"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Manly Crying Has Gone Too Far

My mother was a tough old bird, and I never saw her shed a tear.  She preferred intimidation - days of sitting alone in a darkened room and The Silent Treatment. Not talking is a great psycho-social weapon, I learned, because your partner assumes that they have done something wrong but are forced to wonder what.  The intimidator wins on all fronts.  My father would admit all kinds of derelictions, possible insults, or minor malfeasance and apologize for any sins he might have committed just to break the stony, scary silence, the banging of the dishes, and the terse, peremptory, door-slamming “I’m going out”.  Finally when my mother had decided that enough time and punishment had passed, my father was let out of the dog house.  Although my sister and I wished that my father had put his foot down and stopped her inverted histrionics before they got dark and sinister, he never did.

My father certainly never cried either, brought up as he was by a stern Italian father who, contrary to stereotypes, never blubbered about Mama and who whacked any sign of sniveling out of all his six children.

I don’t cry either, and most certainly not in any intimate relationship. As with most men, especially those of a certain age, crying is definitely a sign of weakness.  The trick is to keep your emotions hidden, keep your partner guessing and off-balance, and always present an implacable face.  Anger is fine, especially when it is used strategically.  Explosive outbursts from an ordinarily inexpressive person has ten times the value than frequent and predictable reactions.  Other than that, leave the tears to women.

And cry they do.  I have met many women in my life, and without exception there have been tears.  Some women – the more passionate, vulnerable, and theatrical – have been gushers, crying out for attention, consolation, and love.  It takes more for disciplined and less emotional women to break down, but cry they will at some point, usually out of frustrated anger.  Their tears are logical, for they are a needed outlet for a legitimate feeling of being wronged, insulted, or worse, taken for granted.  These women cry for a reason, or so they say.

The rap on men’s tears is that when and if they come they are insincere.  Nicholas Lezard writing in The Guardian (5.16.13) has joined the chorus of critics of British politician George Osborne who wept at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral:

None who saw that picture of Osborne crying at Thatcher's funeral will ever forget it, or their contemptuous reactions. His tears were interpreted not as the involuntary secretions of a man who has turned out to have a heart after all, but as the very possibly faked emotion of a man who is so twisted that he can immiserate a nation and smile about it, but still be moved to visible anguish by the merciful death of a senile woman.

A little harsh, perhaps, but one has to suspect Osborne and a raft of American politicians as well.  At least Osborne’s tears could possibly be genuine.  After all, Margaret Thatcher was quite a lady, and the leader who rescued Britain from despair and misery just like her predecessor Winston Churchill.  American politicians, on the other hand, cry in false contrition.  They are abjectly sorry for screwing another man’s wife, betraying the trust of their family, and letting down the American people.  They clearly have no intention whatsoever in reforming, becoming lap dogs, or uxorious, pussy-whipped crawlers.  These are Type AA macho men who play high-stakes poker every day and betraying their hand, especially with any hint of commitment or desire, means defeat and political penury.

Robert Caro, the biographer of Lyndon Johnson, said that Johnson was a genius at figuring out what men wanted. He was a canny observer of human nature, especially of the political animal, and rarely lost a showdown.  One of his tricks was to keep his opponent talking, for he knew that sooner or later, the opponent would show his hand.  Imagine Lyndon Johnson, the most powerful politician in the United States as Speaker of the House, crying in public. Impossible. Although few of today’s politicians have Johnson’s backbone, intelligence, and abilities, they have enough of the self-serving ambition that he had to suggest that tears are contrived.  The rules of the game for all are still to piss on your perimeter, back down any dog that has the temerity to intrude, and win at all costs.  Tears are a means to an ends, and anyone who imputes the final emergence of a more caring, feminine side to men is just whistlin’ Dixie.

Women are no fools either, and understand how to use tears to get what they want – not in public, surely, for that would mean ruin.  Women are supposed to cry because of weakness and a lack of male spine; so if they do, it is curtains for their political career. However, within the dynamics of an intimate personal relationship, women use tears very cannily.  In the ying-yang of gender roles, not only have men been conditioned not to cry, they have been equally conditioned to fall apart at a women’s tears.  How frail, we say.  How vulnerable.  How much they love and need us. We put our arms around them, give them flowers, and hope they will let us back in their beds.

Emotional lability is the order of the day. We are, rightly, discouraged from bottling things up too tightly. But let us not cheapen tears' worth. May I suggest to any men on the verge of them: make sure, when they're unleashed, that something really bad is going on.

If women really want to flummox us men and take one more step towards full gender equality, they should bottle up their tears and play ball like a man.  We would be lost. If we can make a woman cry, we have won our skirmish.  If we can make her stop, we have won the battle.  If there are no women’s tears as a marker, where would we be?  Of course, women may have no control over crying.  It could be genetic, some blip on a strand of female DNA which links emotion to the lachrymal gland; and then all bets are off.

In the end, if women played sexual politics like men, relationships would be no fun at all. There would be too many stalemates, and in the words of George Costanza, “No make up sex” at all.  Keep the tears, ladies, and keep us guessing.

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