Marin Čilić and the Merits of Crying in Public
I cry at absolutely everything. From my earliest memory, I have been a strong, forceful, and occasionally proud crier. It doesn’t take much to set me off either, to the point where my allergy to public stoicism has become a family joke. I cry at music, films, TV shows, the occasional podcast, and the infrequent book. I once teared up at an episode of South Park and I’ve been known to burst into tears while listening to Dancing on my Own (but only the Robyn original, I have no tolerance or emotional time to waste on these nonsense male ballad versions that pollute the airwaves). Breaking down in public is nothing new for me: After an especially emotional cinema visit, I’ve been known to leave the screening blinking away tears, but still smiling to reassure the poor beleaguered ushers that this is simply business as usual.
I’m also a wildly ugly crier. People in films tend to be beautiful at crying, letting single dewdrops trickle from their eyes down a perfectly smooth cheek, highlighting the exquisite agony of their emotions. I’m more like that scene in Gladiator where Russell Crowe finds his family hanging above their burning home and he leaves trails of snot over their feet. Everything blows up on me when I cry: My eyes burst with bloodshot redness, my cheeks swell with a similarly passionate shade, and the faucet that is my nose opens up the floodgates for a sickly stream of snot. I can never hide that I’ve been crying, which raises the occasional conundrum and forces me into solitude until my face returns to its normal state.
I cried when Marin Čilić cried. While playing Roger Federer in the Wimbledon Men’s Final, it was clear that things got to be too much for him, and he broke down sobbing. Even for seasoned criers, it’s hard to watch someone else cry. I can’t watch my family cry without losing it myself, and even as someone who finds most sports tedious, the swell of feeling that accompanies a victory or a loss is especially contagious. Yet there was something about this particular instance that hit me hard. This was anguish in its most undistilled form. Čilić wasn’t just sad, he was broken, injured, and clearly done with fighting it. I don’t want to speculate as to whether he suffered a panic or anxiety attack - as someone who has them, there’s no satisfaction to be found in that kind of amateur diagnosing - but even as the match continued, Čilić struggling to go on and a long, hard-fought Wimbledon concluding with a deflating climax, I couldn’t help but root for him, for his bravery.
Čilić cried, and many supported him. They knew what that was like, to be cornered in an impossible situation and revert to the basest of reactions. Many of us, more of us than are willing to admit it aloud, have been faced with that catch-22. Generally, I had found that in my public spectacles of tears and snot, people have been remarkably sympathetic. They comfort, they shield you, and they scowl appropriately at anyone daring to roll their eyes. A lot of the time, people don’t say anything at all, and those people are frequently the best in the room for that very reason. The problem is that you never notice the kindness as much as you notice the scorn. That’s what makes it sting so much when perpetually callous troglodytes pass judgement upon Čilić for crying, calling into question his temperament and comparing him to a baby. No matter the compassion that surrounds you, criers always hear the cruelty the loudest.
I’m a firm believer in the power of a solid public crying session, be it school, the workplace, the high street or a screening of Wonder Woman. Sometimes you just can’t hold it in, and nor should you feel the obligation to do so. Getting it out can often be the healthiest option, and a few minutes of embarrassment is easier to deal with than hours or even days of festering tightness in your chest, at least it is in my experience. In Britain, we are obnoxiously obsessed with the toxic ideal of the stiff upper lip, the “Keep Calm and Carry On” motif gone wrong, as if suppressing all your emotions for every circumstance is a sign of superiority. This is a growing problem online too, where hate-preachers of YouTube and the “well, actually” cults dismiss everything you say if you dare to get angry or sad about it. There’s no weakness in emotion, nor is there inherent intellectual greatness in cutting them out.
There’s no need to be ashamed of a public cry. Other people’s awkwardness is not your problem to deal with. My theory is that a lot of people hate to be confronted with the possibility of their own weaknesses, which is why seeing others cry is so tough for them. Everything polite society has told us about public behaviour heaps scorn upon the mere idea of sadness. It’s an unspoken rule that hurts men and women in equal measure: Cry as a woman and face accusations of over-emotional hysteria or exacerbating outdated assumptions about your entire gender; cry as a man and face derogatory slurs about your masculinity, because bottling it all up forever is easier to deal with than a moment of discomfiting catharsis. Either way, the feminised nature of crying is emphasised as a bad thing.
Watching Čilić cry reminded me of the pressure we all face not to cry. As someone who does it all the time, even the people who love me the most and know how often I do it can’t help but grow impatient and tell me to snap out of it now and then. I can’t imagine the weight on Čilić’s shoulders at that moment, or the accompanying embarrassment of knowing what could have been a life changing moment will instead be a display of pity to be replayed over the evening news. The BBC coverage kept playing it back, zooming in on his reddened face against his towel as tears mixed with sweat, and I felt disgusted that this had become a public spectacle for Sue Barker and Boris Becker to interrogate.
I hope Marin Čilić will be able to appreciate his achievements at this year’s Wimbledon, and I hope he is not chastised by his coaches for crying. Upon picking up his trophy, Roger Federer let the tears fall too, undoubtedly an emotional moment for one of the sport’s greats, but also a quiet display of solidarity with his competitor. We place so much value on achieving a state of false bliss that we forget how priceless it can be to just let it all out, to understand that emotions are necessary and sometimes they must let themselves be known. We could all do worse than to have a good cry now and then.
And yes, I did cry while writing this.
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