For the majority of my twenties, I didn’t cry in front of a woman once. I was terrified to. I had taken on the conditioned message that ‘boys don’t cry’ and a belief that told me that women felt repulsed by men who felt their feelings. These years of emotional constipation turned me into a suppressed, irritable shell of a person. After several years of actively suppressing my feelings, a particularly traumatic year washed over me and I began to crack open. Over the last few years, I have made friends with the full spectrum of my emotional self and accepted it all once more.
My sadness and I are now good friends. So are me and my anger, grief, and joy. In fact, all of my emotions are all welcome at my proverbial ‘dinner table’…and I couldn’t be happier about it. Why? Because we can’t selectively numb our feelings. If we put a lid on our sadness or grief, then we also put a ceiling on our ability to feel joy.
To continue to heal my perception of how women interact with male emotionality, I decided to ask some of my most eloquent, wise friends, colleagues, and family members how they felt when their male partners cried in front of them.
The exact question I asked them was, “How do you feel when your partner cries in front of you?”
This is how they responded…
“When a man cries in front of me, be it my partner or not, I receive it as a huge honour. He is showing me that not only does he trust me with his heart, but that he also trusts in himself, as a man, to show his emotions. Men who break free of their conditioning to not cry are the furthest thing from weak. They are courageous.
I believe crying is a doorway to intimacy. Once it is open, the other person can walk in and see who we really are–a perfectly messy and beautiful expression of human love.
Besides, sadness–like happiness and every other emotion–is, purely, energy that needs to move. It’s not something to be ashamed of nor is it something we need to hide!
Men who lead with vulnerability are an example to others that it’s safe to do the same. At the end of the day, we all want to feel seen, heard, understood, and loved for all that we are. What a gift.”
– Heather Pennell
“Having been raised in a society where I have been taught from a young age that simply: girls cry, and boys don’t. At first, I haven’t quite known how to be there for him in those moments. It’s heartbreaking. I have always felt deeply and had big emotions, which I have definitely sub-consciously associated with being a woman. To see my partner break down and cry has always been a reminder that he feels just as deep as I do. He just maybe hasn’t been encouraged to access those parts of himself that he has repressed, because of messages he received growing up.
My wish is to hold space for him, in the best way that I know how. To show my partner it is safe for him to express the depths of his sadness when it needs to come up. In no way does he appear ‘less of a man’ or ‘weak’ to me. The idea that that is what can be associated with men, who express their emotions, makes me sad and frustrated because I believe it to be the exact opposite. I only see strength and bravery.”
– Alissa H.
“Compassion. Beauty. Love. An almost instant removal of all story (past, present, future)…an instant removal of any barriers or blockages I had been holding over my heart… an instant removal of talking or needing to prove or judging… and a loving softening into a depth of presence and the motherly love archetype inside of myself. It draws me to the now moment, where all we have is our two beating hearts…together. I feel closer to him, I feel safe…knowing he’s really with himself and his heart, and I feel even more feminine, able to hold that space and nurture.
I think there’s a fear that men carry that if they show tears, they show weakness from their masculine. But tears are a release of built-up energy…they are a surrender…a let go…a death…and there is massive (very androgynous) power in that. As a woman, who naturally holds myself when I cry… and often, I find great service and pleasure in giving that level of resonant love and nourishment to my man.”
“The more comfortable I become with my own tears, my own vulnerabilities, and my own displays of emotion… the more comfortable I become with seeing everybody else display those things, no matter who they are.”
“There was a point in my life when I would have said seeing men cry did make me uncomfortable. I didn’t like seeing men cry in movies, and I especially didn’t like seeing my dad cry.
At the time, I was also extremely uncomfortable with displaying my own emotions. From the ages of 9-12, I was on a boys’ soccer team and largely socialized with boys. I constantly was trying to prove I was just as tough as them, just as cool as them, and I used to sit there and pinch myself to keep from crying. From then all the way through high school, I valued my male friendships much more than I did my female ones. It took trauma plus a friendship with a very emotional roommate to make me start to become more comfortable with my own emotions.
I think I had (and still have, in some ways) a lot of internalized sexism, and I emasculated men pretty often. However, I think it’s important to note that even with all of these things, there was still never a point when seeing my partner cry made me uncomfortable.
Years ago, before I had ever really thought about any of these things, I broke up with my boyfriend and he completely broke down in tears. Like, a sobbing, inconsolable, snotty mess. And all I wanted to do, instinctively, was pull him toward me, lay his head on my chest, and tell him everything was going to be okay.
I think that the difference for me was that I loved my partner so much that I wanted him to feel safe with me. I didn’t want to see him hurt, and I wanted to make him feel better. I didn’t, at that time, have that love for men in general. So, I think the “rules of society” applied to men in my head, but went right out the window when it came to my partner. I think this distinction is interesting, just because I think it makes it more obvious that it’s a learned behavior, and also because it makes it more likely that most women probably feel this way.
Over time, I’ve noticed the more comfortable I become with my own tears, my own vulnerabilities, and my own displays of emotion, the more comfortable I become with seeing everybody else display those things, no matter who they are. I’ve seen grown men crying in public, and it makes me want to run over to them and give them a hug. I don’t hold back my emotions, anymore, and I don’t want anyone else to do so, either.
I also think that if a woman is uncomfortable with you crying, that’s probably a good indicator that she is someone you don’t need to be with. Because you cannot fully express yourself to her.
Today, having my partner cry/show vulnerability to me makes me feel like I love him even more. Crying is therapeutic. It’s a good thing. Not that I want my partner to cry… but I kind of want him to cry.”
“I believe there is no shame in crying, but society has led many men to suppress their tears, in fear of appearing weak. That’s unfortunate because I often find it endearing when men cry. There have been many times during our 37-year marriage when my husband has cried in front of me.
Sometimes his tears are in response to a happy life event, maybe a proud moment in the life of a loved one, or it could be over sadness or fear about a health concern, his own or someone else’s.
He is just as likely to shed tears over an emotional scene in a TV show or movie, which to me shows great empathy.
My husband has always been compassionate and comforting when I have cried, and I love that he trusts me to be the strong one for him when he needs support. It shows that he is comfortable in his masculinity and that he trusts in our relationship enough to be vulnerable.”
– Jane G.
“A letter to my partner,
When you cry my heart cracks open. I soften to the vulnerability that fills the room. It’s beautiful to both be witness to a powerful display of true masculinity and be given the growth opportunity of learning how to love and support you better when your heart hurts. I believe that in order to fully show up in the world you must know and trust all facets of yourself within the human experience. When you cry, I trust my heart with you. When you cry, I trust my love with you. I trust that you will be honest with me about how you are feeling and in your capacity to love me with your whole heart. I trust that this is raw and real and deep in all the ways partnership needs to be. When you cry I melt and strengthen at once, and the space I create to hold you is created for a king.”
“When I’m in the presence of a man who drops into his vulnerability and allows me to witness his emotional expression, my immediate thought is “Wow, this guy is brave, he’s a true leader and I am honoured to be in the presence of such honesty.” For me, I see men’s expression of vulnerability as strength. I immediately feel safer in their presence, because I know on some level a man who’s in touch with his emotional inner landscape, who is strong enough to be witnessed in it, and aware enough to powerfully and respectfully express his inner world, is a man I can trust with the expression of my heart.
In other words, men like this often have the skills, emotional attunement, and respect to hold the truth of my vulnerable expression because it’s terrain he’s already explored within himself. I consider men who are responsive to their emotions as more trustworthy (as long as it’s authentic and not being used as a tool for manipulation–which can sometimes be the case–and as a woman connected to my intuition I can feel the difference immediately). As a woman, to hold that very sacred space for a man is something I cherish. The men in my life who have blessed me with the gift of seeing them fully, I can full-heartedly say I have the deepest respect and adoration for.”
“Context is everything, but generally speaking I recognize that most men grow up with the cultural conditioning that tells them, “Boys don’t cry.” So, if my man chose to come to me for emotional support (alongside his community and any professionals he’s seeing), then I would feel deeply honoured to be in the presence of his growth… and a man doing his inner work is sexy AF.
It takes fucking courage to challenge our conditioning. As a social species, we all have core needs for love, safety, and belonging. Think back to ancient times; we wouldn’t last long without our tribe. That’s still imprinted in our nervous system, today. So, when we choose to go against our early programming, our bodies often react in a way that feels like facing the fear of death if we’re rejected or ostracized, especially by those we love! It can be intense.
So how could I not see the strength and courage in his tears? It becomes an opportunity for me to embody compassion, not shame his humanity. In his vulnerability, I can feel his heart.
It can also be deep in my feminine nature to want to caretake and soothe, but I’ve found that simply holding space is all that is needed (similar to how I want to be treated when I’m feeling emotional). I do my best to recognize it’s not my job to fix him, save him, or mother him till he feels “better”. Because nothing is actually wrong with his tears. He’s just moving energy through his body as humans naturally do and it will pass. He’s strong and empowered enough to feel it. All that’s required of me is to witness him from a state of acceptance, safety, and love, which is how the actual healing occurs. And what a gift it is to be able to provide that space for each other when needed.”
Stay tuned for “How Women Actually Feel When Men Cry – Part II” to be published later tonight at 6:30 PM EST.
Join the Sex, Love Etc. FACEBOOK GROUP here.
Photo credit: elenaleonova @ iStock by Getty Images