I am great with faces, and not so good with names.
Yes, that’s a cop out. If you see a familiar face and are friendly to the person it belongs to, who cares if you know them? They either walk away thinking it was nice to see you, or how friendly people are in this town.
I am by-face-only friends with a woman who goes to the same events I do at least three times a year. Before we became face-only friends I waved and said hello repeatedly, thinking she was my friend Paula. She is not. She is somebody else, who looks, dresses, and walks just like Paula. One day, on probably the 17th smile and wave, I explained myself and we have been strangers who chat frequently ever since.
“Strangers who chat” is my ideal situation, and probably the reason I can’t remember names. Strangers who chat is my happy place. I am perfectly content staying there. I will see the same person every week for several months and be quite happy not knowing names. There is of course a point where it is too late to admit you don’t know their name and then you’re out of luck unless you sneak a picture and run it through the facial recognition software you don’t have but should totally get.
It’s different when you see someone whose name you are expected to know. I don’t know why people expect others to know their names. I almost always remind people who I am and how we know each other, unless it’s my husband or someone related to me by blood. Not everyone does this though. It’s like some kind of test.
As we talk my brain goes through a search function to glean context. Where are you from? When did we last see each other? How much am I supposed to know about you? I haven’t even started to wonder what their name is. It’s like in “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” where Geena Davis realizes she knows everything there is to know about someone and surmises that they were once in love when actually she was supposed to assassinate him.
You have no idea how often this happens to me.
I used to begin the recognition process with “friend or foe?” but found it clogged the machine. Now I figure if I am accidentally nice to someone who dumped my best friend in high school* they will see it as me taking the high ground and will accordingly become a better person, seeing the error of their ways.
There are those people who can sense you don’t know their name and taunt you with it. They refer to you by name. You counter by mentioning something you have in common, which has miraculously surfaced in your brain. They up the ante with your husband’s name, and as you try to remember if they’re even married or not, they ask about the kids by name, acknowledging their correct ages. This is blatant overkill. No one can keep track of kids’ ages, not even their parents.
Five minutes after one of these exchanges I say to no one in particular, “Lisa.” Her name is Lisa. She is the ex-girlfriend of my ex-neighbor.
Twenty minutes later: Her husband is Tariq.
Twenty two minutes: We still know each other because our kids were in playgroup together.
3 AM: Daniel and Lydia. Now 9 and 12.
Don’t ask me to tell you what they look like. For the life of me I can’t picture them.
*As if any of us had boyfriends.