We dated the Zeros… so you don’t have to.


The crying game: what you can learn from sobbing for no apparent reason


A friend of mine recently caught her husband in front of the computer in a very compromising position… No, he wasn’t looking at porn. He was crying. And the cause of his tears? He was watching the trailer for the movie Dolphin Tale. Needless to say, he was pretty mortified. He shouldn’t be too hard on himself. Who among us hasn’t, in a moment of vulnerability, gotten weepy over some schmaltzy song or movie of dubious artistic merit?

Here’s one of my most embarrassing crying stories (Unfortunately, I have plenty to chose from). It came at a time when I was at an all-time personal low; I’d moved to another city to be with a guy, and by the time that romance combusted I found that not only did I not have a relationship, I also had no money, no job, no apartment and, thanks to a side effect from taking medication intended to help me pull myself out of the resulting depression, I also had twenty extra pounds on my depressed ass. Things were not good. I’d just moved back to Los Angeles (to Claudia’s couch, to be specific) when an acquaintance from years back asked if I wanted to housesit while his band was on tour. I did. His DVR was chock-full of sports and so I was reduced to watching (gasp) live television. For some inexplicable reason, I landed on the American Idol Gives Back charity cheese-a-thon. Now, I am not a fan of American Idol. In fact, I’d previously seen a grand total of about 15 minutes of American Idol, including commercials for the show. I have always been a total music snob, and yet there I was, sitting on the couch of a relative stranger, watching American Idol Gives Back. I was being rather snarky and cynical about the whole thing (you know, by myself… ’cause that’s productive), that is until Kelly Clarkson came on and started singing ‘Up To the Mountain’. At which point I spontaneously burst into tears. Not classy, ‘slow tears running down my cheek’ crying. No. We’re talking ugly, inconsolable, snotty sobbing. And then, because it was one of those ‘automatically record as you watch’ type DVRs (and because I was in a masochistic headspace), I rewound it and WATCHED IT AGAIN. Truly and utterly pathetic. Clearly I was in a vulnerable state and needing an emotional release, but was my Kelly Clarkson-induced crying purely circumstantial? I think not. I would not have been reduced to a heaving puddle of sobs for just any schmaltzy song. It was that particular schmaltzy song.

Way back in February, I wrote about the power of the ‘good cry’, and how one’s tears can offer not only an emotional release, but also a physical release since emotional tears can secrete stress hormones. But the potential personal benefits to crying don’t stop there. I’ve also found that you can learn a lot about yourself if you analyze what makes you cry. In fact, that the more stupid the reason for the crying, the more insight you can get. Let me explain.

Each of us has a few emotional chords or themes that resonates particularly strong in us. It might be Unrequited Love, or Honorable Self-Sacrifice… these themes will differ from person to person, and though you might be moved by many things in life, most of us only have a few core emotional dynamics that get us every time. Figuring out what yours are can be a great window into your emotional landscape. People often ask actors how they make themselves cry  and the truth is, as long as you know yourself well, it isn’t very hard. Even if an actor has never gone through what the character is going through, all he or she needs to do is find a way to relate it to their emotional chords, and voila! Waterworks. What I learned from sobbing on the couch watching Kelly Clarkson sing is that there is something very specific in that song that gets me, and once I figured out what it is, I have access to emotional gold for the rest of time. Perhaps I’m the only one who likes to play armchair psychiatrist on myself, but I find this kind of thing fascinating.

Sometimes it isn’t easy to figure out your emotional chord. Often when we’re really upset, particularly by pain or trauma in our real lives, we’re unable (without the help of a shrink) to have perspective on the underlying cause. But when the cause is something totally stupid, those themes get a little easier to identify. You’ll learn way more crying watching a commercial or listening to a terrible pop song than you will if you cry watching something of quality. The only thing you’ll really learn if you cry watching Schindler’s List is that you’re not dead inside. If, however, you get weepy watching Armageddon (yup Claudia, I’m talking about you), chances are you can learn a thing or two about yourself.


3 Responses to “The crying game: what you can learn from sobbing for no apparent reason”

  1. Claudia Maittlen-Harris September 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Can I just explain that Yes, I did cry in the movie Armageddon (yes, the stupid, Michael Bay movie), and yes, I was mortified that it could make me cry. It was the scene when Bruce Willis is on the screen saying goodbye to his daughter, Liv Tyler, and he was going to save the planet by sacrificing himself. (even writing it sounds stupid) I was shocked and mad as tears rolled down my face at a Michael Bay movie. I just couldn’t help it.

  2. September 22, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    In the last decade I’ve cried only twice: a close friend’s accidental death last year and the 2001 NCAA basketball tournament. However, it does get pretty ‘dusty’ in my apartment when I watch the fat kids beat the jocks at the end of ‘Heavyweights.’

    • Megan Gray September 22, 2011 at 12:40 pm

      Damn that dust!

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