Monday, September 3, 2012

Have We Met?

No one has ever called me "shy", but I have been tagged "stand-offish". So distressing. Although I do need time alone to recharge my batteries in dreaming, meditation, or indulging in nature's soothing stroke, I really do like people and never seek to offend. Yet I understand why the term "aloof" could be applied to my behavior. I have a problem remembering faces - not names, actual faces. I can see why this puts people off.

I'll be walking through town when someone approaches, outstretched hand, big grin on his face, and as he gets closer he can tell there's a dimness in my eyes that rats out my lack of recognition. At best he's figuring that I don't recall his name, but more likely, I don't remember meeting this person at all. Or I'm at an event in our neighborhood clubhouse, and when a couple walks through the door, I know I know the wife, but I am totally unsure if she's Karen or Carol or Debbie. In ten years of interacting with them, in a group situation, I am never sure that I can tell one from the other. Please don't judge me as shallow or inattentive, because I have already spent years beating up on myself. 

Only recently I discovered that this social disability is truly not my fault. There's a name for my dysfunctional perception, "prosopagnosia" or "face blindness." I always joked that this weakness was a "missing part" in my brain. That's not exactly true. As I've learned from the mass media (a "20/20" feature on TV and an article in "Vogue"), though scientists have no final explanation, nor a cure, for this disability that strikes about one in fifty people, it is attributed to a malfunction in the area of the brain that processes facial characteristics. 

Luckily, my case is a mild one; some people with face blindness can't even recognize family members. I mean, I've been blatantly ignored by my loving but highly distractable mother for years, but she does so knowing full well that I'm her daughter.  Not like when that fellow Steve came up to me at a party in Brooklyn years ago and went on and on with details of the summer we spent in Israel together years before that. I came up totally blank. Zero recognition of having ever seen his face. I was so stricken by the hurt I had inflicted on him that the incident triggered compensatory action. Since then, I've adopted a strategy in social situations that protects others, but still leaves me open to the misnomer, "aloof".

My curly, curly hair is usually a dead giveaway to my identity. But, trust me, if more than an hour has passed since our last contact, or if you've changed your clothes or your hair style, there's no clue for me to hang onto that can overcome this synaptic snafu. The next time we meet for the first time, I hope you'll give me some leeway. 

I'll be there standing on the sidelines or clinging to whoever I came in with until I can overhear sufficient conversations to sort out the who's who. You'll make allowances for my astoundingly lame questions, instead of exclaiming, "but you met her at the Farmer's Market just this morning". And you'll happily identify yourself when I greet you with that friendly, but confused look on my face, although we've only recently swapped stories about one English class we survived right before lunch in high school. You'll know that I apologize in advance.


  1. That is fascinating! I don't get to see you often, especially now that I live even further away from Asheville and can never attend Sewing Circles or Bookworks meetings, but I'll make sure to reintroduce myself each time :) hugs, Erin

  2. The sewing circles, sadly, have concluded. I feel as though we're all connected anyway - no matter how near or far, whether or not I can instantly recall your face. Thanks for putting forward such a beautiful one and such a generous heart.

  3. Sharon your story is extremely interesting. I'm a neuroscience student currently studying prosopagnosia and would love to get in contact with you to discuss your face-blindness. If you have any interest in sharing your story please reply to this comment and we can get in touch further. Thanks!