“How are you?”
“How are things going with your other half?”
“Yeah, they’re fine”
“How do I look?”
“You look fine”
“How is the new job?”
“It’s going fine”
Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine.
The word holds more mixed messages, nuance and tension in those 4 letters than a month of Eastenders episodes.
What does it actually mean? I don’t mean in the dictionary sense, but in one individual’s specific experience. It’s a chameleon in word form, reflecting the environment it exists in. The same way tofu tastes of nothing until you marinate it in flavour.
The Urban dictionary has a definition of fine as “Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic, Emotional”. It’s stolen from the Italian Job (the remake…zzzzz), but it seems a whole lot more accurate than the Oxford English’s attempt.
When I was a teen and I would ask my mum what she thought of a new dress / top / shoes / hair colour etc., I would, almost without fail, get the response that it was “fine”. My brain translated this to mean, “I think it’s horrible, I wouldn’t be seen dead in it and I’d rather burn it than see you wear it, but you are free to express yourself without my judgement, and I don’t want to offend you.” She still does this today, most recently when I told her I was going to disco paint my new kitchen. I always tell her she should just tell me she hates it but she’s 71, she’s not going to change! I’m fine with this ‘fine’ though because I do not want my house or wardrobe to resemble my mother’s (60’s vintage excepted).
I can be having the shittest day of my life but were a colleague or acquaintance to ask how I was, I would automatically response “Fine Thanks”.
Recently talking to some friends who have a lot going on, the word came up, time and again, to describe situations which were clearly not fine. It became a bit of a joke truth be told, and was the inspiration for this post.
In this context what fine actually meant was tolerable. It made me realise how interchangeable those words have become. That fine so often now means, ‘managing’, ‘surviving’ or ‘coping’. Like it’s some form of resignation to the drudgery of life. I find it depressing that people think it’s okay to accept this. Don’t get me wrong. I understand that changing this kind of ‘fine’ is not always an easy or feasible option but it makes me sad when I see people give up hope. I have been one of those people and I know it’s bloody horrible.
I’m not trying to find trouble where there is none, but sometimes we get so carried away with the business of living that we stop noticing those little things that are not fine. The way we change behaviour to suit bosses or partners, that extra drink to take the edge off, that filing of the unopened credit card bill, that lump where there shouldn’t be one. When things are a bit scary it can seem much easier to just pretend it’s all fine and bury your head in the sand. But in the long run this backfires horribly, even if it takes years to bite you in the butt, you ignore ‘fine’ at your peril!
Obviously things aren’t hunky dory all of the time and fine is fine for a while, but the line when it tips into untenable is so fine, it’s hard to see. Usually we only notice we crossed it after the damage is done.
It’s like there’s a sliding scale from horrific to amazing via fine. We all slide up and down it throughout our lives. Some settling like a pendulum comfortably in the middle, some continuing to swing from one end to the other, most a mixture of all the above.
I make no judgement on where anyone choses to sit on this scale. I’m an advocate of seeking amazing but understand that fine is calm and settled and often a place of peace.
For many years I was firmly in the middle ground. I had a nice (don’t get me started on ‘nice’) boyfriend, good friends and a job that was kinda fun. My life was fine. Only it wasn’t really. And the ‘meh’ that fine can morph into slowly started to slip down towards horrific via periods of chronic anxiety, a place I am prone to return to when I have no focus.
It is only hindsight that allowed me to realise this. For many reasons, I had zero ambition for myself, only wanting to please everyone and create a happy conflict free environment. It took me years to realise my self-worth was at a place where I felt I should just be grateful for what I had, even if it wasn’t what I really wanted. I was lucky and it could be so much worse right? The truth is, I didn’t know what I wanted and had no idea how to work it out.
I’m still not entirely sure what I want, but at least now I know what I don’t want.
I don’t want fine.
As a child of the 80’s I was sold the dream that, I, as a woman could have it all. Good career, husband, children, my own independence, all at once. What they didn’t mention is that the abundance of choice we now have can feel utterly overwhelming, neither did they tell you is how hard it is to get it all, then maintain it. There’s no happy ever after. No place where you arrive and get to stop trying. There is just life!
The media tells us we can and should have ‘it’ all and anything less than perfect should be disposed of, just keep swiping and there will be another chance waiting. THIS IS A LIE! Whatever ‘it’ is, relationships, jobs, parenthood, it takes hard work and constant effort to make it work. Conversely, it means we question things that are just fine. Is that okay? is it enough? Sometimes fine is completely fulfilling, but sometimes fine is a total copout. Is fine what you want the rest of your life because it’s easy? I am a firm believer that nothing worth having is easy.
Millennials get a bad wrap for being entitled and expecting the world on a plate and I think this is really unfair. I’m a ‘few’ years past including myself in this group but I have such huge empathy for them. They have been sold this ‘have it all’ fantasy by the same media who then slate them for believing it. What is that about?
We need people to be more honest about the challenges of everyday life. We need reminding that those instagram feeds are the best bits and are not representative of any person’s life as a whole, no matter how many likes it has or how much they have in the bank.
It’s okay to admit that sometimes (often) life simply isn’t easy. We all find different things challenging but we all have challenges nonetheless.
I’ve just been hearing on the news that today is world mental health day, which is kind of timely. So I want to do my bit and ask you, in all honesty how you are.
Are you fine?
If you’re not, you can tell me. It’s really okay not to be.
All I ask is you acknowledge it, be honest with yourself so you can do something about it. Even if that something is as small a thing as telling someone.
If you’re feeling shit or stuck or confused, I promise you there is someone out there who has been through the same thing and survived so please reach out.
I am not a professional but here are some resources for people who are…
In the meantime, here are some more alpaca pictures because sometimes looking at cute fluffy (recently shawn) animals does make everything seem fine for a while…
And now I’m off to try out this glitter paint…
Extra big love today