I don't know why it happens. I refuse to say that it's something "I do", because it's not intentional. I have tried so hard so often to not let it happen. The only surefire way to prevent it is to back out long before I get to that point.
I've been accused of emotional sabotage, of being "too emotional", of being a wimp.
I don't find those statements fair; partially because they're not true, partially because they drip with cynicism. Why is it that the same people who say they love me -- that they admire my strength of character and opinion -- are so quick to turn on me and accuse me of manipulation.
I think it's because of the masculine/feminine binary that's been created in this society with regards to crying. I don't think I need to go into a long explanation. Crying is "girly". Men aren't supposed to cry. Women do it because they aren't intelligent, rational creatures like men.
A few weeks back, when I spotted a post at feministing.com called Crying while Arguing, I felt an enormous sense of relief that someone was addressing what happens to me all the time. I felt like I had a new way to view my ability to engage people, because of what Courtney wrote:
Today I have more empathy for that 19-year-old version of me. I think that emotions, as Roxie argued, are a critical part of how I process the world, understand ideas and issues, and formulate my own arguments. In this still male-dominated realm of intellectual debate (just look at the op-ed pages of any major newspaper), the standard is still clear: emotions, and most certainly crying, don't have a place.
Male or female, you might not like it when the person you're talking to starts to sniffle or talk shakily during a debate or argument, but stop acting like the crying is some kind of threat or tactic. Listen to the point of view, not the sobs, before dismissing someone. Or just don't be dismissive. Maybe you'll need that break at some point, too.