Do you suffer from facial blindness or know someone who does? Because if you do, you’re not alone. This may be the bane of my social existence, seeing as one, I’m a journalist, who has to meet people on the reg and two, as a result of it, I can come across as somewhat of a dick. It doesn’t matter how friendly or interested you are on each of the occasions that you meet the said person in question, it is seen as a personal insult, regardless of the fact, to you, you are meeting the person for the first time. If I didn’t suffer from facial blindness, I know I would be the first to roll my eyes at anyone who claimed they did.
For those that don’t know, how we, the other half live, let me enlighten you of how those with facial blindness live:
- Regularly having difficulty recognizing neighbours, friends, co-workers, clients, schoolmates (etc.) out of context.
- More often than not, not recognising someone casually waving or saying hello in the street.
- Not recognising someone after they’ve had a haircut.
- Getting characters confused on television and in movies more so than others might do.
For those that suffer with a more extreme version, they sometimes struggle recognising their own faces in photographs or even in the mirror- thankfully this is not something I have had to deal with, however the other four bullet points listed above are a daily minefield. As a result, I often find myself not making eye contact with anyone in public spaces, such as on the tube, to avoid catching the eye of someone who happens to be familiar with me and who could start a conversation.
Don’t get me wrong, I have mastered the art of bluffing my way through ten minute conversations with people at drinks parties, as they ask me knowing questions about my life, as I desperately search for something that will resonate a memory to me of them. I will then find a loyal friend, (who are only too aware of this difficultly that I have) who will then inform me it was ‘Sarah/Laurence/Frank’ who I met at ‘A/B/C’.
It can be crushingly embarrassing, with one of my most memorable ‘episodes’ occurring the morning after what I had believed to be a very successful date. The next morning as I got onto the tube, to be confronted by a smiling stranger in my carriage, I was totally oblivious it had been my date from the night before, until I had gotten off the tube (seven painful stops later) only to receive a text saying:
Are you blind or are you ignoring me?
It is fair to say, we never quite made it to date number two.
What I struggle with the most, is obviously the offense caused as a result of my lack of facial recognition, especially when out of context (not recognising my step brother in a bakery in London, because we weren’t in our usual settings of Bournemouth was a particular low point). Those that suffer from facial blindness, sometimes avoid social environments altogether, because the embarrassment can be unbearable. As someone who is actively social, not attending a social occasion has ever been something I have considered too seriously, however I do get a quiet anxiety at just who I may offend that day or night.
I often find myself writing new acquaintances names into my phone, with a note such as ‘tight pony-tail’ or ‘beard’ next to them, as I hope (often in vain) that I will recognise them the next time. More often than not, you will find that I can be somewhat overly friendly, however often this is to compensate for the fact there is a high chance I am not totally aware of who I am talking to. This is why networking events can be somewhat of a blessing, as most of them enforce a compulsory name badge. The necessity to write this article was bought on after attending an event last week and talking to someone I had believed to be a stranger, who was in fact a good friend’s friend- who I had in fact met many times. It was rather mortifying and was the first time it had caused me real agitation and angst, causing me to leave far earlier than I had intended to.
This article is really just to highlight that there are people out there like myself, who will greet you as though it is the first time even if it is the sixth. This doesn’t instantly make them rude or unbothered, as much as you may resent explaining your name (again). When I can, I do actually explain to people this is something I genuinely struggle with, however I was keen to articulate this further in writing, as I have done here. Unfortunately, this self-diagnosis doesn’t stretch to ex’s – however, I am hoping over time this may be a new addition to the slew of faces that don’t quite stay in my memory…
Twenty Mile Club