I attended a church picnic the other day. The sun was bright, yet the weather was cool. It was a perfect day for outdoor frolicking. I wasn’t sure if I would attend at first because my girls weren’t with me. Watching other people’s families have fun isn’t high up on my things to do on a lovely Saturday afternoon, especially if they are happy li’l nuclear families, but I decided to go anyway. It was the first activity since being assigned to the new ward and I wanted to meet & mingle.
Since it was a stake picnic, all the wards in our stake were in attendance, including the one I used to attend. I walked around and tried to recall names of the new ward members I had met on previous Sundays and said hello to the people I bumped into from my previous ward, but then somebody called out my name. Her hair was up and she was in large, dark sunglasses. All I could see of her face was her welcoming smile.
“Brother Cootey! It's good to see you!”“Yeah, it's good to see you, too!”
We chatted a bit about my daughter who used to be in her young women's program, then I walked away. Only at that point did I remember her name. I was so used to meeting people from my new ward that day and having those awkward “You're…um…Joel?”/“And you're…uh…Douglas?” moments, that I went back to her and said, “Hey! You're Sister Wengle!” This wouldn’t have been a problem if I we hadn’t seen each other for two years, but it had only been two months.
She wasn't wearing her sunglasses then, so I could see the hurt in her eyes. Ouch. I hate letting people down. I let her know that I have ADHD and tend to forget names, and she was a good sport, but it was a splash of cold water on a warm moment. I shouldn't have let her know that I forgot her name. It violated my number two rule, but it was an impulse. Open mouth; insert foot. You know he drill.
People with ADHD tend to have issues with working memory. There is often a barrier preventing us from accessing information at the appropriate moment. The effect is the same as forgetting, but if you understand about the delay, perhaps now you'll understand why so many ADHD adults suddenly interrupt a conversation with “Oh! I forgot to get the toilet paper!”
That poor sister was surprised at how well I was at faking that I remembered her name. Yes, I’m very good at it. I decided to master this problem after noticing a friend on campus many years ago. He was a quarter of a mile away, but it was unmistakably him. I ran across the quad and called out, “Hey! …!” and then came to an awkward stop in front of him. I had gone blank. He wasn’t impressed. There’s probably a reason we aren’t friends anymore, whatever his name was.
I’ve had over twenty years of practice since then, and I don’t get myself in those situations anymore. That awkward picnic moment was an aberration for me, so I’m going over my rules to have another twenty years without incident, and now I share my rules with you.
- SMILE– A smile will put both of you at ease. The minute they see that certain panicked look on your face, the jig is up. Keep your face calm and friendly instead.
- DON'T ADMIT YOU FORGOT THEIR NAME– If you haven’t seen them for a while, chances are they’ve forgotten your name, too. Besides, that information is floating just out of your reach. Relax and let it drift into your orbit. After all, you know them, right? Why needlessly hurt their feelings? This doesn’t change how happy you are to see them.
- CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY– Your word choices can expose you and lead to an embarrassing moment, so practice saying, “Hey, how are you doing?”, not “Hey, how are you doing, …?” with an awkward “Ohmigosh-I-forgot-their-name!” face. Say “How’s your husband?”, not, “How’s …(Is it Ken? Cole? Kermit‽)” Try “What’s that smart kid of yours been up to?” They’ll probably fill in his name for you.
- DODGE & WEAVE– Conversations with old colleagues or neighbors at the DMV or supermarket are usually very brief. The moment is too fast for names to matter. You’ll probably remember when you pull out of your parking space. Until then, ask them about their work, their marriage, their kids, etc. Catching up may even jog that swiss cheese memory of yours.
The only time you should admit you can't recall their name is if they figure it out, or you plan on having an extended conversation. Then remember rule number one and mention your momentary lapse in memory. You'll have time to smooth things over. I can't say that everyone who I've been honest with has been happy about my lapse in memory, but none of those moments have ever been as bad as things were for me before I followed these rules.
People like to believe that they are memorable. Don’t you? Forgetting someone's name makes them feel as if you've forgotten who they are. You & I know that name is somewhere in our noggin. We haven't forgotten that person at all, but they won't always understand. If you have a hard time remembering people’s names, follow these rules to get you through most social greetings. For some reason they’re easier to remember than those darn names.
Wards are what Mormons call their congregations. Several wards make up a stake. Several stakes make up an area. As populations change, sometimes reorganizing the ward boundaries becomes necessary. In my case, my apartment complex was reassigned to a different ward. I didn't move, but where I attended church did. ↩
Name changed to protect that sister's identity, and not because I forgot her name again. ↩