Should I be worried about my friend's forgetfulness?
September 27, 2007 12:07 PM   Subscribe

I know many people, including myself, mistakenly repeat events in our lives to the same individual. However, I have a friend who constantly tells me same things repeatedly. Not nag me to do things, but tell me things that we’ve already discussed at length either verbally or through email. For instance, his car was broken into and his radio was stolen. He told me the day it happened and gave me all the facts. Then a week later, he raised the case again saying he had to go to the store and look for a new radio because his was stolen and he repeated all the facts. Then in an email the other day he told me that he bought a new radio for his car because a few weeks ago, his was stolen. He brings it up as if I’ve never heard it before. He doesn’t just do it with negative events. He does it if he gets a cool gift, or promotion, etc. I’ve told him before that he does this. I started feeling that I wasn’t important enough in his life for him to remember our interactions. I mentioned it to another friend and they laughed and said that he does it to them too which started to get me worried. Is there a psychological/medical reason that my friend does this and should I be worried about their health?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Does your friend have ADD or symptoms of ADD? If so, I bet that it has something to do with that. When he tells something to you it's because he was stimulated by something in the conversation to relate something else that has been stimulating him recently (both positive and negative events). However, in so doing he is so impulsive that he doesn't stop to think of the context, specifically whether he's already told you.

I could be way off, but this is the first thought I had. I have a lot of experience dealing with ADD people (mother, brother, girlfriend, SELF) and this is the way a lot of them are.
posted by jk252b at 12:19 PM on September 27, 2007

How old is your friend? My father has the same problem. He is 65 and I assume that he suffers from dementia due to old age.

Googling "memory loss" gave me tons of results; try that when you get a chance.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:20 PM on September 27, 2007

I do this quite frequently, as do many of my friends. Part of the problem for me is that I do communicate with a few of my friends through several different means (face to face, phone, pager, IM), so I do tend to forget to whom/how I told my latest story.

I should think that the fact that he does keep telling you the important events in his life means that you ARE important enough to him to share those events with.
posted by at 12:22 PM on September 27, 2007

Oooh. I repeat myself to others too. And I've recently been diagnosed with ADD. Have I told you about that yet?

I'm actually so bad that I assume I've told everyone already, which means that some of my friends feel out of the loop, and others inevitably hear the same story over and over again. People who become close to me learn to just gently stop me if I'm repeating myself.

I've never worried about it, but it's annoying from this side, too.
posted by Stewriffic at 12:26 PM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

My friends and I do that kind of thing all the time. We are all in different cities and states and so we only talk once a week/every other week and we forget what we've told to each other. The older we get the more we catch each other doing it and now it's a running joke.

As a general consensus--in our little circle--repeating mundane events that have happened to us is more entertaining than sports talk or celeb talk.

It's also interesting to see how little things(like having a car broken into) turn into legendary stories with plot twists and mythic ramifications each time it is repeated.
posted by M Edward at 12:26 PM on September 27, 2007

I do this from time to time and I know other people who do this as well. I agree with - that you may forget who you told what to, especially when there are so many means of communication.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:27 PM on September 27, 2007

I know two people who do this all the time, neither has ADD or any other symptoms of it. Everyone mocks both of them for it, which they take on the chin.
posted by bonaldi at 12:32 PM on September 27, 2007

Interesting. My dad does this, and always has. It's definitely not memory-related, but the ADD thing is a possibility. Not that he's been diagnosed, but it makes sense to me, knowing him.

He does it with stories - kind of like tkchrist stories here, he has many funny and crazy tales that he likes to relate in an animated way.

When he's re-telling a story for the 10th time and we say, "you told us this yesterday!" he trails off in volume and intensity, but he CAN'T STOP telling the story. It's like he's compelled to finish it.
posted by peep at 12:33 PM on September 27, 2007

When I was little, I had a stutter. Part of my speech therapy to overcome it was learning to plan my conversations. Whenever something (or something insignificant, but shareable,) significant happens, I think about who I'm going to tell, and how I'm going to tell it. That way, when I speak, I'm not nervous, and I don't stutter.

Unfortunately, this means that I often tell people the same story a couple of times. I rehearse it so much in my head, that I forget if I told my husband about the fire in the neighborhood today, or if I was just planning to tell him about it. For me, whoever gets my story the second or third time is every important to me; so much that I want to make sure that I shared with them.

(However, I have learned to ask, often, "Did I tell you about X?" before I launch into the whole story.)
posted by headspace at 12:34 PM on September 27, 2007

Didn’t you post this thread last week?

Seriously though, your friend is just absent minded. I do the same thing to my wife all the time.

Me: “How was your day?”
Her: “Great.”
*five minutes passes*
Me: “How was your day?”
Her: Weird look
Me: “I already asked you that, didn’t I?”

I do the same thing with telling people about stuff. Doesn’t mean I don’t care about them. Just means I’m a dingbat sometimes. Nothing to worry about. And yeah, it could be ADD.
posted by bondcliff at 12:41 PM on September 27, 2007

This runs in my family on both sides. My (maternal) grandpa does it, my Dad does it, and damnit, at 37, I already do it too. So I'm told.

While my grandma was still alive, sometimes she couldn't take it any more, and would say sternly "stop it Dan! We've all heard this before!"

And Grandpa would smile, nod, say "I know!" and keep going until he was finished.

I know what he was feeling now. You're telling a good story, it's a crime to stop in the middle. The narrative urge is far stronger than any sense of decorum or shame.

Naturally I DO try to curb this if I'm told I'm doing it, but I'm afraid once I'm old enough for inconsiderate rambling to be tolerated, I'm probably never going to stop.

I started feeling that I wasn’t important enough in his life for him to remember our interactions.

I'm afraid there's no one important in my life in that case.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:55 PM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've noticed this happens (apologies if I offend anyone who has admitted to also doing it), with people that feel they need to have something to say about themselves, almost a self centredness really.

The repeated things I hear are always about themselves, never about mutual friends. If it were pure absent mindedness surely sometimes they'd repeatedly tell you about Mr/Ms mutual friend splitting up from their long time partner or something similar?

Almost like:
"Where have you been the last week i tried to call Tuesday?"

"I climbed Everest we all got frostbite and I lost 4 fingers :("

"oh shame about that but (getting back to a more interesting topic ie. me) you won't believe yesterday I went grocery shopping and when I got home I found they'd charged me twice for my cornflakes".

posted by selton at 1:02 PM on September 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Seems normal to me, but my middle name is "Did I tell you this already?"
posted by Sweetie Darling at 1:03 PM on September 27, 2007

I do this ALL THE TIME. I'm fairly talkative, and I love a good story, but I tend to err on the side of caution by starting off "Did I tell you about that crazy guy on the bus?"

The usual response is "yes, but you can tell me again." I have one friend who deems the tales Approved For Retell if they are particularly entertaining.

I have always considered this quirk to be due to my Irishness and not my ADD.

Your friend is probably just spacy and a little bit hyperactive. If it bothers you, just cut him off with a quick "yeah, you were telling me about that the other day." and let the conversation flow from there.
posted by emd3737 at 1:06 PM on September 27, 2007

Haha I opened this thread (from my feed reader) twice. I must have forgotten that I did it the first time.
posted by puddleglum at 1:20 PM on September 27, 2007

My dad does it oft, and I do it too occassionally. Usually halfway through retelling the story I'll see the pained expression on the other person's face and I wrap it up quickly.
posted by JaySunSee at 1:23 PM on September 27, 2007

It's called "poor short-term memory". I have it and am very aware of how annoying repeating the same story is because my dad does it too. I usually try to keep check on it by saying "Stop me if you've heard this . . ."

A friend of mine does the same thing, and usually a gentle tap on the shoulder and saying "Yes, I remember, you told me" gets him to stop.

Don't worry, it's not because you're not important, it's because we're terrible at this with everyone.
posted by schroedinger at 1:27 PM on September 27, 2007

I always figured that most people do this. (I certainly do, and it's exacerbated by practicing the story in my head, as headspace mentioned, and by dealing with more than about two friends in significant ways on any given day and with more than one medium -- that is, if I tell one or two people face to face, I'm likely to remember that I told them, but if I tell a couple people in person and another on the phone and a fourth through email, I've completely lost track of the story because everyone's reactions have now become a bit jumbled in my head.)

Anyway. I find that when I'm repeating myself, or when someone else is repeating themselves, someone interrupting at the beginning with a simple, "Yeah, you mentioned that! I can't believe that X happened / that he would have said that / that you had to go though all that trouble / [fill in summarizing empathetic statement here]" works pretty well.
posted by occhiblu at 1:35 PM on September 27, 2007

I do this all the time, especially when I'm tired or stressed, my mind just goes blank for those types of details.

I also have a bad habit of asking people the same questions about themselves over and over. The funny thing it isn't that I don't remember the answer, it's more I think that in certain situations I go into the same small talk and inevitably ask people for like the 4th time where they are from.

I really wouldn't take it personally. My short term memory can suck in certain instances, it has nothing to do with the person at all, and I doubt it does with your friend either.
posted by whoaali at 1:44 PM on September 27, 2007

I used to be much, much worse about this a few years ago. At the time I was 22, working a very very stressful job and going to school nearly full time at night. It started to really worry me, because I found myself telling the same story to the same person twice within 5-10 minutes, on occasion. However, after I quit the stressful job, and later graduated from school, incidence of this decreased quite a lot. I'm 27 now, and I do still sometimes repeat stories, but it's more because I'm such an Irish storyteller, and I love to tell people when something interesting has happened to me. That said, I still do often ask, "Did I already tell you this?" These days, the answer is usually no.
posted by autojack at 2:09 PM on September 27, 2007

Like i_am_joe's_spleen, this sounds like my grandpa. Except that when my mom would tell Grandpa that he was retelling the same stories again, he responded more along the lines of, "Goddamnit, I had to listen to my father telling the same stories over and over and so do you!"
posted by crinklebat at 2:35 PM on September 27, 2007

Maybe he smokes too much weed.
posted by Charlie Lesoine at 2:51 PM on September 27, 2007

I do this all the time, I have a poor short term memory on top of having a lot of people who I tend to have to give periodic life updates to. Some people will mention to me that I repeat myself but will rarely stop me when I'm actually doing it - if you've heard something before just tell your friend "I know, you mentioned it." It's hard to keep track of who you've told things to, especially if you have even one friend who never remember anything you've told them. For me it's funny but I almost always remember what other people tell me, I just have a hard time remembering what I have said to them.

Some of my friends tend to repeat things I already know, and I'll usually jump in and ask a question that reminds them of my level of familiarity - "yeah, you said your bike was broken - did you take it in to the shop on Saturday like you planned?" or "Hey what happened when you visited your Grandma in the hospital?" That way you don't have to listen to the whole story all over again.
posted by SassHat at 3:12 PM on September 27, 2007

When I do this, it's because an association has formed in my mind between my conversational partner and the story I want to tell him. The connection starts out being "hey, Jim would really like this story/ I want to tell him this story". Then I tell him. The connection should change to "Jim and I had a nice conversation about that story", but somehow -- sometimes -- it just reinforces the original connection between Jim and the story. so the next time I see Jim I'm even more likely to want to tell him that story -- "Jim, I was just thinking of you and this story came into my head, I think you'll love it". And so on.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:12 PM on September 27, 2007

I get this from both my brother, and a friend. everytime i speak to either of them i get the same stories about how thier computer wont work, or what new album they just bought and can't stop listening to.

The way i see it, if I spent more time with them, instead of seeing them only every month or two, then they'd remember more accurately what they've told me and what they haven't.

I've found myself doing this on occasion the point where i was relating a second hand story back to the person who had originally told it to me!
posted by robotot at 3:28 PM on September 27, 2007

I do this all the time. To me, the events of my life hold a particular brilliance, a sparkle and an interest that I'm just not going to get if I shut my mouth and listen to other people speak. To forgo the awful possibility that someone else might be telling me about their boring life events, I make sure to have my mouth open, telling people about my exciting life, all the time.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:15 PM on September 27, 2007

Some people just don't keep track of that sort of thing. It's the opposite of the "picking up conversations in the middle, days after they were left off" question that was asked the other day.

Mind you, as I get older I find myself doing it more - odd, since I've always been of the latter type. I bumped into a friend I hadn't seen in months last weekend, and we both immediately picked up the in the middle of the conversation we'd left off in about November last year.

Later that night I was on the phone to another friend, and realised I was telling the same story I'd told her in an email a few days earlier, and face-to-face a few days before that...
posted by Pinback at 4:54 PM on September 27, 2007

Not to the level of detail you're describing, but I've gotten in the habit of repeating things because both of my parents have awful memories. If I want someone to remember something I tell them about 3 times, which I know is very offensive. It's just gotten so ingrained.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:18 PM on September 27, 2007

I do this a LOT because I communicate with so many family and friends, I forget what and who I've told stuff to.

I always really appreciate it when the person I'm talking to butts in right away and says, "yeah, you were telling me about this the other day," otherwise I feel like a jackass once I realize I've fully repeated a whole story.

In emails, if a friend is repeating something they've already told me, I just skim over that section.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:34 PM on September 27, 2007

I have known two people who do this:

One was on heavy-duty drugs for schizophrenia that messed with his memory.

The other was a recovered meth addict.

So maybe there's a drug connection.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:00 PM on September 27, 2007

For humans, narrative is a form of social grooming. What is said is not as important as the fact that it is said. You are his social network and he is grooming you. Next time it happens, be grateful you are not a chiimpanzee and he is not a fellow chimpanzee picking your nits.
posted by zia at 10:48 PM on September 27, 2007

I knew a guy who did this. He'd had a traumatic brain injury years earlier, mostly recovered except that it messed up his ability to retain certain kinds of short-term memories. He knew that his girlfriend was his girlfriend, for instance, even though they met long after the accident. But he constantly needed to be reminded of her name and phone number, and could never remember that he'd told us the same stories, like, umpteen million times already.

If this hasn't always just been your friend's natural character, suggest that he get checked by a doctor. Maybe he got a bump on the head that's a bigger deal than he realized, or maybe something's putting pressure in a bad place
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:18 PM on September 27, 2007

A friend of mine used to do this, one story in particular, every time we went to a curry house, eventually I got so I could tell the whole story through 6 key words, and one night when he started telling it I just listed the key words. He never did it again. The key words were NAAFI, clubhouse, runner, chased, flying roundhouse. It is perhaps telling that I can still remember this and I haven't seen this person in over 5 years. Of course, it may also be telling as to the effectiveness of the method that I haven't seen this person in 5 years.
posted by biffa at 9:40 AM on September 28, 2007

Most of us envision memory as one object or process: stuff either goes into your memory or it doesn't. We're wrong.

Tons of experiments on brain-damaged patients have shown that memories of a very specific sort can be wiped out, leaving other memories intact. For instance, a bi-lingual speaker might lose the ability to speak French but still be able to speak fluent English. It's as if languages were stored on different hard drives and one of them got wiped.

I remember faces and names differently. If we meet, and you tell me your name while I look at your face, I'll remember your face but almost definitely not your name.

In my experience, there's HUGE variation from person-to-person on which types of memory are strong and which are weak.

Your friend clearly has an excellent memory of events that happen to him. But he has a poor who-have-I-told memory. I think it's totally normal to have these sorts of strengths and weaknesses.

(I once started a thread about something similar. For me it's effortless to remember that my friends John and Amy don't know each other. So I would never make the mistake of telling John, "You know what Amy said the other day?" If I wanted to talk to him about Amy, I would first explain to him who Amy is. Yet some people are hopeless this way. They'll come up to me and say, "Did you know it's Fred's birthday?" Who the hell is Fred, I ask. "Oh, he's this guy who lives in Poland. He and I are pen pals.")
posted by grumblebee at 1:00 PM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have a friend that does this just because she loves telling stories (and we let her because she's pretty good at them).

"So when we climbed down the gate, the dogs were barking and chasing. I grabbed Richard's bag but my boot was stuck in the mud..."

"Um... Yeah. I was actually there with you. And this is the sixth time you've told me this story."
posted by yeti at 2:05 PM on September 28, 2007

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