prosopagnosia, facial blindness,

You Look Familiar, but Who the Eff Are You?

Friends and readers of the ‘Ham,  I have a confession to make. I don’t know you. Or, to be more precise, I can’t recognize you.

Summer is here, which brings the onset of a lot of get-togethers, races, group runs, and parties. Basically, all human group interactions. So I feel the need to warn you before I go off and offend someone.

I have a problem where I can’t remember faces. Friends, loved ones, acquaintances, celebrities—it doesn’t matter. Honey badger don’t care. Honey badger don’t know you from Adam. Well, maybe Adam because he’s my brother-in-law. But anyway.

I can’t put names to faces, faces to past interactions, or a past interaction into a new context. I can walk into a crowded room and struggle to pick out my friends. And no, not because I don’t have any.

prosopagnosia, facial blindness,
Pro tip – allow others to tag your group photos, then study them

I am notorious for confidently walking up to someone I have met before, sometimes multiple times, and introducing myself. Most of you guys play it off well. Others get snippy and rude, which I can understand. Or not. I have been known to furiously scroll through Facebook looking for you (or a person who resembles you). I have surreptitiously texted other friends describing your features in hopes that they can put a name to my description. All other times, I fake it ’til I make it. I’m sorry, it’s true.

prosopagnosia, facial blindness,
One runner introduced him-or-herself to me (win!), one I faked my way through a convo with one day, one I can never remember his or her name

This has become more noticeable over the past few years, especially living in Birmingham. Naturally, I Googled this shit. And learned there’s something called prosopagnosia. Often caused by acute brain damage. So, dear Tato Bo (my daddy), dropping me on my head as a kid did knock some screws loose. I kid. That’s a little extreme. But I did click on this link and scored a 100% (or 0% if you’re a “glass half empty” kind of person) on the facial blindness quiz.

prosopagnosia, facial blindness,
My worst nightmare – they’re dressed IDENTICALLY

I know people struggle to remember names all the time. I do too. But it’s ten times harder to remember a name when you swear you’ve never seen the person standing in front of you before. And out-of-context confusion is common too; that’s where I struggle the most. Runners? Forget it—you don’t have a chance in hell of me recognizing you. I know you as people who are smelly and muddy. I can pick you out by gait, shoe preference, and yes, sometimes odor. But put me in a scenario where we’re all showered and clean and looking presentable? No way José.

prosopagnosia, facial blindness,
I can name the owner of every shoe in this photo

It blows my mind when people I don’t know well (or at all) recognize me and call me by name. What is your secret and how do I do it too? It happens frequently with blog readers, and I feel so bad because I have no fucking idea who you are. But I love and appreciate you all. I met a man last September at a race and spoke to him for ten minutes, tops. A few weeks ago, I was at Whole Foods and heard someone calling my name. It was him! How do people do that?! Luckily, he gave me enough contextual clues for me to remember our conversation, but I swear I had no recollection of seeing him before. He could have told me he was Tom Cruise and I wouldn’t have known the difference. For real—I can’t pick Tom Cruise out of a lineup.

Sadly, this doesn’t just apply to people I kind-of-sort-of know. I have known one of my friends for well over a year. We do things together. Frequently. Like, go on weekend trips. A few weeks ago, I had a long conversation with my friend. I complimented her haircut. Asked what was new. Quietly wondered why she wasn’t at work and where her husband (my good friend) was. It wasn’t until she mentioned going “back home” that I realized this wasn’t my friend at all—this was a girl I knew via Twitter. The fuck, Tanya?! Sadly, this happens more often than I’d like to admit.

prosopagnosia, facial blindness,
Luckily, I know this guy

So please, don’t take offense if you walk up to me and I have a blank look in my eyes or ask who you are. It’s not you, it’s me.


  • Ralph Marion

    Don’t worry. I know exactly how you feel. People say they know me, but I feel like I have never met them a day in my life. It’s even worse when they remember my name and tell me how we met, and I still don’t remember them. You are not alone how you feel about this.

    • Tanya

      Oh no, that’s crazy! So do you struggle with your memory too, Ralph, or do you just not remember people? I can remember events really well, but I can’t remember if it was you or the person on the other side of the room who I hung out with.

    • Tanya

      I haven’t ever seen you struggle with names in Bham, which is impressive since you don’t run with us often!

      What do The Reds think about their fame? Do they like being recognized?

  • David Griner

    I met a lady last year who has such bad prosopagnosia that she can’t recognize her husband when he’s walking up to her in public. I had no idea about you having this, but now I feel even more justified about yelling “GRINER IN THE HOUSE” every time I see you.

    • Tanya

      Oh no! I’m not that bad – 9 times out of 10 I can pick Z out in a crowd.

      Please, please introduce yourself that way every time we hang out!

  • Rachel @ Grasping for Objectivity

    Hi. I’m Rachel. Nice to meet you again. And I find your problem fascinating.

    What’s the long fancy term for NEVER being able to know left from right? Every time either word is uttered, I have to feel my ring fingers to know which one houses my wedding ring, and so therefore, which direction is left.

    My Mom has an entirely different problem where she has zero concept of the passage of time. This was extraordinarily bad for my parent’s marriage until the invention of cell phones. My Dad *literally* called all the hospitals in Birmingham quite regularly when she would be several hours late getting home. I remember him thumbing through the yellow pages…looking for those phone numbers…because this was also before the invention of speed dial.

    • Tanya

      Hello Rachel, I may or may not recognize you at the local Target or bar. Blogging event though, I’d pick you out in a second!

      For the left/right issue, I would never think to use my wedding ring as an indicator. I still make an L with my fingers every now and then…

      Your mom’s issue is CRAY. Your poor father! And you! Did she wear a watch??

  • Gail

    I do this all the time- I’m legally blind, and it affects my central vision. So anything in the center is all fuzzy, but by looking at me you’d have no idea that I can’t see. So, unless I tell people that there’s no way I’m ever going to recognize you (heaven forbid out of context! If I work with you, please don’t show up at my gym!), I look like a terrible person. I totally sympathize with your problem- clothing is definitely a great tool to use!

    • Tanya

      Oh wow, now I feel bad for whining! People can’t possibly get mad at you – you had a legitimate excuse! So can you see them if they’re standing off to your side?

  • Lucas

    I know I have this issue too. Courtney and I meet so many people with running that it takes me a long time to remember who people are and where we’ve met them before. A lot of times they get the blank stare back and usually prompt me with a name at least! I got a 20% on the face recognition test btw

    • Tanya

      Yes! So maybe it’s a runner thing in general? You guys have SUCH a big group of runners that you hang out and race with that I would be shocked if you knew them all. I guess CO people are nicer with their name prompts 🙂

  • Al DiMicco

    This is so funny because I’m sure I’m on the brink of Alzheimer’s when I can’t remember names of folks I should know. Happens all the time. Just happened this past weekend on the trail when I ran into a runner I recognized. Of course he was full of”Al this and Al that”. I probably didn’t hear half of what he said because all I heard was a voice in my head saying “What the hell is your name?”. Just for the record, you’ll always be Jersey Girl. Easy to remember.

    • Tanya

      Hahaha no way Al, you’re normal! But I do the same thing – struggle to focus on the conversation because I’m thinking so hard about who the person is!

      I’ll take Jersey girl 🙂

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