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The Science Behind Why Women Cry More Than Men

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You know those silly hanky warnings that are given for certain books or movies? “Bring a box of tissues if you are even THINKING of going to see this film!” Those warnings are for people like me. Women like me. Films are marketed to women and moms as tear-jerkers. There’s a reason we all list Terms of Endearment as a movie that makes us cry. The poster tells us it will with the prompt, “Come to laugh, come to cry …”

But have you ever noticed that we rarely see dads cry at the movies?

I am very easily moved to tears, and my spectrum for crying flows easily from sorrow to happiness. In the middle of the spectrum are my tears when I am proud of someone or shocked by unexpected news. My emotions are completely connected to my tear ducts.

Once I became a mom, I cried over even more things. My emotional threshold became sometimes laughably low. Greeting card commercials: weep. Plots with families welcoming a baby: weep. Story-lines with kids: sob.

As women, as moms, we are doomed to be criers. Women will also always cry more than men. Biochemist Dr. William H. Frey determined that, “women cry an average of 5.3 times a month, while men cry an average of 1.3 times per month, with crying defined as anything from moist eyes to full-on sobbing.” If I was in this study and had to count “moist eyes” as crying, I would certainly average more than five times a month!

There are many reasons why men and women cry differently. For starters, there are hormones. Oh yes, hormones. Testosterone may keep some tears at bay and prolactin (a hormone women have more of) could encourage tears.

Professor Ad Vingerhoets, a clinical psychologist at Tilburg University in The Netherlands, has been doing extensive research on tears. He is the author of the book Why Only Humans Weep: Unraveling the Mysteries of Tears. According to information from his studies, one of the reasons men and women cry differently is because “men and women differ in their exposure to emotion-inducing situations.”

“Women seem to have higher empathic skills, their bonds with other women are different in nature than male bonds, they are more likely to work in health care or with children, they watch more sad movies and read more about broken marriages and unhappy children.”

Could that be it? Moms cry at the movies more than dads because we have been exposed to more emotional situations and we watch more sad movies?

I asked several of my married friends to help me out with an unscientific survey. Basically I wanted to know, in their house does dad cry watching movies? I also wanted to know if dad cried in front of the kids. Here’s what they had to say …

No, he is not very emotional. The only time he cried was at our rehearsal dinner and wedding!”

“My husband will tear up at things, yes. Primarily sports nostalgia things. When Stuart Scott died he was really upset and he watched a bunch of clips and cried.”

Yes to emotion in front of the kids. Especially with their issues. Generally we want the kids to express themselves, even when they want to cry and so we do that by example.”

“He’s never openly weeped at a movie and can’t think of anything that has made him cry. He’s more affected by music. Like if a song his mom really loved comes on, he’ll get teary and change the song.”

“My husband isn’t really a crier. (Thanks to his father — “boys don’t cry.”) So it’s actually hard for him to cry. But he doesn’t show sad emotions in front of his kids because he wants to be strong for them.”

In 18 years I’m not sure I have ever seen him cry. Kind of weird now that I think of it.”

YES. Mmhmm. He’s SO emotional with movies, especially indie or sci-fi. The latest occurrence was when we went to go see Big Hero 6. All of us were crying. He’s very emotive, even though he’s all macho Latino man. He definitely doesn’t hide it from them if they’re around.”

He’s a complete SAP and he cries at everything from movies to Extreme Makeover Home Edition.”

I’ve never seen my husband cry over a show or movie, but he has shed tears in front of our kids before. While it wasn’t over a show, it was over a recording of his grandfather singing a song almost 30 years ago. He lost his grandfather when he was 9, so hearing his voice on an old record player was amazing and overwhelming for him.”

“[Our daughter] commented once that “dad never cries” when in reality, he often gets emotional when he TALKS about the kids (after they’re in bed).”

He cries when a wife or girlfriend or child dies in a movie.”

Are dads not crying because there aren’t emo-dad films to show them how? Did women grow up on chick flicks and learn how to cry because — uh, Hollywood taught us?

I emailed Vingerhoets to see if he could help me understand more about why dads don’t seem to cry at the movies. He reiterated that exposure to emotional situations is absolutely a factor, but he also shared several other reasons why women cry when men may not.

We perceive and evaluate potentially emotional situations differently

There are so many moments that will make someone tear up and another person, well, not. Vingerhoets says women tend to cry in more situations where they feel helpless.

Different crying threshold

Vingerhoets offers that the threshold can change based on “physical and psychological factors such as fatigue, sleep deprivation, but also hormonal levels.”

Men are more likely to have a (learned) capacity to control one’s tears

Clearly here is where we will all recognize the cringe-inducing line, “Boys don’t cry.” Sadly this is something many men in our generation grew up hearing. I know many men who, as boys, were told to “toughen up” after getting hurt.

Mensline, a popular and lifesaving helpline in Australia, has addressed some of the issues that arise when men keep their feelings to themselves. “Men often feel that they need to be self-reliant. They are sometimes focused on providing for their loved ones and hide their own emotions.”

One of the reasons why men and dads don’t cry, according to Mensline, is because they never saw it growing up. “Many men have experienced fathers who were emotionally distant, who rarely, if ever, cried or expressed affection outwardly. The way we see our parents behave becomes the unconscious template for our own behavior.”

Sometimes men and dads need to know crying is permissible. That it’s normal. NPR recently discovered that one of the go-to cry inducing actors for men is Tom Hanks. They asked their audience to share the scenes from his films that always brought the water works and the answers do not disappoint. (Yes, I cried reading the list.)

Esquire magazine is also here for men and dads with a list of 10 films that make men cry. Nick Schager says, “We think men should remember that, when it comes to the right film — be it about sports, family, or war — it’s never shameful to sob.”

Does dad cry at the movies in your family?

Image courtesy of Thinkstock

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