Have you ever seen a man cry? How often?
I’ve never seen a man break down in tears. It’s a rare event. I’ve seen young boys crying, but the ability to do this seems to get bashed out of us early on. By the age of twelve or thirteen I’d learnt that crying wasn’t on. It wasn’t what the men around me or the men in films did, what my father did, or what my sporting heroes did.
I saw crying as part of a feminine world. It was something you did. Woman. I grew to believe that women were more emotional than men. Well they must be—they cry more often. Right?
On reflection I think I learnt not to be interested in the real lives of women and that somehow, in the man’s world I saw, there seemed a kind of code emerging. If I identified with women, or with my feelings too much, that I would pay a kind of societal price for this. I wouldn’t be valued or ‘succeed’ in this man’s world if I empathised with woman’s emotional life.
I’d wanted to come across as tough and manly, so my primary concern was to protect you. This was part of the ‘mask of masculinity’ I adopted and is still my instinct now. I feel a duty to take care of you physically, to ensure you come to no harm, to defend the territory around you. Lauren Jacob’s interesting blog Why Strong, Independent Women Just Want to Be Taken Care of (Sometimes) highlights this. I want to show you I’m steadfast, in for the long haul, will support you if you fall pregnant, and ride with your emotional storms. I am the first line of defence as far as your protection is concerned. I want you to feel safe and secure. You lie in my arms.
We are, of course, expected to not just carry the heavy loads, but we’re expected to be the last off the sinking ship. We’re expected to go to war purely because we have a penis. Someone invades your home? The man is the one who’s expected to fight any attackers. The man is always expected to be the first line of defence. We might be the most sensitive beings in existence, but when the chips are down, we’re still expected to “man up”. DorianHawksmoon – Guardian Blog
I’d learnt about being emotionally strong, stoic even; I’d learnt though, that to risk vulnerability by revealing feelings was ‘weak’. Yes, I do want to feel like a man in that ‘first line of defence’, avoiding the dark alley when walking you home, and also within a traditional masculine protocol – opening doors, buying flowers. These are ways I can show I want to take care of you. But asking for help? Just another weakness. That wasn’t part of the deal I struck with the masculinity I knew.
The first ‘cracks’ appeared after a relationship break up in my early forties. Until then I’d “manned up” surviving disappointment and loss beneath a mask of masculinity I’d been taught and had adopted to protect myself. After the split I was curled on the floor, wrapped in a raw, gut-wrenching struggle of being with feelings that I could no longer suppress – it was animal pain that overtook my body and it wasn’t going away.
The beginnings of tears.
That year, 2007, I learnt to cry myself to sleep. The first real tears since boyhood. They only came occasionally, but they were as old, unnamed stones being turned at last. It began a journey to a new landscape of the soul; my exterior was beginning to crack, something painfully new began to unfold.
The pain grew.
I was unable to mourn the collapse of ‘my story’. The rules binding the masculinity code I’d grown up with didn’t allow me to. I’d learned that it was weak to ask for help, that exposing my feelings risked ridicule and I’d learned that the rules of engagement in attracting the opposite sex were to be confident, strong and in control of my emotions. Like many boys, I’d learned to become disassociated from many of my feelings from a young age, and now I didn’t know how to express them.
Crying is emotional release, words the heart can’t say.. So when I had a breakdown, after patches of depression, the emotional avalanche that stormed through my body after years of keeping the lid on deeper feelings was a real roller-coaster – yet looking back now seems no surprise. As well as burn-out, it was an explosion of years of pent-up pain, and marked the beginning of a deeper journey for me into katabasis or descent, to the underworld of my hitherto unexpressed grief, loss and longing. A dying to the old self. A re-birth of the soul-path.
Grief is the first sign that we are becoming alive (Steve Biddolph)
Rose-Lynn Fisher’s beautiful personal research into the landscape of her tears struck me recently as I reflect now on the struggle with the kaleidoscope of feelings I began to bring to the surface.
“It’s amazing to me how the patterns of nature seem so similar, regardless of scale,” she says. “You can look at patterns of erosion that are etched into earth over thousands of years, and somehow they look very similar to the branched crystalline patterns of a dried tear that took less than a moment to form.”
Gradually, excruciatingly, tears squeezed from my body. These hidden branches of my emotional core, these storage boxes of feelings spanning twenty years. Fisher’s images uncover some of the strange beauty of suffering for me; reminding me of the complexity of the maps of the heart, the loneliness of faithless life and of ongoing matrices which, lying unexpressed, map out an infinite hell on earth, an ongoing misery of being less than fully human.
I revisited what I now understand as ‘major relapses’ twice again within the following two years. Two more journeys to recover Eurydice. Two more visits back to the sleepless, anxiety-ridden, ruminating madness; a completely overpowering blanket where the first few seconds of consciousness after waking are only a prelude to endless days and nights of insanity. Two more dives into the ashes. Two further opportunities to shed the grief I’d been carrying, the trapped feelings, hurts and disappointments I’d bottled up.
Although the empirical nature of tears is a chemistry of water, proteins, minerals, hormones, antibodies and enzymes, the topography of tears is a momentary landscape, transient as the fingerprint of someone in a dream. This series (of tears) is like an ephemeral atlas.
How many of these delicate tapestries lie unshed in us? These atlases of the soul, these deep, unspoken landscapes of the heart.
Now it is easier. Sometimes tears are daily. There is an inexpressable joy in the aliveness of it all. Most of the compressed pain I stored has moved through my body, each tear a transforming landmark in an opening to a new life.
A few weeks ago I was sitting at my desk planning a rehearsal for a Deep Diving Men Lab theatre project and just feeling the freedom of wetness on my cheeks is enough; tears of love and joy, tears of the impossible made possible, tears of faith, tears of gratitude.
Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields.
And thinking of the days that are no more.
(The Princess: Tears, Idle Tears – Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
Photo: Anders Ljungberg/Flickr