“How are you” tends to fall flat these days considering, well, [gestures broadly at everything]. But in light of the lack of human connection we’re experiencing as we abide by social-distancing guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19 and general worries about how this pandemic will affect us and our loved ones, we’re doing more regular check-ins with our circles than ever. After that initial “hi,” though, there’s often an awkward lull. Because really, what can you say? Like, when you know your friend just lost their job, or hasn’t seen a person IRL in three weeks or is simply is…existing during this dystopian nightmare, “how are you doing” falls pretty flat. Are there other ways to say how are you, though, that are more helpful and less tone deaf?
“These days, conversations can feel awkward because there’s this looming backdrop of how not normal our lives are now,” says relationship therapist Debra Roberts, LCSW, author of The Relationship Protocol: How to Talk, Defuse, and Build Healthier Relationships. “It makes us hesitate to reach out, since, for the most part, we’re all dealing with the same stressors and fears. But, don’t let that stop you: Reach out, check in, say hi, and let the people you care about know that you’re thinking of them.”
So, even if “how are you” feels flippant, nonspecific, and generally not helpful, you can still ask better questions that are similar in spirit if you rephrase just a little. Focus on how your loved ones are keeping busy and entertaining themselves, and let the conversation unfold from there.
“When you’re checking in and asking the other person a question, be sure to listen to their answer,” says Roberts. “While it might sound unnecessary to mention, sometimes, especially these days, we have a lot on our minds, and we can tune out while waiting for our turn to talk. So, if you know you need to talk or vent, say that upfront.”
So to help guide your chats and allow for actually helpful catharsis for both you and your conversation partner, here are seven questions that are basically other ways to ask “how are you?”
1. “What are you doing today?”
Ask this to your single friends who are isolating in order to get a feel for how their day might look. How are they occupying their vortex of time? Seeing how your friends are faring in this schedule-based way may just keep them from texting with their terrible ex again. (Because, no, Megan, that’s not wise to do even amid this pandemic crisis.)
2. “What’s going on over there?”
This one works well if you’re checking in on someone who’s quarantining with one or multiple other people. Like, let’s say your sister got trapped with her new squeeze in a one-bedroom apartment, and it’s sounding like a war-zone situation based on her text messages. Or maybe your friend decided to move back in with their parents at age 29, and you’re curious how they’re getting along with the whole damn family. This question checks in on the status of the whole household.
3. “How are you balancing your time (between work, relaxing, family, the kids)?”
This is a great alternative to “how are you?” for your friend who is so totally stressed out by this new normal. Maybe this is someone wrapping up coursework for their master’s degree at home, despite having no graduation to walk in; or maybe it’s someone who can’t set WFH boundaries with themselves, let alone the kids they’re trying to homeschool. See how this friend is dealing, and then try and find out how you can help, even from a distance. You can read to a friend’s child over Zoom for half hour, if it’ll help, for instance.
4. “What are you watching/reading?”
Maybe they have a good show recommendation, or maybe they’re enjoying a comfort binge that you can both be nostalgic about.
5. “How has your body been feeling, and do you have any recs?”
With so many dusting off their home yoga mat to balance their couch time, many are finding themselves already fatigued by the same vinaya videos they’ve been watching for weeks on end now. See how a friend has been stretching out, and maybe you can plan a workout together.
6. “How are you taking care of yourself these days?”
When a friend asked if I was taking care of myself, I found it to be the sweetest way to check in. Keeping things open-ended versus just asking a yes-or-no “are you taking care of yourself” will give you more of a roadmap for how to follow-up their answer.
7. “Want to do FaceTime coffee later?”
Ultimately, the goal of identifying other ways to say how are you is to replicate the feel of hanging out in person and genuinely connecting. So, you can ask this question to make that active one-on-one time to see, well, how someone is doing, authentically.
And if you’re fatigued with talking about COVID-19 all the time, here are few ways to positively change the conversation. Also, are YOU okay? We have a few ways to heal yourself from the pandemic blues.
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