There’s a lie I’ve told nearly everyone in my life, and I bet you’ve told it, too.
I show up to dinner with smeared mascara and little balls of Kleenex clinging to my nose. "Oh, I’m fine." Or I sit in the passenger seat of a car, clearly fuming. "I’m fiiiine."
Boyfriends have learned to read the tea leaves of this response. There is the passive hiccup "I’m fine." There’s the don’t-touch-me bark "I’m fine."
All of these are different ways of saying, "I’m not fine, and I’m not going to talk about it right now." They say Eskimos have 50 words for snow. Well, women have 50 intonations of “I’m fine,” and you better learn them.
Part of this is cultural conditioning. As women, we aren’t necessarily encouraged to show complicated emotions like anger or sadness. We’re told to smile and act nice. Part of this is simple civility. Nobody wants to be the person who responds to a question, like, “How are you?” with bullet points. “My cat is dying, and I have this itch.”
But there’s also a stubbornness here. I want people to read my mind, to magically intuit why I’m upset. Women often complain that men are poor communicators. But we need to carry our load, too.
Sometimes I have to say “I’m fine” until I can gather myself long enough to explain what’s wrong. But sometimes, I say those words like they’re a test. And that’s not fair.
So next time I’m not fine, I might just dare to tell the truth.
"Actually, I’m terrible. Thanks for asking."