The inability to cry, says psychiatrist Barton Kraff, "is a major problem for men."
"As boys, they're given the message it's not okay, or it's feminine or weak to cry," he notes. By the time they're adults, some have learned to surpress emotion to the extent that their wives may report "communication problems with her husband because he won't say how he's feeling."
Although not all cultures discourage male tears, says Minnesota social psychologist Phil Rosenblatt, his survey of nearly 100 cultures' grief experience found that "women cry more than men, with the exception of a few cultures (Thai villagers and Western Apaches) where women and men cry about equally."
Since supression of tears has been linked to stress-related diseases, says biochemist William Frey, "it might even explain why women live longer than men."
Adult crying -- and the problems caused by not crying -- can be best understood by "thinking about the crying of an infant," says Dr. Kraff, director of intake services at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington.
"An infant's cry is a signal of some state of displeasure. The infant is anxious or angry and wants to get rid of the discomfort. When we cry as adults we are acting like our natural selves when we weren't fettered by societal no-nos like it's not okay to cry.
"When you surpress an angry or troubled emotion that's when you can get a reaction such as depression. And crying is absolutely necessary to the grief process. If you don't cry in a situation like that, symptons are very much apt to develop."
Perhaps for this reason, he notes, "Grief is the one time it seems when adults -- particularly males -- are allowed to cry by our society and retain respect."
As an example: The same American public that accepted one public figure's tears of grief was outraged by another grown man's tears of frustration. Walter Cronkite's on-camera weeping during President Kennedy's assassination endeared him to Americans. Yet Edmund Muskie's tears over a newspaper's insult to his wife effectively killed his chance for the presidency.
Did the "Muskie for President" fervor begun by "dump Carterites" signal a new societal acceptance of male tears? "I don't think so," says Kraff, indicating it probably had more to do with desperate groping for leadership.
"But what I do see happening is women moving into business situtions where they want to cry but feel they can't. As male and female roles are drawing closer we seem to be moving in both directions -- some men may be finding it easier to express emotion and cry, but some women may be finding it harder."