DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am unusually bad with remembering names and faces. I make an effort to remember people that I will see again, but there are a lot of people I meet in passing who are beyond my capacity. This is especially awkward at times, because I appear to be easily remembered by other people.
Usually I can fake things well enough, and use context clues to make small talk until it is time to mingle with someone new. (And may I take a moment to sincerely thank those people who work a reintroduction into their greetings?) But what do I do when someone corners me on my memory, and is offended by the results?
At a wedding shower, I was approached by someone who asked whether I recognized her. I tried self-deprecating humor about my memory, but she doubled down on the question, and was clearly hurt when I had to admit I still didn’t recognize her.
Miss Manners, if what she said is accurate, we’ve met at most half a dozen times during my childhood, none more recently than 15 years ago. She was an adult, and her relationship was with my aunt, not with me.
On that basis, I can’t think why either of us should be expected to remember the other -- but saying so, while honest, didn’t seem kind. I tried for a joke about how we would have to meet more often, but it clearly didn’t help.
My family is at a point where I can expect these kinds of social events more often -- likely even with this same woman -- and I would like to be prepared. What is the polite response when you don’t recognize someone, and they know it?
GENTLE READER: Adults sometimes flatter themselves that the impression they leave on the impressionable is greater than it is. And while it is hurtful to be forgotten, that is a reason not to challenge others’ memories.
Miss Manners applauds you for both apologizing, and for your self-deprecation, although it is quite understandable that you failed this rude test. You will no doubt recognize this particular woman when you see her again, and can offer her a touch more attention -- or remember her well enough to stay away from her.
Generally, you should make a habit of telling people your name preemptively, so that they can reply that of course they know you.