More Awkwardness. Starring Me.

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?


Filed under The Search

14 responses to “More Awkwardness. Starring Me.

  1. I had to laugh- I specifically remember my dad calling EVERYBODY Buddy! He couldn’t remember anybody’s name! I have this happen frequently as well since I have swiss cheese for a brain. Something that works well for me is to always reply, “good to see you!” I usually pick up the conversation with “so, what’s new since I last saw you?” At least I get some clues and am able to continue the conversation. If all else fails, I jsut start talking about myself. (I know, egotisical, but at least it keeps the conversation going!)

  2. Ha! Omg, I do stupid stuff like that all.the.time. I frequently see the back of someone’s head, assume it’s someone I know, and then make a big fool of myself trying to tell them hi, just for them to turn around and not be who I thought it was. I am trying to stop this humiliating habit.

    I also find that when we move places I will see someone that looks familiar, but not from this new city, one I’ve lived in before. So then I’m trying to figure out who this person is and why they are in Texas instead of Illinois, only to realize that I am uncomfortably staring at said person who by now has noticed and is concerned about my intense look. Also trying to curb that humiliating habit.

    I am of no help to you. Sorry.

  3. Ana

    Cringe!!! These were hilarious. I tend to be the one that forgets that I’ve met someone before. Not because I am oh-so-popular and social but because I have a terrible memory for faces specifically. If you tell me someone’s name, I can easily recall the entire conversation I had with them, but I probably couldn’t point them out in a line-up until I’ve seen them several times.

    In situations like yours at the restaurant, I know I should probably just ask their name politely (I honestly don’t think it should be considered rude to have forgotten someone you haven’t seen in years, and are seeing completely out of context); but like you, I stumble through the encounter, and then am doubly mortified when I see them yet AGAIN (and now you can’t ask, you have missed your chance!).

  4. Growing up with a dad who used to be city manager, a mom who was born here–sixty years ago– a brother who is a social butterfly and has lived in this town forever, and me, we can’t go out without seeing someone, someone….should know. I have studied my dad’s artful parries 😀

  5. Robin

    That used to happen to me ALL the time. Only sometimes I wouldn’t just forget the person’s name, I would call them a completely different name altogether…nobody likes that! And yeah, it’s not because I’m oh-so-popular either, it’s that my memory is really that bad! I used to joke that I was getting early Alzheimer’s.

    Once I ran into a girl I knew from high school who was working at the Starbuck’s I went into (from 9th grade choir – I’m almost 40 now.) She said hi and I had NO clue who she was, but she looked drastically different! Eventually I recognized her voice and it sunk in, then it was one of those weird moments, like “wow, here we are 25 years later.” I’m always surprised that anyone from high school remembers me.

  6. Ugh, that is the pits when that happens. My most recent experience was in my Toastmasters club when a member I’ve hung out with outside of the club asked me a question and I didn’t recognize her at all since we hadn’t seen each other in 6 months. Mortified….

    This probably won’t help you when you don’t know someone who recognizes you, but whenever I see someone that I haven’t seen in awhile or it’s out of our normal context of interaction, I just extend my hand and say, “Hi! Kelley Long, we work out together, good to see you!” This takes the pressure off the person in case he/she can’t put the pieces together, and then if I can’t remember their name either, it’s less awkward for me to say, “Remind me again of your name?”

    • Jean

      I think this situation has happened to all of us at one point or another. It’s not as mortifying as you think, Rachel. Since we’ve all been there, the other person is usually forgiving.

      I usually do the same thing as Kelley. I’ll always say my name just in case the other person can’t remember me. I have also introduced my husband numerous times to my co-workers just in case either my husband or my co-workers don’t remember each other. I usually get the “yes, yes, we’ve met before” response, but I’d rather be on the safe side. And if I haven’t introduced my husband that means I don’t remember the person and he knows to introduce himself and get the person’s name. (Only works if he’s around though.)

  7. “Hi! I remember your face, but I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name.” It’s rare that I won’t be able to place a name with *some* identifying piece of information. It feels dumber to try to fake it through a conversation than just to ask. Especially if I end up seeing them again shortly thereafter. It’s worse to ask who they are THEN….

  8. Forgetting names has become more the rule than the exception lately. Decades of faces from various careers, boyfriend’s friends, gym friends, organization friends, family friends, club friends, going back to school later in life friends, husband’s friends and family friends. It’s exhausting thinking about it, yet alone remembering it.
    I find the best way is honesty in a funny way putting all the blame on me. Either a solid, “I know we shared a wonderful relationship once, but I am currently brain dead and can’t relive it with you. Sorry.”
    Or, the more complimentary, “you look so much younger, thinner, etc. than I recall that your name isn’t coming to me. There are many more tactful ways to handle this particular awkward moment, but it took some awful and embarrassing experiences in public to decide to make this my “go to”
    Attending my 25th high school reunion was the best lesson for me. I had to squint to see name tags on people’s chests and only recognized people who looked exactly the same or who I stayed in touch with. Otherwise, I was hopeless and resorted to standing with my BFF from 3rd grade who magically remembered everyone.
    Anyway, this is just part of what I recollect about feeling awkward. When the head of the senior cheerleading squad doesn’t recognize the captain of the football team it is very sad…and it happened in front of entire class.

  9. Hahahha………….that was hilarious, sorry.

    You should live in a society like mine. You’ll perfect the art of talking like you remember everyone, when in truth you don’t know 90% of them. Weddings with really old women, who knew your mother/father as a child are the ultimate.

    I have been so inspired by your blog (a whole year of reading) that I made my first real effort to connect with a potential BFF. Can you come over and tell me what you think at ?

  10. Pingback: A Case of Nostalgia | MWF Seeking BFF

  11. Marie

    I also have the problem of connecting the dots when I see someone out of context. At my sister’s wedding I couldn’t figure out who the very familiar person was that I was talking to. So I assumed it was one of my sister’s friends and confessed that I couldn’t remember her name. It was my cousin’s wife, who I really only saw maybe once a year at most. She was insulted and has barely spoken to me since.

    A funny story happened at work. I moved into a new desk next to someone who looked familiar and even his name was familiar. He came over and said the same thing. We brainstormed how we would have met before and had no clue. He went back to his desk and finally figured it out. We were in grad school at the same time, different classes, but went on the same international 2 week trip. He found a picture of the two of us, arms around each other, lifting a pint of beer for the camera!

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