Crying on the subway is a New York tradition. There’s a Tumblr devoted to it; Uzo Aduba has admitted to doing it; and if you ask almost anyone who has lived here for more than a few months, they’ll probably tell you they’ve done it at least once. Yes, the subway is an underground emotional refuge that is unique in our city—a place where one feels alone, and yet, oddly comforted in the presence of millions.
In a city where we do anything to avoid eye contact with others, we somehow allow a diverse group of subway passengers to witness our emotional meltdowns. Jess Goodwin, New York City resident and occasional subway sobber remarks that “there’s a weird anonymity to it. For the most part, you’re surrounded by strangers. Sometimes it’s almost as good as being alone.”
Everyone remembers their first time. Which line you were on (It was the E). Where exactly
you lost it (Somewhere between the 53rd and Lex, and Court Square). How many people were on it. If someone asked if you were all right. If you tried to hide your tears behind sunglasses, or just went for it, and really let it rip. And since the results of this hideous election, the stage has been set for even more emotional outbursts. With reports of an ever increasing number of violent and hate driven-incidents all over the country (in addition to dealing with our own lives) we have all the more reasons to get upset throughout the day. Subway crying is here to stay.
A boyfriend once broke up with me over the phone on the corner of 23rd and 7th and I spent the majority of the rest of the day sobbing all over the A, C, E line, while also numbly trying to continue the day’s errands. When bad things happen, inexplicably, time doesn’t stop. And if you’re in the middle of the city rather than home when they do happen, the subway is there for you, ready to receive your pain. For most of that afternoon, and well into rush hour, I found solace processing my grief in the company of a million strangers.
Another beautiful thing about the subway sob session is that there doesn’t need to be a dramatic or life altering event to prompt one. Some of my best subway cries have been spontaneous bouts of feeling, from something all-encompassing yet amorphous: because I feel fractured into pieces by daily stress, or am reminded of some melancholy moment, or my heart is so full of anything (something that happens often when confronted with the overabundance of life in New York City) that something, simply, has to give.
Greg McGoon, another NYC subway sobber has suggested that crying on the train is a way to slowly start to feel whatever that is. Being in public requires you—in his opinion—“to only partially lose it”; whereas alone, in your apartment, you’re prone to go overboard, to full-on wail, start pounding walls. The subway, though, is a happy medium: a safe-haven, but one that puts our own lives into perspective, surrounded as we are by so many others. There, even as we lose it, we still stay somewhat composed; we can tap into our feelings, perhaps, in just the right amount.