I was walking through the mall one day when I heard my name being called by an unfamiliar voice. I turned around and saw this guy walking towards me with a big smile, his hand extended. I shook it and realized, to my embarrassment, that he knew me quite well, and that I couldn't remember him at all.
You know how there are people who are bad at names and good at remembering faces? Or who are bad at faces but good at remembering names? Well, I'm neither. I'm one of those unlucky bastards who are bad at both. Which is hell for someone as socially awkward as I am. I'm already bad at small talk, why would the universe add the fact that I had to fake-know someone into that equation?
This situation is a regular occurrence in my life. I would meet someone whose name and face I didn't know or recognize, but who would talk to me with such obvious familiarity that I knew I was going to hurt his feelings if I suddenly asked how I knew him. So, as confrontation-averse as I am, I would usually stand there hoping the conversation would end soon, and that whomever I was talking to at the moment would never realize I was only fake-knowing him.
This is a mistake. Here's why: there is a small window of opportunity where one person can still ask another person his name, and how they know each other, without being rude. It's definitely in the first five minutes of the conversation. After 20 mins of talking, it's just weird, but still doable. After the initial conversation, the window is gone. The next conversation will not only be weird, but if you ask him his name, he will probably feel humiliated and awkward, and you will be a jackass.
Which is why I now have countless acquaintances who I keep bumping into whose names I still don't know, but who I recognize now because I keep remembering them as the people whose names I can't remember. I actually have several "friends" I fake-know, and who I sincerely hope never ever realize I've been fake knowing all this time. Sometimes I give them fake names in my head. "Oh my god, it's orange-shirt guy. I need to act like I'm looking for something really important in my bag so that it seems like I didn't really ignore him; I was just busy looking for that something important in my bag that may or may not be able cure the world of cancer."
So, going back to the anecdote, there I was, feeling like a fool, hoping the conversation would end soon before he realized I was really just faking my way through his stories. I figured I could still give him a couple of minutes before I excused myself to go.
That was, until my friend came along and joined us. And of course the polite thing to do in that situation is to introduce them, and I would have wanted to do that, except I couldn't because you can't introduce your friend to a (practically) nameless stranger, and not if the stranger assumed he wasn't a stranger in the first place.
So a moment of silence. Awkward, awkward silence. I stood there grinning like an idiot because I knew both of them were expecting me to introduce them to each other. More silence. I decided, fuck it, let's do this.
"Hey, this is my friend Mike," I said. Period. Finito. I knew there was a second half to it, but really, I couldn't just pick a name out of a hat right? I mean I could, but that would be rude. "Patrick, your name is Patrick? Are you sure? You look like a Peter to me," I might have said.
Another heartbeat of silence. Then the guy looked at me, smiled sheepishly, and introduced himself to my friend. I smiled back, and tried to make my face look like I knew his name all that time, but that I only didn't know how to make proper introductions. Which I realized would also make me look like an idiot. There was no winning this thing.
Photo taken here.