Downtime

Let’s Embrace Our Blubbering and Make Cry Closets Happen

A man crying in the middle of a crowded sidewalk.
Bet he’d like a cry closet right now.
AntonioGuillem/Thinkstock

Across the country, college semesters are slowly coming to a close. Summer, once so far away, is theoretically around the corner—but first, final exams must be taken. To help students over the last hurdle of the academic school year and assist them in regurgitating 15 weeks’ worth of knowledge in five days, one university has allowed a student to install an inventive coping method in the campus’ library. Devised by University of Utah student and visual artist Nemo Miller, the “cry closet” is pretty self-explanatory. The closet, outfitted with black felt, stuffed animals and a strict ten-minute cry-policy, is a self-described “safe space for stressed-out students” to have a breakdown in the privacy of large wooden box.

Besides the ten-minute limit, the cry closet’s other rules stipulates that students knock before entering to ensure no one’s stress-induced bawling session is interrupted. And to ensure that the cry closet isn’t used for nefarious purposes, it only accommodates one person at time. But that doesn’t mean criers have to cry alone—to cry in solidarity, the closet asks that if users post about their closet session that they use #cryclosetuofu on all relevant social media. The cry closet’s appearance was, of course, met with snowflake crybaby derision and alarmed hysteria that the closet meant students wouldn’t be prepared for the real world—because instead of crying, as one enlightened Twitter commentator put it, adults just “grab life by the balls and manhandle that shit!” One alumnus even insinuated that she would stop donating if Miller got academic credit for their art installation—almost as if the University of Utah should be a safe space where this particular alumnus’ views go unchallenged, even after she graduated.

Hypocrisy aside, I happen to think the cry closet is a great idea. It should be celebrated and replicated across the country. There’s an unfortunately popular misconception that being a mature adult means taking all of life’s gut punches with stoic silence and a stiff upper lip. For those of us who aren’t emotionally repressed, that’s neither realistic or healthy. Life is hard and crying is both a completely natural reaction to stress and a way to reduce it. According to prominent tear researcher William H. Frey II, when humans cry in response to emotion, rather than say, onion fumes or pollen, their tears contain more of certain chemicals that are released when the body is under stress. Frey theorizes that shedding these hormone-infused tears reduces the levels of stress hormones in the body, which could then reduce stress. There’s also research that suggests that in addition to acting as a way to self-soothe, crying releases oxytocin and endorphins—both chemicals that help ease physical and emotional pain. And then there’s the fact that in a 2008 study, almost nine out of ten people reported “some degree of post-crying mood improvement.”

Anecdotally and scientifically, crying helps us feel better, and we would all be better off if we stopped equating maturity with a lack of emotionality. Rather than increasing your tolerance for life’s highs and lows, bottling up your feelings tends to shorten your emotional fuse. Instead of being able to take annoyances in stride, you’re now one delayed train away from yelling at the Starbucks cashier who accidentally gave you whole milk instead of soy. Not to mention the fact that research suggests emotional suppression could increase the risk of dying from heart disease and certain forms of cancer. So while my full-throated support for the cry closet is certainly in the interest of public health, I’m also just tired of dealing with emotionally constipated adults.

Of course, some of my tear-inclined fellows might say, “Rachelle, we have bathrooms and a lot of companies are instituting wellness rooms, why do we need cry closets?” To which I would say, neither of those spaces’ primary functions includes crying. One of the obstacles to crying in public is feeling like a nuisance—a feeling that would only be exacerbated if I felt like I was keeping somebody from breast-pumping or checking their glucose by hogging the wellness room. And let’s be honest here, the sounds of other people using the bathroom do not a good crying environment make. When I moved to New York, one of the positives said to balance out the smell of hot garbage is that you can cry on the subway and your fellow commuters would pay you no notice. This suggests to me that we’re all seeking a place to cry for ten minutes before going on with our day. Wouldn’t a plushy, cozy closet be better for that than an active bathroom or a crowded train?