HALL-PALERM: Faux forgetfulness

The Notorious VHP

I’m going to level with you: I have a lot of pet peeves. Perhaps too many — who’s to say. But today I want to talk to you about one of my least favorite things: being forgotten.

HallPalermVLet me set the scene: You’re at dinner with a friend in the dining hall. A stranger comes up to chat with your friend, and you briefly twiddle your thumbs, waiting for the requisite introduction. Maybe, if you have a good memory for faces or enjoy stalking your friends’ Facebook profiles, you awkwardly recognize this mysterious stranger. We do, after all, inhabit the same tiny space. But in any case, you bide your time. If you have a friend with any social grace, sooner or later you and this potential new friend are introduced. You exchange names. You make small talk about how cold it was today, about how you’re exhausted because you were up until four on a paper, or about how you really wish there hadn’t been vegan ravioli for dinner again. Eventually, the former stranger goes along on his merry way, and you can resume your dinner.

Let’s fast-forward — maybe a day, maybe two weeks. You’re at another dinner, or a party, or someone’s play and you find yourself standing in a circle with your new acquaintance. And yet, when someone politely asks if the two of you have ever met, the former stranger says you haven’t and warmly introduces himself again.

Sometimes forgetfulness is completely innocuous; if I meet someone for 10 seconds at a party, it’s unreasonable to expect him to remember me a month later. And so I’m generally inclined to stifle my injured pride the first time I’m forgotten; everyone’s busy, right? We all meet tons of people every day — it’s only to be expected that a face or two slips through the cracks after only one encounter.

But it is all too common for people at Yale to meet one another and have a real conversation, albeit a superficial one, and then completely forget about that person’s existence. And then they “meet” again, and the same thing happens. I’ve “met” the same people four or five times before the connection sticks. And at that point, no matter how warm the second, or third, or fourth reintroduction is, their constant forgetfulness can’t help but be incredibly offensive.

Because what does it mean to constantly forget someone? In the best-case scenario, it’s just absentmindedness. And, sure, that’s completely understandable up to a point. Another name to learn or face to recall is, sometimes, too much to ask after a long day of class work and memorization.

But it is troubling that Yalies find it easier to remember the anatomy of the brain or the data of the Punic Wars than the face of an exciting and interesting classmate. Shouldn’t our connections with peers be worth more of our time and energy? Yale is a special place largely because of the people; it seems like it would be worth everyone’s while to invest a little more time in remembering their daily interactions, however brief they may be.

Even worse than students who truly forget one another are those whose forgetfulness rises to the level of a power play. Because what are you really saying when you meet someone countless times yet don’t remember them? In a backhanded way it says that you’re too busy, too important, too harried to remember minutiae like someone else’s name. It’s a subtle reminder that, as of right now, they’re not worth your time.

This might seem overly dramatic, but this sort of interaction happens often enough to merit discussion. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been walking to class, crossing paths with someone I’ve met several times. My initial instinct is to smile, maybe even wave awkwardly as I trek along. But after countless unreciprocated waves, I’ve instead taken to uncomfortable eye contact — the eye contact that says: “We’ve met. But let’s ignore that.” I end up making the safer, self-protective move.

We’re all guilty of faux forgetfulness. And in the grand scheme of things, it’s fairly trivial. But isn’t this a small habit that can easily be fixed?  We shouldn’t feel the need to reiterate our own importance by denying one another recognition.

Victoria Hall-Palerm is a junior in Berkeley College. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at  victoria.hall-palerm@yale.edu.