There are certain phrases in the English language that say so much without saying anything at all.
“It is what it is.”
“Dance like a clown, laugh like an idiot.”
Okay, maybe the last one says too much. The first two, on the other hand, usually have nothing to do with reality and everything to do with subtext. They are the things you say when you want someone to stop asking you questions about how you feel. Although, proclaiming that last statement might just make you seem crazy enough to accomplish the same thing.
Not everyone is comfortable enough with their own sanity or blowing social conventions out of the water to do this. Being one of those people who dislikes confrontation and prefers not seeming more odd than I already am, I keep it simple and rely on that wonderful four letter word, “fine.” I’m always hoping that whoever I’m speaking to will pick up on the social cues that the words imply. Basically, smile, nod and start conversing about something sufficiently innocuous.
It’s not that difficult. Then, again, for some people it is that difficult.
Unless you are a close, personal friend or spouse, questioning someone’s “fineness” rarely leads a conversation down the road best traveled. Compound that with telling the person to put a smile on her face and you have pretty much guaranteed that the person will not divulge the inner workings of her psyche or “turn that frown upside down.”
The other day someone I know only slightly felt the need to challenge my “I’m fine” response.
“Are you really, fine?” She paused after the “really” and then lingered on the “fine.”
“Yeah, I’m good,” I said.
“Well, you’re not smiling.” She leaned in and grabbed my arm. “I’m not sure if you are fine. You need to smile.”
“Everything’s great. No complaints here. Just rockin’ and rollin’ along.” I did my best to muffle a groan and stop with the euphemisms.
There actually wasn’t anything wrong. I don’t know why I wasn’t smiling. My mind had probably gone off on some random tangent when she ran into me. Being emotionally present at the drop of a hat while simultaneously pondering the crisis in Syria and how I’m going to fit into my skinny jeans if I keep eating Girl Scout cookies is beyond my capabilities. And, knowing me, those were just the kind of thoughts cluttering my head.
I’m not entirely sure what the obsession with everyone being happy all the time is about. We’re human. We’re meant to experience the gamut of emotions on occasion. There’s nothing wrong with having a so-so day here and there. There’s also nothing wrong with having no interest in discussing if or if not you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown with a relative stranger.
I always wonder what would happen if the recipient of the third degree decided to go bat shit and unload a giant heap of crazy on the person who refused to take “fine” for an answer. Does he or she really want to know the true meaning of fine when it involves an hour long conversation about a cross dressing fetish gone wrong? I’d venture to say, probably not.
But, we still pry. Collectively speaking, we expect everything to be okay and everyone to be alright if not all of the time, just about. Being uncomfortable with other people’s discomfort either real or imagined is more than most of us want to bear. We want to fix it with a pill or a smile on the face. We want things to be the way we think they should.
Sometimes that happens. Sometimes accepting fine is as good as it gets.