The mystery of “I’m fine”

Brooke Schwartz
4 min readDec 4, 2019

I’m a nineteen-year-old girl.

When you read that, what did you think? Did you assume something about my maturity, my intellect, my experience? Did you assume that I say “I’m fine” when I’m not, hoping someone will fish something out of me?

The truth is this: usually when I tell people I’m fine, it’s because I actually am perfectly fine. And when I use it as a lie, it’s because I don’t feel like talking about it.

I’m not asking people to fish things out of me. That’s rude and an unfair expectation to have of somebody. I’m not going to clam up just so someone else is forced to pry me open. I’ll open up when I want, clam up when I want, and enforce clear boundaries about myself and my emotions.

When you say “I’m fine” because you want someone to fish something out of you, you are making the following statements:

  • Don’t trust me when I tell you something. Maybe I’m being ingenuine because I want you to fish something out of me.
  • Don’t respect my boundaries. When I tell you to leave me alone, when do you know that I secretly want you to chase after me? So, the best course of action is just to press me when I tell you not to.
  • Your time is not valuable. I would rather you wasted time trying to figure out the puzzle that is me rather than being up front with my feelings.

These messages are harmful both for the speaker and the recipient of the infamous “I’m fine.”

An example of the “I’m fine” culture that comes to mind is when I was writing on Quora and I’d get random DMs from people. Some of them were interesting, funny, or sweet, but a good amount of them were the following:

  • “hi.” That’s it. No introduction, no nothing. Just “hi.” What do you want me to do with that? Say “hi” back?
  • “You’re pretty…” Block, report, etc. I got a lot of random people trying to flirt with me, often a decade or more older than me. It was gross and a big reason why I pulled down all photos of myself available to the public. It still happened, but far less often. Thank God for vanity.
  • “How are you?” Um…fine?

And thus introduced the problem. Before I became a seasoned veteran and learned to immediately filter out the weirdos based on the first message alone, I’d reply to every message I got — including the “hi” and “how are you” messages. These almost invariably resulted in…

Brooke Schwartz

Professional writer, editor, and tutor; social justice advocate; Orthodox Jew; dedicated Grammar Auror