Why ask the question?

Discussion in 'Free Thoughts' started by Tiassa, Oct 14, 2004.


How are you?

  1. Fine, thanks. And you?

    7 vote(s)
  2. Doing great, thanks.

    1 vote(s)
  3. Couldn't be better.

    0 vote(s)
  4. I'm liking the look of today.

    1 vote(s)
  5. (Do you really want to know? / F@*k off! / Other)

    9 vote(s)
  1. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Start with a simple question--"How are you?"--and go from there.

    It's a thoroughly useless question 95% of the time, a mere courtesy and not a genuine inquiry. Heavens, the last thing people want is an honest answer. Honest answers can be unpredictable.

    "How are you?"

    I'm alive. I used to consider this a positive, cheery, and irreverent response, but it tends to creep people out.

    How are you?

    Miserable. Nobody wants to hear this. Nobody cares.

    It's the strangest little question: everybody asks it, and few actually cares about the answer. Among those who do care are the occasional boss or co-worker who will actually think less of you as a professional if you answer them honestly and not pleasantly.

    I ran into a new standard this morning. It was a simple question: "How was your evening?"

    Now, we all know there's nothing like a vague, qualitative question from someone itching for a fight. Nonetheless, I didn't duck it. Nor was I hostile. I gave a straight answer. Pretty boring.

    Now why was last night important?

    Actually, it's only important to this discussion because yesterday was Tigger's birthday. She got off work, went to the bar, came home, stood in the driveway for an hour talking to a friend, came inside, and climbed into bed. I know she talked to me for a short while, but as she always does, she talked during the program (e.g. the presidential debate) and sat raptly during the commercials. No big deal. But by the end of the debate, she was asleep.

    So having abandoned her plans to enjoy her birthday (apparently we didn't have enough drugs in the house, or something), she slept.

    No complaints. Whatever. That all is beside the point.

    So she got up this morning eight minutes before she had to be out the door; she doesn't set her alarm regularly, which means I have to wake her, which means she's going to yell at me for doing so. Additionally, eight minutes? Oh, hell, my bad. Usually I have her out of bed ten minutes before she has to leave; anything earlier than that, and she'll take the time to throw a punch and spend twenty words cussing me out, but, hey ... she won't get up. No matter what time you wake her in relation to when she wants or needs to be up, she always wants, "Just another minute, and then I'll be up," which means, "Keep bugging me, since I have no intention of getting up until I'm so pissed off at you I could hit you just for being in the room."

    We underestimate June Cleaver and Carol Brady because we believed Ward and Mike actually liked going to work. However, that's beside the point.

    After trying to cram fifteen minutes' worth of ... um ... whatever it is she does into eight minutes (no matter how late she is she has to take a blowdryer to her hair, even if she hasn't washed it), she comes hacking and wheezing loudly enough to be heard outside the house at five in the morning and asks me to get her a Kleenex, and then snaps at me for attempting to do so. Apparently, I was headed for the wrong box of Kleenex. She wanted me to take three steps instead of seven so that, instead of looking for Kleenex in the kitchen, I could take it out of the box that was within her arm's reach. At which point she was upset at me for putting too much work into getting her Kleenex--she thinks everyone carries grudges like she does--she says the oddest thing: "Sorry about passing out last night. How was your evening?"

    Sorry? Why? You come home and pass out every night.

    Nope, didn't say it.

    Sorry? You? You're never genuinely sorry about anything.

    Not a chance. The obvious is of no utility in this case.

    Oh, you know. Pretty boring.

    The truth? Why the hell not? It's easier than anything else. And it's true, to boot. And really, that's all there is to it: write a post, smoke a cigarette, feed the baby, change the baby, love the baby, read the news, do some laundry, change the baby, play with the baby ... life ain't bad, but yeah, that's just another boring night at home.

    And this answer apparently is offensive.

    And the only reason it's offensive is because it was her birthday. Or so it seems. After all, I find this rather quite confusing. Or not. Fighting is what she likes to do, I think. Because important questions, relevant questions, straight answers, relevant answers--these are anathema.

    I suppose I could have asked, "Why are you apologizing to me? It was your birthday."

    But that doesn't quite cover it. Being thoroughly useless on your birthday is an American right.

    I don't know. I never realized that asking your partner how an evening spent taking care of your child falls under the same classification as asking a co-worker how they're doing, or what's up.

    But then I started thinking of of the classics. "Do these pants make me look fat?" "Was it good for you, too?"

    No. Yes. These answers are obligatory. Anything else, honest or otherwise, is anathema.

    But, "How was your evening?"

    "Boring" includes the lack of babyshit smeared all over the television, or slicing open one's wrists accidentally while pulling toys and such out of the heat ducts. Boring includes the lack of an exploding car or gas heater, or terrorist attack. It includes these things as much as it does a lack of getting laid, getting drunk, or, in some people's cases, not having anyone other than a baby to talk to for days on end. And while the kid's great, that's too much a burden to drop on her.

    At any rate, if you're still reading this ... um .. I guess that's your fault, or something. Hell, I admit I don't get it. Once again, I need to check in for some contrast with reality: Is the whole of society becoming oysterly truculent?

    I mean, really ... how do you answer the question? "How was your evening?"

    Umm ... the house didn't burn down ...?

    What can be said? "How are you?"

    "I'm alive."

    I've been thinking about recording everything I say over the course of a day. I think we'd all be amazed how much of it is courtesy response to things that shouldn't be said.

    "How are you?"

    Do you really care?

    Or, "Sorry about passing out last night. How was your evening?"

    You're kidding, right? or Why bother today?

    Frankly, it didn't occur to me that, Oh, you know, pretty boring, was so problematic an answer. I wasn't up for subtle poison. I wasn't short or blunt like Dick° or anything. So ... what the f@*k did I do wrong this time? No biting tone, and I even thought it was an honest answer.

    What's wrong with being honest? Think about what happens when the most basic elements of our interpersonal praxis are formal, ritual (otherwise known as "customary") lies and apathy.

    No, seriously, give it a whirl. Try to envision a world in which the most basic elements of how people associate with one another are cheap formalities. It's not much of a stretch, as it looks pretty much like the United States today.

    Anybody tries to blame that on the Democrats, and I'll whip out an equally tacky response pinning the problem on Christianity.

    Laugh. That last was a joke. Don't get me wrong, I mean, yes, you can make a superficial argument based on the common story of the "fish symbol" in Christianity by extrapolating the clandestine greeting of one's fellows into the modern world in which people ask questions that aren't any of their business ("So, Bob, what do you do?") while concealing truth from one another as a formalized ritual of greeting. But really, it was a joke. I needed to crack one there because, unfortunately, the first portion of the post, up to that very sentence, is not a joke.


    ° I wasn't short or blunt like Dick - Cheney. What were you thinking? No, wait. I probably don't want the answer to that question.
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  3. fadingCaptain are you a robot? Valued Senior Member

    It bugs me too. I swear I hear it a dozen times a day.

    "How are you?"

    Wow! So many people care about me and my feelings!

    Every now and then I like to answer honestly also. Its fun to see the reaction you get.

    "How am I?" "Not so good"

    Usually this is met not with genuine concern or the logical follow-up question. Usually its more:

    "I'm sorry" and a (didn't really want an answer asshole) kind of smile.

    I don't use the term. I just use "hi". Its a standard greeting and doesn't require the listener to lie/think/etc.
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  5. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

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  7. Arditezza Banned Banned

    I think the "How are you?" question depends on the person really. Some people, really do care how the other is doing. For instance, I rarely ask an acquaintance "How are you?" unless I know they are recovering from an illness and then I only do so out of courtesy. But, for close friends I ask in case they have something they want to talk about. It generically opens up an avenue to begin a conversation about the things in their life, of which I am a part of and truely do care. For most people, I just say hello as a courtesy, and nothing more.

    I'd ask you how you were, Tiassa, but you've already told us. I don't know quite what to say, other than you need more consideration than you are getting. You need to be asked how you are doing, with the ability for you to be honesty without repercussions. Perhaps your bitterness with the words "How are you?" are in direct relation to the feeling that no one really cares. You sound miserable, and you sound unappreciated. No one should ever have to feel that way. You are an intelligent, eloquent man who is a wonderful caregiver to your child, and obviously loves deeply... or you wouldn't be putting up with such shit all the time. And no one, male or female should ever have to put up with getting "punched" for any reason. I am sorry that you feel you have to put up with such bad behaviour.
  8. water the sea Registered Senior Member

    I think Europeans are still somewhat "behind" Americans in this regard -- pc isn't as spread here as it is in the States, but it is taking root here too.

    A formality should be seen as a formality, and answered as a formality. The hard part is to recognize when something is a formality, as this depends on the *relationship* one has with the other person.

    If an acquaintance asks me how I'm doing, I am formal and I answer "I'm okay (, thanks)".
    If a personal friend asks me how I'm doing, I am personal and I tell the truth.

    Personally, I don't like to ask this question, and I rarely do it, I rather try to maneuver my way around it. I depend on my instinctive ability to read facial expressions, tone of voice and such, and I don't need to ask the other person how they're doing -- I can see and tell that myself.
  9. an>roid.v2 Registered Senior Member

    It's just a bloody breaker ice. Like a hand shake. God -- you guys must really be thick company.

    So? How am I?
    Well... let me tell you...

    Hi. How are you?
    Okay. I guess.

    Good day. And how are you?
    I'm fine, thank you. And how are you?

    Yo. How's ya?
    Bummer. Any beer in the fridge?
  10. alain du hast mich Registered Senior Member

    i ask the question when i see people that i havent seen in a day or more. tho i actually do care about the answer
  11. vslayer Registered Senior Member

    that question angers me intensely
  12. Ste_harris Net Ninja Registered Senior Member

    Its just that people don’t know they're asking a question, they just think it replaces hello and are generally surprised if you answer with anything other than the same.
  13. vslayer Registered Senior Member

    words take too long, its a nod for me
  14. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Or ... perhaps you haven't considered that the bloody icebreaker is the point: we lie to one another customarily, as a point of etiquette. Doesn't this seem just a little strange? Especially when you look around and see how many other questions bear similar demands. For instance, my topic post touches on three other questions. Taken together:
    (1) Greeting: "How are you?" expects a customary answer, not a real one.
    (2) Appearance: "Do these pants make me look fat?" Always answer, "No". Honesty is the last thing expected.
    (3) Satisfaction: "Was it good for you?" Just tell someone their sexual performance wasn't up to par. If you're lucky, you'll hear something about a head cold. If not, you'll be blueballed--or even blackballed--for quite some time.
    (4) Assesment: "How was your evening?" I hadn't figured this demanded a customary answer, but what do you know? Hence, the topic and its more general considerations.​

    Greeting, appearance, sex, and that fourth point is harder to figure. But the first three all affect how a person feels about their own self as well as the people around them. Curious that there are customary answers expected in lieu of genuine ones. Feeling awkward in the presence of others, or ill-dressed for one's surroundings, or bad in bed are all serious burdens to a person's self-esteem, and therefore detrimental to their efficacy or productivity.

    That fourth point is somehow similar; apparently the fact that the evening was boring must necessarily, in my partner's mind, reflect on her as a person. As I noted in the topic post:

    That a certain seemingly-minor dishonesty is customary in such vital things?

    Take the ice-breaker for instance. Great, now the ice is broken and two people are connected by dishonest and possibly irrelevant reflections of life. That's not a promising advent for any human interrelationship.
  15. Dreamwalker Whatever Valued Senior Member

    How are you? That phrase sucks, how often do I hear it a day? Twenty or thirty times? That's a bit much I think, also, it is mostly asked by people I saw just yesterday, so what, I am obviously still alive and I can walk upright, can't be too bad then.

    But I managed to piss off a lot of people who did not like an honest or sarcastic answer, now why does that happen? I know they did not care, but I am always accused of not being a nice person... well, then why ask me?
  16. cato less hate, more science Registered Senior Member

    I like to say (in the most perfectly pronounced voice) "what is happening vatos"
  17. Nuttyfish Guest

    ARGHHH!!! Not caring...
  18. Teri Curious Registered Senior Member

    I like to see how many people notice when my response to "'How are you?" is, "Every day is better than the next."

  19. an>roid.v2 Registered Senior Member

    Ice breaker as in:

    An initial self-adjustment, like an athlete wiggling his muscles before sprinting. He simply presents himself, opens a direct link, and communicates. So depending on his dexterity, his overture will indicate a composure and attitude while proposing a similar direction or inviting a new level of intercourse. Thus the ice breaks (a question is asked and answered) and a blueprint is established. Everything else is just architecture, isn't it?

    So if a person makes a big deal about the question, and how it should or should not be answered, and what follows and how things should follow... doesn't that indicate the thickness of the ice involved?
  20. Dreamwalker Whatever Valued Senior Member

    You can break the ice with a simple "hello", at least you won't be a hypocrite then...

    And while you obviously use "How are you" to brake the ice, it makes some people even more shielded from you.

    Heh, you could break the ice with a fist in the face or "fuck you" too...

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  21. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Depends on the consideration, I suppose. At some point, we need to get around--as human beings--to wondering why so much of our interaction is guided by expectations of dishonesty.

    If you're asking someone how they are because you genuinely care, hey, great. But as people have noted in general in this topic, the vast majority of the times the question is asked and answered, the last thing expected is an honest, negative answer. If everything's going great, there's no problem. Furthermore, I've identified a minor theme by which certain fundamental interactions--e.g. greeting, appearance, satisfaction, and assessment, although hardly universal, as some posters note with alternative greetings or icebreakers, and a Twix commercial suggests about appearance--present circumstances in which one not responding in the expected context feels obliged under certain, seemingly common circumstances to lie in order to fulfill custom.

    What's the point of breaking the ice if nothing is gained by any party in the encounter?
  22. sargentlard Save the whales motherfucker Valued Senior Member

    Wait...Tiassa..she actually takes a swing at you? ...Literally?

    Alsi I suspect that this thread wasn't about the calamitous uselessness of the question asked everyday but actually about the person in your life who asks is needlessly.

    Do you not consider divorce because of your daughter?
  23. Arditezza Banned Banned

    Whether or not she takes a swing at him, she's abusive. She's neglectful. She's inconsiderate, and unappreciative. Raising a child all day long is tough work, and deserves a lot of credit. Certainly doesn't warrant being alone all the time, and getting treated like crap when you're not alone. I am sorry Tiassa, no one deserves that kind of treatment from a partner. Not anyone.

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