Fine: the conversation killer
We say we are fine when we aren’t. We say it’s fine when it’s not.
It’s a cover-up, an excuse, the easy way out. The word “fine” helps us dodge conversations, it allows us to carry a grudge for longer, it makes us pretend we feel anything other than what we really do. We say it to inflame or cut off an argument when all we really want is to make up. We say it when we can’t be bothered to explain or share. Sometimes we say it’s fine or we’re fine, just hoping someone will challenge it.
The word “fine” is a conversation killer.
Perhaps “fine” has become an easy answer because the question is lazy.
“Hi, how are you?” has become a greeting. We ask it in passing when we see someone we know and rarely wait to hear the response. If we are asked, we answer with a quick “fine, thanks” because it has become an understood, accepted courtesy. And when someone is truly asking how we are, it is a reflex to respond the same way we have every other time.
We are doing ourselves a disservice.
“How was your day?” seems obligatory. We fall into routines. We come home, kick off our shoes, kiss hello, collapse on the couch. We have busy day jobs, interesting hobbies, fun social outings–and yet, we tell each other our days were just fine.
Our days are so much more. We are, at any time, a mixture of many, many things: happy, sad, disappointed, grateful, frustrated, homesick, stressed, excited, scared, jealous, heartbroken, motivated, proud, confused, bored, euphoric, hopeful, lost, in pain.
We are using “fine” way too much in life. I’m doing fine. Work is fine. That plan seems fine. It will be fine. Ok, fine. Fine, whatever!
We expect, and enable, the same responses in return.
We can do better.
There is an article by Glennon Melton making its rounds on social media. It has been emailed to me not once, not twice, but four times, by friends who read it and knew I’d enjoy it. I had already read it on Huffington Post (probably four times) by the time the emails popped up in my inbox.
The article provides great advice for asking meaningful questions and creating space for real conversation. The questions that will save your relationship may not necessarily be the ones laid out in this article. The questions will be different for each person. I’m not a stay-at-home-mom and I can’t relate to everything Melton writes, but the point of the piece is spot on. “If we really want to know our people, if we really care to know them — we need to ask them better questions and then really listen to their answers. We need to ask questions that carry along with them this message: ‘I’m not just checking the box here. I really care what you have to say and how you feel. I really want to know you.’ If we don’t want throwaway answers, we can’t ask throwaway questions.”
I forwarded the article to Scott.
He didn’t reply.
On Monday night, he got home before me. I could smell sauteed vegetables when I walked through the door. I was exhausted from work, boxing and the rain. So much rain. As I peeled off layers of clothing and piled them on top of a dining room chair, he asked me questions. What did your trainer have you do tonight? What was the highlight of your day? Where are you with that project?
I chatted away, talking more about my day than usual. And then I said, without thought, “How was your day?”
“It was…fine,” he answered.
The penny dropped. I realized what he was doing. He had read the article and he was trying. I was not.
I like asking questions. I agree it’s the best way to get people talking. It is my go-to during awkward silences or in an effort to warm up to someone. I should be good at this. It was my idea.
We laughed and I promised I’d try harder.
I can do better.
The next morning was like any other. My alarm went off 20 minutes before his. He showered while I blow-dried my hair. I gathered my things downstairs as he ironed a shirt upstairs. I turned off the lights and he locked the front door. We didn’t speak until outside the gate where we stopped for a kiss and wished each other good days.
As he started to walk away, Scott asked, “Home on time?”
“Yep, I’ll be home on time,” I said, smiling, “and then we can ask meaningful questions!”
Rounding the corner on the way to his car, he looked back and said, “Like, ‘what’s for dinner?’”
I suppose I deserved that one.