When people ask me how I’m doing, I know it’s just a social nicety and I’m expected to say, “Fine.” I have learned that.
But I still get confused when someone asks me how someone else is doing. If I treat the question the same way and simply say “Fine,” they continue looking at me expectantly, as if waiting for more information.
What is it they want to hear? Is it gossip? That’s what I suspect. They are wanting to hear gossipy details about other people’s lives.
But I don’t gossip about people. The people who confide in me do so because they feel safe with me and they know they can trust me. I’m not going to use the things they confide in me as fodder for casual conversation with other people.
This is done both to me and about me. My mom told me one of my cousins sent her a message through Facebook asking how I’m doing. But the thing is, I too am friends with this cousin on Facebook. Why didn’t she send the message to me and ask me directly? She didn’t want to talk to me, apparently; she wanted to talk to someone else about me. Or did she not care about me at all, and she was just using inquiring about me as an excuse to contact my mom, who was the one she really wanted to talk to? I don’t get it.
Another one of my relatives does this kind of thing all the time. Let’s call her Sharon. She talks about nothing except other people. I have heard details of the lives of people I never have and likely never will meet, and they know details about my life. While visiting the town Sharon lives in, strangers came up to me and asked me if my husband had gotten a certain job he’d applied for and asked me about the health conditions I’ve been diagnosed with. While I stammered in shock as I tried to process who these people were and how they knew about all this, they laughed and introduced themselves. They were friends of Sharon’s, and they’d heard all about me and even seen photos of my wedding.
I hated every moment of that encounter. I hated that strangers knew things about me and were now wanting more information from me about the things they’d heard. When I tell people things, it’s because I’m already close to them and already consider them emotionally safe people to talk to. And since they know me and already like me, I think they’re not going to be judging me based on one or two bits of information. They know my character and my history, and will take any details shared with them in context. A stranger who doesn’t know me might judge me on the individual details they hear about me because they don’t know me as a whole person.
Because I feel this way, I am not going to put other people in such a position. The Golden Rule, and all that.
So anyway, Sharon often asks me about my friends (whom she doesn’t even really know except having met them once through me), and when I don’t say anything except, “Fine,” she gets almost annoyed as if she thinks I’m being unfriendly, stubborn, and uncooperative. Sometimes she asks follow-up questions like, “Does she have a boyfriend yet?” or “How old are her children now?”
But I don’t understand why she needs to know these things. Of what possible relevance could it be to her whether my friend has a boyfriend or not? Or how old children she’s never even met are? And why am I expected to be forthcoming with these details, to the point where I look like a jerk if I don’t provide them?
Perhaps I just need to throw out some additional, innocuous details to satisfy her, and others who ask such things. Like, “She’s fine. Still living in Vancouver. Drives a Toyota.” Would that be enough to seem friendly and communicative? Or do I need to provide all the intimate details of their lives and relationships? Is that how normal people interact?
It’s funny how my own friends never do this. We share details about our own lives with each other, but we don’t inquire about other people we know, and we rarely even talk about other people unless it’s something that really affects us. This is not the way we socialize at all. So it’s something I really, really don’t understand and have trouble socially navigating. As usual in social situations, it’s knowing the correct way to respond that’s my real problem.