I'm sure that most of us have run into this phenomenon at some point or another: a female, either obviously distressed, or else refusing to talk about whatever is going on, is asked some question like this: “How are you doing?” “How is your day going?” “Are you okay?” The woman answers, “I'm fine.”
Then, sometimes, one of two things will happen. Either the guy thinks, “Oh, she's doing good then. Doesn't need any comfort or support” and wanders off to do something else, and finds out later that she was really sad – Or else the guy thinks to himself “Well that's an odd thing to say, because all my powers of observation point to the conclusion that she isn't fine.” We all know that this happens, but do you know why? As a female myself, I will divulge the two basic reasons for using that wording.
1 – We try to phrase things as positively as possible
If asked how I'm doing, I try to find the most positive adjective that could apply, and use that. If I'm at a content average, (which is usually what guys call “doing fine,”) I see that I am “good.” If I'm having a slightly above-average day, then it's “great.” On a very exceptional day, it might be “awesome!”
But suppose I'm not feeling as positive or content as I normally do... I hear “How are you doing?” I go through my list of words: Awesome? Nope. Excellent? Nope. Great? Nope. Good? Nope. Fine? Hmm.. . Yes, I'm not in tears yet; I am fine! And therefore I might respond “I'm fine,” since that's the most positive word I can think of to apply to the situation. If I'm doing even worse, and I feel that my world is falling apart around me, and someone asks, “How are you?” I might say, “Oh I'm alive,” or “I'm surviving,” or else “Oh, you know – this and that.”
You see, any of those responses should send up a red flag for the following reason: “If she is trying to phrase things as positively as possible, and the best she can say is 'alive,' then something is very, very wrong.” So, guys say “fine” when they feel “good.” Girls say “fine” when they can't even claim to be feeling good or okay.
2 – We are trying to convince ourselves that we are alright.
Sometimes, self-talk can be calming. “It's okay, everything is going to be fine, I'm going to get through this.” Therefore, if a girl feels absolutely dreadful, she may try to use self-talk to calm herself: “It's okay, I'm fine. I'm alright.” So someone asks, “How are you feeling?” She responds consistently with her self-talk: “I'm fine.”
As this point, of course, if the guy points out, “Well, um, you certainly don't look fine” then it will remind her of her feeling (the one she's trying to talk herself out of) that she's not fine, she's not okay, and will call back to her attention everything that's wrong.
And those are the two usual reasons. Either ends up with the same situation, in which the girl says that she is fine, and the guy sees that she is not fine under his understanding of the word “fine.”