I have witnessed, and experienced, a few common traits among Real Women who have reached a certain level of maturity. (Notice I didn’t say advanced age.) There is a strength, resilience and calmness under pressure that develops over time. If a family member or friend becomes ill or injured, we slide into being Emergency Caregiver and become a Nurse or social worker. If there is a high-stress blow-up at work, we go into Crisis Management mode. We grin and bear it through our own aches and pains and injuries. We juggle an absurd amount of things on very little sleep without dropping anything. If we are wronged or insulted, rather than curling into a ball, we become tough chicks and start singing Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter”. Yup – we are level-headed, strong, and up to the challenge.
And yet (you knew there’d be a “but”) I have discovered an interesting paradox. For as strong as we are, there are equal yet adverse reactions to other experiences in our lives. We get weepy over news stories of troops away from home, cry while watching a romantic scene in a movie, or tear up while listening to a sad song on the radio. At times something as simple as a long-distance phone commercial can get some of us going. And if a story has anything to do with puppies or children, “fahgettaboudit”.
It amuses me to think about how I can put in a 9-hour work day beating deadlines and putting out metaphoric fires, deal with issues related to my brother’s stay in the hospital, soothe my son’s anguish over a clutsy tween injury, listen to my husband’s work stresses, sail through the day’s chores – then end up sobbing over an episode of Parenthood. What the heck?! My husband actually now considers it a bit of a game – if we are watching something together that may include a moment that could get to me, he smirks and asks “need a tissue yet?”
I used to be embarrassed by, and hide, my whimpers and sniffles over sometimes goofy or imaginary experiences. Yet as I’ve aged, and they have apparently become more frequent, I have accepted those moments as part of who I am, occasionally laugh at myself for it, and keep tissues nearby.
Why does this paradox happen? Certainly there are other Real Women out there who seem to be able to keep their composure better than I can, or seem to be less affected by certain emotional situations. But I’ve seen even the “toughest” women get weepy over seemingly simple moments. How is it we can get increasingly strong and calm in the face of crisis as we mature, but then lose it over something more trivial? Some would say we are strong “when we need to be.” Ok, maybe I’ll go along with this to a certain extent…but I know me, and I am confident that there are certain situations where being strong would be the better option, but it just isn’t going to happen. For example, I know I would never be able to deliver a eulogy at a funeral without sobbing. Just as I know that I can’t sing Silent Night by candlelight during the holidays at church without getting choked up. It is just gonna happen.
Surely, hormones have something to do with it. We can always blame those pesky things for our issues, especially during certain days of the month, or throughout menopause. But perhaps it also has to do with letting our guards down. When we are in Super Woman mode, caring for someone else, defusing a stressful situation or just taking on the world in our average day, we are “on and ready.” We do what we need to do, and by golly, we do it with style and sophistication. As much as we may not want to admit it, we still feel the need to prove ourselves – that we are just as good, as smart, as strong as our male counterparts. Crying is for the weak, right?
But then – there have to be those moments when we are “off-duty”, or we are caught off guard, and our soft spots are exposed. When we have taken our capes and helmets off, and it just us…. With our hearts on our sleeves and our emotions ready to flow. And ironically, it is precisely at those moments – when we’ve relaxed and are wallowing in our womanhood, that a coffee commercial showing a soldier coming home to his family flicks across our screens for 60 seconds and we get that “oooohhhh” feeling and reach for a tissue.
Perhaps this just shows that we are caring humans, and that we are affected by what we feel to be the truly important things in life. Or maybe we are just getting emotionally wimpy in our old age. Either way, I say we embrace it. So go ahead and turn on that movie, pick up the news stories, watch a toddler take his first steps while reaching for the family pet – and be proud of your resulting sniffles. Consider it our duty to keep the facial tissue companies in business.