All my life I’ve told people that I’m bad with names when I can’t remember theirs. This isn’t entirely true. But it’s not entirely false, either.
The “problem” — if one can characterize something so relatively trivial as a true problem in a world flush with famine, poverty, economic woes, WMDs and the constant threat that Robert Pattinson’s acting is lurking around every corner — is that people tend to fall into one of three categories for me: 1) uninteresting, unattractive, not ambitious…in a word, average. And average isn’t good enough to get your name remembered in the sea of people that we all meet randomly throughout our lives. If that sounds cold, maybe it’s time to stop listing Nickelback and “hanging with friends” as your only interests when I ask you about yourself. 2) People I pretend to not really remember in order to either sound aloof, secure a higher social footing, or to avoid an awkward situation where I remember them, but they have no recollection of me. These are usually either people I’d like to avoid and forget altogether, or people that I think should remember me and do the initiating (the implication being that I’m “too good” to start interactions with them…I know, I know, I’m a bastard). 3) The final group is everyone who meets or exceeds that value quotient (e.g. people I look up to or respect, successful peers, fun people, attractive women, etc.) but for whom I still feign ignorance of because I don’t want to come off as the creepy-stalker type or someone who’s overly into them or whatever. 3a) In fairness to myself, I should point out that I do genuinely forget people’s names sometimes even if they don’t fit into any of the aforementioned categories. Same is true if I’m being introduced to a group…once you’ve said more than two names in a row, I’ve started flushing them to clear out the mental space I need to make a herpes joke. And herpes jokes take the most mental energy of all the STD jokes.
However, the point of listing all this out is because I’m retiring from the name game. What brought about such a non-monumental decision in my life? Well I’m glad I asked, because I have a story that answers that very question. Recently I found myself in a situation where I recognized a gentleman who used to play quarterback for my college when I was a freshman. Maybe we bumped into each other once or twice, or we’d been introduced while we were in school (a distinct option since we went to a college of just under 3,000 undergrad students), maybe not…I honestly can’t remember. Normally I wouldn’t have said anything and pretended not to recognize him so I didn’t seem like a weirdo or anything. There were a lot of people at the bar, it would’ve been easy to play it off; no harm, no foul. But then something clicked internally, and this feisty little voice popped up in my head and said “Dude, f*** it. You have done amazingly badass things with your life, you are better than playing social footsie with a dude you went to college with eight years ago. You need to get off your pedestal and shake his hand.” Or something like that. I don’t remember the exact thought, but I remember the sentiment: I am done playing games to try and prove to myself and others that I’m the coolest person in any given situation/group, I just want to put myself out there and if it blows up in my face, so be it. I have endured and will endure far worse things in life than being the uncool guy who knows everybody’s name (and I could probably get a job working at Cheers).
And just like that I said hi to a dude that I would’ve previously ignored just for the sake of feeding my delusion of superiority.
“Hey man, you’re J** C*****, right? I went to Otterbein, class of ’06. I loved watching you guys play. You guys were my Saturday morning hangover cure until I discovered Gatorade.”
He thanked me, seemed pleasantly surprised by my compliment, and we both went back to having a nice evening out.
Here’s the companion to that story that covers the same situation, but at other end of the social spectrum where I would’ve previously thought myself too cool to put myself out there to such a person. I was at a bar (I should point out that I hadn’t been drinking on either of these nights, and the fact that both stories take place at different bars is more coincidental than it is indicative of the fact that I have a massive drinking problem) and I saw a girl who’s a friend-of-friends that I’ve met a handful of times, but I usually ignore. I have no problem with this girl, she’s fairly attractive (though definitely not my type), seems nice enough, but I never say hi to her because I don’t want her to think I am romantically interested in her, nor do I want to have to explain who I am if she was too inebriated to recall our brief previous encounters. But again, the feisty little bastard who lives in my brain was all, “Dude, don’t be a douche. Just say hi to her and be nice. Maybe she needs that today.” So I did. And it seemed like she did, in fact, need someone to send a little extra friendliness her way that evening.
Ultimately these scenarios are a very small percentage of my social life, since 99% of the people I interact with are already my friends, or are people I’m meeting for the very first time — not the handful of folks who are in that weird nexus between the two categories. With that 99% majority I’m my usual ridiculous, wacky (read: obnoxious, annoying) version of myself that people have grown to love (read: tolerate), but it’s nice to know that now I have a new plan for that 1% of social situations where I can inject some positivity into a half-stranger’s life…just with something as simple as remembering a name.
I would never be so bold as to suggest that I am exhibiting Jesus-like qualities in these instances…but I wouldn’t stop any of you from saying that about me to your friends. In all seriousness, I am still gonna forget a lot of names (the majority of people we all meet will always fall into Group 1 from earlier, but at least I can eliminate groups 2 and 3), but I’m excited about the chance to be “the guy who tries his best to remember everybody” even if I’ll never be “the guy who literally remembers everybody.”