When Is It Okay for a Man to Cry?

by Brett on June 19, 2008 · 161 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

Image from Seattletim

Men are known as the less emotional sex; they are supposed to be bastions of stability; the rock in the middle of a storm; unflappably cool no matter what the circumstance. Of course, it’s not wrong for men to get emotional. It’s unhealthy to keep one’s feelings bottled up and shoved deep down inside. But when is it okay for a man to display his emotions through crying?

The History of the Man Cry

Men have always cried. Yet the acceptability of male crying has varied across time and across culture. There are many references to man tears in ancient Greek and Roman culture. In Homer’s The Iliad there is no conflict between Odysseus’ heroic qualities and the inclusion of many episodes of his weeping for home, loved ones, and fallen comrades. Yet Odysseus never breaks down out of loneliness or frustration, which the ancient Greeks did not feel were acceptable reasons for men to cry. They also expected warriors to understand that there were times when public displays of emotion were acceptable, and times when it was appropriate to cry alone. Odysseus frequently tries to hide his tears from those around him.

The Old Testament is similarly replete with references to weeping. The ancient Hebrews wept as part of their supplications to God and before going to battle. The Gospel writers did not feel that tears were a threat to either the manhood or godhood of Christ and dutifully recorded that “Jesus wept.” Perhaps drawing inspiration from this emotional display, early church thinkers considered tears a gift and a natural accompaniment to spiritual, even transcendent, experiences. The great theologian Thomas Aquinas, like the ancient Greeks, made the distinction between the very public weeping that had characterized Hebraic culture, and the idea that it was frequently best to cry away from people’s prying eyes.

Medieval Japanese and European epics are chock full of male crying. The great warriors in both Beowulf and The Tale of Heiki cry buckets over both great spiritual questions and the death of comrades. The warriors in such stories are expected to cry about issues of war, peace, and ideals, while the women weep over romantic and platonic relationships or out of general sadness, loneliness, or frustration.

Up through the Romantic Era, a permissive, even celebratory attitude toward male crying prevailed. Popular culture was of full of sentimental literature and art featuring men and women falling into each other’s arms and bathing one another with their tears. Tears were seen as proof of a man’s sincerity, honesty, and integrity. But the Enlightenment ushered in a more rational ideal of manhood. Tears came to be seen not as an unmitigated virtue, but as sometimes manipulative, illogical, and false.

During the Victorian Era, those virtues thought to be exclusively feminine in nature were celebrated. Women were seen as dainty and fragile, full or emotion and love. Tears have always had a vulnerable and submissive quality to them, and began to be seen as more befitting a woman than a man. As the 20th century emerged, the ideal of the tearless male emerged with it.

The Man Cry Today

Culture’s view of male crying has continued to evolve into our day. While we still expect men to cry less than women, in some cases it has now become more acceptable for a man to cry than a woman, at least when it comes to our public officials. Hillary Clinton’s tears in New Hampshire brought some compassion, but also criticism that such vulnerability made her ill-suited for leadership. Yet Mitt Romney choked up several times on various news programs without the slightest attention being paid to it. Many see tears as proof that a man is sensitive and humble and thus well-rounded.

Which leaves men in a gray area when it comes to crying in the modern age. Some people these days encourage men to let loose whenever the urge hits. Some adhere to the “you can’t squeeze tears from a stone” philosophy. I think the key to male crying lies somewhere between these two edicts. A man need not be perpetually stoic. There are, of course, times when we feel sorrow or frustration so acutely that it must be let out. Yet there’s a balance between being so sensitive that a Hallmark commercial can make you weep and shedding some tears over something truly significant. Just as there is a balance between releasing some man tears and turning into the kind of blubbering mess that makes everyone feel uncomfortable. Here are some appropriate and inappropriate times to get your cry on.

When It’s Okay for a Man to Cry

Photo by richelleantipolo

1. The death of a loved one. There are few things more painful than the thought of separation from those dearest to our hearts.

2. The death of your beloved pet. A pet can feel like a member of the family. Whether a horse or dog, the bond between a man and his faithful animal runs deep.

3. When you first see the new life you and your wife created. Many a man has found himself choked up as they cradle their newborn son or daughter.

4. When you propose to the love of your life and she says yes. This should be one of the happiest days of your life. You found your best friend.

5. At the altar as you get married. Everyone in attendance loves to see the husband-to-be get a little misty-eyed as his blushing bride walks down the aisle.

6. When your beloved car or truck, especially your first one, gets totaled. There’s a bond between a man and his wheels that when severed, can really sting.

7. Visiting sites that pay tribute to those who laid down their lives for others. Whether running your fingers over the names at the Vietnam War Memorial or watching the oil leak from the sunk USS Arizona, contemplating the sacrifices made by your fellowman should make you tear up.

8. Describing a really spiritual experience. Feeling touched by a higher power can be really affecting.

9. As an athlete, after the final game/match/event that you will ever play in. You’ll never be in as good shape again. You’ll never experience this level of camaraderie again. You’ll never push yourself so hard every day. Go on and let it out.

10. While watching any of the following movies:

  • Field of Dreams
  • Brian’s Song
  • Shawshank Redemption
  • The Pride of the Yankees
  • Old Yeller
  • Iron Giant
  • Life is Beautiful
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Rudy
  • Braveheart
  • Dead Poets Society
  • Friday Night Lights
  • We Were Soldiers
  • Gladiator
  • Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid
  • The Champ
  • Glory
  • It’s a Wonderful Life

When It’s Not Okay For a Man to Cry

Devotion to your team is respectable. Turning into a blubbering mess when they lose, not so much.

1. When you favorite sports team loses. I get really into sports. But crying when men who don’t know you from Adam lose a game means you’ve got way too much invested.

2. When those around you are looking to you as a source of calmness and strength. Sometimes your loved ones need you to be a rock.

3. To the point of irrational thinking or paralysis when you have a job to do. I wanted to strangle Upham in Saving Private Ryan when he cried in the stairwell while his fellow soldier was being killed. When you have a job to do, get it together.

4. When you don’t get your way. Little boys cry when they don’t get what they want. Men are disappointed, but resilient.

5. When you’re frustrated. Crying because your overwhelmed and don’t know what to do is a cop out. You don’t have the strength to think of a solution, so you cry so you don’t have to think at all. Man up and figure out your next move.

6. In baseball. There’s no crying in baseball!

7. During any of the following movies:

  • Beaches
  • Steel Magnolias
  • Little Women
  • Jerry Maguire
  • The Notebook
  • Ghost

Source: Crying: A Natural and Cultural History of Tears

Hat tip to Robbie C. for his comments in the forum and post at his blog Urban Grounds for inspiring this post.

{ 160 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Jordan April 24, 2010 at 2:06 am

When they watch Passion of the Christ. I dont know if thats on the list or if anyone has mentioned that above. or p.s I love you with their wife!

102 Justin May 2, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Movie to add to the ok to cry at list: 8 seconds when tuff hedeman has a tear run down his face at the end, gets me every time.

103 Shanghai May 10, 2010 at 12:50 am

More than 10 years ago Esquire Magazine had an article on this subject and listed 10 situations in which it was okay for a man to cry without being embarassed . I just searched for it online but couldn’t find it. However, I remember two of them. 1) When your favorite bird dog dies 2) When you walk into a room full of young beautiful women and suddenly realize that you will never get to know them on a close personal basis except at an exorbitant price.

104 Kreitsauce May 12, 2010 at 10:38 am

Has anyone said Lord of the Rings movies? The sacrificial death of Boromir the warrior and the scene where the hobbits get honored by the everybody at the end both tend to get me.

105 Dan Wilden May 12, 2010 at 10:44 am

After combat, when buddies are wounded or dead or just the adrenaline crash brings him into the dirt. Problem is, most guys can’t… combat the emotional roadblock, lol.

106 Ilya May 12, 2010 at 10:54 am

Shawskank, does it every f’ing time.

107 Kris Freeberg May 12, 2010 at 11:27 am

In my faith tradition tears are understood to be an “inner baptism” and evidence of spiritual grace, since they can’t be faked. In our prayers, we request them explicitly.

I am told that in Russian culture men are more sentimental and that stoic babushkas who disdain male sentimentality employ the epithet “triapka” or “dishrag.”

My personal experience has been that it is best to confine tears to moments of personal prayer and worship. Men who cry in public are judged to be weak and unreliable.

108 Pete May 12, 2010 at 11:42 am

There are certain scenes in “Band of Brothers” that always get to me as well…

109 Tommy May 12, 2010 at 12:04 pm

I like this article. I shed a tear when I watched “The Notebook” and I’m no cry baby, so I disagree with your listing it in the “It’s not okay to cry” category. :)

110 mack May 12, 2010 at 12:12 pm

I think the end of the Green Mile is a good one, where the innocent and almost magically gifted John Coffey gets put to death for a crime he never in his life would commit. The effect his death had on the guards when they were putting a piece of god on a trip to ride the lightning was a very sad part of the movie.

111 Oblivion May 12, 2010 at 12:49 pm

I think another movie would be “The Road”

112 Chris Wiseman May 12, 2010 at 2:04 pm

In response to No. 7 Visiting sites that pay tribute to those who laid down their lives for others. I agree but would expand it to include pride in being part of that group who are willing to do so. My Dad is a former Marine, I saw him cry on the morning the Recruiter came to pick me up from my house to go to Boot Camp. I saw him tear up when I saw him as I walked of the Grinder at MCRD as a fellow Marine. I was not just his son, but became his brother. I would be equally moved in his position and it was one of my children who joined the military.

113 Warhawk May 13, 2010 at 4:36 am

men should never ever cry, you may leak pain juice from your eyes, but never cry :P

114 M May 13, 2010 at 9:42 am

When you admit to your sister-in-law, who you love and have known since she was 4, that your marriage is failing.

115 Papa Bravo May 13, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Simple rule to live by:

-Never ever cry because you feel sorry for yourself(atleast avoid at all cost).

– Shedding tears due to shear beauty, empathy, sympathy is always acceptable, in moderation.

116 David May 27, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Honestly I have to say that I have cried and will cry again. Having said that it will never be from pain! My dog died I cried. Seeing blind or disabled people makes me feel sad for the way they have to live and makes me wonder why I’m so worthy of my health. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying it’s not okay for a man to cry but I can’t help having this innate biologically implanted feeling that when a man cries for pain he’s soft.

117 ZPowers June 24, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Also, you need to add to your movies men can cry at least 4 or 5 Pixar films.

118 MC October 7, 2012 at 9:00 pm

One they should add to the ok to cry is the Green Mile. When John Coffey died, I teared up a little

119 dre October 23, 2012 at 11:07 am

Come on, The Notebook, that was one of, if not the most beautiful way to die. Stop trying to be so Macho and do what you feel. The most feminine guy can whoop somebodies ass same as u.

120 Tall Man Person November 25, 2012 at 12:05 am

Have you ever got kicked in the balls? Like REALLY hard, i have, but i didn’t cry, but I felt tears run down my face.

121 Julia R. November 26, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Well written article. I think a lot of these “rules” on when it is okay to cry could be applied to women as well. We have a culture that tells men not to cry, EVER. But the same culture also tells women that it’s okay to cry at the drop of a hat! Neither is healthy.
Being able to cry a reasonable amount at an appropriate time and place without shame is a sign of someone who hasn’t suppressed their emotions into a pathological mental disorder. However, women also should be raised to understand that tears ARE controllable; that tears, absent discussion, are not an acceptable form of communication; they are not to be used as manipulation; and as mentioned so well in this article, tears are not an adequate solution to a frustrating problem!
I was raised, like my mother, to cry, scream, and slam doors when frustrated. I also learned from her to use tears manipulatively. It took me 20 years to realize that she handicapped me for life, and six years later I’m still learning better coping skills.
I want a successful career in foreign policy, and can’t present a professional image (regardless of gender) if I am too prone to crying out of frustration. It’s a hard habit to break, though.

So, I challenge you fathers of daughters (and mothers), to raise daughters who know how to handle a frustrating situation without crying. Teach them to think rationally, to reason analytically, and to write it down when it seems overwhelming. Teach them to DO, not sit and cry.
You will be doing them a huge favor.

122 David December 11, 2012 at 1:32 am

While I understand that the movie selection is subjective, and many of the titles I don’t recognize in English… ‘We Were Soldiers’? Seriously? Vietnam Politics apart… that movie sucks ass, HARD. And then some more.
On the other hand, Gladiator does it for me every time.
Also, I’ve discovered an animated short on YouTube that is as pretty as it can get, I’d say is the cutest thing on YouTube: [Out of Sight] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qCbiCxBd2M . I really don’t understand why, every time I watch it it gets me teary, the story is sure pretty, yet very simple.

123 john December 20, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Shindler’s list

124 Izmir December 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Seriously? Crying over a movie?! Over a bunch of actors playing out a carefully crafted, contrived, and cut-together scene on a screen? I’m not saying I’ve never been touched by a film, but this seems slightly over the top.

To me personally, #1 and #8 are the only valid reasons, and even for #1 – I’ve personally never felt the urge to cry at a funeral, despite being a close blood relative to the person being interred. But I suppose this is one of the types of topics where your mileage may vary, depending on how sensitive of a person you are, and what the expectations of those around you are.

Generally the sight of weeping men doesn’t disturb me as long as they are not shirking their responsibilities, the emotions shown are genuine, and at least somewhat of an attempt is made to stay within reasonable bounds (launching into a fit of uncontrollable sobbing is a big no-no).

125 jay February 13, 2013 at 10:08 pm

what amount of pain is it ok to cry? broken finger? arm? leg? spine?

126 matt March 2, 2013 at 4:02 pm

y’all should add “Act of Valor” to that list of movies

127 mary March 3, 2013 at 4:51 pm

LOOK GUYS NO WOMAN WILL TELL YOU THIS BECAUSE THEY DON’T WANT TO HURT YOUR FEELINGS ,BUT IT IS A HUGE TURN OFF WHEN A MAN CRIES ,IT MAKES US FEEL UNPROTECTED THAT IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY THERE WILL BE NO ONE THERE TO DEFEND US BECAUSE YOU ARE TOO WEAK ,I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT THE DEATH OF A LOVED ONE HERE HERE I AM TALKING ABOUT GUYS THAT WILL TURN ON THE WATERWORKS BECAUSE THEY THINK THAT IS WHAT WOMAN LIKE —-I AM HERE TO TELL YOU ‘WE DO NOT’

128 Jake March 5, 2013 at 10:14 pm

I’ve gotta say, seeing one of my kids truly hurt has brought tears to my eyes. Just being so helpless, and their wails like a punch in the gut. Nothing to do but hold them and and cry with them.

129 Joe March 11, 2013 at 12:55 am

Nice list, but I think its also ok to cry as a form of stress relief. If things are hectic, it’s ok to just vent out and cry to yourself, just as long as you actually take care of what needs to be taken care of. If you cry and just let the stress consume you without actually dealing with the issue, that’s a different story.

130 AdAm March 15, 2013 at 9:46 am

I’ve had tears running down my cheeks while watching Seeking a friend for the End of the World. Yes, two times during the movie. But I watch my stuff alone so it’s ok, I’m still a rock for everyone…lol. I agree with Papa Bravo on this one.

131 RyanW March 28, 2013 at 7:51 pm

I would add two additional times when it is okay to cry:

At the end of anything that you have put literally *everything* you had into. But only once it’s over. And only when you actually took part. No tears allowed for *watching* a triple overtime game.

Also, your child’s graduation or wedding.

132 Leia March 28, 2013 at 9:38 pm

“Men of Honor”: the end where Carl Brasher takes his twelve steps…on a prosthetic leg in order to become the first African-American Navy Diver to reach the rank of Master Chief and the first amputee to do so….gets me every…single….time….this movie will inspire….check it out when you get a chance.

133 Adam April 4, 2013 at 4:42 pm

The Green mile is probably the saddest movie i have ever seen.
i´m a dude and i was in tears.

134 hanif April 6, 2013 at 9:25 pm

its maybe weird, but Toy Story and Wall-E are movies that made me cry

135 JR April 11, 2013 at 2:28 am

I’d add Schindler’s List to the movies. If the little girl in the red dress doesn’t get to you, you have no soul.

136 Michael B. April 12, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Addition to the “OK to cry” movies;

Men of Honor

Moment;

Carl Brashear: Forgive me sir, but to me, the Navy isn’t a business. It’s an organization of people who represent the finest aspects of our nation. We have many traditions. In my career, I have encountered most of them. Some are good, some not so good. I would, however not be here today were it not for our greatest tradition of all.

Captain Hanks: And what would that be, Chief Brashear?”

Carl Brashear: ” Honor, sir”

Objection to the “Not OK to Cry” list, specifically “The Notebook.”

Rationale – NOT particularly the Young Noah, but the old Noah, who very well was an example of mature manliness.

Examples;

1- Noah: I am nothing special; just a common man with common thoughts, and I’ve led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten. But in one respect I have succeeded as gloriously as anyone who’s ever lived: I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul; and to me, this has always been enough.

2- Duke: That’s my sweetheart in there. Wherever she is, that’s where my home is.

Chick flick? Sure, but it also portrayed a man that FiretrUCKING F-O-U-G-H-T for his woman until the day they both died.

Solid.

137 TD April 17, 2013 at 2:12 am

I wandered onto this page, but it was a big relief to see my yearly Christmas Eve cry (Is a Wonderful Life) on the list.

138 MS April 17, 2013 at 11:50 am

The love story between Carl and his wife in Up. Every freaking time.

139 C. Lew May 9, 2013 at 1:16 am

I have to add Hotel Rwanda

140 Anonymous May 9, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Ending of Return of the King. Book and movie.

141 Marc May 22, 2013 at 11:08 pm

I used to think that I was weird for trying to hide my sadness and choking up at war memorials or Braveheart, but I guess I’ve been on the path all along.

142 Enzio June 15, 2013 at 9:34 pm

I don’t believe men should ever cry. As a man you should are to be strong , like brick, like stone, like raging fire.It is okay for a man to feel love, compassion, grief, sorrow, sympathy, and anger and fury. But man should never cry in private or among others.,

143 Mark S July 5, 2013 at 11:23 pm

As a teen, I cried because of the stress of being bullied and of being an outcast. I recently cried over a tragic circumstance of my marriage. And I oddly remember getting choked up defending my country. Is that odd? I guess it is patriotism showing or something.

144 Danny July 28, 2013 at 2:26 am

I am SOOOOO glad you did not include Titanic. It is impossible to not cry or weep over that damn movie. I hate how emotional it makes me. Every freaking time.

145 Hamza July 30, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I’m 16, and in the past 4-5 years, I haven’t properly cried once. The rare times that I need to cry, I always find myself unable to well up, and I’m not sure what’s wrong with me.

146 Aadil August 8, 2013 at 1:34 am

Hi,

I am 18 years old right now, and I am working on begin a great man in the future, but recently I’ve been feeling down, and I feel like cry but I don’t want too. I haven’t cried for two years and I don’t want too but I just feel heavy on the inside. There was a point in my life not too long ago when I realized I am very weak, and I have to get stronger, and since then I’ve been changing myself to be a better man. Is it acceptable to cry when you feel really heavy and burdened. I’ve had this feeling bottled up for long and I can’t hold it, and I need to cry yet i don’t. I feel so conflicted that I had to come here for some help. Should I cry or should I just man up and let it pass hoping that it will pass.

147 Ben August 9, 2013 at 4:09 pm

I’m with you, Matt.

The end of “Act of Valor” when the letter is being read to the son he’ll never meet…….gets me every time. Then when the list of names of US Navy Special Warfare servicemen who have died since 9/11, that gets me even more. Especially as one of them belonged to a good friend of mine. Right side, about 6-7 names down: Caleb Nelson

I’m joining the Navy shortly.

148 Oscar August 20, 2013 at 5:26 pm

I cried at the end of Ghost. I agree with the list mostly. Not to say that attitudes will change over time..

149 c September 10, 2013 at 9:34 am

im also with papa bravo and jake…
im 40 and the other day i couldnt hold back crying infront of my parents. when i wiped my tears and without saying a word, i looked up at them and saw they were also crying with me. i say cry if you have to… its got nothing to do with gender.

150 Jose September 17, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Mi mama me dijo ” los hombres no lloran!” Nuff said! Except when your father died seven years ago!

151 DEN October 26, 2013 at 2:45 am

I am a real man, and yet I cry almost everyday, movies, songs, just watching my daughter learn something new and proudly show me. usually just well up, not tears, sometimes sobbing. I cried at my wedding, my list of movies is in the hundreds, I am far from a wuss, I just really feel my feelings.

152 Andrew November 7, 2013 at 10:04 pm

I’m a college student attending U.N.D in North Dakota. I a have a Russian class that has a movie night every so often. My teacher likes to bring Russian snacks for us so ,today, she brought the Russian equivalent of apple pie. After the movie, she gave me a couple pieces, crushed in a cup, to take with me. It reminded me on my mom and being home, so I went back to my dorm and lost it. I’m not sure if I’m being over dramatic or not, but that’s what happened.

153 Brandon R. November 25, 2013 at 11:35 am

I’m actually very tender-hearted and I cry quite easily. Sometimes, I just lose it. However, I know when not to cry, and am actually pretty good at holding it together when I need to. I just imagine that I’m Batman. Of course, I usually do that anyway, but I can’t think of a better model of being in control of yourself and your environment. Then, when it’s just my wife and I (or, if need be) just me, I take off the cape and cowl (so to speak) and let it all out.

154 Vito Mezzapelli December 4, 2013 at 5:44 am

Men should be just be able to cry whenever they feel the need. Where did this stupid expectztion come from that they should not?

155 Peter Smith December 12, 2013 at 9:46 am

This article is terrific. Unfortunately, so much stigma has been placed on crying. Crying is a natural act. It is a part of who we are as human beings. So many of our natural responses, actions and way of being have been manipulated based on a perceived societal view. Crying like sex has become taboo. Both are completely natural. People need to stop worrying what others think. If you feel the need to cry, let it out.
If others around you are uncomfortable, that is their issue. They should not project their own insecurities and inability to deal/cope with life onto you. Crying should be embraced and recognised as an attribute of humanity and system that keeps us balanced. Cheers. May the Tears flow.

156 LawnGuyLander December 20, 2013 at 10:00 pm

I cried at the funeral of a relative,and felt somewhat embarrassed about it.I felt this way because almost all of those present did not show the depth of emotion I did.The WASP/Nordic attitude towards a man not showing emotion by and large is correct. You are seen as weak and foolish.The only valid exceptions are when a loved one dies,birth of a child,and an intense religious experience.

157 Peter February 2, 2014 at 12:19 am

I’m curious, how do y’all feel mental illness factors into this? Coming from a bipolar person.

158 A Female February 11, 2014 at 5:49 pm

I was just going to write and I saw the note from Peter about mental illness… I knew what people would think is a strong and powerful man on a very personal level and he cried in private with me quite a bit. He suffered from PTSD from abuse as a child…and because society told him not to cry he became this strong man, and unknowingly hurt many people along the way. Eventually it wasn’t sustainable holding all that in and he got really sick… please be considerate to people who have real problems.

159 John February 21, 2014 at 8:59 am

Another movie I would add is the re-entry seen in Apollo 13. Watching the pain as they think the capsule is lost, then the joy as they see the opening chutes.

160 SilverSpade92 March 14, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Ok, so I’m going to admit upfront that I’m a millennial, which probably won’t do much for my ethos.
I think this a fun read, and most of it is good life advice in my opinion.

Nr. 2 on the ‘Not OK’ list really sticks out to me. I actually read this article a few years back too, and I try my best to live by that rule. I think being able to practice rule 2 is one of the factors that separate men and women, from boys and girls.

On the other hand I disagree with 5 on the same list. I think even the best of us can crack down under stress, and I don’t think zero-tolerance for mental breakdowns is healthy. That said, I think you should not drag anyone else with you if you break down (rule 2), nor give in when you have a job to do (rule 3). Stay collected until you can get some time for yourself.

Unless you’re breaking rules 2 and 3, I don’t think there is anything wrong with letting out the pain, granted that you move forward once you’ve recollected yourself.

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