We watch them with fascination on TV, from quiz shows and the X Factor to documentaries, and we shared grief as a nation without really knowing why at the death of Diana – and it was as if then it became OK to go public with our tears, the first time since the war demanded that we pack up our troubles and keep them quiet and dry.
Of course the big events in life warrant emotional outpourings – births, weddings, funerals – but for other 'lesser' issues, tears are often seen as a weakness or vulnerability, as being soft, overly emotional or sensitive, hormonal, losing control or they prompt the question, can she (or he) really cope?
A friend recently told me how she'd cried in front of her manager – and how bad that made her feel. Her fear was that he would think she just wasn't strong enough. And yet she's an incredibly capable, intelligent, resourceful, passionate woman who really cares about what she does. But her tears made her question herself – and not the environment within which she was trying to operate, or her manager, which might have been a better place to start.
But it's true, rightly or wrongly, crying can have a huge impact on the way others see us and indeed how we see and feel about ourselves.
There's a moment in the final Harry Potter saga when the tears of a dying man are used to create images of the past, his memories, his life. And that's all real tears ever are – the sum of our experiences, good and bad, a little bit of who we are. They reflect our deepest values – and when they've been violated or upset.
Crying tells a story. Often when words are inadequate or can't be found or we're incapable of expressing what the heart is feeling, it's tears that speak louder than words and offer the kind of release that vowels and consonants just can't. And then crying is our greatest ally - and that's when I'm glad to be a woman.
Men draw the short straw. In many ways, a woman's tears are more easily accommodated, but because it is seen as a female trait, crying without a decent life or death reason can cast a question mark over the very quality of masculinity. Hardly seems fair. On either sex. I'd like to think there will be a time when being compared to a woman isn't seen as a way of insulting a man...
However, I'm amazed at the male constitution, the nature or the nurture of it, that allows some men to withstand the most upsetting, difficult or moving moments without the merest hint of eye mist.
I on the other hand cry quite a lot. Sometimes when I talk about something I'm passionate about, I can feel my eyes filling up with the emotion of what I'm feeling. My conviction shows. It's just how I am.
But there are as many kinds of tears as their are emotions – as a child we cry when we're lonely or afraid, we cry over the bumps and bruises of growing up and when we're older, the pain of relationships ending that can be so great we want to crawl out of our own skin. And of course there are tears of happiness too, of joy, of pleasure – a literal spilling over of good feelings.
Crying can also be about letting go, and rather than being accompanied by wrenching sobs, those tears just flow quietly, washing away stress and tension and bringing relief, peace and a deeper connection with yourself.
So why would anyone want to hold them back? Maybe it will make people uncomfortable from time to time, if they happen to catch you in a moment, but I think that emotion should be allowed to flow freely and if that means tears, well, bring it on.
Swallowing down those kind of feelings can choke us if we don't find another way of letting them go and ultimately, the big important ones won't go away anyway, not really. And that's another thing about tears, you can build up a backlog, an ocean waiting, needing, wanting to be cried.
But when emotion flows freely, it allows you to move beyond it, through it, past it and then it doesn't define us, any more than our tears do.
Image shown: "Larmes Tears", by Man Ray