Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"How Are You?"

After “Hi,” most conversations start with “How are you?” When I was taught manners and social etiquette, it was engrained in me that this was the normal follow up when greeting someone. But I’ve noticed that “How are you?” is generally an empty question. It’s brushed off with a simple “Good, you?” “Good” and then the actual conversation begins. In my experience, an answer besides “ok” or “fine” or “good” interrupts this rushed formality and is seen as almost a hindrance to the progression of the interaction. So “How are you?” has become less about wondering how exactly someone is doing and more about being polite.

As anyone going through grief or a trauma knows, “How are you?” switches from a harmless social formality to a daunting inquisition. From the moment the question is posed, a battle starts in my mind. Should I actually tell them how I am? Do they really want to know? No. I know they don’t, I’ve been down this road before. I can’t possibly burden them with the truth anymore. They’ll start to cry, or worse, they’ll know how crazy I am. No, I can’t possibly tell them. So by default I always settle this internal conflict by answering, “I’m ok, you?”

I’m not bringing this up because I wish “How are you?” was really an invitation for me to pour my heart out to anyone who greets me this way. Honestly, it would probably be uncomfortable for both of us and a waste of time. Not everyone wants or needs to know exactly how I am all the time, even if they ask. What I’ve realized, however, is that in a world where asking “How are you?” is nothing more than a formality, it’s important to have a few friends who’s “How are yous” aren’t just the precursor to a conversation, they ARE the conversation.

Although this blog has been a space for me to share things that I wouldn’t necessarily admit out loud, it isn’t a substitute for the support gained through human interaction. The most helpful thing for me has been finding people who won’t be scared by my responses to “How are you?” Friends and family who can be the sounding board for my darkest thoughts and deepest fears and still look at me the same way afterward. People who understand that sometimes how I am is all I need to talk about until I’ve gotten to the very bottom of these feelings and released them completely. These are the people who ask "How are you?" and actually mean it.

As long as I have those few, invaluable people in my life, answering "I'm ok, you?" to everyone else isn't a lie.


  1. Beautifully put... It floors me that you used the word sounding board- a word I used very often with my friends and family for a few reasons... Sometimes the rhetoric of the "How are you" conversations would invite a lot of advice, perceptions, even criticisms... Not something I needed in that moment. I remember breaking one time, explaining "I don't want your opinion, I only need a sounding board!" My relationships with friends and family took a beating- their intentions had been good, why was I screaming at them? All they wanted to do was help, but they had no idea what I was going through and therefore had no way of knowing HOW to help. Those who recognized this became my lifelines, learning that helping was sometimes simply being there to listen.

    1. I totally understand your frustration in balancing expressing your feelings without making your friends and family feel like you are attacking them for not doing the right thing. How can they do the right thing for you when you don't even know what you want from them? It kind of puts them in a lose, lose situation at times, which could cause some people to back away from trying to help anymore.

      I was going through that a lot and decided to write a post "How to Cope with Someone Coping." This was my way of explaining to people what I needed and didn't need and apologizing for not always knowing the difference. If you haven't already read it, it might be worth a read :)