Written by Ashley Davies

Voices

Bawling in the streets

Ashley Davies would rather be coated in hot vomit than cry in public, but sometimes, she explains, her tear ducts don’t give her a choice in the matter.

crying lady illustration

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

I once cried from Clerkenwell to Clapham, in front of about a thousand witnesses during a 45-minute rush-hour journey. The tears had actually started several hours earlier, when a pathetically gentle reprimand from my editor at the time was the kitten sneeze that sent an unrelated house of cards tumbling. My poor, kind boss had affectionately called me a “silly sausage” about something minor I’d forgotten to do and – boom – boiling, salty despair water started shooting out of my horrified eyes. Many, many years later, I still burn with shame at the memory.

At first I’d taken the tears to the loo because, like most people, I would rather be coated in vomit than be seen crying in public, but this particular weeping fit turned into such an unstoppable torrent that, like a Justin Bieber sighting in a Claire’s Accessories, keeping it private simply wasn’t an option.

There are many valid reasons we try to fight the onset of tears at work – and in public generally. I think we’re more prone to the sob when we have most at stake; when we’re trying to carve out a career, make a name for ourselves and impress people who terrify us. We get ourselves so tightly wound up about being appreciated for our skills, effort and potential in an increasingly competitive environment that we fear the slightest sign of weakness will mark us out as losers.

“Is there any phrase more likely to make you want to peel someone’s face off than ‘and then she turned on the waterworks’?”

The cruel irony is that we’re most prone to breaking down when we most need to keep it together. A woman only has to cry once at work for a certain type of person (not always blokes, but, yeah, quite often blokes) to think she can’t hack it or worse – much, much worse – to suspect that she’s doing it on purpose. Is there any phrase more likely to make you want to peel someone’s face off than “and then she turned on the waterworks”? Like you WANT to be seen like this in public? Oh, come ON.

People who never cry find it impossible to understand why some people can’t control their tears; much as I find it impossible to understand why some people can’t control their tempers or their nasal hair.

Keeping your shit together is tightly associated with a degree of vanity too; very few of us look better during or after a cry. A long time ago I worked with a woman, now a high-profile TV news person, who was the prettiest darn crier in the northern hemisphere. Honestly, in a different age she could have been a circus attraction, it was that beguiling. A sparkling Disney tear – a tear enchanting enough to heal the sick – would swell in a clear, blue eye and come sploshing out sweetly on her silky cheekbone. Enchanting.

Not me, though: my face gets blotchy and hot and my eyes swell up like those of a person who should be wearing a MedicAlert bracelet. Passing mothers anxiously draw their fascinated children closer, dogs howl and holy men cross the street.

The problem is, if your circumstances and hormones combine to insist on a bumper blub, that cry, once it has started, won’t finish until it’s good and ready. Being anywhere near a mirror in the office loo while you’re trying to wise up and dry up is a bad idea because your tragic face is staring back at you, saying: “Come on, mate. We’re just warming up. Let’s try a spot of hyperventilating next, shall we?”

“My face gets blotchy and hot and my eyes swell up like those of a person who should be wearing a MedicAlert bracelet. Passing mothers anxiously draw their fascinated children closer, dogs howl and holy men cross the street.”

So on the day of my big office cry, I’d been in the bogs for about an hour, trying to suppress the embarrassing sobs. Just when I thought the end was in sight, a friend came in to offer support. Big mistake: in these circumstances a kind word can serve only to reboot your distress. (By the way, I’ve never understood why so many women think a support group is required when someone’s crying or being sick – turning the indignity into a mini festival only compounds things.) But she returned with some comedy extreme sport sunglasses in a bid to help me ‘discreetly’ hide my torment in an open-plan office. Laughter replaced weeping, at least until I left the office and began my shameful commute.

Perhaps if all this had happened in Tokyo I could have gone to the Mitsui Garden Yotsuya hotel, which now has ‘crying rooms’ designed specifically for women who need to weep in private. The equivalent of porn they supply includes tear-jerking DVDs and manga (yup, that’s a thing), as well as super-soft tissues, warm sheets and soothing face masks.

Maybe that’s the answer: to induce tears when you’re in a controlled, managed environment, so they’re less likely to bite you on the rump when you’re trying to pretend to be a grown-up.

@MsAshleyDavies

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Written by Ashley Davies

Ashley Davies is an Edinburgh-based writer and editor and the human behind animal satire website thelabreport.co.uk.