Forgetting Names and Faces?

How many times have you seen someone who looked familiar, but you couldn’t remember their name or where you knew them from? I have had it happen many times lately and assume it is caused by the aging process. You know the feeling, there you are, face to face with a face that you know you have seen before, and should know, but nothing connects to give you a clue as to who it is. Years ago I was in line at the old US store, standing behind 2 ladies who were acknowledging each other. They each referred to the other as “Dear”. On my way back to work, it dawned on me that the reason they called each other ‘Dear’ could have been because they couldn’t remember each other’s names. I laughed it off as being a long way down the road before that would happen to me. But it wasn’t very long at all.

Another time I was standing near a woman in the bank, who kept looking at me and I could tell that she wanted me to wait a minute before I walked away so she could say something. Since I didn’t know her, I considered going right on out the door. But, she walked over to me and all I could think of was that I didn’t know her at all. What was she going to say? She didn’t call me by name, she just said, “How’s your brother?” (I have 2 brothers, so which one was she wondering about?) Stupidly, I said “He’s fine.” (Since they were both fine. So far, so good.) Then she said “I haven’t seen him since school.” That had to have been 40 years ago. Then she said something about an upcoming class reunion and she hoped to see him there. I was trying to think which year each of my brothers had graduated. My mind went blank on that thought, and I knew I was in too deep, so I just gave up. When she said she had had a crush on him in school, I asked which brother she was talking about and she was more than glad to tell me his name. Her final question was, “What does he look like now?” That stopped me in my tracks, and I heard myself say, “He looks a lot like me.” She didn’t really know me, she just wanted to talk about my brother.

Sometimes, the most important thing about a person you can’t place is not their name at all. You just need to know where you know them from. Their name won’t matter because they will just want to talk about the place/experience you have in common. I have learned to go through a list of places in my head when this has happened. Recently when I was faced with said problem, I asked myself if I could have known her from school, or from any of my places of employment, or an old neighbor? Nothing fit. I was just ready to admit that I didn’t remember her, but I held back another moment and she said the magic words: “Are you still being a pen pal this year?’ With that clue, I remembered where I knew her from.

I have read that it’s a compliment if you ask someone their name, rather than going away without knowing. When you look at it that way, it helps. I’ll just chalk it up to having too many other faces in my head and I can’t pick out the right one fast enough. It’s a proven fact that as we age, the synapses in our brain become slower and slower to connect. Not a problem. I’m not in a hurry. I am retired and my life is my own. I am realizing that when we can’t find their name in the speed of a flying bullet, we can just wait patiently and hope to get a clue. Recently something like this happened at a church bazaar. A woman walked in and sat down beside me and started to talk. I knew I knew her, but how? I could tell she knew me well from what she was saying. Right then and there I should have said, “I can’t remember your name.” But, I didn’t. We even had our picture taken together and I still couldn’t think of who she was. But, it finally came to me. To save you the frustration of what I went through that day, my advice is that if you see someone that you can’t remember their name, you have two choices. One is to right away, confess that you know their face, but can’t remember their name. Then the second choice, which may work, would be to just call them “Dear.”

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By Kay E. Conklin

Contributing Columnist