Friday, May 16, 2014

Me? I'm Fine

Fine.

You don't realize the power of the word, that tiny four-letter scrap of English, until you think about it. 

How many of you have ever been asked, "How's it going?"
(I'm imagine a unanimous waving of raised hands)

And of those, how many of you have, at one point or another, replied, "Fine."
(Not many of those imaginary hands are going down)

And I'm pretty sure the converse is true, that you've asked how someone was and taken their 'fine' as a matter of course, or that you've given a 'fine' when you've just been diagnosed with a terminal illness and your mortgage payment is habitually late and the rabbit ate all the dog food (no, I don't have a rabbit).

The first issue, in my humble opinion, is why we answer a loaded question--because "How are you?" is about as loaded as they come--when really, we care very little about the answer.

"How are you?"
"Fine." (Even though my kid has head lice, some douchebag broke into my car and stole my parking change, and my five-year-old decided to give his baby sister a haircut)
"That's good." (Thank God she didn't launch into the freaking haircut debacle...I've gotten texts from three people already)

"How are you?"
"Fine." ("I better not tell him that I just made out with his sister and we have plans that involve sneaking out a window tonight.")
"That's good." ("You'd better stay away from my sister, you jackass. I put Crisco on the window sill, so I will find out.")

Why do we, as Americans, feel so compelled to a) lie about our current state and b) pretend to care about what's going on with other people.

I know that's making a gross generalization, by the way, and I like to think of myself as someone that doesn't do either if these things often, but I do them, and I know people do them to me.

Is it better to just smile and nod instead of stopping to say hello and ask how someone is if you really and truly don't care?

I mean that in the nicest possible way. There are some people, nice people, good people, people I actually like a lot that I avoid because I know that as soon as I ask how they are, they will NOT say fine...they'll launch into a dissertation I care not one bit about. 

And then there are people (my friend Denise, who suggested this post, is a prime example) who really are going through a lot and could use a good vent that always, always just say, "Fine" because they don't want to be a bother.

I find this particular piece of everyday American culture fascinating.

What?  What was that?  Did you just ask how I am?

Why, thank you so much for asking.  I am absolutely, 100% NOT fine.  There are good things going on--Emily comes home Sunday, Ari is doing great with gymnastics, Jeff got the backyard sort of gated off so Howard can run free, I've been able to write every day this week, Gabby has been sleeping through the night in her crib--and bad things going on--rough news from my doctor, I'm still having trouble concentrating long enough to read a book or even watch a TV show, we're struggling financially like you can't imagine--so no, I am not fine.  If you are interested in hearing more about any of those issues, I would be happy to elucidate upon them if I feel a level of comfort with you or deflect your query should I feel that your intent is to fuel gossip.

That's my answer, ladies and gentlemen.  (Of course, ask me tomorrow and I'll say, "I'm fine, thanks, how are you?")

So ... how are you?