Hands up if you’ve cried this summer. Hands up if you’ve been moved to tears by other people crying. Hands up if your pride caused you to tweet about your tears.
If you’ve currently got three hands up, then congratulations on being the next stage of human evolution. If you merely put one of your hands up three times, then congratulations on being part of a different kind of evolution: that of the British male transforming from warrior to weeper.
Never before has this country, with its stiff upper lips, stoic chins and unflappable ears, seen such public outpourings (literally) of male sentiment. Our heroes are no longer the barren-eyed icemen of old such as Humphrey Bogart, Steve McQueen or Bobby Moore. They’re not even playboy Ian Botham types. They’re emotionally open criers such as Barack Obama and Andy Murray. Ask yourself, what endeared you to Murray more: his US Open win or his Wimbledon wail?
Not only do we admire these men, but we also want to be like them, as the Olympics demonstrated. We loved it when an athlete broke down in joy or sorrow. We also felt the need to join in. Conversations on social media, public transport and office lunch breaks resembled the ‘my dad’s bigger than your dad’ debates of old, but with men trying to outdo each other in the crying stakes. If one had wept along with Chris Hoy, the next had sobbed and the next bawled,
until one would claim he’d cried every drop of moisture from his body and turned into a pile of dust. The question is: why?
“It’s become sanctioned,” says Dr Peter Martin of the British Psychological Society. “There’s an acceptance from other men. You can go back to Gazza crying in the 1990 World Cup. He was one of the first popular heroes to cry
in public. I don’t remember much condemnation of that. To change things, heroes needed to cry.”
And, boy, have they been crying. Gazza’s tears may be the most famous in sport, but since he opened the floodgates, football pitches have begun to resemble salty paddy fields. The causes and justifiability vary, though. The terrified players surrounding a seemingly lifeless Fabrice Muamba had every right to cry. Roger Federer’s tears after he won his first Wimbledon were fine, too. Cristiano Ronaldo’s little-boy-scolded face when he doesn’t get a throw-in? No. But there may just be a childish reason for this behaviour.
“Research indicates that there’s more crying across the world and it has nothing to do with distress,” says Dr Raj Persaud, consultant psychologist working privately in Harley Street. “It has more to do with expressivity. Where people express themselves more, there tends to be more crying. There has definitely been a rise in expressivity in our culture.
“It goes back to childhood. Thirty years ago children were seen and not heard. Nowadays, children are encouraged to express themselves.”
And it’s not just sport that’s gone all soggy. Prominent cultural figures have turned their tear ducts to 11. Blur bassist Alex James tweeted that he’d cried, not during their Closing Ceremony gig, but during the sound check. James Corden, that lovable bloke’s bloke, wept like Gwyneth Paltrow when he picked up his Tony Award.
Even scripted crying is on the rise. Bogey and McQueen’s characters would have needed vinegar squirted in their eyes to stimulate anything close to lacrimation, while witnessing Rambo collapse to the floor and sob “I wanna go home, Johnny” in First Blood was as excruciating as watching a sex scene with your parents. When George Lazenby’s James Bond cried at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, well, we all know what happened to Lazenby’s James Bond.
Fast-forward to the 21st century and tears are standard issue for an action hero. The otherwise bombproof Jack Bauer often turned on the waterworks in 24, and even Daniel Craig’s bruising Bond cried in Casino Royale.
The truth is that they cry because we increasingly admire men who show emotion. Hence politicians blinking them back to show their softer side and, as Tiger Woods’ post-adultery press conference showed, no apology is complete without tears of regret. It’s not for us to say how genuine these tears are, but if anyone’s thinking of making like a crocodile, be warned.
“Crying isn’t a new mood,” says Dr Martin. “Jesus cried, Churchill famously cried. The key is that the tears have to be real. Crying without good reason can lead to a loss of trust.”
“Murray crying at Wimbledon demonstrates that if you cry and it attracts social support, then it’s a good thing,” adds Persaud. “But if you cry in an environment where it doesn’t attract social support, it’s not. There are two things happening here: the effect that crying’s having on other people and whether it’s fixing us internally. And the evidence is crying is often overrated.”
If crying was for our own benefit, it’d be confined to garden sheds, Babylon 5 conventions and other isolated places. But we’re not content with that. We have to tell anyone who will listen about the liquid pouring down our faces, as you can see from social media sites during any moving televised events.
So what has happened to us? This wasn’t the attitude that built an empire. How long before crying is on CVs, with people listing their interests as ‘going to the cinema, amateur photography and emotional transparency’?
“Cynics would say it’s about getting attention,” says Dr Martin. “If you tweet ‘I’m sitting here in tears’, that’s going to get attention, especially if it’s written by a man.
“I also see it as a result of feminism. There continues to be a need for feminine approval, and one complaint about the feminism of the Eighties and Nineties is that it made men think they must show a feminine side.”
So, basically, it comes down to impressing girls. But is it what women want? Traditionally, they have to put up with crying kids, crying friends and crying themselves. Then you’ve got all the crying on television. If they tune in to The Secret Millionaire for a weep, how will they feel if their man is sobbing uncontrollably?
“We should never discourage men from being emotional and sensitive,” says comedian Lucy Porter, “but these days, people cry, are comforted, then cry more because they’re getting a reaction, like children. It’s in danger of becoming a competitive sport. I’ve experienced it with my friends becoming dads. Even though they don’t have the pregnancy hormones, they join in with all the emotion and they’re going, ‘I cried at the birth, I wept profusely as I cut the umbilical cord.’ It’s like a badge of honour.
“Crying doesn’t make anyone more attractive. I mean, my dad used to say goodnight with a firm handshake, so I’m happy my husband can tell the children he loves them and have a weep every now and then, but if he sat in the kitchen every night doing it…”
It’s all about balance. Showing emotion is healthy; bottling it up can lead to physical and mental catastrophes. And it’s OK to cry for genuine reasons as it shows emotional intelligence. But we must maintain dignity. To put it in film terms, it’s fine for Brad Pitt to cry at the end of Seven when he sees what’s in the box, but Tom Hanks crying over the end of The Dirty Dozen in Sleepless In Seattle, then tweeting about it, is not acceptable. What’s required is a happy medium.
Or, of course, an unhappy one.