My husband doesn't watch most of the TV shows I watch, or at least not during the season they're on, because he prefers to watch them streaming online through Netflix without any commercials once the whole season is released. But for some reason, he watched the season finale of Top Chef All-Stars with me, even though that's a show he never watches.
Not only did he keep asking me who the contestants were, who the judges were, the rules of the contest, etc., but he kind of made fun of me for crying when Richard Blais (my favorite contestant) was proclaimed the winner. I dabbed away my tears and smiled, but inside I was thinking "what would he say if he knew I cried at the show every week?"
Yes, I cry at most episodes of Top Chef, and not just for the person who gets kicked off and has to go home, but for the character who thought they did well and the judges told them they didn't, and maybe most of all for characters who don't think they did well but then won the challenge. That's why I loved Blais so much. He teared up a lot this season, too.
And it's not just Top Chef, or contest-based reality shows that make me cry. Touching moments on realistic comedies (OK, maybe The Office isn't that realistic overall, but it is filled with many moments that are so true to life) make me cry, and some music makes me cry. And I'm not talking about any pulling-at-your-heart-strings country music or anything like that. A beautiful hymn can make me cry. This is why I don't wear mascara anymore.
When I was a child and my family used to get together every Saturday night for our weekly movie-watching ritual, I used to love to look over at my mom during the sappy moments and see if she was crying, which she almost always was. The whole family loved to tease her. At least she was in her late 40s/early 50s then! Somehow I've lost my ability to hold in when I experience things that are sad, or maybe even just true. The floodgate, for my tears, is broken.
I don't think I'm any sadder than I used to be. Depression runs in my family and I dealt with it face-on in my earlyish 20s, and I like to think I know how to keep a funk from getting out of control and turning into a full-blown bout of depression these days. I did have to give up grunge/90s alternative music though, perhaps my favorite genre, because the sadness of it all was overwhelming. Now I stick to classic rock, classic hip-hop, and plain old classic music when I'm in the car (I find it reduces my instinct to speed and see it as a little stress therapy throughout the day) because they're more uplifting.
So while I wouldn't say that I'm sad, I'll cry at anything that gives me the instinct to cry at, and I blame this on middleage. I think my hormones must be overriding my brain, and it's kind of embarassing! When other people see you crying they assume there's something terribly wrong, or that when you're trying to repress tears, you're really trying to repress a thought or experience that is causing the tears.
All I can offer as an explanation for my own situation is that with age I have gained an exponential ability to emphathize with others, and watching other people through dramatic highs and lows, or listening to songs expressing their hearts, I can't help but let go. I even have to avoid karaoke nights because some people put so much emotion into the songs and their song choices, the tears start coming out. Talk about embarassing!
Luckily for me, at times I am capable of holding back an urge to cry. Or rather, I let myself tear up but swallow the rest down. But that tends to build up after a while. I find that the more I hold it back, the bigger of a way I need to release it later. My prefered method is to watch one of several movies that can always get a cry out of me, and when it comes, just really give it all I got. These aren't just chick flicks either. "Punch Drunk Love" comes to mind as one of my reliable releases.
So I don't know if this breaking down of the emotional and tear floodgates happens to everyone with age and experience, but it's definitely something I've noticed (and disected) in my life. If you suffer from this phenomena too, I can only offer one piece of advice: buy the best tissues, the kind with lotion in them, all the time. The high quality counts when you're a frequent user.