Sometimes you know you married the right guy.
I was in the middle of infertility treatment. It wasn’t going well; the fifth IUI (intrauterine insemination) had failed. We’d been trying for at least two years but the battle with my reluctant body continued.
We were living in Dallas. Our home had a long hall from the living room to the back den, with bedrooms off to the side. So almost from the time you entered the house, you could see clear through — front to back.
I was sitting in that den, emotionally exhausted and hormonally a mess. To soothe my aching heart, I’d purchased a humongous bag of Ruffles, my favorite comfort food. My hands were covered in grease and salt as I’d plunged them into the bag, over and over. By the time my husband had come home and was walking down that hall, I was holding the now almost empty bag upside down, shaking it, while not-so-carefully trying to guide the last little shards of chip into my open mouth.
Tears that had rolled down my face had left tracks of mascara behind. Used Kleenex were thrown on the table.
It wasn’t a pretty site.
So, my husband stopped at the door frame of the den, not quite coming in, just observing with a concerned look on his face. He glanced at the now empty bag, then back at me. Back at the bag, and then at me again.
And all he said was, “Do you want another bag?”
I, of course, burst into tears. Again. Not only did his kind acceptance of where I was mean the world to me, but there was no shaming of my behavior. No, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” or,“There’s always next time.” I was so sad. I felt helpless and hopeless, as did he. But I was the one full of fertility drugs that would’ve caused Mother Teresa herself to lose her cool.
Every now and then, you need permission to fall apart.
Many people apologize for their tears. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s come over me,” or, “I don’t know why I’m crying.”
Do we all know people who tend to cry a lot? Probably. Those folks may be clinically depressed and need treatment, or they may have developed a temperament that’s more sensitive. They cry easily and often, whenever they feel something deeply. They feel overly vulnerable, or may have been teased about their frequent show of emotion.
Other people never cry. There could be many reasons. Maybe they’ve deadened themselves to their feelings, due to abuse from their past. Maybe they have little to no empathy, avoid emotion of any kind, and live a carefully calculated life. Maybe they live their life much more engaged in mental activity than in emotional.
There are also gender-specific problems associated with tears. As children, boys who cry are often bullied — girls told that it makes them “unattractive.” Both genders can be forced into a stereotype that can become an entrenched habit.
Tears are about intensity… not weakness.
I strongly believe, as I’ve watched many people cry over the years, that tears are about intensity, not weakness.
They can be tears of compassion, tears of gratitude…
Like the tear you feel at the back of your eyes when you think of a beloved relative who has died.
Or when you hear that another school shooting has occurred.
When you get the phone call that the baby has safely arrived.
Or when the doctor gives your best friend the news that they’re in remission.
These tears are about honoring the significance and meaning of something.
Tears can reflect self-pity, yet often they express self-compassion.
So, when you look back and have compassion for the child you were, there are often tears waiting for you. Because you are, and were, important.
You can connect with that feeling. It doesn’t have to have the power to overwhelm you. You can step into it, and then step out.
Sometimes that’s a skill that people don’t have. “If I feel any of that sadness, I will never stop crying.”
It can take courage to cry…
It’s not the same kind of courage that it takes to run toward a fire instead of away from it, or rescue someone from a burning car. It’s not the kind of courage that someone with cancer shows who faces their illness head on, or a person in a wheelchair who doesn’t let that fact deter them from risking.
The kind of courage I’m talking about is the courage to be vulnerable. To be transparent. That’s the kind of courage it takes to cry.
That afternoon in my den, surrounded by used Kleenex and crumbled potato chips, I needed to cry. I needed to have compassion for myself.
When it was time to start another cycle of trying, we’d either be ready or decide to stop. But… expressing the pain of it had brought relief and clarity.
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Originally published February 6, 2016; updated and republished on Febuary 8, 2024.