When you run in to an acquaintance at the grocery store, you smile and ask, “Hey, how are you?” They reply, “Good, you?” Then you smile, nod, reply with the same thing, and keep on walking. The whole exchange takes about two minutes, at most. It’s obligatory and predictable.
But what would happen if your acquaintance replied, “Horrible. My life is falling apart. How are you doing?” It would be jarring, awkward, a massive rip through the curtain of social expectations, the curtain of lies behind which we hide when we aren’t doing well. Generally, it’s not acceptable to be honest when you’re asked how you’re doing. It’s always a monotone “good,” or, if things are really falling apart, a cheerfully sung, “hanging in there.” It’s implied that you put on a happy face and smile for the camera. But technically your acquaintance wouldn’t be doing anything wrong if they told you their life sucked. They’re being honest in a society that doesn’t value honesty. You asked the question, after all. If you’re bothered, that’s on you.
Don’t ask a question if you don’t care. Why ask someone how they are if you aren’t genuinely interested in their well-being? Pretending to care just for the sake of appropriateness isn’t helping anyone; in fact, it’s just being unfair. You’re giving the impression that you care, when you don’t. You’re lying.