We live in a society based on customs, mores, and manners. One of those customs that overlaps with manners is the habit of cheerfully saying, “Fine!” when someone asks you how you are. There are a few acceptable alternatives: “Not too bad,” “Pretty well!”, “I can’t complain!” are but a few. The whole point is to get through the exchange of meeting someone, whether it’s for the first time or not, and having a bit of an icebreaker. Everyone’s good, move on to business.
But what about when you’re NOT “Fine!” by the accepted definition of the word? What if you’re just “Meh, okay.” What if you’re pretty fuckin’ far from “Okay”? People don’t wanna hear that shit, by and large. So what then? Chances are you’ll make someone pretty uncomfortable just by offering the fairly meek, “I’ve had better times.” It doesn’t allow them to just slide on by to business. They have to stop for a moment and figure out how to handle the information you just gave them.
“I’ve had better times.” Oy vey, what now? Should I offer my help in some way? What if they ask for something I can’t give? That’ll be awkward. Shit, it’s already awkward. Just what do they want? I think I’ll just smile politely and say, “Oh, that’s too bad,” and then move on to business.
And this is how we have a society full of people who talk to each other all day long, but never communicate. Because deep down most of us really aren’t interested in the truth of how the people around us really are. Sometimes, we’re not even interested in how we are feeling.
Well gee, Bob, I’m not too happy about turning 40 this year and I’ve got a lot of really unpleasant paperwork to take care of for the family after all those deaths the last few years. The wife’s not doing so hot, either and I’m trying to keep her from sliding into a nasty mid-life crisis. The dog died a few months ago and our son is turning into a stranger. Damn dude, didn’t mean to lay all that off on you. How are you?
And Bob just stands there blinking at you, feeling like he just got hit with a 2×4 and wishing he could disappear. Probably because he doesn’t want to think of how similar your unleashing sounds to his own life.
It’s just not polite to be honest in our culture and society! It doesn’t make it right, but it seems to be how it is. Even the most down-to-earth people would probably have some trouble truly swallowing how most of us are really doing.
Unless, of course, we have nothing but sunshine to blow up their ass. I’m doing great, Bob! So’s the wife! We’re really happy and just got a bunch of new puppies to stare at, gosh they’re cute. Our kids just went off to college and they call us every day! You should come by the house, you can have some of the wine we’ve been brewing ourselves!
It’s not hard to admit that the second conversation with Bob feels a lot better than the first, even if it does come across a tad creepy. Like no one should be that happy or something.
So most of us say, “Fine.” A long time ago I heard a therapist call “fine” an anagram for “fucked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional”. I view the world through that lens, and suddenly most of it makes a hell of a lot more sense. People aren’t “fine”, not really. Not most of the time anyway. If they were, our world wouldn’t be such a maddening, confused place. I wonder how much better things would operate if we could tell each other how we really are and be able to help in kind, and not just come up with the standard bullshit lines, “Fine,” and “That’s great.”
This post brought to you by never knowing what to say to people when they ask me how I am.