» » I’m not fine…but I will be!

I’m not fine…but I will be!


My friend Arya has a wonderful blog that I pop over to read now and again. Today, I caught up on a past post where she mused about the word “fine”. What struck me was this portion of it:

“Fred: “Oh, hello, Alma. I haven’t seen you in so long. How are you?”

Alma: “Hi Fred. I’m fine. How ’bout yourself?”


Does the above greeting sound familiar? Have you been Fred or Alma – either on the receiving or giving end of a “fine”?

The truly sad thing about the overused “fine” is that it is usually a lie. A flat-out lie (just read the links above to read various definitions). Usually, everything about the person saying they’re fine tells us otherwise. Alma looks disheveled. Her skin is waxy and her eyes have dark rings. She seems to sag, as if drained. And yet, when asked by a friend how she’s doing, she tells him “fine”. She could simply say, “Oh, Fred. I’m having a tough time right now. I appreciate you asking how I’m doing, but I don’t feel like talking about it.” She could be honest without going into details, “I’m not well, but I’ll be okay.” Somehow we, as a culture, have all become “fine” even when we’re not.”

My thoughts after the jump…

Talk about synergy! I had this very conversation with my husband this weekend. As you all know by now, my family is struggling with a beloved family member who is very ill. At a gathering this weekend, when I asked my SIL how she was doing, she told me “Fine”, and smiled half-heartedly, knowing full well I knew she wasn’t, and communicating with her face, and a hand squeeze, that she was not at all fine. But it was as if she had to go through that motion, even with me, because she was practicing it so much lately.

I, too, have been doing my best lately to not lie about how I am, without inviting too much inquiry or bringing others down. Fact is, 99% of the people who ask how you are doing are only interested in hearing something offhanded and ideally positive, and don’t want to be drawn into any greater recitation of difficulty or drama. They aren’t *really* asking how you are. It is simply just a common greeting, not really a question. So when people ask, I have a stock answer that sounds upbeat, but also isn’t a lie. Right now my response is “Keepin’ busy!” And I am. What they don’t need to know is that I am undertaking a lot of busy-ness to distract myself from a miserable set of circumstances in my personal life. That videos and soundtracks of regrets and fears are playing endlessly in my mind, and weighing on my spirit, and that I have very few people I can even talk to about it. That is not what they are asking, and so I am being polite and offering a return greeting on par with their desire for shallow cordial exchange.

It’s not a lie. I’m not fine, but I’m keeping busy. Or as Arya put it so beautifully, “I’m not well, but I’ll be okay.”

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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

4 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Amy S.
    | Reply

    The hubs and I too have had this conversation. When he asks me how I am and I say fine his next response is “no, tell me the truth.” Sometimes it is easier just to say fine instead of unloading…at least to those not close to you. Keeping busy is a great one…might have to try that!

    You’re in my thoughts and prayers Sharon. Seems like life is throwing one too many curve balls lately to a lot of loved ones. *sigh*

  2. Avatar
    Aaminah Michelle Palmer
    | Reply

    I discovered the problem with being honest but saying you’re not up to talking about it is that it feels much like “I have something on my mind but I can’t tell you about it.” -Like it feels to others like a dangled bait snatched back. Like you; I learned to say something else that’s truthful but doesn’t suggest the dangler -like “Keeping busy.” I’ve also found on the flip side that it’s all in how I use my tone and body language when asking someone “How are you?” that tells them I’m really ready to hear your true feelings. “Like how -are- you??” near, direct eye contact, body oriented full to theirs, likely a touch. Because it is just as you say; a custom not so much always meaning they want the whole story, I have to be -really clear- that I actually mean the question when I do. Hang in there; It’s ironic that when hard times come, other stuff like this is piled on as well. -Aaminah

  3. Avatar
    Shay Moore
    | Reply

    @Amy S.Yeah, with hubs and friends, I can be honest. It’s those other times where I need to be prepared with another phrase, ya know?

  4. Avatar
    Aziza Sa'id
    | Reply

    it is the difference between a formulaic social grace and an actual query for personal revelation. the same words are used, but funcions are not at all interchangable.

    my shrink offered me the honest answer that goes with the proper social-setting “I’m fine”. it’s an acronym. stands for “effed-up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional”. really, I can say “I’m fine” and not have to lie at all.

    often when I say it, it’s really code for “I’m not ok, but I’m holding together and if you’re too sympathetic with me right now I’ll come apart.”

    it sounds a bit as if that’s where you are right now. know that I’m sympathetic with your distress, and wishing you more better days than fine ones.

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