Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Boys and big girls don't cry

I was sitting at my habitual spot at my favorite cafe earlier today, getting lost in words and listening to the perfect Billie Holiday; it was business as usual, this time pretty content with what I was creating when all of sudden, I had to make a face. Naturally, my third coffee of the day had gone cold. As I looked up to search for the waiter, I caught sight of the couple next to me, more precisely, I was lured by how this man embraced his partner who could not, at all, hold back her tears. Quite honestly, I wondered at which point people started to crowd the empty cafe I came into for I had definitely failed to notice how long this couple had been sitting next to me. I did not want to pry; but I could not help but hand her a clean tissue from my purse when I saw hers completely wet and curled up. Trying to force a little yet genuine smile, she thanked me politely and I put on back my earphones to give them -- even if it were just a sensation of privacy. They stayed for a while; my gaze and neighboring ones wandered to their table now and then, letting our curiosity be bigger than it should be. I dived back into work as best I could until, as I had missed them coming in, I did not mind their leaving either. In the end, I went home hoping that her tears, whatever the reason behind it, would dry quickly. 

Truth be told, I always thought it was uncalled for to cry in public. Not because you draw attention to yourself, though you inevitably will. Not because it is a sad sight, though it may appear to be one. And absolutely not because I have never done it -- because I have, too many times to count; and for this reason, I know exactly how it feels to be that woman crying in front of an unsolicited audience... and it makes me uneasy. Sure, we never know at which moment -- more exactly, which place -- those tears can burst out because a lot of times, discussions or feelings take that direction that was not planned. It is not so much that strangers get to see you at a most vulnerable state that is uncomfortable; but having people in the midst instead of letting your guard down behind closed doors has certainly a way to make a burden more real, if it were not already the case beforehand. No more hiding. No more pretending. And for a second, you are exposed. And that is a frightening state to be in. I never truly cared about what people thought; but when I did, as when such an episode occurred for instance, a sense of frustration completely took over. Then, I apologized for my tears, whatever the reason behind it, I always apologized: to my friend I was crying to, to my ex-boyfriend whom I gave my heart to, to a family member who tried to elevate my pain -- and although not necessarily directly, I felt apologetic towards strangers I will never meet again. As a matter of fact, I realize now that I feel awful each time -- whether there are witnesses or not. Ultimately, I reckon my apologies are to my not-so-strong self, foolish enough to let even one tear out. However, after the bittersweet incident of earlier today, I could not help but reevaluate -- why, actually? Today, I felt her pain. Today, I saw truth in those tears. And there was no shame. Not an ounce of it. In fact, it was even quite beautiful -- and refreshing -- to be so honest in such a public place. And like her partner consoling her today, like loved-ones consoling me when there was the need and like I have also consoled a few, all the time, we insist there is nothing to apologize for. The uncanny thing is, now looking back at those couple of occasions I was in her position, it is true that the many unknown faces still provided that pseudo-privacy that I deeply appreciated and in the best case, some even became sincerely empathic. As if strangers could suddenly be that friend, that boyfriend or that family member that understands your fragile state. Fact is, they do. Even then, why is there still a stigma about shedding tears? 

Reality is, we live in a world today where we are constantly forced to exhibit strength, even superhuman strength -- at work, at home, at social events, at the fitness studio, in relationships, in bed, in friendships, in meeting new ones -- truthfully, basically in every aspect of our lives. Like we wish for and cherish rock-hard abs, we care immensely for a rock-hard mental state where absolutely nothing can break us. We are creatures who feed on improvement and success so we are expected to have it together... And if we happen not to, we have to get it together fast. The pressure to excel is so prominent that there seems not to be neither time nor space for anything else. Nowadays, people even turn to social media to lay bare exactly how much of a strong - or weak -- person they are. How many of us receive daily reminders of how fierce we have to be? Even more so, how many of us condemn the random sob stories we pick up on our news feed - because we get the impression that they do not belong in the public eye? Of course there is a difference between exposing and overexposing your life story (which we can obviously do so easily in this day and age); but fact of the matter is that it stretches to the opposite extreme as well: the strain of perpetually being at the top of our game has become too overwhelming that we learn not to show anything at all. More importantly, we feel ashamed because any sign of weakness is, well, a weakness. It overshadows our abilities, crushes our ego, questions who we are. After, we fight never to reveal it - sadly, not even to our loved-ones, family or friends oftentimes. Is there really such a pressure in this society that we perceive moments and feelings of despair as failures? Perhaps it is Darwinism imbibed in our system that makes us tick this way but when we carefully think about it, it is a sad thought to believe we bask in this world where what also makes us human is literally, frowned upon. So we learn to hide, we learn to pretend, we fake it til we make it. 

The peculiar thing is, when we get to witness weakness right before our eyes like I did today, there is something quite sincere, utterly authentic... and incredibly beautiful about it. Tears do not lie; neither should we when we feel restless. We are so hard on ourselves when we ought not to be, even better, we should cut ourselves some serious slack. In a world where (over)confidence is praised, still, we do not always have to have it together. Many times, and many times over, we will not even have it together for quite a while. And it is perfectly fine to let that guard down -- especially when our inner circle or any other person gets to see that we have to shed a tear or a few. Crying does not belong behind closed doors nor does it belong in public places, it just belongs to all of us -- and we should not apologize for any reason. The right people, even strangers, will undertand and support. A strong state of mind will be rewarded, of course, but catering to the boy and girl suffering inside of us is an even more magnificent sign of inner strength. In the end, we are still strong, we are always confident -- no matter what is happening (or not) in our lives; but we should also allow ourselves to be human: mere beings who have to figure things out, who require (un)solicited help and advice or who will break down at some point in life. Nevertheless, if we are lucky enough, we do not have to go through it alone. 

Earlier this week at the American Music Awards, singer Selena Gomez delivered a powerful speech about her struggle with mental health issues. I was amazed -- not only because she was open about it; but because she showed such strength exposing that weaker side -- and there was not an ounce of shame, more than anything, it is exactly because of such honesty that makes her the powerful singer fans all love. Once more, this statement does not weigh down her confidence in any way; if anything, I even gained more respect for her after this sweet confession. She proved to be  a stunning package, broken times included indeed. And the same goes for all of us.