affectivity college

Big Girls Don’t Cry: What Fergie Taught Me About the Heart

11:54:00 AMCatherine Beigel

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“Big girls don’t cry.” - Fergie

Although not anatomically correct, I had always associated the heart with those pesky feelings that made me cry. Everything I lacked the ability to communicate could be blamed on the heart. At a young age, I began believing the lies that feelings were unreasonable, irrational, and subhuman. When we are adults we are supposed to be rational; Fergie was right, “big girls don’t cry.”

Pinpointing a specific event or conversation where I began to believe in the invalidity of feelings is difficult. Most likely it was the culmination of several little moments. Emotions were a sign of my weakness and of childhood. Sitting on the couch watching movies, my tender heart would respond to the main character’s loss of a loved one; however, I would quickly brush away any moisture in my eyes, before the snickering laughs of my siblings came, “ARE YOU CRYING?!” As I grew older, their mocking comments  morphed into stares of judgement. Overtime, I learned not to cry. Emotional response was for children. I was a big girl now, and big girls don’t cry.

Hildebrand speaks about this condition in his book, The Heart, referring to the silencing of the heart as heartless. It is, “The crippling of a center in man’s soul.” Later commenting, “these people are also unable to feel real sorrow… they cannot truly grieve. For real sorrow, the suffering in which the heart is wounded, implies a melting of pride, a surrender which is incompatible with their basic hardness.” (2)

In ceasing to cry, I was actually ceasing to allow reality to effect the interiority of my being. I was cutting myself from my emotional response. It took several years to awaken my heart and feel again. This piercing of my hardened heart came in an unexpected way, college. Perhaps you already know what I’m talking about, or perhaps your college experience has been nothing more than butterflies and rainbows. In my experience, college was the first time I knew what it felt like to be desperately alone in a sea of people.

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Weeks into freshman year I held onto my delusion; telling myself, “I’m fine.” I spent time with my hall-mates, braved the trips to the cafeteria with classmates, laughed about prank wars with my roommate (I applaud whoever threw the zip tied can of ax in my room; it smelled of middle school boys for weeks). The laughter helped, yet despite all of this, I looked around and was haunted by the fact that not a soul knew me. Growing up in a small town where all of my friends had hung out since birth was taking a toll and 3 week old friendships could not compete. I don’t even know if I knew how to allow myself to be known. In regards to superficialities, yes, I had it all down. I could tell you my favorite hobbies, pet peeves, how many siblings I had. Those were the facts, but they never spoke of my heart. I was too proud to admit to the women living around me that I was struggling with the adjustment to a new school, to college, and that it was difficult. It was much easier to act like I had it all together. But as I was discovering, having it all together is incredibly lonely. My heart screamed at my head, “I’M NOT OKAY,” but my head was louder and shouted back, “BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY.”

It was a lonely night when my roommate asked that dreaded question, “Are you okay?” As my lips answered “I’m fine,” the tears began to rush down my face. I wasn’t fine. In tears and acceptance of my own tender heart which wanted to desperately to be known and loved, I got what I was desiring. Instead of being rebuffed for my tears, my roommate sat and by listening to my attempts to unravel the feelings I didn’t know how to communicate, was present to my heart and its messy emotions. She showed my heart the attention is needed. Vulnerability I found, contrary to its terrifying nature, breeds community. In revealing my heart to another, I was revealing myself. It was the risk that earned me a true friend, one who would fight for me, rejoice with me in the highs, and cry with me in the lows.

Hildebrand says, “True consciousness implies no introversion whatever, but rather a fuller more awakened experience. The more conscious a joy is, the more its object is seen and understood in its full meaning; the more awakened and outspoken the response, the more the joy is lived. Tender affectivity calls for this true consciousness in a special way.” (4)

The human person was not made to be alone. It is contrary to our very nature. In my attempts to shut out my heart, I was silencing what would have awakened me to what I truly need. I needed other people. My heart knew that, but I was too busy being rational to listen. The heart, complete with it’s pesky emotions and tears, is a legitimate piece of our personhood. Together with my reason and will, I can live present to the reality around me and the reality of who I am. Emotions are valuable because they inform us about reality, and in sharing of our emotions with others we invite them to participate in our reality in a way only the human person can. It’s a lesson I took only too long to learn, and as a senior looking back I wish I could tell my freshman self to stand up to Fergie and tell her she is wrong. Big girls do cry.


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(2) von Hildebrand, Dietrich. The Heart
(4) von Hildebrand, Dietrich. The Heart. Pg. 81

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