Blaming the name game
I’m notoriously unobservant. Not dangerously so, of course. I’m very aware of my surroundings in a does-this-pose-a-threat-to-life-or-property way. Anyone who seems vaguely suspicious gets the side-eye and a menacing glare, especially when I’m out with the baby. Mama bear and all.
But beyond that? The average fellow shopper digging through the sale racks or the next driver over at a traffic light? I don’t notice. I rarely look at faces. When I’m running around, especially on a lunch break, I’m checking off my errand list with headdown determination. You’re not cracking this nut!
I guess that started when I was working in the city. Back in my intern days, I got used to shuffling quickly into our K Street office — partially due to running late, but also because I didn’t want to be stopped for money or directions.
I had no money. I knew where nothing was, and we had no smartphones to pull up Google Maps. Unless I could see the top of the Washington Monument in the distance and could point the way (“Um, over there?”), I was extremely unhelpful. I mean, I get lost in parking garages. Routinely.
It’s a mental block, I guess. But they’re scary.
Here in the beautiful suburbs, I can frolic merrily in our spacious parking lots. And now that I can occasionally splurge on an espresso to get me through that afternoon slump, I focus on finding caffeine — and rarely notice the people around me. This has led to many awkward moments when I’m spotted by someone I know.
Or someone I should know, anyway. Like many people, I’m horrible with names. Or, to be more precise, I’m awful with introductions. I once totally blacked out introducing a kind aunt — a blood relative — at a wedding, simply because my brain exploded. And when I realized the awkward pause where her name should be stretched between us like the Grand Canyon, I panicked. I might have laughed maniacally. Sensing my fear, she took pity on me and introduced herself.
If a trebuchet had appeared, I would have gladly catapulted myself to the moon.
This happens often. Getting nervous that I’ll get nervous makes my anxiety worse: a self-fulfilling prophecy. I try to take embarrassing situations in stride, but my inability to notice people before they approach doesn’t give me time to process. If I’m calm, names appear easily. But if I panic? Well.
Seeing someone I know — say, an elementary-school friend or former coworker — out of context, I frantically try to arrange their facial features in logical order before hearing the familiar words, words that do all the brain-exploding: “Oh hi, Megan!”
I know her. Of course I know her. We worked together at the craft store! We had long, personal conversations about ex-boyfriends! She showed me how to use puffy paint! I see pictures of her kids on Facebook!
But nothing. Empty. Zero.
Hours after our quick, polite conversation, the name will suddenly materialize. I’ll be washing dishes, typing an email, innocently eating a fifth Girl Scout cook- ie and wham: Susie! Janet! Mike!
Of course, by then, Susie, Janet and Mike have all moved on. And whether or not I’m good at covering up my forgetfulness, the embarrassment lingers.
My husband is my polar opposite. Having never met a stranger, Spencer easily greets familiar folks by name. He notices relatives at the mall long before I do, and raises an eyebrow at an interesting fashion choice or public display of affection while my head is buried in a produce bin. I am oblivious.
And while I battle an anxiety that often encourages me to run — not walk — away if small-talk is involved, Spence will happily chat with just about anyone. For hours.
I need this, of course: the yin to my yang. We can’t both be chatterboxes who easily call out to Susie, Janet and Mike at the grocery store; we’d never get anything done. But nor would I want both of us to be uncomfortable, given people are strangely offended if you abruptly run from them.
In thinking about it, this would no longer be an issue if we were all to wear press-style badges. Everywhere. Not in a government-controlling-us kind of way; just a friendly, happy little badge like the one I wore while working at the bookstore. You could even put stickers on it. I’ll kick it off. Hi! My name is Meg. I’m sorry if I’ve ever forgotten your name in a truly mortifying way. Especially you, Aunt Pauline.
If it helps, I’m still blushing.