Looking at People is Hard

(For the record these are all fake names)

My sister told me “Oh, by the way, Sally said she likes you.”

So I think to myself “I don’t know anyone at work called Sally” so I ask her “Who’s Sally again?”

Sister describes her as “She’s one of the managers, and goth.”

So I think back to the goth lady at work I’ve spoken to a couple times and said “Oh, I know her. But I thought her name was Kate, whoops!”

“No, not Kate. Though I’ve spoken to her once, and she’s also kinda goth.”

A bit of back and forth later, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two different goth ladies who work at the bar, but I’ve only seen them one at a time. So now I’ve been talking to these two different people without realising they were different people. I can only picture the one person! How are there two of them!

I’m just very confused. I think this is worse than the time I entered the kitchen and both Adam and Peter were working. At least I knew both Adam and Peter were people who existed and was only struggling to figure out who was who! I didn’t even know a person named Sally worked here until today!

Kate will be working during my shift on Friday. But I won’t have a shift at the same time as this Sally until the 28th. Though I’m not even sure I’d see either of them during said shifts. I’m already being creepy about this, aren’t I? But now it’s going to be weird talking to either of them since I won’t know who I’m talking to. But technically I didn’t know before either and was talking just fine.

I’m just frustrated at my own lack of observational powers.

(Actually, I have (many) worse example(s) of that. During my first month or so I got drinks from the bar and the bar lady asked me to relay a message. I came back up to the kitchen and got: “And who was it you spoke to?” “I’m not sure” “Was it Lily?” “I don’t know her name…” “What did she look like?” “I think she had dark hair?” “Was she black?” And I could not remember whether or not she was. I had just spoken to this lady, and the only thing I could remember about her physical appearance was that her hair was “dark.” At least I know her enough to identify her now.)

I’m just going to have to try my best to not be weird about this next time I’m in.

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If at all possible may I suggest bringing a friend along and manufacturing a need for them to introduce themself?

I don’t really have any in-person friends anymore, and even if I did I’d be far too nervous to try introducing them. We really have only spoken a couple times in the break room or when I go to grab drinks or such, so it’s not actually a huge deal it’s just that I feel like it is.

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I’m terrible with faces, and my approach is always to lead with that. “I’m sorry, but I have an awful time with faces. I just recently learned that I have been confusing you with Sally. You are Kate, right?”

Follow up with an anxious laugh.

In settings where I see the people on a weekly basis, or more frequently, I’ve even asked if I may take their picture so that I can look at it in order to learn better. That request might be more of a problem if I were a man, of course.

I often can’t recognize people until they speak; I’m much better with voices than faces.

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Ah yeah the “ahhh this has gone on for me to feel ok asking” anxiety. Been there! If they are somebody worth knowing just straight up asking should be ok.

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It’s really hard for me to pinpoint what, exactly, is making things difficult. I don’t pay enough attention to what people look like in the first place (whether someone’s hair is light or dark is often the only thing my brain will retain), voices are odd to differentiate from each other unless there are huge differences, and I can only remember names if they are used consistently. And I’ve gotten much better at names than I used to be.

But knowing someone’s name is only useful if I can pair that with who they are. And even if I don’t know what someone looks like enough to describe them if I’m not looking at them, I do recognise them when I see them again (except in the cases where people look identical).

Edit: and the context. A lot of recognising someone is in the context of where they are.

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I have been going to the same grocery store for 10+ years, and I know the cashiers by sight (and name tag).

They had a poster ad campaign one year, featuring real employees, and I thought that one of the women on a poster was a cashier at my store. I asked her if it was her (saying that I was awful with faces, so I wasn’t sure).

Her reaction, and her co-workers’, was startled amusement and a polite “no, not me”. It was then, and only then, that I realized this cashier, though her hairstyle and hair colour was similar, also had a large red port portwine stain (or acne rosacea?) on half her face. I had just assumed that her face was a bit flushed, and never realized it was always the same area, for literally years.

I was worried for a while that she thought I might have been teasing her about her face (I would never!), but we continued to have a friendly relationship.

ETA: We were typing at the same time! Yes, I’m much the same; it takes a long time to learn voices, too, but they are a bit easier than faces. I did find that studying a photo which I had tagged with that person’s name helps me. I would check it out before I expected to see them. I even do this with my siblings and their kids now—they grow up so fast!

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I joined the tabletop gaming society at my uni, and in my second year this guy (let’s call him Jimmy) with a fedora joined. Not many people have fedoras so he was super easy to remember. We hung out for about six hours every Sunday afternoon.

Part way through year, I noticed a guy with a fedora stood waiting for most of the same lectures I was in. It took me months of creepy staring to ask him if he was Jimmy.

I would turn up on Sunday and instantly recognise Jimmy, but Monday through Friday I would see him and just not be able to figure out if they were actually the same person or just looked similar. He was in the same year as me, he’d only even taken two classes that were different from mine.

For the sibling thing, I have walked down the street my house is on and not recognised my own sister until I realised the dog she was walking was our dog…

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Facial blindness is a thing, and it tends to come packaged with other neuro-atypical issues. Penn Jillette is face blind, he can’t even recognize his wife without context clues. If you explain the issue and politely ask your colleagues for their name again, they will most likely be happy to remind you and they’ll be understanding when you get it wrong.

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I’m awful with faces and names and also unobservant. Recently when talking about a game we’d both been playing my friend commented on my favourite character having colour-changing eyes that were connected to his part of the plot. I had never even noticed his eye colour, let alone that it changed.

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Eyes are something I just do not notice, except if I’m going out of my way to look since it’s been pointed out. I’m pretty sure I could only tell you the eye colour of one in-person friend I had, and that’s because after knowing her for four years I realised I didn’t know and decide I would look now. They were green and blue with yellow spotty bits. I was probably far too close for comfort if I was close enough to see the spotty bits.

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I’m so glad we wear name tags at work, especially now when we all constantly wear face masks. Remembering names can be really difficult

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At my sister in laws baby shower 15 years ago I saw my cousins wife and didn’t recognize her. I don’t have fave blindness but I don’t see her very often. I felt embarrassed. Oh well. She hasn’t changed anything it had just been a while since I saw her.

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I’m inclining to saying that you shouldn’t declare this. To be not recognised as an individual is uncomfortable. On the other hand, can you fix it?

Wikipedia on prosopagnosia - just type in, face blindness - says there is no reliable “therapy” but that “Prosopagnosics often learn to use “piecemeal” or “feature-by-feature” recognition strategies. This may involve secondary clues such as clothing, gait, hair color, skin color, body shape, and voice.” Basically you have to memorize people deliberately. Pay attention to tattoos and piercings, since you mention goths, as well as facial blemishes, but remember that piercings may be removed and replaced. Tattoos can be revised as well.

There also are several online versions of a “Guess Who?” game, that might develop skills. Some of these may be not legal, if the game is copyrighted or whatever. Or maybe you can just do it with Facebook.

A British TV advert apparently unofficially titled “Goths on a Train” seems to be a demonstration of how a company called Experian uses personal data for that person’s benefit. In this case, a goth lady who prefers to be known as Raven. Experian knows that her actual name is Joy. Her friends didn’t know that, and it isn’t very goth.

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I saw the one lady on Friday and yesterday my sister showed a facebook photo of the other. So far the only difference I can see is one has a fringe and the other doesn’t, but it’s a start.

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