I have a problem. I don’t remember people.
To which you’re probably thinking, “I’m horrible at remembering names too.”
But, no, you don’t understand. I don’t remember people.
I meet them. Chat and laugh with them at length. Genuinely mean it when I say that I look forward to seeing them again. Then walk away and immediately eject their faces from my memory.
Let me guess. You’re thinking, “Oh, well, we’ve all done that.”
But have you ever reintroduced yourself to the same person 3 times, twice in 1 night? I have, and I’ve made similarly embarrassing mistakes more times than I want to admit.
The problem lies in the fact that my brain doesn’t seem to process facial features very well. Sometimes it’s that I can’t distinguish one person from another, as in my inability to pick Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley out of a line up. (I swear they are the same person.)
Other times it’s the entire face, meaning I literally don’t recognize a person as someone I’ve seen before – ever. That’s the absolute worst! As was the case with the aforementioned triple introduction.
Case in Point
It went like this. I was in college, and my sister and I were playing pool. Guy 1 walks up, starts chatting and asks if he and Guy 2 can join us. We agree. Several minutes later, I introduced myself to Guy 1.
He responds, “Yes, Kim, we went to high school together. We hung out in the same circles regularly.” He then went on to explain our long list of mutual friends, activities we’d done as a group just a few years ago, etc.
“Oh, yes,” I exclaimed. “I remember. Of course!”
Which I did have a vague recollection of the classmate he was describing (himself). I just didn’t remember the face that sat atop his shoulders.
Fast forward to later in the night. New bar. I was out on the dance floor, trying to look flirty and non-sweaty to the cutie dancing with me. I noticed my sister with a please-help-me-now look on her face as she was chatting with a random guy. As girl-code dictates, I made a beeline for them, stuck out my hand to interject and said, “Hi, I’m Kim. Nice to meet you.”
Stunned silence. You guessed it. It was good ole Guy 1, from high school and from the pool hall I was at just an hour before.
There’s no graceful recovery from that. I tried to chalk it up to my bad angle of approach (”I couldn’t really see your face.”) and too many beers (”Whew, cut me off.”), but as much as I would have loved those to be true, neither was the problem.
I was. I simply don’t remember a lot of people I meet.
I’m Not Alone
Later in life, I discovered that there’s an actual condition called, prosopagnosia, more generally known as face blindness. In extreme cases, those who have it don’t even recognize their loved ones.
I’ve never been clinically diagnosed, and clearly, if I have this disorder, it’s a mild form. But whatever the cause, my personal version of face blindness has resulted in countless red-faced moments (perhaps I’ll write about others later).
It also has led me to greet folks who I don’t immediately recognize (most) with the ever general and always acceptable “Nice to see you.” (My friend Kristen tought me that trick!)
The phrase “Nice to meet you” is dead to me.
Have you ever experienced this? How did you recover? And has it changed the way you interact with people?