We've been told that real men don't eat quiche, and I remember hearing somewhere that real men also don't cry. By those standards, I'm a total wimp. I genuinely enjoy quiche, and I inherited my mother's tear ducts - big time. She would shed a silent tear upon seeing an animal's carcass on the roadside, and just hearing of an emotional time in someone else's life would likely cause her to well up. Mind you, she was not a sobber; she simply had deep feelings that were often manifested by a quiet, usually covert, tear.
Early on in my manhood (I refer here more to age than machoism), I determined to adopt an "It is what it is" philosophy about this potentially embarrassing "weakness." If people wanted to judge me on my inability to hold back tears that came as a normal reaction to a situation, then so be it. Truth be known, though, I wished it were different. Still and all, I got through my 20s without feeling stigmatized by my foible.
Having weathered successfully the "When are you going to get married?" line into my early 30s, I reached a point of thinking that not being married wasn't the worst thing that could happen. In fact, I rationalized that it was probably best because I liked my self-sufficiency and enjoyed being answerable mainly to myself.
Then along came Martha Jane, a very pretty, very bright, very personable, very well-liked, very confident, very accomplished woman who, unbeknownst to her, began to make inroads into my commitment to independence.
I looked for reasons not to succumb. I had always liked tall blonds; Martha Jane is a short brunette. I had come to love playing bridge; she could play, but it wasn't a preferred pastime for her. I recognized a strong strain of self-centeredness in me, but she was altogether selfless. I considered this to be too great a divide and posing a challenge for us both. Yet, I continued to cave, and I grew to like what was happening to me.
But the "big test" still loomed. One evening, MJ suggested that we go to a movie, one that had received lots of hype as a real tear-jerker. I offered every objection I could think of, short of a confession of the real reason I didn't want to go, but she prevailed and I braced for what could easily be the collapse of a relationship that had brought me unexpected pleasure.
Early on in the movie, I was able, surprisingly, to stifle any overt emotions, leading me to think that maybe I had mastered my monster, but then came an especially sappy scene that seemed to last forever. Having held back as long as I could, I succumbed to the most God-awful guttural outburst ever heard in a civilized setting.
There must have been no doctor in the theater that evening because I clearly sounded in need of immediate medical attention. Accepting that not only had I drawn attention to my bete noir among a theater full of strangers, I had also, and much more importantly, ruined what had come to be a relationship with someone I just might want to spend the rest of my life with.
Then came just about the very nicest thing that had ever happened to me: MJ reached over, put her hand on mine, and whispered, "I'm glad you can cry."
Now, 42 years later, I still get dewy-eyed easily, and always with gratitude that the person next to me isn't embarrassed ... and so neither am I.
Bert Hudnall is a lifelong educator, teacher, headmaster, college admissions director, recent college adviser at both Ashley Hall and the Charleston Charter School for Math and Science, and founder of The Next Step, an independent college counseling placement service.