I finally figured it out (and yes, this is my last post about faces).
I really tried to work on remembering people’s faces. It’s just not happening. My facial recognition brainware is weak. When I look at a person’s face, I don’t see something unique. I don’t see enough. I just see “a face.” But two things are happening that I noticed within the space of about 20 minutes.
First — while my facial recognition brainware is weak, it still works. After all, I remember the faces of everyone I know. The issue is this: with strangers, the length of time that I require to really see someone’s face is longer than what is socially allowable. So I look away when my time limit is up, and it’s never enough time.
Second — I live in New England. How this matters is that for the most part, people are not all that open. Meaning, people don’t much make eye contact, let alone smile at random strangers. So as I was pondering point #1 today, I had one of those door-holding moments with this guy at work who I’ve never seen before. I couldn’t vouch for his country of origin, but I’m pretty sure it was much further south than New England. He gave me a smile, and looked at me, and thanked me for holding the door — nothing elaborate, just — civilized. And as I walked past him, I thought — I will remember that man’s face. It stuck. I could see his face in my mind’s eye as I walked away. It wasn’t distinctive or anything, it was just — alive. He let me in. In that way his face was so unlike the generally anonymous, opaque faces that we in New England tend to hold up to one another.
So here’s the deal — we more easily remember friendly people’s faces. Why? Because they don’t mind us seeing them. They invite us, in fact.
Not exactly stunning news, but I feel sort of satisfied.