General Question

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

Why do men have such a hard time with women crying?

Asked by MyNewtBoobs (19026points) April 8th, 2011

Ok, first the disclaimer: No, not all men have this issue. Some men are really great with crying, others are mediocre.

However, I have had a really high number of men say something like “I don’t do crying women” or “Women crying really freaks me out” or my favorite, just turning white at the sight of tears in a woman’s eyes and running out of the room really fast. And not just when dumping a woman, but over any tears of any nature.

Why is this? I have yet to meet a woman – even an antisocial woman who also gets along much better with men – who looses her cool at the sight of tears.

Note: Fluther thought this question had been asked before, in the form of this question. I think that’s hilarious.

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38 Answers

Coloma's avatar

Whatever we are uncomfortable with in others is what we are uncomfortable about within ourselves.

When somebody says they don’t like to visit someone in the hospital it is because they are not comfortable with the thought of themselves being helpless and hospitalized.

This is where the saying of not ‘taking anything personally’ comes in.

The man that is not comfortable with comforting another in their tears is a man that is not comfortable with his own emotional states, IF, he can even identify he has any emotions!

We hide from others pain because it reminds of our own potential pain.

gorillapaws's avatar

I’m sure evolution has something to do with it. Men don’t like to hurt women (at least most of us don’t) and that makes sense because we want them to have sex with us and raise our children (from a purely evolutionary perspective). It would then make sense that seeing a women upset has a powerful impact on a man’s psyche, because there are tens of thousands of years of evolutionary pressure making it so.

mazingerz88's avatar

Well, that was a bit surprising. It never naturally occurred to me a man would do that. I’ve never seen one do that, freaking out when a woman sheds tears. But that is so unmanly in my view.

YoBob's avatar

My theory is that it is tied directly to the man’s primal protective instinct. We have been hard wired from the dawn of time to be the provider/protector of the family unit.

Fyrius's avatar

Exception #1, reporting in. I’m usually happy to give people emotional support when they need some.

@gorillapaws
I doubt it. In nature, what a male does when a female won’t screw him any more is look for a different female. Don’t look at me like that. I’m just saying, natural selection favours callous jerks.

@YoBob
So… that’s why they freak out and run away? You’d expect them to feel strong protective impulses, making them want to help.

This seems more like a result of cultural ideas about emotion, composure and manliness. I don’t think evolutionary psychology will be a whole lot of help in explaining it.

cockswain's avatar

@Coloma That seems insightful.

I’d add that I would guess that in general men like to help women solve their problems (it seems women don’t always want men to solve their problems). When I woman is crying, that is a very difficult problem for the typical man to understand. Without really empathizing and understanding, he can’t help. Which he finds frustrating.

gailcalled's avatar

Apparently I have hung around with only men who do got get uncomfortable when I wept. Natural selection, I suppose.

Fyrius's avatar

@gailcalled
Personal selection is more like it.

gailcalled's avatar

@Fyrius: True. When I cry occasionally, Milo rushes in and appears to be very solicitous. Or maybe he is simply concerned that I will forget to refill his food bowl.

Qingu's avatar

There is actually some biochemistry at work here.

Researchers have found that female tears contain chemicals that decrease male sex drive.

It’s only emotional tears, too.

Collecting fresh women tears for men to sniff: Science in action!

gorillapaws's avatar

@Fyrius I respectfully disagree. There are strong selective pressures that encourage pair-bonding as one strategy for passing on genes. Children are well-cared for in such circumstances and the odds that they will survive to an age that will allow them to reproduce is greatly increased.

wundayatta's avatar

Crying scared me for a number of reasons. Usually, it was only a woman I was strongly tied to who was crying, and I felt like she was probably crying because I had hurt her somehow. I always felt guilty in those days, and was always certain I done something wrong.

Crying seemed to me to be the worst thing ever. If a woman was crying, that meant she was about to leave me. Scared the shit out of me. And it was made worse because the woman never told me why she was crying. I would ask her anxiously, and then I’d start apologizing and things would get worse.

My wife kept on insisting that crying was good for her. It released her. I should try it. I never had much luck, though. Crying isn’t easy for me. I don’t know if it’s because I was trained not to cry or if it’s because men just don’t cry so much due to our physiology. And when I did cry, it only made me feel worse. So it was hard to imagine anyone feeling better after crying.

After I got sick, two things happened. One, it became easier for me to “cry.” I don’t really cry, but my eyes start watering and I get choked up. It happens a lot more now than it ever did before. I actually like it because it makes me feel more in tune with what’s going on around me, and it makes me feel like I know when important emotional things are happening. That probably sounds really stupid. Especially to guys. Oh well.

Then, my wife and I went to couples counseling, and I found out that it wasn’t important to her. It seems that crying triggered a desire to make things better. But, it turned out, that wasn’t wanted. My wife didn’t want me to fix things. She just wanted me to hold her. She didn’t even care if I understood. She just wanted sympathy. So I could keep my anxieties to myself (how egotistical to think it’s always about me, anyway), and just be there.

Just be there. What kind of weird is that? What’s wrong with trying to make things better? Why can’t we fix things? What’s the point of crying if you don’t ask for help?

So, yeah. Stuff down those action feelings and hang around like a big mope, holding her, and everything is cool, most of the time. Sometimes she really is pissed at me, but that’s another story, I guess.

wundayatta's avatar

@Qingu OMG. I sure didn’t get that gene. Crying actually turns me on! Don’t tell anyone.

gondwanalon's avatar

I think that this is all about control. Some men feel the need to be in control of women and everything else. As soon as a women starts crying then the man’s control is gone. Therefore the impulse for the man is to leave and go to a place where he is still in control.

WasCy's avatar

We’re defenseless against it.

funkdaddy's avatar

I think we’re looking back way too far if you’re looking for natural selection here.

Early on in our lives, who are the women that would be crying? Our moms, sisters, and other family members.

If they’re crying, it’s either try to fix it (comforting) or get out of the way (leave). I think that’s what you’re seeing here. If the man in question isn’t closely tied to the problem or isn’t willing to fix it, the next best thing is just to get out of the way. There’s a certain amount of responsibility that comes with staying, you can’t just sit there and watch, you have to do something to fix. If you’re not in that position, leave.

Coloma's avatar

Sure, I believe there is some evolutionary stuff at work, men and womans brains are wired differently in some ways, BUT..the bottom line is it is mostly about programming and training male children to not show emotion.

This is where personal growth work comes in.

Untangling our faulty programming so we can grow and evolve to our highest potential for human communion and connection.

YoBob's avatar

@Fyrius – “that’s why they freak out and run away? You’d expect them to feel strong protective impulses, making them want to help.”

Yep, tears from emotional upset (from a woman that is part of your tribe) = this is a bad situation that you don’t want any part of. This is quite different from tears as a direct result of wrongful treatment by another, in which case the protective instinct becomes quite strong.

What many women (and men for that matter) fail to grasp is that the concept of helping differs greatly between men and women. Men often times just don’t “get” that whole concept of emotional support (the woman’s version of helping). Of course it is a gross generalization, but for men help usually means providing a solution to the problem. With the whole tears thing men often are not even equipped to understand the problem, much less offer suggestions for a solution (their version of help). So, the choice becomes 1) hang around and be a part of a situation for which you have no opportunity to provide a solution (the man’s version of help). or 2) Be elsewhere, in which case (in the man’s mind) you have done nothing to make the situation worse and you don’t have to be tortured with each sob reminding you of your inability to do anything to solve the problem.

Coloma's avatar

Maybe, it’s possible, that anyone, male or female, might react differently to manipulative crying than genuine sadness.
I’m a woman that has never used crying in a manipulative way, and I mean NEVER! I loathe woman that play the crying game to solicit sympathy, dangerously close to psychopathic behavior.

Brian1946's avatar

A woman’s tears make my nipples damn, this in General.

Regardless of the gender, I usually feel closer to a person if the cause of their tears would also make me cry.

E.g., when my mom died, I went over to my father’s house. When I arrived, I saw that he had been crying. When I saw the redness of his eyes, I burst into tears and we both passionately hugged each other. That was the closest I’d ever been to him.

Actually, I cry more readily than my wife does. When I do, she usually shows a lot of warmth and tenderness towards me. I’m sure that in the future she’ll encounter occasions for sadness that occur in the lives of all mortal beings, and I know that I’ll be there for her.

I can only guess why some men can’t deal with a woman’s tears. I wonder if guys who cry when they watch “Brian’s Song” would be there for a woman when she cries, or if they’d also retreat.

Perhaps they still have a subconscious feeling that crying for something other than the death of a loved one or for some other reason that they don’t see as being particularly feminine, makes them less masculine.

Blackberry's avatar

We’re just having a hard time trying to fathom why they’re not in the kitchen :P

It’s similar to dealing with a crying toddler; you don’t want to deal with it. When your toddler has a meltdown, some tend to dismiss it as them being irrational, for example. It’s easier to talk to someone if they’re not balling their eyes out, because remember….men have that tendency to try to solve the problem instead if just listening lol.

El_Cadejo's avatar

Because theyre insecure with their own emotions and dont even want to think about it. To confront someone who is deeply upset to the point of crying takes a level of understanding on your part. If your not comfortable thinking and being emotional towards others, crying is something youd want to distance yourself from.

MissAnthrope's avatar

My guess is that it’s one of a few things that have been mentioned already. One, there’s a physical response to women crying that seems to be in place to help prevent making women cry—this makes sense to me biologically, because I have often wondered what sorts of checks are in place (biologically) to help prevent men from overpowering women all the time.

I also think the control aspect is spot on, for some men.

Lastly, I think helplessness is an important element. Not knowing the hows or whys, not to mention that women are complex and sometimes difficult to understand from the outside. Hell, I’m a woman and dating other women, I’m the first to tell you that we can be perplexing as all get-out. I’m in a unique position of being wired both male and female, so I experience glimmers of both sides. I know from my own experience that a woman breaking down into tears can be surprising or confusing, particularly when it wouldn’t even occur to me to cry or break down. Then, you want to fix things, make her feel better, make the tears stop, etc.. but not everyone (male or female) is equipped to deal with the right kind of emotional support.

Not knowing what to do can incite a feeling of panic, which I have felt first-hand, hence perhaps the desire to bolt.

flutherother's avatar

When we see a woman crying we feel we have to help. There is nothing more sad than a woman crying when no one can see her.

MacBean's avatar

I have a hard time with anyone crying. It makes me feel so helpless because I can’t just snap my fingers and make everything okay for them.

Pandora's avatar

Agree with @MacBean
My husband really just doesn’t know what to say around a crying woman or anyone crying. He gets this totally hopeless look on his face, like a deer in headlights.
That said he is not the only one. It is always an extremely uncomfortable situation for anyone to be in.
Even for the person crying. It is a loss of control for the person crying and even though they are crying they are usually hating the public display of it. I for one also feel horriably uncomfortable when in the presence of someone in tears. If they are simply being overly dramatic over a small issue not worth crying about then I feel annoyed. If they are crying over some real dilema or heart ache, or something that is very painful, then I just feel hopeless in helping them. The difference I think is that women are geared to nurture. So even though we may feel uncomfortable we understand that by just having a shoulder to cry on sometimes is all the person needs. So we stay and comfort and endure the uncomfortable situation. Men are taught that they are to fix things, offer solutions and most things can be fixed in one way or another. So when they encounter a situation that words or actions can’t immediately fix they don’t know what to do next and leave. Men are still taught that tears won’t fix anything and so it is senseless to cry. And although the first part is true the second part is not. Crying (so long as it is not excessively done) is great for clearing out emotional cobwebs that build up over time and releasing stress. Which is why women probably live longer than men.

Porifera's avatar

It has always puzzled me why men seem to regard crying as something crazy or that they don’t even see crying as a valid human emotion. It is above all a HUMAN emotion and men are human too. Crying is just as valid as laughter —just on the opposite side of the spectrum.

A lot of the crying in women comes from hormonal changes, but not all women know this themselves, hence they cannot explain that to their partners or bothers or male friends. For instance, I consider myself a very strong independent woman, but there have been times when I have cried even if I didn’t want to.

Then again, there are the women who shut down, not even hinting the guy what’s wrong with them causing him to be very confused, not to mention the women that use their tears to manipulate others and make guys feel guilty just to get what they want. But, that’s another topic altogether.

yankeetooter's avatar

Well, being a woman, I don’t know. I’ve mainly had experiences with two men reacting to my crying. The first, a very good friend, would just wrap his arms around me and hold me while I cried. The second, a love interest of mine, on the one occasion I was on the verge of tears/crying a little, came over near me and spoke to me in the kindest, gentlest tone of voice I had ever heard him use, and that was enough to make everything ok.

lonelydragon's avatar

You haven’t met my sister then. She either laughs at people when they cry or threatens to choke them (sometimes I think she has sociopathic leanings, but that’s another story). Now that I’ve dispelled the stereotype of women’s adroitness in dealing with tears, I will answer your question. I believe men have trouble comforting a crying woman because crying is a taboo for masculine men. If they are compelled to repress their own emotions, then comforting someone else is going to be very difficult for them.

give_seek's avatar

Men are biologically hardwired to fix things. If something is broken, a window let’s say, with the proper tools and a little grunt effort, a window can be fixed.

When we cry, there’s no clear “fix” for that. There’s no off switch. There’s no tool on any toolbelt that will correct it. So, without a clear role, men can feel out of sorts—and out of their element. In male culture, a man out of his element can be perceived as weak and “one down.” Not a good thing for men who are socialized to be “one up.” So, SOME men steer clear of the waterworks.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@give_seek Men are not biologically hardwired to fix things. If that were true, it would be true of all men, and I’ve known tons (and there are quite a few here on Fluther) that don’t feel the need to fix things.

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give_seek's avatar

@MyNewBoobs I agree with you when you say that not all men are fixers. Just as women are biologically hardwired to give birth, not all women are nurturers. (Social Services are busy with children whose mothers have proven to be quite the opposite.) Not all women are the mothering kind. Some are. Maybe even most. But it doesn’t hold true for all women. The same goes for men. Just because they may be genetically predisposed to be fixers, does not mean that they all will be. But it can explain why when dumbstruck by something they cannot fix, they back away.

lifeflame's avatar

I once had a bf who said, ‘you’re beautiful [when you cry]’ while I was crying. I was ready to sock him one right then and there.
(anyone want to explain that one for me?)

funkdaddy's avatar

@lifeflame – a friend of mine says if you’re not sure of the right thing to say, pick one of the following (not just in relationships)

1) flatter
2) apologize
3) retreat and regroup

This would be option 1.

roundsquare's avatar

@lifeflame Some guys like it when a woman appears weak. He probably interprets crying as weakness.

I agree withe everyone here who says that men want to “fix” things. The hardest to deal with is when we actually have a fix to the issue and we aren’t allowed to suggest/implement it.

Its not just with crying though. I had a girlfriend who who complain to me about things and she wanted me to say something along the lines of “aww, that does suck.” Instead, I would say “well, we can just blah, blah, blah….” and she would get pissed at me. I still don’t really get it, but nowadays I just accept it (though I end up acting very awkward).

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