3678459707_8ddb257498_zI’m sure this has happened to you. You run into someone you know, but she isn’t where you’d expect to see her. Your yoga instructor . . . at the dry cleaner’s. A member of your book club . . .  at the local Starbucks. Your mental wheels start to spin.  “I know her,” you’re thinking. “But . . . who the hell is she?

She recognizes you. She smiles and greets you by name. You return her smile, desperately trying not to let on that you can’t place her.      

Who the hell is she?  Who the hell knows? 

Welcome to my world.

I’m face blind. It’s real. There’s even a Greek name for it. Prosopagnosia. There’s a part of the brain (the fusiform gyrus) that is devoted to facial recognition. If you have prosopagnosia, that part of your brain doesn’t work. 

Which is why, even if we’re friends, the next time our paths cross I may breeze right by like I’ve never seen you before. 

Trying to tell one face from another, for the face blind, is like trying to distinguish one rock from another rock.  

It can be done. But not easily.

Neurologist Oliver Sacks, ironically, is face blind. So is artist Chuck Close. I believe that I am too, although I have yet to receive an official diagnosis. Why bother? When news stories about prosopagnosia  first began to appear, I was bombarded with emails from friends and family, saying, “Now we know what’s wrong with you!”

Brad Pitt recently “came out” as being face blind. (Which means that he and I have something in common besides our sexy good looks and charisma.) 

As Brad and I have learned, there is no cure. You just have to cope. 

The real problem with being face blind isn’t that you can’t recognize faces. It’s that people expect you to be able to.

If a library patron who has been bringing her kids to my story time for years comes up to the circulation desk to check a book out and I don’t recognize her, she doesn’t think: “Poor Roz. She must be face blind.”

Instead, she’s probably thinking:  “All these years and she acts like she doesn’t know me? That Roz is one rude bitch.” 

So we face-blind folks develop a vast arsenal of ploys and tricks to work around the perils of such social encounters. We learn to identify you by the sound of your voice. Your hair style and color. Your body language. The way you dress.  In conversation, we’ll try to manipulate you into revealing your identity before you can catch on to the fact that we don’t know who you are.   

Which isn’t to say that we don’t still make mistakes. Plenty of them.

When Karen, the mother of two terrific kids I used to baby-sit, came into the library recently, I asked, “How are the girls?”    

When she just starred at me blankly, I realized that she wasn’t Karen after all.        


Then there was the time I foolishly tried, on a walk with my pal Janet, to introduce her to one of my neighbors.  “Janet, this is my neighbor Deb,” I said. 

“No I’m not!” “Deb” protested. Because she was actually my neighbor Julie. Both women have short brown hair and live on my block. But Deb is 20 years older (and 30 pounds heavier) than Julie.    

Was that embarrassing? Hell, yes.   

So I try not to assume that I know who you are until you tell me something that nails it. And because I don’t know if you’re a close friend, a sworn enemy or a total stranger, I greet everyone with a smile.  

We face blind people are the friendliest people around. Since we don’t know who you are, we’ll always approach you with a cheery “Hello!” just to play it safe.      

Every day when I’m out walking, a person I could swear on a stack of Bibles I’ve never seen before passes me on the street and calls out “Hi, Roz!”

Just once, instead of responding with a friendly “Hello!” I’d love to be able to stop and demand, “Who the hell are you?” 

Or, better yet, require that, out of deference to my prosopagnosia, everyone have the courtesy to wear name tags.  

Instead, I’ll keep trying to learn to recognize you. And, with time and plenty of effort, I’ll probably be able to. But if you change your haircut, a bad cold lowers your voice an octave, or you turn up where I don’t expect to see you, I may still draw a blank.  

Last week I ran into a library patron at the movies—and, for once, oddly, I easily recognized him! “Hi, Karl!” I said, with complete confidence that this was Karl and not Bruce or Bob. I was even able to introduce him to my friend Mark without fear of embarrassment. 

How did it feel?  WONDERFUL. That lost, floundering-around sensation was gone. It gave me a glimpse of what I’d been missing. How splendid and satisfying it would be to go through life actually being able to recognize the people I know.

The next time I see Karl, of course, I’ll probably call him Steve and ask how his Chihuahuas are doing. 

Yes, there are worse problems to have.

But if they ever discover a cure, I’ll be the first in line. Or the second in line, right behind Brad Pitt. Whom I probably won’t recognize.   


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  • Missy March 16, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    Hi Roz,
    Wonderful post. I’m face blind too, though after seeing someone regularly for several years I can eventually recognize them. And have always been able to recognize my kids, thank heavens.
    But going to a parent teacher conference and trying to have conversations with the parents,kids and teachers I have met several times before is a special type of hell. Laughed when you said you smile at everybody. Yep. And talk about the weather a lot….
    If there was a cure, sign me up!

  • Kelly May 18, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    One of my old professors has prosopagnosia and she was never able to recognize me. Interestingly she taught neuropsychology. It sounds really tough though! Maybe people should start wearing name tags- it sure would help me remember names better!

  • jody May 16, 2014 at 7:07 am

    You may not be surprised, Roz, to hear that my husband shares your disorder. When we were young he was to meet me at the airport to whisk me off to his farm in Maine to be his girl. We had not seen one another for a year and I had
    changed my hairdo. He passed me twice before he realized I was me!!

  • Joyce May 15, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    Nicely written! This pretty much sums up my life with prosopagnosia – but I don’t know if I’d get in line for the cure or not. I find it fascinating, and I think I’d miss it. Sort of like when I got lasik surgery, and never again saw the Christmas tree lights without the effects of my nearsightnedness.

  • Suzanne Fluhr May 12, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Oh man—big time dinged by auto correct.

  • Suzanne Fluhr May 12, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    I have at least a mild version of this—especially when I met someone I should know, out of context. I sometimes remember that I should know them—but can’t remember their name or where I know them from. It had been so long since we’ve seen each other in person—I hope you still look like your Facebook photo. BTW, ate you fog blind too?

  • Roz Warren May 12, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Janet, we make a great team! I make a fool of myself, and you don’t remember anything about it. Works for me. 🙂

  • jgolden08 May 12, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    Well, I’m the Janet and I have a memory problem (don’t know the fancy term for that) so I don’t remember that event Roz!

  • Lorrie Kazan May 12, 2014 at 12:21 am

    Yes, I also wish people would wear name tags, and yes, Nancy Weber, I share that same lack of direction! The bright side is I work as a psychic. Apparently, there are other senses that can compensate, and with luck, overcompensate.

    I never knew how to explain my “issue” until recently when articles started to appear and the issue got a name.

  • ellensue spicer-jacobson May 11, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Wow! I better not change the color of my hair or its style or you won;t know me when I come into the library. Thanx for all the info about this “disability” and your ability to cope with it with humor.

  • pia May 11, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Face blindness can be a component of nonverbal learning disorder (NLD). When I was five I mistook another woman for my mother. It still haunts me.

    I used to live in a part of NY where a lot of famous actors lived. I would say that I could run into Woody Allen in a phone booth and not recognize him.

    My friends often yell “I can’t believe you didn’t recognize ___or___” as if it were a character deficit.

    I’m much better at recognizing faces now but it’s exhausting

  • Roz Warren May 11, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Diane, I have a library co-worker who instantly recognizes everyone who visits the library who attended the kindergarten class she taught decades ago. Even if the last time she saw them, they were five. I am in awe of her.

  • Carol Cassara May 11, 2014 at 9:53 am

    I read a memoir about this condition some years ago. Who knew?

  • Diane Dettmann May 11, 2014 at 9:21 am

    I hear you Roz. This condition often flares up when a former student spies me at a mall and says, “Remember me? I was in your third grade class!” My brain flips back thirty years but can’t come up with a name that matches the man standing in front of me with a beard, nose piercing and shaved head.

  • lisa Froman May 10, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    This made for an interesting read….though I’m sure it’s not easy to deal with. Ha, maybe there is a benefit to us getting older…people will just naturally think we’ve forgotten them because of our age.

    It sounds like you have a good sense of humor about it. And hey, anytime you can compare yourself to Brad Pitt, things can’t be all bad.

  • Barbara @ www.allmylivesnow.com May 10, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    I’m not face blind, I’m name impaired. I remember every face I see, but I am most often at a loss to remember their names.
    Great post. Visiting from The Women of Midlife.
    barbara @ http://www.allmylivesnow.com

  • Roz Warren May 10, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Nancy Weber I have no sense of direction at all. My son Tom began correcting my directional errors beginning at about age 5. I’d be driving along and I’d hear from the carseat behind me: “Wrong turn, Mom.”

  • Nancy Weber May 10, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    Oh, yes, Roz (or whoever you are)! And like Oliver Sacks (& me) do you lack a sense of direction? He says these two deficits seem linked or at least often co-exist. I retain no visual memory of the path I’ve often trod from the elevator to a friend’s apartment, & no use telling me to turn left or right because the words don’t quite register with me. Of course the red hearing aid goes in the right ear, but where is the right ear? Easier to tell right from wrong, & we know how unsimple that is.

  • Roz Warren May 10, 2014 at 10:43 am

    Sharon I’m glad we’re online pals too. 🙂 See you on http://www.midlifeboulevard.com!

  • Sharon Greenthal May 10, 2014 at 10:15 am

    I guess there’s a benefit to us being online friends – I never have to feel snubbed by you 🙂

  • Mark Lowe May 10, 2014 at 9:57 am