HOW ARE YOU. It’s in all caps. You say it sweetly, but it’s as if you’re yelling, demanding an answer, and I don’t know if I have the right one.
[Good, thanks.] No, I’m not good. But you don’t want to hear that, do you? You don’t want to hear about my week, my problems, or my life. Everything’s good. Smile, nod, reciprocate the question, and move on.
[Crazy, you know?] Try to relate. You assume midterms, or the weather. Whatever the crazy is in your life, I can nod and pretend that I agree. Yes, midterms are really getting to me, or the lack of sleep, or can you believe that this girl said that to this boy. Doesn’t it just matter so much.
[Actually pretty good. I had a really nice morning and—] Counter with your stress. Counter with how terrible your life is—not because you need comfort, but because you desperately need the kind of pity that only comes from me feeling guilty about my own happiness. How can anyone be happy here? I must not have enough to do. I’ve fallen down the ranks on the ladder of woes. Whoops.
[Eh, OK... ] I’ll add a chuckle, quickly. Don’t want to let it get too uncomfortable. Too late. You’re standing there, awkwardly trying to figure out if you should say something else. But thankfully, lucky for you, a friend walks by and asks you how you are. You can tell your funny stories, and your fleeting moment of guilt for not pursuing the state of my well-being is absolved.
[Not so great, honestly. I had a really hard week. Just a lot of personal things going on.] You make a sympathetic face and recite platitudes, platitudes, and more platitudes. Thank you, friend. You’ve done your duty, and now I must do mine: Put on a smile (I’m obligated) and pretend your words made it all better. Thank you, yes, thank you—I know it will get better. I know it’s hard for everyone. I know I can do it. Okay.
[How are you?] Ignore it all together. That should be clear, right? I don’t want to lie, I don’t want to pretend, and I don’t want to talk about it. It’s just too complicated. Tell me how you’re doing. I think I want to hear about you. I do care, genuinely.
[ - ] You walked right past after you smiled. We each said “how are you”—a statement as simple as “hello,” “the bathroom is over there to your left,” or sort of like “I love you” most of the time.
How am I? I don’t know. You tell me.
Ayelet Pearl is a Barnard College and Jewish Theological Seminary senior. Pearls of Wisdom runs alternate Wednesdays.
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