Tell Me About It: An excellent memory seems to freak people out

Published September 9 2018

Q: I have an excellent memory for details and while itís a great asset in my work (I do statistical analysis for a pharmaceutical company), it seems to be a detriment in my personal life for reasons I do not understand.

I can remember innocuous things people said or did or what they wore many months later. Sometimes I bring this up because something in the present time relates to it, but when I do that, people act like Iím making things up ó but if I show them proof with a picture or a text, then they act freaked out.

Iím not reminding people they owe me money or screwed something up, so Iím confused by this reaction, and yet itís happened so many times. Itís really hard for me to curtail my memory and I blurt these things out without thinking because itís interesting or shows Iím interested in them. Iím talking about things like, "Hey, you wore that the last time we all went to the movies, is that your superhero viewing shirt?"

Why is this such an issue with a lot of people?

Super Memory

A: Yes, youíre showing interestóbut you can also appear too interested, because theyíre filtering your remarks through the experience of having typical brains that have typical disposal mechanisms for minutiae. So, for them to remember someoneís shirt from weeks or months ago, plus the context in which it was worn, theyíd have to be waaaayyyyy interested in that person. Like, crushing-verging-on-stalkery-obsessed interested. So your innocent brain gymnastics trigger their alarms. Itís a false alarm, but they canít know that.

Another possibility is that people think ó or feel as if óyouíre showing them up. Or they just donít like finding out their memories are faultier than they thought.

So I suggest you either stop sharing so many of the things you notice, or start sharing more about your quirky retention of detail. If they know youíre that way, then you can all treat it more openly as your parlor-trick brain thing.

Anonymous: I also have a super memory. Yes, friend I graduated high school with in 1990, I remember the gray sweatshirt with red elbow patches you wore in gym class.

My solution: I pretend not to remember. When I see someone for the first time in two years, I donít say, "I hope that econ professor wasnít too hard on you on that project about free trade you were working on toward your masterís degree." I say, "Werenít you in grad school the last time I saw you? What are you up to now?"