Should I tell you I don't remember who you are?
August 14, 2017 9:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm fairly physically distinctive, and as such, people generally don't have a hard time remembering who I am/where they know me from. Unfortunately, in other places (e.g. on public sidewalks or in grocery stores) I don't always recognize them. Sometimes they start conversations with me. If you were the other party--you know who I am, I don't--what would you prefer that I do? Would you like me to admit this and ask for your name/context? Would you like me to pretend I recognize you and hope you'll drop some clues? Something in-between?

(Note that I am not asking for tips on how to get better at remembering people's names/faces. That's a separate topic. Assume that those tips have failed in this particular instance that we're talking together.)
posted by one for the books to Human Relations (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Go old-school. "I'm afraid you have the advantage of me, Mr....?"
posted by kindall at 9:37 AM on August 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

As someone with a great memory for faces who sometimes approaches people who don't remember me, I think you should just admit it right off the bat because it's pretty obvious when someone doesn't remember who you are. Plus if you admit it right away, you can use some kind of light self-deprecating or complimentary excuse if they seem offended. Examples: "Oh, of course, forgive me, I was deep in thought about something that happened at work/what I need to buy at the store, etc." or if you remember them and want to go complimentary, "Oh, I didn't recognize you with that great new haircut/with that fantastic dress, etc."
posted by unannihilated at 9:41 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, just say so. It's so much easier to just admit defeat right off the bat. People respect you more for being honest.

"I'm so sorry, I'm completely blanking on your name."
posted by phunniemee at 9:42 AM on August 14, 2017 [26 favorites]

I have the same problem, although I truly do not understand what it is about me that people remember. If I don't remember who I am talking with within a short time - because sometimes something the other person says will jog my memory - I just own up. I always put it on myself - it's about my poor memory, not the other person's memorability. On the other hand, I've never asked the other person what they would have liked me to do.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 9:44 AM on August 14, 2017

Yeah, come right out and ask me. I won't be offended; I don't remember lots of stuff.
posted by JanetLand at 9:45 AM on August 14, 2017

Do me a favor and remind me of your name.
posted by theora55 at 9:53 AM on August 14, 2017 [8 favorites]

I've dated two people who had fairly public profiles and were 6'8", one of them fairly face-blind, who constantly got this. "I'm so sorry, I'm terrible with faces, where do we know each other from?" seems to be the best way to kindly ask for - and be given - enough context to work with. Usually people will say their name along with "from Joe Smith's game night?" or whatever so you can triangulate.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:57 AM on August 14, 2017 [14 favorites]

I like to tell people they're out of context. Like, if I know them from work I'd recognize them at work, but if I see them at the beach I have no idea where I know them from.

"I'm sorry, I'm bad at this and you're out of context. Please tell me your name again."
posted by bondcliff at 10:10 AM on August 14, 2017 [15 favorites]

I am a college instructor, and as a result there are twenty years' worth of former students who remember me, while I may not remember them. Plus, I have a touch of face blindness, which doesn't help. I'll often just admit I'm face blind, and ask the other person to remind me of their name/how I know them. Embarrassing, but it makes things a lot easier.

On preview: bondcliff's comment about context is 100% true for me! I often use this phrasing too. People really seem to connect with that one.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:15 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

As long as we haven't been physically intimate before I am fine with "I'm sorry. I am blanking on your name." or "Can you remind me where we met?"
posted by terrapin at 10:15 AM on August 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'm in your boat being physically distinctive, but I also have a super easy to remember name (it's a common noun that's rarely (uniquely?) used as a name in the culture I live and work in). 95% of the time I admit that I'm failing to remember who/how I know someone, usually re-explaining that I'm horribly with names and faces. As I said re-explaining, upon meeting someone I try to set this up by warning that I'm horribly with names and faces, but I'll try, and then make a point of looking poitedly at their face while repeating their name. I've never experienced anyone looking angry or put out by this (and in fact occasionally some are delighted that I recognize them on my 2nd time meeting them, even if there's an obvious 2-5 seconds where I'm trying to realize if I know them / how I know them / who they are), but admittedly I'm a bit on the aspie scale and may be missing queues.

Only occaisionally, such as if I bump into someone that I might not have even been properly introduced to do I just not address the fact that I don't know who they are, as I assume the interaction will be over in a minute or two and I'll likely not see them again. E.G. if I bump into someone at a restraurant, or a grocery store I'll not necessarily ask who they are. If I'm meeting, or re-meeting, someone in any group or professional setting I re-introduce and make more memory attempts.
posted by nobeagle at 10:17 AM on August 14, 2017

I have this problem too. I play along and speak warmly to people and wait for context clues to remind me of who they are. If I can't remember I sometimes say "what's your last name again?"
People HATE feeling forgotten and will resent you. Avoid that.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:48 AM on August 14, 2017

I have the opposite problem. Nobody ever remembers me but I am great with names and faces. It sucks to be unmemorable, but individual instances of this don't hurt-- I usually offer up front, but it's never rude to say "agh, I'm blanking on your name" or something equally casual. A smile helps, and tone is important.

Not being able to place people is not rude. Generally acting like you're talking to someone who has a right to talk to you instead of a "who tf are you" look will mean a lot to us mouse-people.
posted by kapers at 10:55 AM on August 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Hmm... if it looks like someone's digging around the vault to figure it out - not uncommon, because my name's just unusual & unfamiliar enough to be confused with a few others - I usually take it upon myself to remind them / reintroduce myself and sort of let them know it's understandable. So no, I wouldn't be offended if asked, just because it happens so often...

If I have to ask someone to remind me of their name, I approach them with a *lot* of *very positive* nonverbal messaging, and apologize several times, both for having poor memory generally and being distracted at that moment (and offer a specific explanation as to why that is). I then make a point of asking about something they've told me about ("how was your vacation in Florida?") to let them know I did absorb *something* about them. Not sure if that's over the top or not, but even if people seem a bit miffed initially, they seem to feel ok about it after all that. As far as I can tell.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:35 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

good lord, who are these people who are offended if you can't remember their name? I mean, you're not talking like, immediate co-workers, right? Just people you met at a party or something?

Maybe I've only lived in less delicate parts of the world, but I've never seen anyone be actually offended with a gentle, self-depracating, "I'm so sorry, I've blanked on your name, can you remind me? I'm [my name]."
posted by john_snow at 11:57 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have the same problem. What I have noticed is that one very rarely uses names in conversation. Yes, they might come up and say, "Oh hi, Ananci! It's been ages, how have you been?" I just go with it: "Hi! Yes it certainly has! I've been working on [insert recent project], how are you?"

Once I answer their questions, and ask a few of my own, usually they will give me enough hints in their answers for me to figure out at least where we met, if not remembering their actual name.

Reading these answers surprised me, as I have literally done this hundreds of times and no one has seemed surprised or offended that I didn't call them by their name during the exchange.
posted by ananci at 12:04 PM on August 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

There's an old trick I read once that if you can't remember someone's name ask them, "I'm sorry, what is your name?" If they are cool, they'll tell you and everything's fine. If they get offended and say, "Nora" in an annoyed way that you should have remembered them (because dammit, I'm so unforgettable!) reply with, "Oh yes, I know it's Nora, I mean your LAST name."

Really though, as a teacher with 2000+ former students, I just own it right away that I forgot their name, it is what it is. The more you do it the easier it gets and you realize most people don't get upset. Happened to me yesterday at the grocery and the young man wasn't bothered at all.
posted by NoraCharles at 12:54 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

good lord, who are these people who are offended if you can't remember their name?

I am terrible at recognizing people I don't know well when I run into them out of context. I have offended people more than once by completely failing to recognize them.

Once, it was a woman I saw a couple of times weekly at her workplace, for probably about a year. She worked in the cafeteria and I used to drop in for an hour or two to fill the vending machines. We generally exchanged pleasantries, and had a few friendly conversations. Then one time, I ran into her at the grocery store, she said "hello" like she knew me, and I had absolutely NO idea who she was or if I even knew her. I also have no poker face whatsoever, so I'm sure it was abundantly clear. As it gradually started to come to me that I knew her, I tried to recover but she was having none of it. She stalked off in a huff.

Another, far more embarrassing situation: I was home by myself during the day and a knock came at my door. I opened the door and there stood an unfamiliar man in a business suit, who looked at me expectantly and said nothing. "Yes?" I said, and he smiled. I continued to look at him in confusion, and he said "It's me... Jim!" (I'm thinking Jim... Jim who... ) OH! JIM! MY FUCKING FATHER IN LAW. Of course I was all sorts of apologetic, genuinely happy to see him, and invited him in. But he was clearly hurt and offended, refused to come in, and after a minute of awkward conversation said he had to go.

In my defense, the man lived three hours away and I had met him like three times in as many years. I had no reason to expect him to show up on my doorstep in the middle of some random weekday. He'd come into town on business and decided to stop by out of the blue. Really hard to live that one down.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:38 PM on August 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

I've done RenFaires and scifi cons; I used to have a button that said, "No, I don't remember your name either." I also did Irish dancing for several years running - another setting where I'd be familiar with faces and often never connect a name to the person.

There are people with whom I've had hours-long conversations, every convention for several years, but never remembered their names. (Badges that say "DoomStalker" don't help with this.)

I'm never offended if people don't remember my name, and in my social crowd, that seems to be universal.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:56 PM on August 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have some prosopagnosia (face blindness) and I have learned to just say, "sorry, I have problems with facial recognition..." People seem to be OK with that.
posted by LauraJ at 3:08 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

you're me. first i'm vague, try to remember, then if the conversation is important i fess up with a "i'm so sorry a lot on my mind whats you're first name (or last or whatever) again?" or if in passing just give a super positive greeting & move on........
posted by patnok at 4:05 PM on August 14, 2017

I nth everyone where if the person you're dealing with is sane, they won't be super offended if you say you are blanking on their name. Though as anansi said, I have conversations with people all the time without knowing their names and usually figure it out in the context of conversation eventually.

My worst moment was running into a cousin I hadn't seen in 9 years and thinking she was the OTHER person I know with that same name. Thank gawd nobody figured out that I did that in the moment.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:20 PM on August 14, 2017

Most people who don't know me think I'm one of the nicest, friendliest people they've met.
A fact which people who do know me find hilarious.

The reason for this I treat everyone I meet as if I know them because I have no idea whether or not I do. Sometimes during the conversation the other person will realise I don't recognise them and if they know me they will laugh, if they don't, well if they don't I'm not overly concerned tbh.

Me : "we need to talk about your clearance renewal dude"
NotJohn: "you think I'm John don't you""
Me: "balls! I've done it again haven't I"
NotJohn: "Dude. I've been on your team for 8 months now. We don't even look the same, he has a massive beard"
Me: "You're the same height"
NotJohn: "Woah! Is that your criteria for telling people apart?"
Me: "sometimes, fucked up isn't it. I'd suck at being a netball coach"
NotJohn: "He's over there"
Me: "Ummm, can you be more specific"
NotJohn: "He's the one laughing at you talking to the wrong person again"
Me: "Yeah, he's been here for two years. You'll find it funny eventually"

People are generally good and those who are offended by this probably just haven't encountered it very often. I'd suggest being polite and friendly and go with the "I'm sorry I have a weird face-blindness thing" or have fun meeting new people all the time (even if you've known them for a while)
posted by fullerine at 11:37 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I say, "I'm really sorry, I have prosopagnosia" and go from there. I generally have to explain what it is and then I regale with a few stories about it (my dad has it too so how often we walk past each other in streets and don't recognise each other is amusing, as is the several times I have accidentally chatted casually to really quite famous celebrity people because I don't have a clue who they are). We end with a chuckle and some even seem to understand a bit but I don't expect that, I only hope they don't feel offended by my difficulty.

The problem with finding anything else to say is that it can make you seem even weirder. If you don't recognise someone you've passed time of day with at the bar a couple of times then "where do we know each other from?" isn't too unreasonable. If it turns out you know them because they are your child's key worker at nursery and you've seen them every working day for the last year it just doesn't wash as well!
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 1:51 AM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I usually go with, "I'm sorry, I'm a little bit faceblind."
posted by 168 at 5:04 AM on August 15, 2017

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