How are you? Really?


When you ask someone, “How are you?” do you really listen to the answer?

Normally the responses are “fine”, “good”, “not bad” or “I’m okay, you know”. Some get a little more creative and say that they’re “blessed and highly favoured”, while others with music in their voices declare that they are “living in the Lord”.

But let’s face it – when we ask someone how they’re doing we’re mainly trying to be polite; it’s something to say as a greeting in passing. We aren’t really looking for the unabridged version. There’s always Facebook for that.

So what do you say when somebody answers your “How are you?” question with an “I’m not doing so good” response? You’d give a double-take for sure and then wonder if you heard the person correctly.

That’s what happened to my husband last week when he visited a business establishment whose door he hadn’t darkened in a long while – and attached to his salutation was the familiar question. Surprised by the response, my husband said he worried whether the honest answer was really a cry for help.

I asked whether he pressed him for details, but my husband’s habit is never to pry so he left that one alone. I was brought up to mind my own business too, but I wondered whether he would have been upset if I had asked him “But (name withheld) what’s bothering you?”- since after all he was the one who brought it up. I’m sure I would have had a lot more to write about in this post if I had.

I don’t suppose it’s my husband’s fault though, because when you haven’t seen someone in a while it’s only natural that you inquire about their health. But when he inquired of a wife about the welfare of her husband and he admitted to being a little thrown by the response – “he was fine the last time I saw him” – it’s clear that he needs to stop asking these questions. I understood where she was coming from though, because any number of things could have happened since she left him that morning.

And therein lies the danger of asking about the health of someone who isn’t right in front of you. These days, if you want to inquire about someone’s mother, father or significant other, it’s best to just use the general “How’s everybody  doing?”and find out about the changes that have taken place in the family that you missed. Because the only thing worse than asking a woman who’s put on a few pounds when her non-existent baby is due, is to inquire about someone else’s physical condition and realise that good health is the least of his problems since  – unfortunately, he’s no longer with us.



4 thoughts on “How are you? Really?

  1. Social conversation can be filled with landmines 🙂 however, I think we still need to do it, and genuinely be interested in what others have to say. There is always the wondering when I get asked that question – now do I say how I really am – or what they want to hear? Both are valid at some points, depends who is doing the asking really.

    1. Yes it does depend on who’s asking. If they’re already moving on before your answer it’s clear they’re just doing it out of habit – not concern.

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