how many times do you think you say this phrase throughout a day? i say phrase rather than question because i'm really not sure we're ever actually genuinely asking, how are you? it's more of a nicety, a social norm. you don't just say "hey" or "hello" (or in my case, "howdy") but it's always followed by a "how's it going" "how are you today". on the surface, this is a nice thing to do, right? but is it possible this unconscious conditioning is actually harmful to our wellbeing?
i was prompted to think about this upon meeting two Germans at the cafe i work at. in attempt to display my limited knowledge of German i said, "Guten tag, wie geht's dir?" (which translates to "hello, how are you?"). these ladies were very quick to tell me not to use that phrase in Germany. curious, i asked them why. "because we don't ask that question unless we genuinely want to know how someone is. here, in Australia, we get asked it all the time. but no one actually cares for the answer."
i've often thought this too. how many times have you been asked, how are you? and felt that the asker is genuinely interested in your answer? not to mention, how do you answer that question? am i the only one who ever feels overwhelmed by what seems like a simple question? how am i - in this moment? how am i - today? how am i - mentally? physically? emotionally? how am i - doing in life in general? because the truth is, how we are changes moment to moment. and the answer can rarely be succinctly wrapped up in a quick reply.
i think what i'm trying to get at with this post is that we've lost the ability to check in with others. we've become so addicted to superficiality, to convenience, that we have forgotten to stop and check in with those around us. and admittedly, i've fallen victim to this too. i can't remember the last time i caught up with a friend and i asked them how they're doing, in general. our phones have made us more accessible, but less connected. we feel content going months without seeing friends and only communicating through a screen. but a screen is so impersonal. and i don't know about others, but i'm horrible at replying. i don't want to talk about my life through digital characters. i want to articulate my thoughts, in person, where i know i have the other person's full attention.
maybe all of this comes down to the lost art of friendship. numerous studies have shown that the number of people we feel we can depend on in a crisis has steadily declined over the past 10-20 years. it used to be 5, now most people feel like they don't even have one person they could call upon - why is that? when was the last time you felt truly seen or heard by a friend? now let's flip that, when was the last time you truly heard and saw a friend? texting doesn't suffice. and it's killing our connections with others.
i've found that being in a relationship is both the best and worst thing to happen to people and friendships. best thing, because invariably individuals become a better version of themselves - they feel more secure, settled, fulfilled. worse though, because often people become less intentional. their needs are being met by their partner, so why venture out and communicate with friends? when someone is single, their friendships are their livelihood - they're a necessity. but when people get into relationships, friendships almost feel like an inconvenience. they take effort. and in a world that is becoming increasingly more dependent on convenience and instant gratification, it's no wonder that our friendships are being neglected. but at what cost?
i for one know that i'm lonely. i'm in a very loving and supporting relationship, which fulfills almost all of my needs, but i still find myself missing my friends. i miss our thought-provoking chats. i miss the learning of others' lives. i miss the connections. i think as we get older, it becomes too easy to forget about our friends and too hard to make effort. but we need to. humans need friends. we're social creatures and we can't rely upon one person to fulfill all of our needs. i've had many friendships over the years dissipate into nothingness and i'm still, to this date, at a loss for how it happened. i've found losing a friend hurts more than losing a partner. often with a partner we can rationalise that we weren't compatible, but for a friend? it's a lot harder to understand. especially because there's often no closure - people terminate friendships not intentionally, but by conveniently ignoring communications i.e. ghosting them.
the more that technology continues to dominate society, the more that we need to be intentional with those in our lives. sending a message 'checking in' doesn't suffice. people need people. the only way to feel truly connected to others is by spending time with them and asking the hard questions. but more importantly, listening to their answers. connections are born in vulnerability. but the only way for others to be vulnerable is to be intentional about creating an environment where others share their humanness. we need to get back to the basics. we need to learn how to be better friends again.