What To Do When People Pretend They Don’t Know You

What do you do when someone pretends they don’t know you or don’t remember you?

Someone not remembering you or you not remembering someone is a common occurrence in social life.
And it’s a crucial moment of social power dynamics that will heavily impact your social value, status, and power.

Get it right, and you’ll take your status to the next level.

By the end of this post, you will know exactly how to deal with these sticky social situations.

Two Different Cases of Forgetfulness

First of all, there are two different cases of people not remembering you:

How you react will depend on which one you are dealing with.
But whichever case you are dealing with, you still never do this:

Don’t Remind Them!

First rule!

No matter if they are pretending not to remember you or they really don’t, you do not remind them.

Most People Instinctively… Do It Wrong

bang head against wall

This popular post of an otherwise likable chap is the perfect example of what most do wrong when people don’t remember you.

Basically, when his conversation partner doesn’t seem to remember him he explains all the details of when, where, and how they met.
Nice way of setting yourself up for a triple crown of failure :).

He even suspects some people “forget” him on purpose, and he’s still playing with their hands -head-wall banging-.

Explaining all the details is like saying

I remember everything about you, and I am so insignificant you don’t remember anything about me?

It’s pleading, it makes you look insecure and it slots you as the subordinate of the relationship.

Why you don’t remind them how you met

Remembering means caring
When someone remembers you well, it’s a way of communicating that they liked you. Or that you were important to them and that they cared. Or a mix of all of them.
In either case, it’s a positive gesture.

Not remembering means not caring
When someone does not remember you they are communicating you were not important enough.

Pretending not to remember means power move
Pretending not to remember instead means they are willingly trying to make you look bad. Or trying to make themselves look superior.
It’s a sign of social climbing and a socially belligerent attitude.

When you keep reminding yourself of how where and when you met you keep caring for someone who doesn’t care about you.
Socially, you are giving value while they are taking value from you. Which is the definition of kissing up.

As an example, take a look at this scene from Play the Game. Who do you think is chasing who here:

Notice that as he reminds her one issue becomes obvious in their relationship: she didn’t care enough to remember. 
On the other hand, he remembered everything about her, thus communicating it was a big thing for him.
He is heavily invested, she is not.
And now he brought all those issues to the surface, where they are obvious to everyone.
If he had pretended not to remember either, it would have been a neutral interaction instead.

And now the big question is: what do you do then?

When Someone Doesn’t Remember You

#1 Prevention: let them remember you first

If you know someone but they haven’t said hi yet, you can approach them warmly as if you were long-time friends and let them do the first move

You (I know this guy but he hasn’t said hi so far): hey man how you doing
Him: hey man, how have you been, I think I know you..
You: yeah I think we met before at Sarah’s party, you’re Matt right? How’s your night going
Him: bla bla bla

Notice that you say “I think”.
So you are lowering the risk for your social value in case some random guy is going to pretend they don’t know you.

Or alternatively, you can start with “I think”:

You: hey man you seem like a known face…  

And then let them make the move.

Prevention is a very defensive mindset though and I wouldn’t recommend it.

One because you should greet people you know warmly, and second… Are you really gonna pussyfoot afraid someone might not remember you?


#2: Move on quickly (and kindly)

guy and girl chatting

You: Hi, how have you been, I think we’ve met before
Her: hey hi, not sure I remember, I’m really bad with people
You: I think some time ago at some party, but it was quick. How are you doing anyway

Note here that she is very warm. She’d be in a position to “take advantage of you”, but instead she’s extending an olive branch. With that “I’m really bad with people” she’s indeed slightly demeaning herself and taking the blame. She’s socially attuned and possibly “protecting your feelings”.

“I think” is vague and blurry as if you don’t remember too well either. And “it was quick” is saying “That’s why you don’t remember, not because you have a bad memory (and.. Not because I’m unremarkable ;).
And then you quickly move on taking pressure off the slightly awkward moment.

You are both playing a very good and mutually helpful game here.

#3: Even the score and move on

This one is a bit sneakier, and you will use it for people who were colder.
You can’t be always sure whether or not it was a Power Move, but the social consequences are the same, so you will even the score (same for intros)

You: Hi, I do know you, how have you been
Her: Are you sure we know each other?
You: Hmmm.. Probably I got confused, there are quite a few blondes around here, I’m X anyway

Note: the blond comment serves to even the scores as it hints at the fact she’s unremarkable.

“Probably” is there to not completely renege your previous sentence: you’re not afraid of telling how it is, you just got little patience for Power Moves.

That’s it, you take your friendly overture back and match the mood.
Don’t explain how you met, where you met, and keep for yourself you remember her because she was hot 🙂

And you then move the conversation forward because remember: your goal is building positive relationships. Be more memorable now and next time she won’t play any game (or chances are, she will “remember” later on ).

#4: Pretend you don’t know them 

This is for when you’re damn sure you’re dealing with a Power Mover: they know you but are pretending not to.
For whatever reason, they decided to use your warm hello for a good ol’ social climb.
Your thought on that? On your dead body?

You: “hey, Samantha right? Good to see you, how have you been
Her: “hey, hi, do we know each other?
look at her quizzically, corrugate your forehead, as if you’re trying to remember, then
You: “sorry, I confuse you with someone else. But anyway, how’s your night going”

This way you negate their game by ignoring it (36th law of power). Don’t tell your name at all: it would give them a chance to “remember” you and fake that it took them a while.

And of course “sorry” is not a real sorry, it’s said neutrally, check how Hashton Kutcher does it.

Then be “friendly cold”, tell them it was great meeting them, and end the interaction with a smirk that says “you’re quite bad aren’t you”. And off you go.

When You Don’t Remember Someone

girl and guy chatting

As we have already seen, when you don’t remember someone you are devaluing them.

Since you want to be a socially confident man who builds people up, you want to take away as little social value as possible from people.

How do you do that?
Here is how:

#1: Ask nonchalantly 

Know the key here is that the more pressure you put on yourself, the higher the stakes you raise.

If you really don’t remember, it’s OK.
Ask them how you met without any pressure.

You are communicating something like this:

Hey you! Sure you do seem a known face, and sure I will remember you as soon as you give me more details

This way you take the pressure off and make it seem as if “of course, you know you’ve crossed paths before, you just don’t remember the details”.

#2: Say “of course”

After they added some details, you can add, verbally and nonverbally, an “of course expression”. Here you are communicating something like:

Of course we met there and then, silly me!

Then, move on:

#3: Move on quickly

The more you dwell on how you don’t remember someone, the more value you are taking away (check the video above again).

Instead, you want to quickly move on so to make the incident seem as small as possible.
Something like this:

Right! Of course! How have you been mate, I haven’t seen you around in a while…

#4: Take the blame

If you just can’t remember, take the blame and say:

My brain is fried


Early onset of dementia here (and smile)

And then move on quickly.
The idea here is that you show that you are a socially skilled individual who brings the people around up, not down.
And when you make the mistake of not remembering, you know how to take the blame without devaluing people.


When someone doesn’t remember you it says they didn’t find you remarkable.

And when someone pretends they don’t know you they are pulling a social power move on you.

Either way, it’s best not to remind them how you met or you devalue yourself in the process.

So you don’t remind them, but

  1. Move on with the interaction quickly
  2. Even the scores (back-handed remark) and move on
  3. Pretend you got confused and cut the interaction short

When you don’t remember someone, you want to make it as easy as possible for them. Take the pressure off, make it look as if it’s just a momentary lapse or communicate that it’s your issue. Then move on quickly.

Also, see:

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