I had lunch with a good friend today. (She’s the one who’s always encouraged me and continues to support me during the roller coaster ride of trying to become published and I love her for it. ) We started talking about the fact that we both seem to cry more over fiction (books, movies, tv, commercials) than we do over reality. I joked that it probably says something horrendous about our psyches, but this afternoon I looked into it and found articles that suggest otherwise.
My friend and I aren’t monsters who fail to care about our loved ones. For one thing, we’re both moms and have had our fair share of being strong for our children and husbands and families. It’s hard to cope with a situation when you’re having to stop and wipe the tears. So, in reality, we suck in our emotions and deal with whatever emotional situation that’s arisen, be it the death of loved ones, or kids in trouble, or financial hardships or exhaustion. Whatever the case, we are present for the moment. Usually the tears will come later.
Tears over fiction are immediate. Earlier today I finished my favorite author Jennifer L. Armentrout’s THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER. It was released last year, but I put it off because I knew, I knew it was going to make me cry based on the subject matter alone. But I wanted to read it for several reasons: I adore her writing, I need to read more contemporary work, and my recent manuscript touches some of the same subjects as this one does. (Though in a much different way.) Luckily I have learned to finish books in the privacy of my own home. Where the tissue boxes are plenty and the gaping uncomfortable stares are few.
I was right. I bawled like a baby off and on for the last fiftyish pages of the book. But it was a good cry. This book had an amazing ending. It was very well done. And that’s why I cried so much. I FELT it. I felt what the characters were feeling and it knocked in the gut. This is most certainly a nod to her talent as an author, as well as evidence of my ability to connect with people who aren’t real.
Research shows fiction, in both literary and cinematic forms, greatly improves people’s capacity for empathy. It has to do with the production of oxytocin in our brains. I read an article listing an experiment on oxytocin production. To sum it up, when the participants were exposed to a video depicting an emotional scenario (child speaking about his cancer) their oxytocin production increased 47% over those who were shown a scenario in which the same child visited a zoo. The experiment went on to reveal that those who’s oxytocin had increased were shown to be more generous to strangers and give money to charity.
I find that all very fascinating.
And a bit validating too. I mean, anyone who’s seen a movie with me can testify that I will likely be a blubbering mess. And as I read the last half of ALLEGIANT? Please. It took me almost an hour and half to read Four’s POV chapters after [SPOILER HAPPENED.] I had to stop and wipe away my tears too many times.
I think the tears we cry over fiction can be our emotional release so that when an emotional crisis arises in our reality, we can deal with it. That doesn’t mean we won’t cry when bad things happen in real life. I do. Frequently. But I think my ability to connect with fictional characters and feel their pain (especially when I’m reading an amazing author!) makes it easier for me to deal with real life emotional situations.
Now before someone starts throwing bananas at me (because that would be a far worse fate for me personally than throwing tomatoes), I’m not saying that crying over fiction makes us the superior of the species. I know many people who don’t feel emotionally connected to fiction who are loving and empathetic people. I married to one of those people. But as I said to my friend today, I kind of feel sorry for those who don’t feel emotion that stems from fiction. I am encouraging everyone who is worried about being ridiculed for crying over books or movies (Young adult books, even? GASP), don’t. It’s okay to let those tears flow. Increase the oxytocin. Let it out. I’ll be here with my ample supply of tissues.
BOOK REC: If you’re looking for something to increase your oxytocin, I will wholeheartedly suggest THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER by Jennifer L. Armentrout. Even though I passed high school age many moons ago, I still FELT with these characters. It’s not typically the type of book I’d read, but I didn’t put it down once I began reading. The subject matter is dark and unfortunately all too real, but this hit all the right emotional notes with me. Jennifer is amazing and this book is worth the time.
For more info about Jennifer and THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER, visit her site here.
My research source article can be found here.