Until I've spent hours around someone, seeing their face contort into many different expressions, seeing them in different clothes and circumstances, their face remains difficult for me to recall or identify. A few years ago I learned that my experience was the exception, not the rule; I always assumed everyone had a similar struggle. I'm sure the condition has had subtle effects in my life, perhaps encouraging a social reticence, discouraging being overly friendly or engaging with people whose identities I'm unsure about, but it's never been quite so blatant as it was last week.
I just moved into a new place in a new town, and have only met 3 or 4 locals who were introduced by having been acquaintances of my parents. The other day there's a knock on the door and it's a kind looking, slightly nervous, middle-aged woman, with gray-ish hair. She exuded the sort of familiarity in greeting and manner that strongly suggested I knew her, and I felt I knew her, though who exactly she was I could only guesstimate. She had come to ask me to a small wine and cheese gathering "down the hill" a few nights hence. I graciously accepted. With that, she was off. And I was left to try and reason out who exactly had invited me. Of the few people I know here only two are middle-aged women, so it really shouldn't have been much of a challenge to work out which one; but I couldn't. In theory the right approach would have been to immediately acknowledge my problem and ask her to identify herself, but social graces don't really allow that approach. Prosopagnosia (face blindness) sounds like such a curious and made up disorder, and I'd rather not invite a lot of misunderstanding or belabor an explanation so as to avoid any. Thus, I was reduced to post-event logic and sleuthing. My girlfriend had observed the car she was driving, but not the woman. The car was black. I checked Google satellite maps of the two women in question and the one I was most strongly suspecting did have a dark colored car. Bingo! Just to be extra careful I found a picture of her online, covered the brown hair in the photo with my hand, and tried to tell if the face looked recently familiar. It did, somewhat; and perhaps she'd just stopped dying her hair. The only odd thing was that the location of the event was ambiguous. She had said "down the hill" as though I knew exactly what that meant. The woman I imagined her to be had shown me a vacation rental house she owned (which I had been contemplating renting when I first arrived) which was, arguably, closer to sea level. Alternatively, the home in which she lived was in a town that was (I assumed) below the town in which I lived. She had never given me that address, so that discouraged that as a possible location. Comfortable with my conclusions I went about my life until the evening of the gathering. Francine and I set off on time and arrived at the suspected location only to find it entirely dark; only a deer was in evidence, grazing on the lawn. Not to worry, I had plan B ready to go, and we went off to check her primary residence for activity. After a long drive down the big hill I discovered the Googled directions took me worryingly right back up another side of the same hill. As her house came into view it was clear there were no parties going on there tonight. Thus we had to invoke Plan C, the residence of the only other middle-aged woman I knew in these parts. Another little drive ensued with the same result. No activity, no party. And I now had absolutely no idea who might have invited me, leaving me unable to even retroactively proffer an apology.
In the days that followed I still suspected the Plan A/B woman had in fact been my visitor, and that perhaps I had misread the house's activity that night. But a few days later I bumped into her on a walk and offered a tentative apology only for her to announce it had not been she. My best guess at this point is that it was some neighbor I'd never actually met was kindly welcoming me to the neighborhood but that my overly familiar response to her invitation (a response to what I thought was hers) caused her to assume I knew who she was and where she lived. Ah well... Such is the complicated life of a prosopagnosiast; I just can't believe I thought *this* was normal!
I'm 84.6% nihilist, but not in the anarchist's co-opted blow-stuff-up sense. Rather, I neither believe nor disbelieve most things I don't directly experience. I used to drive my last ex-girlfriend nuts by doubting her every celebrity sighting claim. Once a week she would say, "I just saw [insert celebrity name here] on 3rd Street." And it just seemed like the frequency was impossible, and that she was mixing in people who just happened to bear resemblances. In fairness, I discovered later I had prosopagnosia, a mild case, and so I really was in no position to deny her claims. I can have difficulty recognizing people I only know (though only those I know slightly). Whatever the excuse, it was slightly obnoxious of me. I meant it in jest, but that doesn't mean it was forever funny.
A few years ago I discovered something odd about myself, apparently most people are far, far better than I am at facial recognition. I never realized it because the effects are somewhat subtle. I've never failed to confidently recognize someone I know well, and even those I barely know I always recognize, but their recognition often comes with a great deal of uncertainty; I will logically strongly suspect it's the person I think it is, but I don't have that sense of just "knowing" it is. Where I really run into problems is people like actors and singers who I only know in two-dimensions, when they change their hairstyle or appearance, I may not quickly recognize them.
And apparently this minor inconvenience is an under-reported condition called Prosopagnosia. You too can see if you may have it by taking the Cambridge facial recognition test . I took it a couple of years ago and I think I found out I was only better than 23% of the population. (My friend Nora took a similar test the other day and said she scored better than 98% of the population.)
So, here's my funny/odd prosopagnosia story of the day...
The other night I walked my dog, Osita, down to the cafe to meet a bunch of friends and we were sitting and talking and this guy comes out to sit down about 10 feet away with some of our other friends. I was pretty sure I knew the guy, but I didn't have that transcendent sense of just "knowing". The reason I was confused? First some background on Adam. I've seen him probably 30 times, and talked with him 1 or 2 times, but never directly for long, just part of a larger group. Every single time I've seen him (without exception that I can recall), he is wearing a dark brown leather bomber jacket (with nametag affixed), a golfing-type hat, and 90% of the time he's smoking a cigar. But, the other night he was wearing a baseball cap, a light tan cotton jacket (w/ fighter squadron name and patches), he was not smoking a cigar, and he seemed to be smiling more. Now clearly I'm not an idiot, intellectually I know a pseudo-airforce-y jacket means it must be Adam, I've met no other people in my life who hadn't fought in WWII who would wear such a jacket. And his face did not look inconsistent with the Adam I can semi-"clearly" see in my memory, though oddly that guy has slightly darker skin complection. But even though I'm observing this guy for 30 or more minutes while talking to my friends I still can't "see" this guy as the Adam I "know". But, next time I see him wearing something different, and the more times that I do, the better I will have generalized the concept of Adam such that I will then "know" it's him, regardless of outfit or circumstance. So, that's sort of what my experience is. I need to observe a person enough to create that general model of them so that I can recognize confidently in any situation.
Next on my list of personal peculiar brain abnormalities to reveal... my inability to sing along to songs!