Crying at Movies and Songs

Hi, my name is Mark, and I cry at movies. And songs. And other stuff, too. But especially movies. And songs.

Probably like most people, I’d sometimes feel tears well up while watching a movie. Maybe a few would escape my lower eyelid. And I’d furtively wipe them off my cheek, more often than not trying to make it look like I just had an itch. I wouldn’t want anyone to know I was crying. Even if I was alone, even when there was nobody else to know about it. I suppose that even I didn’t really want to know, didn’t want to fully admit to myself that I was crying. Maybe this might happen even more than once during a movie. And maybe under the right circumstances, I might actually admit to others that the movie really got to me.

I still do this sometimes. And it’s not just with movies. It’s happened in live theatre, too, especially some musicals. And listening to songs. Even at some concerts. More rarely, it’s happened while watching a TV show or reading or otherwise hearing a story.

But a few years ago, I found myself wanting more. This quiet and shy kind of crying was seeming more and more incomplete. Like being on a diet and desperately wanting an ice cream sundae, and letting yourself have just a tiny bite of ice cream instead, because at least you could then say you weren’t completely denying yourself while nevertheless sticking to your guns, but you almost may as well not have taken the bite, because it ends up just a tease, nowhere near satisfying on its own.

But crying, unlike ice cream, is supposed to be good for you. So why should we not want more of it? Why shouldn’t we be willing?

Because sadness isn’t okay. Vulnerability isn’t okay. Sensitivity isn’t okay. That’s what too many of us are taught. We’re led to believe they’re signs of weakness at best, or, at worst, somehow dangerous. They’re things to be ashamed of. They get in the way.

At some point, though, I couldn’t help but feel that all the other stuff that feelings were getting in the way of were, themselves, the things that were actually in the way. In the way of things I really wanted and needed. Including really feeling the things I felt.

So I started making a point of seeing movies that I thought would make me cry, letting them have their way with me. Since this began, I’ve done this more than I might care to admit. Close to 200 times in well under four years. I’d surrender myself to them. Some were movies I’d seen before, some were new to me. Many, both familiar and new, turned out not to give me what I was looking for, either no real emotional reaction or much less of one than I’d expected. But most did. Sometimes a puddle, other times an ocean. I’d cry my eyes out. Wracking, heaving sobs, as much as each movie could get out of me.

And I do the same thing with songs. I’ve got my selections that I turn to when I don’t have the time or opportunity for a movie. It’s not always as effective. There’s something about being pulled into the world of a story over the course of a couple of hours that a few minutes of music and lyrics isn’t always powerful enough to accomplish. But it often does the job. I’ve even done this with viral videos. Some really get to me. Little movies, short like a song.

I’ve so far chosen not to do any of this in front of anybody. And I’ve only told a few people about it. And this is also why, so far, it’s mainly movies and songs that it’s happened with. Private live theatre and concert performances don’t tend to come my way.

Part of me feels ashamed about the whole thing. Because of those stories we get fed, judgments against crying. Bad in general, worse for the kind of unconstrained crying I’m going out of my way to make happen.

Part of me worries that, if someone else were there, I’d simply ruin the experience. Even the most empathetic person might find me a big distraction. Dialogue would be missed, drowned out by my bawling. Sometimes I pause and rewind, to catch things that I make myself miss, or on rare occasions just to have that same cry once again right away. Who’d want to indulge that but me?

Part of me is embarrassed by just which movies and songs make me cry. With typical tearjerkers, something in me frowns on their lack of coolness, and I feel weak because they seem to play me like a fiddle. With far less obviously emotional titles, I feel ridiculous or even pathetic for crying at them.

But I love it. Not in some dysfunctional wanting-to-feel-bad kind of way. It’s a powerful experience. I feel alive, and it feels real, profound. Allowing myself to really cry when I watch these movies and listen to these songs has been good for me. I’ve had to acknowledge my sensitivity, my vulnerability. These can seem dangerous or unpleasant to many. But I think they’re making me a more compassionate, humble and healthy person.

And surely they’re deeply connected to anything artistic or creative that I do and that I want to do more and more. I used to want to be clever. Now I want to move people. And not just for the moment in a way that they can get over quickly and then just go on unchanged. I want to move people to contribute to them, to change them, in the same way that these stories and songs having been changing me through what they open up for me.

So now I’m saying it here and it can no longer be a secret. Some people may not be surprised to hear me say all this. Some may. So be it. Now everyone can know me a little bit more. And hopefully even more as time goes on. And hopefully seeing this difference between how people really may be and how they may appear can help all of us — definitely myself included — to keep ourselves open to knowing more about the people around us. Because surely we’re often missing some parts of their story that could make a big difference in who we believe them to be.

Maybe I’ll write more about this, about specific movies and songs that have had this effect on me. And maybe, just maybe, all of this can be a small step toward a world in which people can be okay with whatever they’re feeling. Can be not only willing and able but even eager to show their feelings to other people. And to witness and validate the feelings of other people. If being on one’s own while watching movies and hearing songs can give people an opportunity to take a safe first step toward that, at least it’ll be a start.

4 comments for “Crying at Movies and Songs

  1. William Craig Wasley
    September 23, 2015 at 12:49 am

    Movies, songs, and poetry are meant to evoke an emotional response, How we respond is how the subject matter relates to our moods and memories. I have shed tears while watching movies, watching the news, and singing and listening to songs. I laugh when when I see a funny movie, hear a funny song, or read something that I find humorous. I think these responses are what makes us human, and they help us empathize with our fellow humans.

    P.S. In the next life I hope to come back without the long tail and pointed ears.

  2. Jacquelyn
    December 27, 2016 at 4:55 am

    I have always been a very empathetic person, from a very young age, I find myself crying sad and even happy tears, even more so now that I have lost both my parents, both in their mid 60’s. To hold it all in is actually painful. Sometimes a good cry soothes the soul and sometimes I cry so hard I get a headache but it’s definitely an emotional release, I think it’s cool that this is written by a guy because you are right, crying is definitely seen as a weakness, especially if you are male.

    • December 28, 2016 at 10:23 am

      Thanks so much for commenting. I totally feel the same about holding feeling in being painful. I’ve read that there are “good” and “bad” tears, some tears that make you feel better to get them out, others that don’t. But it may not be possible to know which is which. I think it’s pretty great to have an attitude of getting out your feelings when you have them. I actually wrote a song about that. Multiple songs I’ve written are sort of about that 🙂 but this one in particular: http://theoffhandband.com/2008/11/let-it-out/

      I think I’m, gratefully, past the point where I worry much about masculinity vs. emotion. The two shouldn’t be seen as contradictory. No question that our culture tends to oppose them, though. And so no wonder so many people end up a bit messed up in various ways.

      Really appreciate you reaching out here, Jacquelyn.

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