What a question.
Why do we ask it? Is it because we really want to know how someone is? Or is it just small talk - an easy way to start a conversation? It's become such an automated question/response that it really seems pointless sometimes.
Not that I'm a paragon of conversational perfection. Quite the opposite: I'm afraid that I'm a fairly terrible conversationalist. I'm not quick enough for witty replies, I can never remember jokes, I often think of something I really want to say while someone else speaking and then butt in (before I forget it), the things I think to say almost always sound better in my head, I think of the perfect thing to say much later than I needed to think of it (but still butt in), I tune out (sometimes)...etc. I'd much rather write it all down, edit it, then present it to someone.
Having said that, and in my defence, I'm a very good listener when I need to be!
But 'how are you?'. Has there ever been a more hollow enquiry? I know I've been guilty of asking 'how are you' when I don't particularly care to hear the answer. But I've also known people who have given me their life story when asked.
Sometimes I wonder why people ask me how I am. I lost my son three months ago, how the f*** do you think I am??
And yes, sometimes I do get the impression that they don't want to hear how I actually am. They just want to hear "OK" or "Good, and you?".
I have a standard response now, terrible that it is to do so. I say "up and down". It pretty much describes my life lately, and it covers both 'how are you?' scenarios.
Because sometimes I think that if I say 'good, and you?', they'll be thinking; 'she seems to have gotten over it, phew!', or perhaps 'she's so cold, she's got no right to be "good", she's just lost her son'.
But if I tell then how I really am (sometimes I actually am 'good' by the way), i.e. sad, grief-stricken, missing Sam; then they'll think 'oh god, she's going to go on and on about it' or 'gee, this sadness is making me uncomfortable'.
So dear reader, what do you think?
Do you ask 'how are you' because you care, or because conversational etiquette demands it? Do you care?
When's the right time to break in and change the subject?
Or should we just be blunt and say 'I don't really want to know how you are'.
(Don't get me wrong, I do like it when people ask, I'm just curious about its place...)