The Quote That Won't Make You Cry

Sarah Kane did not say this.

I found this quote while trying to look up a quote I remembered from theater school, which I somehow associated with Sarah Kane. I had to stop for a second when I saw this. I know quotes get attributed to the wrong people all the time, but the wrongness of this overwhelmed me.

If you don’t know who Sarah Kane is, I DO NOT recommend you go looking her up. Kane was a young, talented, very controversial British playwright, who wrote some of the most explicit and brutal plays of contemporary drama. Her work is full of cruelty, violence, and pain; war and mental illness were some of her favorite subjects, and she left NO taboo unbroken. But there’s also a lot of love and empathy for humanity in her work. Still, I would not go looking for her work unless you want to be disgusted and horrified by the worst of humanity, which was kind of what she was going for.

I have only read two of her plays. But I am very sure that a queer woman who wrote plays where people get their eyeballs sucked out did not ever say anything about crying over a boy.

I don’t know how I feel about this quote, really. It’s a nice sentiment, I think, but nearly every relationship will have tears at some point. There’s a difference between someone deliberately being cruel and disregarding your feelings, and tears coming out in a fight, of course, but there’s no nuance in platitudes.

I remember my friend Maria insisting, “A girl can’t cry over a man!” when I was brokenhearted over Steven not wanting to dance with me at the sixth grade Halloween dance. It struck me as an odd thing to say, maybe a truncated version of something she’d heard her mother or sisters say. Or maybe she’d read it on the internet. In the years after that, the late ‘90s, I saw that “no man is worth your quotes” hundreds of times. There were a lot of Chicken Soup for the Soul-esque platitudes (I will definitely be writing about my complicated relationship with Chicken Soup for the Soul at some point) floating around the late-early internet. Every generation has their trite sayings that young people believe in, but I feel like this was probably the first time you could really feel them on a global level.

We were sort of the first generation of Internet Memes, when “memes” still existed in the Selfish Gene sense of the word. (Remember when Richard Dawkins died suddenly after publishing that book and never said anything about anything that wasn’t about biology, ever again?) We had just escaped the days of faxlore. Now we had AOL profiles and Away Messages! The internet was this new, cool thing, we had this sudden interconnection with the rest of the world, and how would we use it? To tell people that “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best,” “A BITCH = A Babe In Total Control of Herself!” and “Dance like nobody is watching.” They were always written in AlTeRnAtInG CaSeS, with little tildes and asterisks to make it look like a rose garden: ~*~DoN’t CrY BeCaUsE iT’s OvEr, sMiLe BeCaUsE iT hApPeNeD!~*~ (I know that’s hard to read, and I’m sorry. Honestly, just typing it nearly gave me a migraine.)

I never knew where any of the quotes came from. Many were attributed to Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, or Coco Chanel — really, anyone most young girls saw as “classy.” But where do they come from? How do platitudes become platitudes? Dorothy Parker had that bit about how she never sought credit for an epigram, because “We all assume Oscar [Wilde] said it.” But was there an actual author for this quote? There had to have been, at some point.

I didn’t find one, which is probably no surprise. But what most interests me are the people this is wrongly attributed to.

First off, we have Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who is a great writer, although I’ve never actually finished one of his books. Love in the Time of Cholera is all about love and pain, but I didn’t care for it when I read it at twenty-one, newly brokenhearted and cynical about any kind of love. I know, though, that it is about love and the way it tricks and deceives people, and the way we see it versus the way it actually is. Gabriel Garcia Marquez took hundreds of pages to explain how love is complicated. He very likely did not say this. (Interesting, too, that it is not about men being worth your tears, but anyone.)

Next we have Paulo Coelho. I don’t know much about him except that he wrote The Alchemist, which I have never read, but some of my friends found it inspirational and beautiful and some of my friends found it hokey and trite. I can’t remember which friends of mine it was. (I wish I could remember which friends of mine also hated Life of Pi. Man, I really hated that book.) I do not think he said this, but he did say a lot about tears. “Words are tears that have been written down. Tears are words that need to be shed…” seems to be a quote from his book Aleph, referenced on his actual blog. I guess it’s a bit more plausible that he could have said it, but I feel like if he had, it would have been a bit more poetic, and he probably would have taken credit for it on his blog.

Ah, yes, famously stoic Courtney Love! I have a friend who met her once when she was recording at a studio and apparently she was going through a phase where she “just didn’t wear clothes.” My friend, whose father worked at the studio, was a huge fan and was a little surprised when Courtney Love emerged fully nude and asked if she could have a slice of her pizza. Somehow, I don’t think she said this.

Google also suggested this quote came from Mary Oliver. That didn’t yield too many results, and seemed an odd fit to me, for many reasons, not the least of which is that Mary Oliver was a lesbian poet. She didn’t just write about being a lesbian, but, from what I know about her poetry, she didn’t write that much about men. I think one of the biggest misconceptions about lesbians is that they hate men. Most lesbians I know feel relatively indifferent about men. I remember asking a lesbian friend if she ever looked at men when she saw them walking down the street, and she said, “I just don’t notice them.” I’ve heard the same thing from some gay men, that women tend to blend into the background for them. It’s just not where their attention is. That said, I do feel like “No man is worth your tears,” could be a very lesbian thing to say (it’s not worth crying over something or someone you’re indifferent to), but I think “And the one who is won’t make you cry” assumes heterosexuality and gender norms in a way a lesbian poet probably wouldn’t.

Interestingly, I haven’t seen this quote attributed to any gay or bisexual men. Well, unless you count the show Merlin.

If you haven’t seen the show, you should, it’s adorable, it’s Arthurian legend told from Merlin’s point of view, Merlin as a young man working for Arthur and trying to hide his forbidden magic powers. The Merlin and Arthur of the show have a close, love-hate, often tempestuous relationship, and there’s definitely a lot of tension that could be romantic. Arthur tells Merlin “No man is worth your tears” right before he rushes off to be heroic and face certain death. The whole point of the quote, as it’s used here, is that a true friend or partner is worth your tears. Arthur has been raised to put duty above emotion… but he and Merlin do cry over each other. So it gives us a little bit of dramatic irony.

The full quote apparently appears in a heterosexual context in Jillian Dodd’s romance book, That Wedding. I haven’t read it, but since it was published in 2014, and I first encountered this in probably about 1999, I’m guessing she just borrowed it. That didn’t bother me — something borrowed for a book about a wedding, seems appropriate! — although I did find it frustrating that Goodreads also attributes “Do any human beings ever realize life, while they live it — every, every minute?” to her. This is a line from Our Town, and I am a drama nerd to the core and I will always defend Our Town, especially after seeing David Cromer’s production in 2010. Life-changing. It’s a shame so many high schools and community theaters have made it into a folksy little play when it’s actually an extremely painful and beautiful play about death and loss and being forgotten. It’s dark as hell. Anyway, I have nothing against Jillian Dodd and her book and her use of this quote, I just want to make sure Our Town gets its due credit.

To my surprise and my delight, the most common attribution of the quote, by far, is this one.

IKE. FUCKING. EISENHOWER.

The man who made the 1950s what they were. The man who created the Interstate system and popularized the term “Military-Industrial Complex” also wanted you to know you shouldn’t cry over a man. When could he have said this? When did he have the time, between considering whether or not to use nuclear weapons to end the war in Korea, and giving the go-ahead for the Bay of Pigs invasion? Who could he have possibly said this to?

I honestly couldn’t stop laughing when I saw this. I’m sure this started as a troll, and honestly, I salute whoever did it. Congratulations, you have made your way onto thousands of Pinterest boards and Instagram posts, and what are they but the AOL Profiles and Away messages of today?

(Also, the quote I thought was from Sarah Kane was actually from a Washington Post article. So at least I got that sorted out.)


Stuff I Did Recently: I did an interview with the American Jewish Historical Society! We had a great time, and I really do hope I can go there next time I’m in New York! And here is an interview I did with BBC News’s Cut Through the Noise, talking about Britney Spears and stardom!


Fake BBC Show of the Week:
Pissed in Purley