I wish I could cry like Meryl Streep. In fact, I wish I could control my tears. I used to be able to repress them without issue. Not anymore.
Since reaching menopause, my tear ducts have declared war. They hide behind the obvious tear-jerkers and wait for moments that do not require them. They are ninjas that strike when I least expect them.
I have always been a devotee of the "die before you cry" school in the work environment. I knew that the financial institutions I worked at were male dominated, and I refused to ever reveal a moment of weakness. The approach worked well for me.
Recently, however, I decided to step away from a corporation and its President for whom I had been working.
I was hired originally as his change consultant and had decided that it was time to move on. I sat down with the president of the company to explain my reasoning. At the time, I was feeling no real emotion other than frustration because the leaders weren't leading change. As I was explaining my logic in my Spockian way, I began to feel the assault. Tears that I had not been summoned were filling my eyes, and my chin that was plopped casually in my hand was beginning to quiver.
I was mortified. Why was my body turning on me at a critical moment? I tried to joke about it, which forced me into a weird gasp that sounded like a cross between an asthma attack and choking on a chicken bone.
Needless to say, I did not walk out of there with the power I had when I entered. Now I had the president of the company with his arm around me asking me if I was okay, which made it all the worse. I needed a punching bag. My emotions had betrayed me.
Last week, I took a powerful Transformational Speaking class with the indomitable Gail Larsen. She was working with us on how to find our true message and bring it to the world. For four days I sat and watched every other woman in the group have amazing breakthroughs. I, on the other hand, was getting little response at all. My speeches sucked. I spent three consecutive nights in tears in my room, furious that I was crying, which then added rage to the mix. It was exhausting.
On the final day, we gave our last speech. I stood up, sure that this would be my moment. The week had built to this, and I have spent most of my life speaking in front of people. I spoke with conviction and emotion. I watched the faces that had laughed and cried through so many other speeches. They looked supportive, loving and totally confused. I ended to the deafening sound of, "Is it time to clap or does she have more to say?"
As they provided feedback, I began to cry again. What the hell? And save me the Crying is an important breakthrough and you'll feel better after you do it speech. Crying does NOT make me feel better; it hurts my head and my face, and my eyes swell up. You know how some people can cry and it's beautiful? Water fills their eyes and falls down their faces unobstructed in a beautiful waterfall of emotion? Not me. I wring those tears out of my body like an old washing machine, twisting and squeezing and resisting. I go to war with my tears, and my face is the battleground.
After that powerful but exhausting experience, I decided that crying is no longer part of my repertoire. I got home and made it through some sad stories shared on television without a tear. I listened to some friends going through hell since Hurricane Sandy and offered support but without the water works. I was in total control.
Then I walked into CVS late at night looking for Prilosec and couldn't find someone to open the case where they are held under lock and key for reasons unknown to me. I felt the tears coming and the chin quivering, announcing the onset of my betrayer. By the time I found a worker, I was a wreck.
I know the traditional feminist logic, which includes not speaking of crying and women in the same sentence, so let me be clear: This doesn't mean women can't do their jobs or lead a country. We've done it before and we can do it again. It just means that my hormonal changes have turned on this part of me that I switched off years ago.
So, if you see a woman stumbling through CVS crying over the locked Prilosec case, don't let the ill-timed tears mislead you. She could be the leader of a nation. But, for now, just help her get the case open.