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What does “I’m fine” mean?

I say, “I’m fine,” a lot. When people ask me how I’m doing, when people ask me if something’s wrong, when my mom ask me if I slept well or had nightmares, I say that I’m fine. But I don’t really mean that I’m fine.

The way I see it, the answers to “How are you doing?” go in this order, with the best at the top and the worst at the bottom:

  • “awesome,” “fabulous,” “amazing”
  • “great”
  • “good”
  • “okay”
  • “not great,” “not good”
  • “bad”
  • “terrible,” “awful”

“Fine” isn’t on there. That’s because “fine”‘s meaning, at least for me, switches around a lot. Some of the time it means “okay-ish,” but it could be anywhere in the range between “terrible” and “good.”

I talked about this with my brother, and he said that “fine” means “good.” He pointed out that if you say, “It’s a fine day,” or that you went to “a fine restaurant” or you saw “the fine arts,” you’re talking about something good. “An okay day” sounds worse than “a fine day.”

But somehow, when it comes to talking about how people are doing, “I’m fine” doesn’t sound as good. (Is this just me? Do other people really mean that they’re great when they say they’re “fine”? I’m tempted to think not, but maybe I’m wrong?)

When I say, “I’m fine,” I mean that I am not doing super well, but that I also don’t want to talk about it.

It might be upsetting to talk about, and I don’t want to get all worked up right now. Or this might be an inappropriate situation, where we don’t have time for a long one-on-one talk. Maybe I’ve just run into an old friend and want to catch up, but we’re around other friends, and we’re both in the middle of doing other things. Or maybe I’m just not close enough with the person to tell them the truth and invite them into my life.

Most of the time, though, I say “I’m fine” when I want someone to know that there’s something wrong, but I don’t want to say more about it.

If it’s someone I’m close to, maybe I’ll tell them later. I might want them to know, just not now. It’s sometimes a little cry for help, in this case. I might even want them to ask me about it later, in a safer place. Maybe.

If it’s someone I don’t know that well, I probably don’t want to tell them anything else, but I say I’m “fine” because I’m sick of lying and saying I’m “good.” I want them to know I’m not “good.” I know that “fine” is a stretch or a bit of a lie sometimes, too, but it’s not as much of a lie as “good.”

That’s what I mean when I say I’m fine. What do you mean when you say “fine”? And how are you doing? 😉 Personally, I’m having a good day but a bad month or two.

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