The British; enjoy copious amounts of tea and moaning about the weather, do not floss their teeth regularly enough and lie constantly so as not to offend, cause concern or create a scene. Our stiff upper lips are the sliding door waiting to SLAM shut on any morsel of truth that tries to bust out and escape from our mouths, like a 17th Century imprisoned swashbuckling hero, laden with secret information, complete with feathered cap and fancy horse.
“TA DAAAAAAA! AWAY TO THE ENGLISH CHANEL AND MY AWAITING BOAT AND THE FREEDOM OF FRANCE AND FREE SPEA–“
“CHOP HIS HEAD OFF!”
No truth escapes from the mouths of the British during a time of crisis.
The stock standard British meet and greet “conversation” is actually just a well practiced script. It’s a fancy word game. It is as British as Wimbledon.
“Hello! How are you?”
“My darling hello!” I’m fine! And you? (I don’t really care about your reply because I KNOW what it will be because I have read the script and I’m not actually listening to your response anyway as I am focussing on my next move!) How are you?”
“Great, thanks, my lovely! Oh and what about this weather we are having, hey?”
And the results are in; Love-love.
Indeed. Love love. All we want to share is the love and the ooh’s and the ahh’s and the bright and the shiny and the successes and the great. The shame of suggesting that things are not tip top would it seem, just be like offering to share the flat, unrisen shitty cake with wet dribbly icing on top, handmade by yours truly. Perhaps we feel that by sharing our weakness we expose them. Opening us to possible exploitation. Maybe even attacks. Perhaps a big old salt shaker being rubbed over our open, vulnerable wounds. And we can’t be having that, can we?
And when we ask “How are you?” all we want to hear is the love and the ooh’s and the ahh’s and the sunshine and the glossy and the good and because when we politely deliver our opening line, we don’t expect anything other than that scripted reply. Because that would throw us off our off our game. And perhaps makes us feel awkward. And weird. Perhaps we might catch it? Lately I have paid a lot of attention to this wordy introduction game and have found that often it is just another way of announcing your presence on the scene.
Not many people really want to know how you are. They are just using a different way of saying “hello”.
And not many people really want to tell you how they feel. They are just using a different way of saying “go away”.
I have questioned why we give life to this question by breathing it out when actually, more often than not, people are not listening to what we are saying but only waiting for a pause in the conversation so they can speak over us?
I have been guilty of all of the above lately. I have asked people how they are, and winced as the final word left my tongue in case they answered honestly. The question just automatically tumbled from my lips, but I didn’t really want a truthful reply. I wanted the scripted reply. And when people have asked me how I was, I have always told them
“Fine, thanks!” (lie) made a fake excuse to leave the conversation and pelted it away.
Yes, this probably makes me sound like a bad person. An unkind person. Someone not genuine. But I was also a very tired, very stressed person who was trying to balance on a tightrope. Not walking, not actually feeling like she was going forward or backwards even, just, sort of…wobbling on the spot, trying not to look down and waiting for that stiff breeze to send me falling at any moment.
There has been a lot going on these past few months and unlike those times when I have been the one who is cause for concern, but not realised it, instead floating numbly along not even realising that I had put the washing powder in the fridge or had been crying in a supermarket staring at the broccoli’s, this time I was totally aware of what was going on. Because this time, I wasn’t the cause for concern, I was concerned for others. Deeply, deeply concerned. Others in my life were dealing with the most horrendous worries and I had no control whatsoever over how I could possibly begin to help them. I am a fixer. I fix things. I always look for the proverbial plaster and destroy cupboards and medicine boxes and stress out until I find it. This time? Couldn’t find the plaster. The cupboards were bare. Because, well, what do you do when there is absolutely nothing you can do to help those that you love? When you are rendered utterly powerless to provide support? When there is nothing you can do?
You get really fucking stressed out is what you do.
On the days when I was really worrying, when I felt exposed and vulnerable, I felt like a fingernail quick, ripped and sore. Everything that touched made me wince. When my body was sluggish and my thoughts weighed heavy I lied to everyone who asked
“How are you?”
I delivered my line and felt the lie cuddle round me like a big, warming blanket.
“I’m fine!” (lie)
“You are just like them, you know?”
“Like those you are worried about. What do they say to you when you ask how they are?”
“They tell me they are Ok”
“And are they OK?”
“And so are you Ok?”
I bought into the act of pretending and lying and thought that if I just recited the words on the page and followed the script then actually, everything would be fine and everyone would be OK. If we pretend hard enough, then it might just all be OK after all. Sometimes we just have to stop pretending. Because often everyone knows you are faking it anyway. We are not all Oscar winning actors after all.
Through the past few months I have learnt that it is ok to be weak, and to be vulnerable. To let people know exactly where the chinks in my armour are and respond with
“Actually, yeah, it’s all a bit shit at the moment”
To not be on fine form isn’t the social faux pas I always thought it was. Turns out, there are other people in the world who like me, want to help, who are fixers and want to provide support. Who knew? (DUH)
Everyone can not simply be “ok” all the time. It isn’t possible. If 1 in 3 people have cancer, and 1 in 3 people are getting divorced and 20% of people have serious debt etc etc etc, then, not everyone can be OK all of the time. Someone must be getting a shit deal. I cant help but look around the school playground and think, out of all of us stood here then on average ten of us are having a really crappy time. There is a lot to be said for dull and boring lives. To be able to honestly reply that life is actually, pretty monotonous and uneventful is both refreshing and surprising while also comforting and delicious.
So, welcome the times when you can reply
“I’m great!” and it is the truth (or almost the truth). This is brilliant and to be cherished. But don’t feel bad about saying when it isn’t that great either. Your reply may fall on the deaf ears of someone who is just reciting their part of the play, but you may also find someone who is open to going off script and is open to improv and will lay down their tennis racquets and give you time to really say how you feel.