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July 21, 2011 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Help me not cry while reading at my friend's wedding.

My very dearest friend is marrying her fabulous fella this weekend, and they've asked me to read a poem during the ceremony. I'm flattered and honoured and thrilled to be part of their big day, but there's a hitch:

I am a huge crybaby.

I cry at everything. Songs, books, TV shows, movies; happy, sad, wistful, tragic—just remembering certain things can set me off. I managed to keep it together during my own wedding, but only thanks to the massive adrenaline rush, and I'm no stranger to public speaking; that's not going to cut it here.

These would be happy tears, full of love and joy, but there would be a lot of them, and a lot of happy full-of-love snot, and the ever-so-endearing sound of a 27-year-old's baritone voice cracking on every word. "Power through" is not an option.

What can I do to maintain my composure while reading one of my favourite poems to two of my favourite people? (Mental/cognitive techniques preferred; assume any fortifying substance you may be thinking of will only make matters worse.)
posted by Zozo to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not speaking from personal experience so this might not be helpful at all, but my first idea would be to practice reading the poem until it becomes rote.

Alternatively, if nobody sells those corks, maybe caulking.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:46 AM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Practice. Practice. Practice. Recite the poem until you forget what the words mean and it's just a rhythm.
posted by LZel at 8:47 AM on July 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Worry about it less! You're allowed a good cry at weddings and funerals, it adds to the emotional atmosphere.
posted by biffa at 8:51 AM on July 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

Think about spiders.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:51 AM on July 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Practice is probably your best bet, but speaking as a former bride with a wonderful close friend who read at our wedding.....his tears were really one of the wonderful things that happened that day (and we were all happy crying at some point in the ceremony, so I don't think that it really stood out). Good luck and good for you for being a wonderful friend!
posted by goggie at 8:52 AM on July 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Pick a shorter poem.
posted by griphus at 8:53 AM on July 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

As an insurance policy, bring a handkerchief for snot-wipin'. But seconding that no one will think less of you for tearing up; they'll be touched.
posted by foursentences at 8:57 AM on July 21, 2011

If you feel the tears start to well up, take a step back and flare your nostrils VERY FIRMLY. This actually physically pinches off your tear ducts, as well as accomplishing some very slight vagus nerve stimulation. There's another way you can accomplish the same thing but without the nose action, but it's hard to describe; the best instruction I can give is to open your eyes VERY widely, but from below, not above, so your eyebrows don't move. While you're doing that, take a long, slow, deep diaphragmatic breath.

I'm a classical singer, I do a lot of weddings and funerals, and this is my go-to trick for avoiding the sobsies at an inopportune moment. Apart from that trick, though? I Nth the "practice practice practice" and "Actually, it'll be fine if you do burst into tears" sentiments above.
posted by KathrynT at 9:03 AM on July 21, 2011 [9 favorites]

Like everyone else I say practice a lot until you aren't thinking about what the words mean. They carry a hanky and don't be ashamed to cry. My FIL sang at our wedding and he cried the whole way through it (they were happy tears) it was one of the highlights of the whole day for me. It made me feel very welcomed into his family as he is a very reserved man who rarely shows emotions it meant a lot to me. It even made up for my psychotic Grandmother in Law who had decided to make the whole day about her because she hated me but that's a whole other post.
posted by wwax at 9:20 AM on July 21, 2011

Response by poster: (I don't mind leaking a little; it's blubbering-so-hard-I-can't-get-the-words-out I'm trying to avoid.)
posted by Zozo at 9:23 AM on July 21, 2011

Best answer: Practicee reading the poem, but not to make it meaningless, as others have suggested, but exactly the opposite. You want to practice crying. Get into the feeling and see how much you can cry in advance in your practice. Let go of everything and keep at it until you are all cried out. Then wait a while and do it again. And then again. If you rehearse this enough, the pressure to cry will be greatly reduced since you've already cried and felt the feelings. You will then merely cry about the moment and not about all the resonances of it in your life from the past.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:34 AM on July 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I still say blubber away but could you try a rubber band on your wrist to flick to distract you from crying, or fingernails into the palm of your hand. Something to distract you a little with pain.

I am a nervous public speaker and to stop myself shaking I will concentrate on trying to do a tiny accurate movement that takes a lot of concentration so I will touch each finger with my thumb while I speak, trying to do that and read my speech tends to overload me too much I forget to panic. So maybe focus on making sure you are standing straight, feet just so the whole time you read, then when you feel you are about to cry make yourself focus on how you are standing. More again to keep your brain busy so you don't cry than to actually stand straight, you could use something else as your focus.

posted by wwax at 9:37 AM on July 21, 2011

Practice reading the poem, but not to make it meaningless, as others have suggested, but exactly the opposite. You want to practice crying. Get into the feeling and see how much you can cry in advance in your practice. Try and understand exactly what you are crying about and think about what it means to you personally. Let go of everything and keep at it until you are all cried out. Then wait a while and do it again. And then again. If you rehearse this enough, the pressure to cry will be greatly reduced since you've already cried and felt the feelings. You will then merely cry about the moment and not about all the resonances of it in your life from the past.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:37 AM on July 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think Obscure Reference is right. The feelings won't be overwhelming if you're familiar with them.

Whenever I have to do something that's likely to make me especially weepy, I take a B-complex vitamin (preferably with brewer's yeast) which for me is like taking a tiiiny little muscle relaxer. It keeps me from tensing up and getting the sobs, so I can cry and still talk if necessary.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:41 AM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bit of a long shot. How about beta blockers? Some musicians use them for controlling otherwise uncontrollable shaking of hands and stuff (I don't, but that's beside the point here). If your type of crying is some uncontrollable nervous reaction under adrenaline overload, it might work. (But this could be nonsense. Perhaps others have specific experience with this...)
posted by Namlit at 9:48 AM on July 21, 2011

When I had to read a psalm at my grandfather's funeral, the way I got through it was to determinedly not think about where I was or what was happening. It was like I was inside my own head going "lalala I can't hear you lalala" and refusing to make eye contact with anyone around me or to look at anything meaningful. I stared at the carpet and forced myself to think about other things, boring things. I wouldn't let my mom hold my hand, I wouldn't listen to the words of the hymns, I wouldn't look at the flowers or the casket or my grandmother. I just completely checked out, for the entire thing, including the part where I read the psalm (probably somewhat robotically).

This was completely successful, in that I didn't shed a single tear or even feel a bit weepy. And I'm the kind of person who can and will burst into tears over anything. A side effect, though, was that I basically didn't experience my grandfather's funeral and have no memories of the event. This is probably less desirable in the case of a happy event like a wedding.
posted by ootandaboot at 10:02 AM on July 21, 2011

Practice might help, but knowing the poem backwards and forwards won't really help rein in emotions on the big day. I've had some success avoiding flaily public speaking behaviour by prefacing my speaking with an "I flail a lot during public speaking!" disclaimer. I think once I realized that everyone was then expecting me to mess up, it was up to me to prove them wrong. CHALLENGE: ACCEPTED.
posted by elizardbits at 10:07 AM on July 21, 2011

I like what Obscure Reference said...practice it and instead of trying to practice avoiding the emotion, really feel the emotion when you practice. Blubber and cry while you're practicing. Especially during the rehearsal the night before...get it out of your system so to speak.

I find that the apprehension building up to an event like this is way worse than the actual event. The night before my wedding I was trying to hold it all together and finally said "Screw It" and let loose with a hyperventilating sobbing crying spell. Scared my fiance to death, but once I got it all out I was much more relaxed.
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:22 AM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I cry like crazy when I don't want to, and two things help me. Actually, nothing helps me when I get going, but when I can feel the borderline, I can kind of shove it away.

a. pretend you are a big cynical jerk. Think mean thoughts while you read, to make the reading meaningless in your head (oh, yeahright "forever", good luck with that... jeez, "like a rose of life", who wrote this schlock?)

b. I was a seminar once where the (admittedly slightly kooky) leader was talking about correlation between eye movements and thought patterns. It's not all bogus but a quick google didn't verify his claim of associating looking down (down+right?) with maudlin emotions, and the "just get through it" technique of looking up. I find it interesting that, for one thing, this kind of works for me, and for another, it feels like I'm rolling my eyes at whatever's on my mind.
posted by aimedwander at 10:34 AM on July 21, 2011

Best answer: If you practice a lot, you'll at least know where in the poem you're likely to tear up, and you'll feel more in control. You can even plan! Such as, if there are four points where you start to cry, you tell yourself at point one "hang on for point two, and you can sob *then*", instead of feeling like you have to get through the WHOLE THING, which could just leave you breaking down at the first expression of "love".
posted by endless_forms at 10:58 AM on July 21, 2011

Best answer: I've performed over 50 weddings, and I cry every time. Every time. It's all just so beautiful!

I put it off for as long as I can. Deep breaths, not looking at the couple, whatever. Then, when I can't help it anymore, I take 10 seconds. I stop a moment, pull out my hankie, sort of look apologetically at the crowd, cry for a few seconds, wipe my eyes and nose, stand still a few seconds, then go on. For me, going into it knowing I'm going to cry, planning for it, relieves a lot of my tension and makes it easier to hold back a bit.

People do feel the need to comment on it, and I wish they didn't. But what they always say is how sweet it was.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:27 AM on July 21, 2011

Oh, and I'm a great big burly guy.
And I'm tearing up a bit now...
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:28 AM on July 21, 2011

I was writing my wedding vows this morning during some down time in the office, and cried a bunch. No way I'm gonna make it through them in the ceremony.

I say go for it.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:38 AM on July 21, 2011

Best answer: I say blubber away. No one is going to remember the words of that poem by the next day. But "man, remember when Zozo cried for 20 minutes in the middle of the wedding and how sweet it was" is a story they'll pull out at every anniversary for the rest of their lives.
posted by fuzzygerdes at 11:50 AM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have been told that the flesh between the thumb & the rest of the hand is a pressure point for not crying, so I pinch it when I don't want to cry. Probably doesn't really work, but it gives you something to try.
posted by theora55 at 12:01 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

From what you describe, this isn't some kind of "I'm worried I'm going to cry, how do I resist?" thing. You are a cryer. You've been like this for years. If you haven't figured out by now how to get through an emotional moment without breaking down in tears of joy, nothing here is going to help.

If it's your choice of poem, I like the idea of choosing a short one. Possibly "cry it out" beforehand and get through the short poem, then spend the rest of the wedding in tears.

Seriously, this doesn't sound like "just flare your nostrils" will help. And you want this to be brief, because the main event of the wedding should be the wedding of your friends not, "Zozos's teary breakdown during the poem." So the solution is to assume you will cry and optimize around that situation: do practice over and over. Do engage in physical exercises to shut down your tear ducts, but make a choice of poem such that you can recite it while crying and get it over with relatively quickly.
posted by deanc at 12:53 PM on July 21, 2011

My daughter loves me to read aloud to her, and every now and then she falls in love with a book with scenes that make me emotional. The first few times I read the book to her, I find it affecting, but after repeated re-reading, I almost never get choked up, so I agree with those who suggest practicing your reading. Also try practicing it in the suit you're going to wear, and if you know the setup of where you'll be doing your reading, try to recreate that in your home.
posted by mogget at 2:15 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I second and third practice until you know the poem and are bored by it. Also a few drinks will help, not so much that you are slurring. I cry over everything, I feel your pain and I am tearing up right now.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 4:15 PM on July 21, 2011

I suggest eating a little bit and staying away from coffee/caffiene.
In fact, I don't agree with the "few drinks" already suggested-- that would just make me more emotional.
posted by calgirl at 10:07 PM on July 21, 2011

Response by poster: Well, I did it.

I practiced it a dozen times and let myself cry it all out; I took deep breaths and tried to focus on little details—my posture and the timbre of my voice, the speed at which I was reading, making the caesuras just exactly the right length—and for good measure I pinched the fuck out of the webbing next to my thumb.

And I didn't cry! My voice was pretty wobbly throughout, and I had to pause a couple of times when I started losing the ability to enunciate, but I made it back to my seat before I totally broke down, and by that point nobody was even looking at me anymore.

And it turns out my heroic and astonishingly masculine sniffles made a ton of people cry themselves, so—victory! Thanks, AskMe. I owe y'all one.
posted by Zozo at 8:41 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

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