excessive familiarity

I’ve always thought of myself as a disorganized, messy-desk sort of person. I lose things around the house. I often forget things I don’t think I should have forgotten. My hair is long and unkempt, and in some ways I have slovenly habits.

On the other hand, I often lie awake at night worrying about things that will probably never happen. I often still feel guilt and/or remorse for stupid, presumptuous, or thoughtless things I did or said thirty years ago, to people I will probably never see again. I’m a perfectionist at my work, and I have high expectations of others I work with.

The presumptuous thing I’m obsessively self-conscious about tonight has to do with my attempt, on the verge of middle age, to resume networking with people I’ve known over the years but have lost contact with. My purpose in this is not to socialize (I’ve been through my classmates.com/Friendster/Orkut phases), but rather to reestablish professional contacts in order to revitalize a career that has navigated into a dead end. I’ve signed up on linkedin.com, and have been pleasantly surprised so far by some of the people who remember me from even 25 to 30 years ago.

On the other hand, some folks hardly remember me at all. I haven’t gotten any “who the hell are you?”s yet, but I have had email exchanges with people who apparently have only faint recollections of me.

It’s hard not to feel a little funny about this. It’s hard to resist the impulse to apologize for being presumptively familiar with people.Now, I admit I’ve had to Google-dive for email addresses for people I haven’t heard from in a long time, but I don’t feel guilty about that, because I’m not approaching anyone I don’t actually know. What I feel guilty about is remembering people – having fond memories of people who don’t remember me.

I work with a guy who makes a point of not remembering people’s names, and will tell you right up front that although he recognizes you, he doesn’t know your name, and isn’t going to learn. He’s not impolite or unfriendly (unless you consider that impolite), but it is sort of strange to be told by someone that your name isn’t worth learning.

I, on the other hand, remember lots and lots of names and people from fifteen and twenty years ago, including a lot of people I’ve never met in person. (Today, in the age of internet chat, this doesn’t seem nearly as strange as it did twenty years ago.) I’m pretty good at remembering people’s names, and I work fairly hard at greeting people – even people I hardly know – by name.

In most situations, that is. Although there are people working at the restaurants where I have lunch whom I see regularly and have friendly relations with, I’m not on a first-name basis with any of them, in large part because I’m unsure of how to introduce myself while I’m ordering a hamburger.

I feel bad about even this, though, especially every time I think of the waitress at the Chinese buffet who always remembers my Diet Coke, even though I only see her once every two or three months.

Back to linkedin.com and my contact list. I just realized a few minutes ago that I am leafing through an address book I started twenty years ago, that gives no evidence of having been added to or otherwise altered in a dozen years.

That either makes me a lot more organized than I’ve realized, or it makes me an extreme packrat.


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