Forgive me if I don't know you

In any given social situation, I will either be very quiet / guarded or over-the-top friendly. There is no middle ground with me. I've come to realize that this is a coping mechanism thanks in part to my weird quirk.

Confession: I have a really hard time recognizing people.

I grew up in a tiny town in rural Indiana. Not a lot of people looked like me, and the tragic story of my father dying in the army when I was three, made me a recognizable face. To top it off, my grandma was a well known character in our little town, so even though I moved away at age 18, even to this day, when I go back for a rare visit, I still get recognized. 

I've always shrugged off my inability to remember faces because I assumed I was easier to recall and recognize than most people. 

I always thought that me not recognizing people I should know was a facet of my self-centeredness. If I had to confess a deep character flaw / recurring sin, I would say that I have the tendency to be aloof and self-serving. I don't typically consider other people's feelings even when my actions affect them. I cannot recall a single time when I didn't do something I wanted to do because of how another person may perceive me. I am overly confident and incredibly self-centered-- not because I'm purposefully inconsiderate-- it just doesn't occur to me that others may think differently than I do. 

This led me to believe that everyone had a hard time recognizing others, but that some people had figured out a trick that helped them to remember. If only I could find that trick!

Here are some examples: 

1. In college, I served in a kids' ministry, and try as I might I could not remember any of the children's names, despite seeing them every week for an academic school year. Kids would sit on my lap, I'd play games with them, I'd hug them, pray with them, and really care for them. However, from week to week, if they changed their hairstyle, I couldn't match a name to their cute little face.

2. When Facebook first started, I would deny friend requests from anyone I didn't recognize, even if we had mutual friends. I came to find out that I was denying people that I had interactions with weekly at church or at work, as they would confront me about the denials! 

3. I introduced myself to (my now dear friend) Melissa for what I thought was the first time. She looked at me like I had a monster growing out of my head and said, "I'm Melissa. I know who you are. You've introduced yourself three times now." This was the first time someone called me out on this, but I later found out this was a common occurrence.

4. I went to a gal's house for a ladies' night out through my church, and as I was leaving, I introduced myself to her and said, "Thank you so much for hosting. It was really nice meeting you." She laughed, uncomfortably. I recognized that laugh immediately. I had met her before. Turns out it was someone in the worship band (i.e. someone I see every week), someone I had talked to several times, and someone I had lunch with three days prior. 

5. A good friend was at a party, and I bumped my hip into hers and said, "I missed you in dance class this week!" She looked at me and said, "I don't go to dance class." I laughed because we have dance class together every Tuesday and had for months at that point. We dance right next to each other. "Dance Battle Build? At the YMCA?" She said, "You may be thinking of [R] or [J]." I searched her face. Wasn't she [R]? Nope. Note: these two women are both caucasian and have brown hair, but they do not look anything alike.

6. A few weeks ago, a gal in my community group, someone I am friends with, someone I see every single week (sometimes many times a week) was sitting in a chair at my house. I sat down next to her, but had to excuse myself to check on the kids downstairs. While downstairs I asked another parent, "Who was is that lady upstairs who was holding [Baby J]?" He said, "Isn't that [Baby J's mom 'K']?" "No,' I said, "[K] isn't here, is she?" It was totally her, but because I didn't expect her to be there, my brain could not synthesize that she was there... even though her baby was!

7. I have been married to Chris for twelve years. He has a large family who we see semi-regularly. I still cannot tell many of the aunts and uncles and cousins apart and at this point, it's way too embarrassing to say so.

8. For three years, I had an amazing intern, Rachel. She was like Andie in The Devil Wears Prada (which, sadly, makes me the Miranda). Without asking, she would slyly remind me who people were so I didn't appear foolish. 

9. Chris and I have a secret sign that I do when he's supposed to say, "Can you remind me of your name again?" so that I can be reminded of that person's name again. This sign predates Chris (I remember teaching it to my family in high school), which means I've had this problem for a loooooong time.

There's more, but basically it comes down to this: 

I can't recognize people out of context. Like if I know you from the blogging world, and I run into you while we're wearing exercise clothes at Target, I will introduce myself even if I can tell you know who I am. I do this so hopefully you'll tell me your name to remind me who you are. 

In social situations, if I'm quiet, I am checking out who else you're talking to to see if I should know you. Or I'll approach you with a way too friendly / familiar attitude because I assume we've already met or I may have confused you with someone else. I'll secretly ask my friend your name later.

Online I do the social media for my church. If I have to tag your photo with your name, I have to have someone else double check my work. If you send me a friend request on Facebook, I will deny you. It's just easier to deny everyone but immediate family members at this point. 

I try my very best to recognize you by the context in which I see you (gym? church? park? school?). If that fails, I try to recognize you by your children, your general style of dress, your mannerisms, and / or your hairstyle. But if any of those change, I may struggle. And sometimes, if my clues fail me, I might incorrectly conclude you're someone totally different than who you are. 

I recognize that you have face, but occasionally, if you're out of context, in a group setting, without your children or spouse, dressed differently, or have new hair, I cannot remember how or even if I know your face. And if I can't recall your face, I can't recall your name. 

I often describe people by the way they dress or their height. I can weirdly recall what people are wear even if I can't recall their face. I just thought this was because I'm interested in personal style. But it could be because I pay more attention to sartorial details because regularly I instantly forget faces. 

In most cases, over time, I will know you because I've got all the everything except your face imprinted into my memory. But very, very occasionally, my brain can't access that information. If someone can sneak me your name, everything will come flooding back to me. 

However, if you know me and I've forgotten your name, that's on me. That doesn't mean you're not worth remembering or that I don't want to be your friend. Please forgive me if I introduce myself again. I'm Indiana, and apparently I have a mild form of face-blindness. Apparently that's a real thing. 

This account describes almost exactly what it's like for me to have this issue, but I'm hesitant to diagnose myself as Face Blind (I would feel most comfortable if a doctor could officially diagnose me)- Prosopagnosia: What it's like to be Face Blind

These quotes jumped out at me because it's precisely how I feel: 

For years, I just thought I was a self-absorbed jerk unwilling to remember the people around me.
As a child, I had terrible vision that went uncorrected until the 6th grade. I recall borrowing a friend’s glasses on the bus and for the first time, realizing you could see individual leaves on trees. So initially, I blamed my poor sight for my inability to pick out friends in the hallway or anyone out of context. 

Except I didn't find out I needed glasses until I was 15, when I went in to get my drivers' permit. 

And it’s not like forgetting a name, where you can apologize and ask again. In some cases, I can’t recall people I’ve known for months or years. Basically, if someone is out of place or I don’t see them on a usual basis, I am often stumped. 

In a lot of ways, realizing this is, indeed, a real thing gives me immense relief. Maybe I'm not such a self-absorbed jerk! Maybe I don't have early on-set Alzheimer's. In other ways, however, it makes me even more determined to find a trick to help since other people experience this to some degree. There's got to be a tried and true trick, right?