The Awl calls it "The Question That Confronts Every New Yorker Eventually," but really it comes up in every city and many a college campus as well: should you comfort someone crying in public?
In a post titled "Trying to find the line between Good Samaritan and Creepy McCreeperson," a Metafilter user lays out his dilemma,
I was taking the 1 train in lower Manhattan the other day around 6 pm. A woman sat down alone across from me and my friend. After a few stops, I noticed that she had begun crying. She wasn't listening to music or reading a book, she just spontaneously began sobbing and continued for a good five minutes or so.
My first instinct was to reach out to her and make sure she was ok. I feel like this would have been fine in the south, where I'm from. I didn't, though, because I didn't think it would go over so well in NYC. For the record, I wasn't trying to hit on her or anything, I just wanted to be kind and make sure she didn't need anything.
Men, what would you have done? Women, what would you have liked me to have done? Does gender even matter in this question?
It's a toughie. Several MetaFilter users advise leaving public weepers alone, with one warning about scammers and another offering the eloquent observation, "There are so many things it could be, and so many of them are none of your business." Others advise a kind word and/or a Kleenex — and last year, Alex Balk offered an argument for getting involved. I tend to agree with MetaFilter poster dino might, who says, "I've been in that woman's position, and I would have wanted you to leave me alone. It's embarrassing enough to cry in public."
As I've said, I haven't historically been much of a crier, and if I'm crying on the subway or in some other public place, I have really seriously lost it. My composure is completely gone, and I'd rather everyone around me pretend I don't exist. That said, somebody offering me a Kleenex or asking if I'm okay probably isn't going to make the situation that much worse, so if you want to double-check that a public weeper isn't, say, in need of immediate medical attention, that's probably fine. As long as you don't pry to try to work the situation to your advantage, you're not a Creepy McCreeperson. But don't, for god's sake, tell a stranger to stop crying so you can concentrate on your BlackBerry. Then you're just an asshole.