The Complexity of “How Are You?”

Real talk, I’ve always hated this question.

“How are you?”

I never can tell if the asker is serious and actually wants to know, or just stating a pre-defined, shallow pleasantry. I suppose that’s a #neurodiversity problem. As a woman with a glorious and vivid case of ADHD, I’ve overshared my whole life — it’s only been in the last several years that I’ve become aware that most people are looking for an answer like this:

“Fine, you?”

Ensue extra awkwardness when I’m the first person to ask, “How are you?” and then I ask them how they are… again.

True story.

I was always taken aback when a former co-worker would dryly reply, “Living the dream.

I think I actually asked him, “Really? That’s amazing, howso?”

It was then his turn to be taken aback. He didn’t answer and seemed offended I’d asked.

It only occurred to me recently that some people actually plan their responses, programming themselves like a robot.

I actually Googled “answers to ‘how are you'” the other day. Some of my favorites are:

“I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do.”

“Better than before, but not as awesome as I’m going to be!”

“Great, but I should warn you, I’m terribly biased.”

…while I have memorized them, I have yet to remember to use them.

“How are you?” has been an especially loaded question lately. At any given time, it is the best of times and simultaneously the worst of times.

How do you even answer, “How are you?” in 2022?

I am my father’s daughter, so my brain immediately goes to the negatives:

My beloved partner is relapsing with Lyme again and quitting his job because it (plus the passing of his father) are doing him no favors. He needs to get better, so that whole thing and everything it implies is scary. The world beyond is on fire, I am paying attention and it terrifies me so much I can barely breathe when I let myself think about it. I feel helpless to stop it. How are you?

But that’s far from the whole story.

My own small, little world is centered in gratitude and filled with joy.

My partner and I are as deliriously in love as when we first fell for each other–I adore him more than I can say, and feel so loved and supported in return. I am so grateful for the vaccines and masks that have allowed us to leave the house in relative safety, for the adventures we get to go on both near and far, for the means to treat my dog’s recurring cancer, for the health and camaraderie of my friends, mother-in-law and family, and that all my beloved little creatures I care for are happy and healthy. I am utterly thriving in my career and feel like I’m making a difference in the greater world beyond. How are you?

I always stutter when this positive answer comes to mind.

You’re bragging. Nobody wants to hear about how happy you are. Aren’t you paying attention? How can you dare to feel such joy at a time like this?

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to program myself to speak something that doesn’t feel true, and personally, I don’t want to mask.

I feel the world would be a better place if there were, perhaps, more kind honesty, more earnest oversharing, and more active listening.

How should I answer? With truth, simplified.

I re-read the list of 101 Funny and Witty Responses to the Question, “How are you?” and none resonated with me.

So, I’ll write my own.

“Still fighting the good fight. How are you?”

And then, I’ll listen.

Really listen.

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