Auntie SparkNotes: I Cry
I am a very sensitive person. I laugh easily, cry easily, and get mad easily. It hasn't really bothered me, until our school's academic decathlon. I was in charge of learning topography, stages of the rock cycle, and what shapes the earth's surface. I studied for NINE MONTHS with a science teacher, special science websites, and my mom. I was able to answer every question backwards and forwards when my science teacher quizzed me. I even went into overtime two weeks before the competition.
After I took the test, and waited during the awards ceremony, I didn't place first, second, or third. I placed eighteenth. Out of twenty-eight schools! I started crying and my mom had to pull me out to the parking lot so I could collect myself. Ever since then, everything's gone downhill. I cry when I get frustrated, I cry when I get mad, I cry when someone uses a tone with me. In Target, I began to cry when my mom wouldn't buy me lip balm because I ran out. I try to see both sides of an argument, but just thinking of arguments makes me cry.
Next year I am going to high school, and I really don't want to be perceived as the whiny baby who cries when she doesn't get her way. Please help me Auntie! I've tried all the tricks from counting to ten to holding my breath. The last thing I want to happen is to be seen as a crybaby.
Okay, I'll admit it: for the first two paragraphs of this letter, I was really gearing up to suggest, as gently as possible, that this sort of uber-sensitivity to the teensiest slight is really going to impact your life if you don't get a handle on it, and that doing so might require more, and more prolonged, help than I can give you in a 500-word response.
And then I got to the end, and saw how old you are, and thought, "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh."
Because while I don't often bring up the whole "raging hormones" thing in this column (for good reason, because it's usually just a condescending excuse for adults who don't want to take teenagers seriously) in this case, it's gotta be said: the early stages of puberty are a complete and total bitch. The years between 12 and 14, for most of us, are a veritable minefield of mood swings and hypersensitivity. And as such, crying for ridiculous reasons just kind of comes with the territory.
So go easy on yourself, Sparkler, because you're not alone. (And if you don't believe me, I'll happily tell you all about the time that I turned into a wailing, blubbering ball of snot in seventh grade French class just because my teacher referred to me as "a clown.") And while you may always be a person who carries your emotions close to the surface, that out-of-nowhere, sobbing-over-lip-balm-in-Target sort of volatility isn't going to be with you forever. Okay? Okay.
Now, about that: despite what you may think, it may actually be better not to try and fight the weepiness. First, because it's not like you're fooling anyone—there's nothing more obvious than the trembling, red-faced, sniff-sniff-sniffling efforts of a person who's trying not to cry—and second, because allowing the tears to just do their thing frees you up to focus on more important stuff like social damage control. Because like you said, you're not really hurting when this stuff happens, right? You've just got a Cry-o-Meter that goes off at the drop of a hat. And when the tears turn on, all you need to do is say as much, by either issuing an immediate disclaimer (i.e. "Don't read into this, I just cry really easily when I'm frustrated. Give me a second, I'll be fine."), or making light of it ("Oh man, here I go. Sorry, I'm one of those people who gets weepy at cat food commercials."). And if you need to, excuse yourself to another room until you regain your composure.
And the good news? As long as you operate from a place of maturity and self-awareness—acknowledging your crying upfront as the involuntary stress reaction it is, making it clear to those around you that it's your issue and not theirs, and never, ever using your tears to manipulate people—then nobody will ever accuse you of being a crybaby (and more than a few will be impressed with how self-possessed you are.) And when it comes to important life skills, that's one that'll come in useful even when you don't have something to cry about.
Are you an easy crier? Share your anti-sobbing tactics in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.