I always thought there was nothing chic or dignified about crying over a boy. I knew I should feel my feelings and let them pass but looking at myself in the mirror, red-eyed, damp and puffy-faced, gave me the absolute ick. Then I spent two weeks of my life crying over a situationship that had lasted four. It was not my finest hour and, to pick myself back up, I turned to TikTok.
I scrolled my way deep into relationship TikTok and found solace. This corner of the internet provided me with content from women telling me funny and relatable stories about dates gone wrong as well as rants from women, like myself, who were fed up with how skewed towards cis men dating seems to be today.
The last stop on my internet trail was sad girl TikTok, where the heartbroken hotties cry into the camera accompanied by sad music, unashamedly showing us every gruelling part of their heartbreak. Instantly I was hooked. These were girls, probably younger than me, who allowed themselves to experience the entirety of their emotions and clearly showed how the healing process is not linear at all. They made me feel like a normal person. I had a safe space to indulge in the misery of heartache before putting on a tough exterior for friends and family. Seeing these young girls wailing like war widows was the exact drama and catharsis I needed at the time.
Before my journey into sad girl TikTok, I always thought the whole crying on camera thing was a disingenuous performance. It felt like the antithesis of authenticity, even when it was presented as the most authentic thing on the internet.
Usually, crying content involves a nondescript influencer sobbing after one of their old racist tweets is pulled up. They’ve been piled on. And then, when the online bollocking intensifies and the classic iPhone notes apology isn't cutting it, said influencer releases the teary-eyed apology video. Between short, sharp breaths and a suspicious lack of actual tears, the fitness guru or makeup blogger tells the world that this is not who they are and they’re taking some time out to 'learn and grow'.
This sort of crying on cue – done perfectly by the beauty vlogger James Charles when responding to allegations that he had groomed underage fans or by YouTube beauty guru Tati Westbrook who was, at one point, beefing with Charles over an ad he posted on his Instagram Stories – has been turned, much like Kim Kardashian’s cry face, into memes and reaction videos.
Most of the time, these individuals are sorry they got caught, not sorry that it happened, so we associate these crying videos with inauthenticity. They try to drum up sympathy to avoid accountability. Conversely, watching young women mourn relationships is as real as it gets.
The outpouring of grief over on heartbreak TikTok is brave. When you’re constantly told that showing emotion is bad and that you should be strong, that 'no one owes you anything' and that you should 'keep your cards close to your chest' when dating, it is heartwarming to see people risk pursuing love even when it doesn’t go their way.
In one video TikTok user @findingmrheight, a dating coach, walks us through her dating experience. The video starts with her meeting a guy she calls The Rower; on camera, she gushes: "It was so fun, I really like him, I really like him." The excitement and anticipation she shares are totally relatable. I feel seen because I beam exactly like this when I meet someone I like. As the video progresses, so does the relationship – until the 'exclusivity talk' comes up and everything starts to fall through.
It’s an all too common scenario: girl wants to be exclusive, boy doesn’t, girl finds herself back on the dating scene again. "I promised myself that I would honour my feelings, and when I’m starting to feel sad about it, I would end things, and I think that we’re there," says Ali with tears in her eyes.
During the last few seconds of the video she confirms that their differences on exclusivity ended the relationship, and she was devastated. However, the overlaying text reads: "I wouldn’t change a single decision I made, and that’s how I always aim to feel."
These intimate and personal videos are very unique to TikTok. The app creates great conditions for oversharing, which is both worrying and affirming. I appreciate videos like Ali’s because it is so easy to see your failed dating experiences as something incredibly personal to you. Suddenly you feel that you are the problem, you are the undesirable one, but these women remind me that actually, this is incredibly common. Their videos make me feel less alone.
"When you literally can’t eat bc of the breakup n they couldn’t care less" reads the title of a video of Suzi Poole, a 21-year-old crying in bed to a sad piano. I know the feeling too well. While I wallow in sadness, he’s probably on to the next one because dating seems so easy for men: the choice is endless.
Poole initially deleted the video because of a fear that people would make fun of her for posting, as she’d seen in the comments of similar videos. She overcame the anxiety and posted anyway. "Seeing other people cry makes you feel like actually you’re not alone in this. If other people have felt like this too and they’ve got out of it, I can get out of it as well," she tells me.
The decision to repost the video paid off. Receiving half a million views and just under 2,000 comments, it completely took off. "I did not get one negative comment," she says, "all of my comments were from other girls going through the same situation, and I found this amazing community of girls that gave so much advice that really helped." It’s cheering to see the loneliness of heartbreak giving girls a community online.
Crying videos on TikTok are quite a hit; people genuinely enjoy watching others experience a cathartic and emotional release. "Omg so I came on tik tok after having a breakdown. Then I see you crying and started crying with you 😢😢😢😢😢😢. Fml," reads one comment under Poole’s video. The comment section becomes a community, a place of validation and encouragement. "This pain is nauseating, you can’t imagine life without them. You’re grieving them and the life you’d have with them. Hang on, this too shall pass ❤️," reads another.
These users are finding a community in heartbreak and collectively processing loss and grief. When watching someone else cry makes you cry as well, it is called emotional contagion. This describes the way in which people copy the emotions and behaviours they observe in other people.
"We do this because we're social beings and we thrive on being socially connected to each other," says Tasha Bailey, a London-based psychotherapist. "It happens because our mirror neurons observe other people's behaviours and then they send messages to our bodies to do the same thing."
There is something so freeing about watching other people succumb to the emotions you’ve fought so hard to keep back. "When we are with our friends, receive a hug, when we're being empathised with or empathise with somebody else, that takes us out of our fight-or-flight mode and takes us into social connection mode. So by seeing somebody else on TikTok share their tears, it literally takes us out of our sympathetic nervous system and into our parasympathetic nervous system, which is more of a relaxed and soothing mode," explains Bailey.
I’m not hoping for the next heartbreak any time soon but I am wholly committed to feeling my emotions and not letting them harden me when it happens. What I now realise is that walking through life pretending to be unfazed and projecting your resentment onto potential partners instead of expressing your feelings is the truly unchic and undignified behaviour. Crying, actually, is at once evolved and liberated. So is talking about your feelings.
There is much more fulfilment and growth in letting everything bubble to the surface and spill over and allowing your community to help you tidy up these messy, confusing feelings. I'm embracing my sad girl era so I can be healed, happy and most importantly: hot. And you should, too.