How Are You?

Let's be honest: the majority of the time we ask someone how they're doing, we don't care. It's a pleasantry. It's a go-to question after you exchange "hello"s that buys you time before having to think of something more substantial to add to the conversation. In the best brief conversations, you might not even have to go further than the obligatory back and forth "how are you?"s.

Need more proof that these questions are useless filler? We only want certain answers to this question: "Good" "I'm doing well" "Things are great" "Yeah, it's been pretty good" and other such variants are all acceptable answers. While a good friend can shoot it to you straight about what's going on, acquaintances must respond positively to your inquiry. When you're only checking in someone every so often, you don't want to hear about his crap.

For this reason, I am constantly taken aback when a recent acquaintance of mine doesn't play by the rules. Every time I ask him how he's doing after greeting him, he'll make a pained expression and give a purposely unconvincing "I'm okay". That of course prompts me to follow up to make sure things aren't awful, to which he shakes his head and says, "Just okay, that's it, things are just okay." He also doesn't even do the obligatory ask-back. That would normally be rude, but in this circumstance, I wouldn't want to say how I'm feeling, given that he's managed to depress me in the meantime.

And for real, slight variations on this have happened several times in the past few months. Not once has he been good or even pretty good, always just a clearly forced "okay." As I don't know him well enough to find out what's actually going on his life, I've made it a point to just stop asking him so I don't have to go through this awkward ritual. Except that the "how are you?" pleasantry is so ingrained in my life that I start asking it without even thinking and then catch myself only after it's too late.

Recently, I watched another friend ask this acquaintance how he was doing, and the same sad scene played out. After the acquaintance left, she said, "Well that was weird!" Then a third person interjected, "He is the only person I never ask how he's doing because he's always too sad and honest about it." "I thought I was the only one!" I replied.

So remember, when someone you don't know that well asks you how you're doing, you're "good." That is the response. I don't care if your dog ran away. I don't care if you're $40,000 in debt. I don't care if you only have five more minutes to live. If that's the case, just answer the pleasantry and help end the conversation more quickly and painlessly, then you can go on trying to make the most of whatever time you have left.

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