Tuesday, February 9, 2010


As long as I can remember, I have cried very easily from frustration and embarrassment. It is a very frustrating and embarrassing thing not to be able to keep yourself from crying, so that of course compounds the problem, often transforming a single teardrop into a flood from multiple orifices. When I was in the pre-school/kindergarten/first grade range, my mom would have to warn my teachers that I was "sensitive". I have distinct memories of crying in class from those years--because I couldn't properly do the hand movements to a song we were singing, because I couldn't draw a dragon the way I saw it in my head, because I couldn't think of anything to draw for a nonsense poem...

As I have aged, I have gotten better at controlling myself. Still, there were a couple times in middle school when the tears started welling up--like when a teacher cut me off and bluntly told me I was wrong, when really he just hadn't understood what I was saying--and even a couple times in high school, when I had to ask a teacher for an extension (crying really does help get that extension, but it was never my intention to cry when I went in there). There was one time when I was working last year that I was in an extended debate with the professor I was doing research for, arguing that the technique she was telling me to use was invalid, and I got so frustrated that tears started gathering in my eyes. She noticed and quickly said, "How about we come back to this later?" and retreated to her office. Fine.

I just got back from a meeting with the professor of one of my classes. He had said that he wanted to meet with each of us individually but hadn't mentioned what about. I wasn't sure what to expect. When I got there, he went over my answers to the pop quiz he had given us (yes, he gave a pop quiz in grad school, though he just called it an "experiment" and it's not graded). Then he probed, oral examination style (sounds like dentistry), to see how much I understood about various parts of an equation I had produced on the quiz. It was a little painful, but if I didn't know something, he'd give me a hint until I ultimately arrived at the right place.

The meeting was supposed to be 15 minutes, but it was getting close to half an hour now. Still, it wasn't too bad. Then, through some sort of misunderstanding, I said something to which he reacted very badly: "Whoa, hey, what now?!"--essentially communicating that what I said was wrong and also ridiculous. A bit of a humiliation-slap in the face. Luckily, at that moment someone knocked on the door to ask him a question, and once that person left the professor went back to the explanation he had been giving before my "outrageous" comment. I thought I was in the clear. Then he went back to it. "So, what did you mean when you said that before?" So not only was I embarrassed that I had said something totally wrong and ridiculous, but now I had the added frustration and humiliation of having to explain my obviously wrong statement to the professor. Cue the tears.

I wasn't sure what his reaction would be. I managed to choke my way through an explanation. What I had said, it turns out, was not outrageous, it just wasn't relevant in the argument he had been making. But that didn't matter--it was already too late for the tears. But he just kept on talking, and it wasn't until about three minutes later when he was ready to let me go (finally) that he looked at me, confused and with a slight smile, "Are you upset?"

No, thanks, I've just been wiping tears and snot on my sleeve for the last three minutes. I tell him I'm fine, take the tissue he offers and quickly make my exit. Thing is, he probably has no idea why I was crying since (it seems) it took him a long time to notice.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter what he said that made me cry. In my experience as a "sensitive" person, it never matters because it's always my fault. The professor didn't offend me--it's not like he had called me smelly and ugly. I wasn't particularly angry at him or sad for myself. I was frustrated. And, like so many times before, I allowed my frustration to turn to tears. Sometimes it happens, and I just don't know how to stop it. I don't care what he did or didn't say. What I was upset about was my lack of control. I'm not a kid anymore. So why am I still a crybaby?

On a cheerier note, I have some lovely new Hawaii photos to share coming up later this week. Plus, barring any major disaster, this Sunday I will celebrate my very first Valentine's Day with an actual boyfriend. What a thought.


Sebastian said...

I'm the same...!

But I cry at just about every overwhelming (or underwhelming, as the case may be) moment.

It's worse when you're a guy :P

Hezabelle said...

I almost never cry in front of anyone, and I can tell you that the other side isn't much better. It feels too stoic to not show emotion when it's appropriate. And it isn't that I'm not feeling emotional (because I'm VERY emo) but just that it never turns into tears and so people can't really see it...

I can see how crying all the time when you don't want to would be pretty frustrating. Poor you!

Anonymous said...

I do that too...particularly when I'm angry and can't explain myself (not very good at arguing)...
Not quite as bad as I used to be, I hate crying infront of other people so I've mostly learnt to control myself until I get back home!

Eleni said...

:) Thanks for the support, guys.

Seb - Yeah, I can imagine it's worse for guys. It's more socially acceptable when women cry. In this case, there was a little bit of an artifact of the "women breaking into the man's workplace" deal that made me feel bad crying in front of a higher-ranking man in a professional setting--like I'm weak, or I won't be taken seriously.

Hez - I don't cry very easily at sad things--like at a funeral or something. Well, I guess I do a little more than I used to--I never used to cry in movies, but now I sometimes do. But you're right that sometimes it is good to be able to emote effectively.

Pink - Right, it can be very frustrating and infuriating when you know you're right but you just can't convince the other person. I need to learn somehow to control myself until I get home, too.