You Can't Control Tears

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

This reader makes the most important distinction, I think, in the debate over crying at work:

I really appreciate these curated conversations, thank you. To the woman who said:

I really despise seeing [crying] at work. Unless something just absolutely devastating happened personally (then go home and take care of it), then NO.

I say, you are without understanding and I will restrain myself from using stronger language to describe your unkind attitude. Crying for some is a completely involuntary reaction to stress. Whenever it happened to me, I HATED that I was crying and was FURIOUS with myself for the tears welling out of my eyes. My rational mind was completely divorced from the physical reaction and trying to hide it and re-gain control of my tear ducts as fast as possible, all the while trying to assure anyone around that I really am not as upset as I appear and simply cannot help it for the moment.

One of the few benefits of aging and menopause is that I no longer tear up as readily as in the past, so I presume hormones have something to do with it. But it should NOT be automatically assumed that it is always a measure of distress or a ploy for sympathy.

However, there’s surely a distinction between welling up and sobbing; the former is involuntary and the latter is much less so—except, perhaps, when it comes to Smiley the Blind Therapy Dog or Lil’ Brudder: