Awkward encounters follow me.
Once I thought I spotted one of my favorite writers on an airplane. He was sitting some five rows in front of me, so I couldn’t even walk past him to go to the bathroom. Instead, I waited until the beverage cart was behind me and used it as an excuse to use the first class bathroom. I didn’t actually need to use the restroom, of course, I just needed an excuse to walk by his row. When I did, I went for it. “You’re AJ Jacobs, right?” I asked. He stared at me.
I tried again. “Are you AJ?’
And then he responded. In another language. The poor guy didn’t even speak English and this crazy fellow passenger was trying to pick him up on a plane.
I also have a lot of interactions with people I’ve met before, where they don’t remember me but of course I know exactly who they are. This happens more often than it should.
Them: “It’s nice to meet you.”
Me: “Oh, we’ve actually met before. Three times. But good to see you again.”
I should probably respond with “nice to meet you too,” like a normal person. It’s not that I’m trying to make this guy feel bad for forgetting me. I do it because I just might be missing that piece of the brain that helps one think before she speaks.
But last night I had a new kind of awkward moment. Instead of someone forgetting me, for the first time, it was the other way around. I was walking out of a restaurant in New York (I was there for the night before heading to a wedding this morning) when I heard “Rachel!”
I stared, knew she seemed familiar, but had no idea who she was.
“How are you?” I asked. And then I actually said something like, “You look all grown up!” WHAT? Who says that? What does that even mean? I am so embarrassed even typing this.
I believe those words came out of my mouth because 1) I thought there was a chance she was this girl from summer camp who I last saw when she was six and 2) I am missing a filter.
She laughed, which, quite honestly, was generous of her. Especially since, I realized later, she was actually someone I knew from college. All of two years younger.
Also, one of her dining companions was someone I should have recognized, and I didn’t put that together until after the fact either. So, basically, the entire encounter was me looking totally clueless and asking nondescript questions like “how are things?” which made quite obvious that I had no idea who I was talking to.
I know there’s a number of how many friends one can have (150, remember?) but is there a limit on how many people we can remember? Could all my new-friend meeting be pushing old familiar faces out of my brain? And how do you fake it when you run into someone you can’t remember?