Normally, to casually check in with a friend, I’d walk up to them in person and give them a hug, pull away with one hand still on their shoulder, give them a little squeeze, and say, “So what’s up!”
But now hugging and shoulder pinches are illegal due to germs. That’s a bummer, but a small sacrifice to make in order to keep our friends and neighbors and grandparents from getting sick. We can all make it a few months without patting our buds on the shoulder. There are other good ways to get in touch—like with a letter in the mail, a FaceTime call, or a simple text. If you choose to go the third route, I humbly offer you this suggestion: Don’t start by saying, “How are you?” to your friend; go, instead, with “Vibe check?”
To be clear, “how are you?” is kind of a bad way to check in on a friend at any time, not just during a global crisis, when no one is really doing all that great. It’s one of those “things” people say reflexively, like “gesundheit!” after a sneeze, or “excuse me” upon bumping into someone (haha, remember bumping into someone?). It’s maybe only useful in a setting like a big concert, where the only response is cheers, or in a celebratory context, when you know the answer is going to be, “I’m great!”
In normal times, the phrase is forgettable and rote; during a pandemic, it feels loaded and ominous. It’s also burdensome; we are all “at capacity” right now, so to speak. Being asked to reflect on our current state and then report it back to someone is too much these days. Nothing in anyone’s tiny world is changing much, and certainly not for the better. Having to run through a list of ways in which your life has stayed bad or become worse, just to be able to have a conversation with your well-meaning friend, sucks eggs.
“Vibe check?”, on the other hand, is gentler and also more fun. It doesn’t necessitate much inner reflection at all. That’s because a “vibe” isn’t one concrete thing, as vibes transcend meaning. That works in “Vibe check?”’s favor; it’s up to the receiver to determine what constitutes the vibe. The response to a vibe check could be, “just made some mac ‘n cheese; good vibes.” Or maybe “the vibe isn’t great today tbh,” or “vibes are decent.” If it’s clear the vibe is so bad that your friend needs to talk about why that is, you can do that. Otherwise, you can both move on and talk about other things, like how thick your eyebrows have grown in quarantine, or how your ex is astral projecting with a toy kaleidoscope on his Instagram story. These are the conversations we want to have, and “How are you?” is a brutal and unnecessary gatekeeper to them.
If “How are you?” personified is a therapist in a dim room, sitting across from you in an ergonomic chair as they invite you to bare your soul, then “vibe check?” is a cool guy riding past on a skateboard into the sunset and hitting you with a shaka sign. Be the vibes you wish to see in the world; be a person who vibe checks.
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