be found here and here.]

Before and after pictures of people getting older is a definite emotional button for me, but understanding why, is harder to explain.  The wistful Feist song does create an emotional mood, but it’s the photographs that poke me in the heart.  Why?  Well a couple of anecdotes might help.

When I was a little fella, I remember this time I had to get a shot.  I was in a full blown bawling meltdown and the doctor and my mom were trying to get me to cooperate and get punctured.  I remember the doctor patiently waiting for me to settle down. 

When I had calmed down a bit he said, “You don’t have to cry.”

I don’t think I said anything, but I was thinking, “Huh?”

He again said, “You don’t have to cry.”  He had gotten my attention.  Then he came closer and whispered, “You can choose not to cry.”

I thought about it for a moment, turned off the faucets in my eyeballs and let him give me the shot.  I was amazed I didn’t have to cry.  I remember consciously choosing not to cry the next time my mother switched me, and when my dad gave me the belt.  I then learned not crying enraged my parents who would switch and belt harder because of my lack of reaction.  Not crying had a kind of empowerment.  I went with it.

Babies cry, I believe, because they have no other outlets for communicating their needs.  I think as adults we cry when we have no other ways to express what we feel.  Most of the time we do, so we don’t cry.

The other anecdote from childhood that is useful for this topic is about separation.  To kinds of separate.  As a kid my family moved around a lot.  A whole lot.  I’d always make a best friend wherever we moved, but ultimately, that friendship would be torn apart, just something beyond my control.  Starting at an early age, looking back and thinking of lost friends always choked me up.  I think that’s why most people cling to the idea of heaven – they can’t bear that they will never see some people again.  That’s why death tears us up, we can’t communicate our feelings of loss and separation.

When I was very little, I woke up in the middle of the night and went out to the living room where my dad was watching all-night movies.  He let me stay up and I watched a film about two kids being separated when one family moved away, then they were reunited during WWII, in the Pacific.  I was too young to understand this, I just felt it.  That film burned into the core of mind, at the bottom of all my memories.  Years later I caught it again, when I was old enough to remember its name, High Barbaree, and the actors, Van Johnson and June Allyson.  Eventually I learned that it was based on a book by the same name, written by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, the writers of The Mutiny on the Bounty.  The story was about the last memories of a dying man, but of course, in the Hollywood version, he’s rescued from death.  His dying thoughts were about his childhood and teen years.  I think men feel separated from their young selves, in a way that women don’t.  I know there are no hard and fast gender generalities, but this one sort of works.

The key to my deepest emotional buttons are encrypted in that movie and book.  Events in that story resonate at the core of my being.  And that reveals probably my most powerful emotional button, the desire to return to childhood.  We can return home, to the physical location where we grew up, but we can’t return to the state of mind when we called it home.  I wonder if my lady friends didn’t respond to the Feist video because they don’t have that urge to return to childhood.  Women want to be young again in body, but guys want to be young again in mind.

I’ve read there are two kinds of people, those that would pay anything to relive their adolescence, and those who would pay anything to erase the memories of those same years.

“Bittersweet Melodies” is incredibly wistful to me.  When I really like a person I want to see photos of when they were kids.  I want to know what they did when they were kids, and where they lived.  Sometimes I think our true souls are the ones we had at age twelve.

JWH – 6/17/13

8 thoughts on “What Makes You Cry?”

  1. This may add to the conversation: I have heard this many times from women I know, that they don’t feel old at all. They still feel, inside where it counts, that they are 16, 17, or even 18. Sixteen seems to be a standard when I have this discussion. I know I’m shocked when I look in the mirror and see this stranger. I always think about that scene in “Hook” where the little boy mashes Peter’s (Robin Williams) face around until he finally says, “There you are, Peter!” That youngster is still inside. Males and females are both human, so I imagine we have that same type of feeling, even if the childhood wasn’t too great.

  2. Oh, I forgot to comment on the video! I was very curious about the making of the video, all the logistics involved in recreating each pose. I was not moved to choke up or tear up, at all.

  3. I’m glad you did this and even though the results are from a small sample it is very interesting. Going on your results and interpretations of them I’m not surprised that my reactions were more in line with the women than the men. I’ve never been on of those guys who feel out of touch with their younger self. I’ve carried my younger self right with me into adulthood and feel very close to that guy, I think in large part because I’ve always felt more self-defined by my interests than career or other things that I didn’t have as a child. Though my interests have grown and in some ways matured, I’ve carried forward my interests from childhood as well.

    I do tend to get choked up easily and always had. Any good story (and by “good” I mean one that touches me emotionally) will set the tears flowing. I can’t tell you how many episodes of Doctor Who that have set me off. Firefly can do the same thing as can many British shows including various episodes of The Vicar of Dibley, of all things.

    Books are the same way. It might be the story itself or it might simply be reconnecting with a story I liked as a child that brings with it an emotional connection.

    1. I like that word, reconnecting. I like to reconnect to the past. Or to books I once read, or old movies I loved.

      As I got more responses I realized there was no gender connection. Or if there is, it’s very slight.

      1. Someone on the book club site mentioned not paying much attention to the music and I thought it was an interesting mark because as I looked back I realized that as much as I like Feist, I was only barely aware of the music because I was so fascinated by the creativity behind the project. Music generally is one of those things that can easily play on my emotions and I imagine had it been a less clever/creative project and something that would have allowed me to be more in tune with the music I might have had a different response.

        I like “reconnecting”. It is always a different experience, you cannot truly relive the past, but then I’m not sure I’m trying to do that so much as to experience a connection that I have experienced previously. I use the “off to visit old friends” phrase but it really does feel like that in some respects.

  4. I wish I could join the gang of guys saying that the video was emotional, but I don’t feel that way…. the video gave me a “passing of time” feeling but I don’t know these people in the photos so no emotional response… I’m one of those people that feels my actual age inside, not younger, and sometimes I feel older inside than I look.

    1. My sample size was too small. Even now its only about 30 people, maybe 20 women and 10 men. The first four guys to respond were all softies I guess, which threw me onto the wrong trail.

  5. I like that idea, that our true selves are the ones we had at twelve. I like to think of us as sort of Russian dolls, with each layer of self on top of the one below, from birth to death.

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