How are you? I really want to know.

Have you ever been with someone and they asked you the question “How are you?” and you begin to answer, honestly, truthfully, putting it all out on the table, only to notice their discomfort or even their attention subtly or perhaps not so subtly shift away from the conversation?

 When you ask someone “How are you?” do you really want to know the answer to the question?  Or are you really asking the question because you feel that it is expected?  Are you really expecting a simple, “I am good” or “I am okay” answer and not wanting to explore beyond that? Keeping it all perfunctory and on the surface! 

This is a topic that I have been giving a great deal of thought to lately. You see, I like deep conversation, I don’t want to stay on the surface, if I ask someone how they are it is because I really want to know.  But I must acknowledge that this is not always true. 

It is always true for at least those people who are in my inner circle, those names on that 1”x1” card that Brene Brown tells us to keep in our wallet, with the names of the 5 or 6 people in our life whose opinions really matter.  Those people I always want to know at a deeper level.  

Then of course there are acquaintances who exist on the edges of everyday life, for them the question “How are you?” And the subsequent reply, “I am well” is usually sufficient and never goes much further, they have a life, you have a life and while you are known to each other and continue to wish the best for them there doesn’t seem to be something that draws them into a closer part of your circle. Perhaps it is space or time, whatever the reason it never goes deeper. 

But then there are those people who sit somewhere in the middle, I still am curious to know them at a deeper level, but I sometimes space and time end up playing a role in how that works out even if I am curious and make an effort, perhaps that effort isn’t returned, perhaps there are people who make an effort with me and I don’t have the space.  The availability in their life doesn’t seem to match my own except for those rare occasions. And then there are those in my life who I can go for months or years without talking and when we get on a call or happen to see each other it is like we just hung out yesterday, we pick right up where we left off. 

I am also sure that personality plays a role in this since I know people who are more extroverted and seem to have no issues maintaining a fairly large yet deep circle of friends. For me depending on the day I can test as an extrovert or an introvert, I seem to sit on that obscure dividing line but knowing that about me probably isn’t enough to know that while I don’t mind large groups, I am never going to expect depth from them, my preference is small groups and deeper meaning. I guess that makes me a small dinner party kind of person. 

For several years now I have been studying French on and off, currently I am taking a course because I wanted the practice speaking out loud in front of others, trying to push myself beyond that moment of hearing French and having my brain freeze on how to process a reply.  In French greetings are important, respect is built into them, you greet everyone wherever you go except perhaps the metro in Paris but certainly any shop you enter, you greet whoever is in the shop with a Bonjour (Good day) and a Merci, Au Revoir! (Thank you & Goodbye!) when leaving. But all of these situations are meant to be cursory in nature, expected as a member of polite humanity but not meant to build relationship, although I suppose all relationships no matter how deep all typically start in the same place, a simple “Hello, how are you?” in any language. 

By this point you might be asking, why do I care so much about this question?  Here is why, I have noticed even in our deepest relationships this kind of checking out that can happen when we are distracted.  I have been with people who are on that 1”x 1” card. I have been asked “How are you?” I have opened up with my vulnerable answer, only to watch them begin to look around the room or worse yet, begin to look at their phone.  When this has happened rather than being hurt by this, I am beginning to question whether they should really be on that 1” x 1” card?  Likewise, I have begun to pay attention to my own behavior, when I agree to spend time with someone making an effort to remove any distractions, committing my full attention to that person for that period of time, deciding to put energy into the process of relating to another human being. 

We live in a time where we are more disconnected than ever and we are dehumanizing each other, I for one, don’t want to live being disconnected from people particularly my family and friends, I don’t want to dehumanize them, I don’t want to dehumanize anyone.  At the beginning of this pandemic, I started weekly zoom calls with my older kids that we have continued for almost an entire year and I know without a doubt will continue them for a lifetime because they have come to mean so much to us, those calls have healed wounds and built a closeness that was missing. Over the holidays I set up zoom calls with friends from across the globe, celebrating together in a way we had not ever done before.  This effort and energy that I am putting into building friendships, connecting with people no matter where they are in the world, asking them “How are you?” and staying present to their answer is making my life better, less lonely and fuller. At a time in my life that could feel really lonely and isolating instead I feel full, loved, cared for and connected to family and friends. 

I know I have not always been the best at developing and maintaining relationships that are important to me but with some focus and energy, I am trying to get better at it.  As 2021 continues to take its cautious baby steps, I am going to continue to reach out, prioritize relationships and ask “How are you? I really want to know. I am hoping that you are well!”