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.