Frisky Rant: Sorry For Being Polite, You Weirdo

Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, but in my opinion, boy howdy are some of them not worth 1200 words of agonizing elaboration. Take, for example, this op-ed about the question, “How are you?” – whose thesis is that we should “ban” the question, that no one ever answers it honestly, that it somehow builds walls between genuine social interactions and gets us stuck in self-destructive emotional cycles. Or something.

I get that the answer most people give to the question “How are you?” is usually “Fine!” I get, also, that that is not usually the case, and that the word “fine” in this context means almost nothing. “Fine” literally means “of the highest quality,” but when we say we’re “fine,” what we’re really saying is “I’m just going to deal with my joys and sorrows on my own, without divulging their details to you, because we’re in a social setting and I don’t want to interfere with your good time.”

Which is not to say that that’s how we should (or shouldn’t) respond, but “How are you?” is a perfectly polite and harmless question, and it’s up to the questionee to be honest or not. Although the op-ed argues differently:

“Because even if you want to tell people the truth, you can’t. No one wants an honest answer for ‘how are you?’ It’s far better to lie than breach the unspoken social contract of casual encounters by telling the truth about your mental state, thereby attracting the eyerolls and awkward silences that usually follow raw displays of emotional honesty.”

Oh, bullshit. Yes, you can. I do it all the time. If I’m having a bad day and I went through all the trouble it takes to drag myself out of my home and make it to a social gathering, you bet your ass if someone asks me how I am, I will tell them I’m not great, but that it’ll be all right, and how are they? If you do this and they choose to inquire into your not-greatness, you can give them a general overview (“Work is stressful and my grandma died” – wasn’t that easy?). Or you can just say that you don’t feel like talking about it, but thanks. Then, at least, you’re free to do a little justified sulking, and everyone else can be like, “Oh, she’s just having a bad day,” and no one’s buzz is killed. Win-win!

Divulging even your bad feelings doesn’t have to be a “raw display of emotional honesty,” because having bad feelings isn’t a big deal. In fact, the whole argument in this op-ed is that everyone has bad feelings a lot of the time, so I think it’s safe to assume that 1) your bad feelings are not so heart-wrenchingly unique that no one will possibly be willing or able to empathize, 2) you probably should treat them as if they’re no big deal because in the grand scheme of things they really and truly are not, and 3) if you choose to share them with a friend, they probably won’t actually roll their eyes. If they do, they’re a shitty friend, and you need new friends.

Make peace with your bad feelings, allow yourself to have them, and figure out what boundaries you have about sharing them with others, in other words. “How are you?” is a perfectly fine question to ask. Don’t stop asking it, and don’t ban it, for Pete’s sake.


[Image via Shutterstock]

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