Yesterday I ran into a pleasant woman who ran up to me, gave me a hug and cried, “Maureen! How lovely to see you… it’s been ages. How old are your grand children now?” I happily gave her an update, listened to her news, and we parted with promises to phone each other very soon and arrange a lunch date. And I would have happily done so… except that I could not remember her name!
I have always had a horrible memory for names. Kindly friends have tried to help by suggesting mental exercises but to no avail. “When you meet someone,” one of these friends once instructed me, “repeat the name several times in conversation. And pay attention,” she added sternly. “You’re usually thinking about ten different things and a name has no chance to stick.” I have tried—I have concentrated—but no dice.
It’s embarrassing. I envy people who have instant recall or who have trained themselves to remember. One such fortunate soul suggested that I make myself remember something interesting about someone. Bright blue eyes. A catchy laugh. A beautiful speaking voice. Well, I do remember all that, but not the name. “You are hopeless,” I was finally told. “At least come up with conversation points that you can use with someone you don’t recognize.”
I winced at that, having just put my foot—both feet, actually—in it by an innocuous remark. I had asked a nice lady how her husband was. Her face darkened, and her eyes flashed fire. “I have no idea,” she gritted. “Do you?”
Lately I’ve kept myself talking about safe subjects. Granted, there aren’t too many. Asking about family in general terms, I’ve found, is somewhat safe since everyone usually has some family. Then, there is work. “What are you up to these days?” often generates conversation, though some unhelpful Unknowns have responded. “Oh, the usual. You know.” Sometimes I have had to be devious. “Tell me all about you,” said with great sincerity, can usually carry one through a coffee and a Danish and perhaps even offer valuable clue to someone’s identity!
Best of all ruses, though, is the simplest. “I’m embarrassed,” I will often say when backed against the wall, “but I am so awful with names, and I’ve forgotten yours…” Of course, after I have told the same person the same thing several times, even honesty wears thin. And then there is the awful dilemma of having to introduce someone whose name has retreated into the subconscious. The spurious question, “Won’t you tell me how to pronounce your last name?” doesn’t wash when the lady is surnamed Smith or Jones.
The other day, however, I found myself in one of those serendipitous moments when the world is bathed in light. There, coming toward me was a woman I had met a few weeks ago and whose name I actually remembered! Oh, joy! With all cordial haste I walked up to her exclaiming, “Marie, how lovely to see you again!”
She stopped, looked at me, and a glazed look settled on her features. “Ah,” she said, “yes. How very nice to see you, too…”
Well, turn about IS fair play.
Teases, eludes and wanders…
Leaving me stranded.