‘How are you?’ is a loaded question 

On any given day, I can be ecstatic.   Or caught in the clutches of insatiable curiosity.  Or I feel the weight of exhaustion.  I might only want to tuck myself away from the world with the building of a virtual cocoon.  I can feel hyposocial, where people are OK, but my day would not be incomplete if I never uttered a word to a single soul all day.  Or maybe I’m dealing with pain, physical or emotional, and simply doing everything I can do to put one foot in front of the other, counting down the hours, minutes until I can call it a day and become one with my couch.  Maybe I’m stricken with grief or riding a rainbow only I can see.

But the world at large does not necessarily care about any of this.  That’s not news, nor does it hurt my feelings.  It took me nearly my lifetime thus far to realize that the feeling–or lack there of–is mutual.  And that it’s OK.

I wonder, then, why society goes to such great lengths to convince itself and everyone in it otherwise?

Take, for example, the inane practice of using “how are you” as a fairly standard greeting.  Perfect strangers will greet each other this way; why is this?  It’s not even like the answer would really make much of a difference.  Well, maybe it would, if given the chance, but it’s not as though either party will stick around long enough to hammer out the answer.

It took me a while to dissect this practice down to its minimalist elements.  And then it took something scarier: honesty.  Only then does the truth have a chance to emerge from the shadows and allow itself to be seen.  Humans banish a lot of truths.

And the truth, the answer to the “why” question is, because it’s expected.  Sure, you can simply exchange “hi”s and “hello”s and leave it at that.  But the Next Step, should one choose to Go There (and good lord, so many of them do), is the frivolous “how are you?”

Oh, here we go.  I roll my Inside Eyes, paste on my most genuine Outside Smile and answer “I’m fine, thank you.  How are you?”

Because it’s expected.  Which makes me a sellout, an Agent of the Establishment, following the preset rules of the game, pretending to be a civilized human being, running around amongst other pretendingly-civilized human beings, neither of us actually thinking much about each other, but it would be a frownable offense not to acknowledge each other’s existence.

A murky world indeed.

Humans.

The truth (more truths) is, there are several possible answers to the question.  How I answer will often be determined by who’s doing the asking, what their expectations are, and the context in which our paths are crossing.

If our paths are tangential, and we are indeed perfect strangers passing each other on the stairs, then my answer is almost always “fine” or “good”, followed by a reciprocation of the question, to which the answer is a variation on the same tired theme.

(Do themes actually get tired?  They probably do.)

And that, my friends, is where the conversation truncates, because neither of us is particularly interested in anything further.

And that’s OK.  That, too, is expected.

(See how easy it is to talk to neurotypical people?  Kidding!) 😉

If we share bloodlines of extended family status, then I will probably try to convince them that I’m boring, mainly because I think they’re boring, and I have found this to be a socially acceptable way of minimizing contact without offending anyone or looking like an arse.  I’ll utter a few sentences about my latest projects, being sure to pepper them with a few scary biochemistry terms here and there, and they’ll decide that my cousin with the latest sports scores (and who, unlike myself, actually watches the games) is more interesting, and then the onus is on them to plot an escape route.  That was my plan all along, but they don’t hold it against me because they believe it was their idea.  (And that’s about as “manipulative” as I get.)

Bonus Point: this strategy also presents a way in which I can communicate to them proof of how rah-rah productive I’ve been and how much general-societal “worth” I possess after all, (for that is everything in the odd culture that is my extended family.  If you’re not doing something perceivable, their regard for you is lower).

Scoring is not just for sports; it’s for dealing with extended family members, too.

If we share closer bloodlines or other special bonds, then I will spend the next hour, maybe two, exhausting them with the most intricate of details about my passions, projects, philosophies, and so on, until the Inner Critic inside me holds up her stopwatch and says, yo, do you have any clue how long you’ve been yammering on and on?

*Sigh.*

And then I get all embarrassed, because I know she’s right.  My loved ones simply dared ask how my week went, and here I’ve turned my “special interests” (AKA Asperger’s/autism, psychology, and biochemical enzyme regulation) into virtual religions and I’ve been virtually proselytizing them to join.

Annnnnd, Jaw Hits Floor; Face Flushes Red.

I hope that they know to brew some tea before talking with me.

“How are you” is a very loaded question indeed.  🙂

***

(Image Credit: Shawn Van Daele)

Advertisements

54 Comments

  1. I do much the same. Very few people get to hear exactly ‘how I am’. Expediency isn’t selling out in my mind, it’s giving me time that may have been wasted. I like the description of the Inner Critic with a stopwatch too.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Hiya, is a great one to throw out in passing, it doesn’t
    require a response & is upbeat enough to keep it moving.

    I have never been a fan of rhetorical questions.

    Sitting down for a cup of tea truly means there is real
    interest & actual time to catch up & enjoy a conversation.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. A simple universal rule “If you are not prepared/ interested to
        hear the response, DO NOT ask a question.” A question & a
        statement are two very different things indeed. A statement
        doesn’t need a response, & a question requires an answer…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. That presumes, of course, that such questions aren’t – in truth – redundant.

    Example: you are with someone, and you sense that they’re ‘standing upon a precipice’. The consersation is ‘the usual’ – and you’re hit *again* with this overwhelming sense of ‘cosmic dread’ that they’re giving off…

    Now imagine that that sort of thing happens *regularly* – that you can feel stuff about people that way. It doesn’t need eye contact or ‘reading people’ – it’s both impossible to block out AND equally possible to ignore

    Now when that’s happening… asking people a dull trite-sounding string of inanities? Just ***what*** are you trying to do ***then***? Especially when the more prosaic and commonplace matters – those things common to Normdom – are simply ‘beyond your knowledge and understanding’ – and thinking as if you’ve been reading Niccolo’s (as in Machiavelli) notes is second nature to you, due to a lifetime of abuse and bullying.

    Note: thinking that way is ‘easy’ – that just requires an analytical mind. In contrast, doing much beyond such thinking reqires faculties one lack – lacks largely, or lacks entirely – and that means one is ***prey*** according to Normdom.

    So, the question: when someone asks me that particular question – “how are you,” – it’s not ***possible*** to give the ***sanctioned or mandated answer.***.
    (That requires the ability to lie convincingly, and with a straight face) I have to tell them the truth, whether they’re wanting to hear it or not – and the usual answer – common because it takes all I have to do what I am doing prior to this current instance of grilling – is “I don’t know.”

    No, I’m not ‘working the con’. I simply wasn’t paying attention to my feelings, because ‘acting Normal’ to ***any*** degree consistently demands I ignore those altogether and focus entirely upon stepping through the Normie-inflicted ***minefield*** called society. If I do that for a few hours – I’m ***done*** for that day. Longer – it takes more days to recover.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I’m enamored with your honesty, your detail, and your insight! I love reading your comments, my friend! You nailed it about the lying convincingly. So true! You nail a lot of good things 🖐🏼🖐🏼😁✨💙

      Like

  4. Ah, yes, the dreaded question, to which I nearly always mumble, “OK.” in response, because, I usually consider myself *technically* “OK”, at least in the sense that I am living and breathing. They needn’t know more.😋 I usually don’t mind reciprocating too much, and usually do fairly quickly, because that typically takes the focus off elaborating on my status and onto theirs. I can stand, nod, and listen pretty effectively, as long as they don’t keep trying to catch my eye or steer the conversation back to me. If they do that, I am suddenly reminded of the time, all I need to get done, and how I must be off.( never a lie in my world. lol.) With a very, very few can I expound on special interests much, but, yes, I know that Inner Critic and the stopwatch well. She chides me often. Like now, she says, “All right, dearie. Wrap up your comment now.” 😂 So…I will, right after I thank you for sharing so many familiar things so honestly.😘😘😘

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Lol we need to drug our inner critics 😘😘. I love your comments!! ❤️❤️. I like the semi-privacy vibe I’m sensing (“they don’t need to know more”) – perfect! 👌🏼👏🏼👏🏼. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, my lovely sister 😍✨💟🌟💖

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Yes! LOL. Drugging the inner critic sounds great! Yep. Learning I have a right to privacy and it doesn’t make me rude to exercise it. And you’re most welcome, sis. Love coming here and having room to share. 😘😘😘😘

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I hate lying when asked the dreaded “how are you” question but I my brain is wired to give automatic responses wherever I go when I talk to strangers to avoid even more anxiety. I also ask myself when I don’t really care to know the answer because I’ve been copying neurotypical behavior for so long. I really don’t have to stop doing it because it has become so engrained in my everyday interactions with others. Anyways, great post as usual. I’m always thinking about how fake people are to one another and it drives me up the wall.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well I fudged up that line, but I can’t find the edit or delete button on here for my comment. I meant to say “I really don’t know how to stop doing it because it has become so engrained in my everyday interactions with others.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This, too! You’re totally spot-on 😁💖💖

      I wish I could find edit buttons for comments; I can edit any comment on my own blogs, but I wish there was a way for the commenter to edit their comments on other people’s blogs 😊💜💖

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Mostly I ignore the question because mostly is just a version of “hello”, so I just say “hello” and move on. People that know me know how I am. Generally physical & mental health wise is doesn’t change much. Now if the peeps that matter ask they can expect an honest answer and the peeps that matter will “get it” by a fairly short answer cuz they know me.
    I’m really not a huge fan of this question. Since we all seem to agree, let’s have it stricken from our vocabulary. All in favor……🙋(aye-yi-yi)
    💌💌😘💪🌼🌼☮🌠🌈

    Liked by 1 person

  9. How am I? Fighting the good fight.
    Most people don’t fully understand why I would say that, but they usually don’t want to hear any more.
    If I lie and suggest I’m okay, there is almost always a follow on request for my help that I don’t always have the capacity (spoons) to offer.
    When it’s a friend I haven’t seen for a while, which is every time I see my friends, all I can do is shake my head and tell them life is crazy. I think they understand!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I really enjoyed reading this. My daughter and I have a bit of a laugh sometimes at the shops. We wait for the ‘automatically programmed’ sales lady to ask ‘how are you today?’ and my daughter (pda) says something along the lines of “I’m internally dying” And then we try not to laugh at the reactions. Its a fun sport. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  11. One of those social things I dont understand. People ask how are you to be polite but they usually dont really want to know, especially if its not going to be the happy happy positive response. I dont understand why its polite to be so rude as to ask a question you dont want to hear the (honest) answer to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re exactly right. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s not like most people are going to tell the truth (99% of the time, the answer is “fine, thanks” lol), and the person asking the question probably isn’t actually all that interested. I think it’s sort of a waste of breath 😉. If I ask someone how they’ve been or how they are, I mean it literally, and I care about the answer 💙

      Liked by 2 people

Please feel free to add your thoughts! I do my best to respond to each comment (even if it takes me a bit sometimes) :)

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s