It’s My Job And I’ll Cry If I Want To

by Megan Reynolds

Crying is one of the most private acts we do in public, at times strangely satisfying and deeply, deeply depressing. It’s satisfying in a way that crying in your room as you fold laundry isn’t. A gentle trickle of tears streaming down your face as you wait for the train home imbues your commute with the drama of a poorly-lit indie film. Sometimes, a quick sob in the bathroom of a restaurant after a horrible day is all you need to pull yourself together and get back to your life: grocery shopping; calling your mom; upgrading your phone. There is genuinely no better place to cry than in a matinee, alone, while eating popcorn and drinking a very cold Cherry Coke. It feels wrong to cry in public because deep down, you now it’s private. It’s messy. It’s emotional and raw and blubbering, the kind of thing that you’ll let a good friend see. There are a great many places to cry in this world, but I don’t think your desk is one of them.

It’s not like I’ve never done it. Reading something sad on my computer while also eating my lunch will make me cry, but I generally try to pretend like it’s not happening. I run to the bathroom to pull it together only when I feel the beginning twitches of my cry-face, in the muscles above my eyebrows. If I’m truly, genuinely upset at the office, because of some perceived or actual slight, or because the frustrations have piled up and I can’t help myself because I’m a human being with boundaries, I will take myself outside for a brisk walk around the block. Sometimes I cry, but more often than not I mutter obscenities under my breath until I feel better, then buy a candy bar. This almost always makes me feel better. The urge to cry passes.

To cry at work invites inquiry that you probably don’t want to field if you’re genuinely, truly upset. Sitting at your desk re-reading a shitty email you got from someone you care about over and over again is a fine way to be, at the office or at home. But, if you start crying — big tears and audible sighs — someone will ask you if something’s wrong. More often than not, the acknowledgement of the fact that you’re crying by another person will make you cry more. Once you’re in this conversation, both parties have the same goal: for the crier to stop crying, and for this conversation to end, immediately. The crier must do his or her best to stop crying, despite the fact that the reasons for shedding those tears might be extremely valid, so that the cry-spotter feels the warm glow of good karma flooding her way.

Work is work. Unless you’re very lucky to do what it is you truly love to do, there will be few moments of transcendence. It’s slightly varied repetition, which is enough to drive anyone to frustration or madness, sometimes. I get through it by putting on my game face and soldiering on. As a woman in the workplace, I am resistant to showing any signs of traditional weakness. Crying at work feels emotionally manipulative and especially fraught. I can cry because I’m truly upset and frustrated, but will they see anything beyond a manipulation tactic, carefully crafted out of impatience? I’m certain that using your own fragility as a means to an end works for some people, but it requires a kind of mind that I don’t have. Games and office politics are tiresome. Speaking plainly and with conviction about what I do or don’t want is the way that I’ve tried to conduct myself in my career. I feel I can do it without tears.

Accepting the fact that shitty things happen at work is fine. Understanding that those things will make me cry, sometimes, is fine too. There are plenty of things that have happened at work that have made me want to cry tears of sheer frustration — the best kind, really — but I’ve always kept it together. I will gladly cry in a bathroom stall, dabbing at my face with crumpled toilet paper and rubbing mascara into my eyes, but you will never, ever catch me crying in plain sight at my desk.

I don’t need anyone seeing my weakness. I don’t need anyone asking me what’s wrong. I don’t want to entertain the thought that everyone would be too busy to notice, that I’d go from a few gentle tears to all-out, body-wracking sobs, while everyone tapped industriously on their laptops. I don’t want the attention from the spectacle I’ve unwittingly created, because I’d rather be noticed for the work that I’m doing, instead of my tears.

The first and only time I cried at work was the day I got laid off. I sat in the conference room with some of my other coworkers, looking busily through my severance folder in an attempt to stave off tears. When I called my dad from the hallway outside my bathroom door, the tone of concern in his voice broke the seal. As I packed up my stuff, I let a few tears fall, because it seemed inevitable that I would leave this place, crumple-faced and red-eyed, like Claire Danes in “Homeland.” I smoked an angry cigarette with two coworkers outside, both who did an admirable job of composing their faces in a mask of sympathy while I wiped at my eyes with the sleeve of my sweater. I stopped crying in time to go to a bar, drink one beer, and get on the subway home. It didn’t feel right, but it was okay.

Megan Reynolds lives in New York.