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Monday, March 28, 2011

I Am the Real Life Lois Lane

Intended in the most modest, strictly observational of ways, I used to be a fairly attractive person, and I frequently had men attempt to hit on me. Not only have I had my fair share of free drinks at bars, but for a while during my attractive phase (thank you, child-production for abruptly booting me out of that era), it was often common for men to strike up conversations with me practically anywhere. I'm not trying to brag or gloat, but this is important to know as background for this story. Really, I promise. But I was pretty hot...

So one day, about halfway through my senior year of high school, my dad was returning from a business trip, and he'd asked me to pick him up at the airport. I was probably wearing some tight-fitting, revealing outfit (I was 18, after all), and while I stood in the terminal waiting (this was pre-9/11, when we could go up to the gates, still), I noticed several men trying to sneak looks at me as they passed. I didn't think anything of it, because, like I said, I was fairly used to getting the attentions of gentlemen. I looked away casually, not trying to actively draw anyone's attention (believe it or not, I actually had really low self-esteem, and it made me nervous for men to approach me and talk to me - thank you, anxiety disorder).

My dad's flight finally landed, and people started to make their way past me, out of the gate. I kept glancing down the jetway, scanning the faces for my dad. Suddenly, a middle-aged man caught my eye. I didn't know him, so I looked away quickly, embarrassed to have made eye contact with him. After a few seconds, I looked back down the jetway, searching for my dad, again. The man was closer now, and still staring right at me. Smiling. I awkwardly turned my head away again quickly. He wasn't unattractive, at first glance, but it was making me feel slightly uncomfortable. I wished my dad would hurry up.

As the man got closer and closer to me, I kept my head turned away, so as to not encourage his attention. I tried to briefly scan the crowd in the hopes my dad would be in view and save me from any interaction with this man who was still smiling, still staring right at me, and almost close enough to engage in conversation. I mentally willed my dad to appear immediately in front of me.

Before I knew it, the man was right next to me. I looked past him, down the jetway, feeling the panic starting to set in, and my dad was still nowhere in sight. I refused to turn my head to face the inevitable - the man had stopped right next to me.

"Hi, Laura," he said.

How could he possibly know me?! I'd never seen this man before in my life. My heart was beating through my chest. I took one last pleading glance down the jetway, swallowed hard, and turned to face my evident stalker.

"Oh... hi, Dad." The strange man, the one I'd never seen before, was, in fact, my father. The man who had given me life and lived with me for the entire 18 years of my life. But I didn't recognize him as he got off the plane, simply because he'd shaved off his beard.

Now I know what you're thinking: a beard can be a very identifying characteristic. It's not entirely unreasonable to not recognize someone, even a familiar someone, without the beard they'd had for as long as you've known them. And while that may be true, it should also be noted that my dad had shaved his beard off several weeks before, and I'd lived with him for at least two full beardless weeks.

Why wasn't I able to recognize my own dad?

Have you ever watched or read any Superman movies, shows, or comic books and wondered how it was possible that Lois Lane didn't realize that Clark Kent was, in fact, none other than Superman? Other than the glasses and the suit, he looks exactly the same. But she was fooled every time. How could it be that removing a simple pair of glasses made it impossible for Lois to recognize the love of her life?

Simple. She suffered from a bizarre disorder, known as prosopagnosia, or "face blindness." In this regard, I also believe I have a strong commonality with Lois, aside from our insatiable lust for men in skin-tight blue spandex, in that I, evidently, also suffer from a mild case of prosopagnosia.

For the most part, this doesn't disrupt my life too greatly, except in a few key aspects.

Meeting people in public places. In combination with my anxiety disorder, this incredibly simple act of human interaction is practically a nightmare for me. I dread meeting people for fear I won't recognize them. Consequently, I try to plan the meeting down to the most specific details, so that I'll be able to find the person, based solely on the exact location (three steps to the left of the due north side of the fountain) and time (precisely 7:34pm). If I'm still unsure, I resort to my fool-proof method of smiling in an inviting, friendly manner at everyone, in the hopes that the person I'm meeting will think I recognized them and approach me first. So far, this method hasn't let me down.

If I've ever met you in a public place, and you're now concerned that I wouldn't have known who you were (in spite of our being friends for many years), rest assured that, after the successful meeting, I've always felt confident that I would, in fact, have recognized you, after all.

Watching movies. This hasn't proven to be overly frustrating for me, but, unfortunately, I can't say the same for my poor husband. He, more often than not, has to pause the movie to explain who main characters are, even 3/4ths of the way through the movie (especially if they, God forbid, change clothes). If there are two blond, white women in a film, even if they look nothing alike and are over 30 years apart, I have no hope of distinguishing them. This has made watching WWII movies extremely difficult. Put all the characters in uniforms with short, dark hair, and I can't help but wonder why that one German guy keeps getting killed, coming back to life, and shooting at himself in an American uniform. It just doesn't seem like a very well-written movie, in my opinion...

Meeting my husband in a public place after he gets finished with work. This is basically a combination of the first two situations. Mix the dreaded fear of meeting people in public with the inability to distinguish men in uniform (Husband is in the Army), and I'm hopeless. I rely on two characteristics to get me through this (assuming he's too far away to read his name tape). First is his individual gait. Luckily, I learned early in our relationship that my husband has a somewhat particular gait. I've gotten quite good at distinguishing it from all other men in uniforms'. The second telling trait is his mustache. Thankfully, not too many soldiers have small, black mustaches. However, if you put my husband next to five other soldiers in uniform, all with black mustaches, I might have a serious problem.

"Hi, honey! So good to see you. Hey, when did you become a Staff Sergeant? ...And why did you change your last name to 'Thompson?' Oh well, I know it must be you because you're in an Army uniform and you have a small, black mustache. Give me a big kiss, and let's go home."


  1. Hi Laura, I just posted the following comment at

    "I had just seen this comic earlier this morning, and then this afternoon was listening to Oliver Sacks' newest book, The Mind's Eye.

    I listened to the chapter about prosopagnosia, and realized THAT is what is wrong with Lois Lane.


    A brief google search revealed a blog by a woman who suffers from the same condition, and connected it to Lois Lane herself: http://throughfuchsiacoloredglasses.blogspot.com/2011/03/i-am-real-life-lois-lane.html "

    I was wondering, Laura, if this revelation came to you, or you heard of the connection between lois lane and prosopagnosia elsewhere!

  2. Sorry it took me so long to notice this comment! No, I did not hear the connection somewhere else. Husband remarked one day that my inability to recognize people was similar to Lois Lane's, because, literally, if actors in movies put on (or take off) glasses, I can no longer tell it's them, and she was the only other person he knew of who could so easily be fooled by Clark Kent's "disguise."

    Also, thanks for sharing the link!!