While I can guess at the reasons most men tell themselves not to cry, I am no expert on the matter. But I DO know why so very often women don’t want men to cry. Most are still taken aback by it and even turned off by it. Men know this much, and act accordingly by holding in emotions. Why do so many women feel resistant to seeing a man cry, much less comforting him? And what are the consequences of this?
In an old episode of Kojak with Telly Savalas from 1973 he is talking with a woman who wants Kojak to let the man she loves get a promotion in the police force. Kojak is dismayed by her desire to have the officer put at risk in an even more dangerous job and his dialogue goes like this:
“Somebody once, uh, asked T. E. Lawrence why men go to war. And you know what he said? He said, ‘Because the women are watching.’ ”
It is a telling statement. A compelling one. And when I came across this quote I began to wonder why so many of us as women praise men when they enter danger and don’t show tears or break down in the face of crisis and fear and terror.
Of course, there is a general human tendency to believe we all must deal somehow with whatever happens in life. This is true. But crying doesn’t prevent successful and effective action — in fact, it usually allows it to emerge, since it brings relief from intense stress that can immobilize us. If crying isn’t an option, the deep feelings inside have to surface somewhere else, and that place for men is often anger, resentment, sometimes violence, detachment, and depression — none of which help them live the creative and fulfilled lives that is their birthright.
I would suggest that oftentimes, like T. E. Lawrence said, men go to war because if they don’t, if they refuse and show fear and cry at the idea of it, just about everyone —women and men both — will condemn them and call them at best unpatriotic, and at worst, cowards. That is a heavy burden to carry and it is no surprise most men would rather die than cry in front of other human beings.
To go back to the Kojak comment — if all women asked men not to go to war, and allowed them to reveal their emotions openly— what would happen? Would our world collapse? Or would it open itself for the first time in history to peace?
But these comments are not just about how women react. Men choose what they do as individuals — nothing we do is done except by choice. We may believe we have no choice before us, but we always do. Always, no matter where we find ourselves. And most men choose to want the approval of women.
In truth, none of us can underestimate the power the approval of others continues to hold — we live our lives seeking it. It is what the human group is about — whether that is the family, a marriage, a workplace, a nonprofit, a sport, or a gathering for music. Whether it is an organization seeking to save the environment and wildlife, or the U.S. Congress wondering if they should. Whether it is an inner city gang or soldiers obeying a dictator or a group of fanatics like ISIS and Boko Haram. Whether it is a religious group or an academic one or a creative enterprise. Everyone, always, is seeking to receive approval.
It is when we do not look at the consequences of that intense desire for approval that our troubles begin, for then our true inner self, our inner will and trust and sacred being-ness, atrophies as we give our power away to outside forces, even when we least understand them.
And men have given their power away by hiding their feelings, and women have given their power away by not assuming responsibility for the burden they place on men not to cry.
Who says it has to stay that way? What is the gain if we, women and men both, stop requiring men to hold back the tears they feel, when they feel them?
I think we would find ourselves in a world of infinitely greater compassion and kindness on all sides. Yes.