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10 June 2015

All men look the same to me. It’s starting to get embarrassing

Men, particularly middle aged ones, may as well be Lego people to me. I’d have more luck recognising a sandwich I ate last week than a forty-year-old man I met yesterday.

By Eleanor Margolis

I’m standing alone in a crowded bar, my mouth very slightly open. I’m trying to make words, but all that’s coming out is the verbal equivalent of the internet dial-up sound. I’ve crashed. My eyes are two spinning beach balls of death. I’m looking at a man who may or may not be an acquaintance. If he’s who I suspect he might be, not only have I met him several times, but we’ve had at least two medium length conversations. But I just can’t tell. All I can see is some stubble and a receding hairline. His hair is some kind of colour. His nose is, I suppose, nose-shaped. He’s looking back at me with either bafflement or offence. This is horrible. Really, really horrible.

“Do I know you?” is a shitty thing to ask someone you may have met several times, but I do it anyway.  It’s the lesser of two evils, the greater being that I run away. Literally turn my back on this human being, push my way through the crowd and pray to every divine entity ever imagined that I never see him again.

“I don’t think so,” he says.

Thank fuck. Thank actual, living, breathing, stinking fuck. I haven’t just committed a faux pas of Larry David proportions. I mean – I stood there jabbering like a particularly thick toddler for at least thirty seconds, but that’s fine. I haven’t offended anyone.

“Sorry,” I say, “you look like someone I know.”

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This seems like a more socially acceptable explanation than, “all men look identical to me and you’re a man, so there’s a chance I might know you.”

It all started with Nick Clegg. During the 2010 election, I realised I had absolutely no idea who he was. I knew what he was and why he was, but I couldn’t pick him out from a line-up of any given group of white guys in their forties. Every time I saw his face in the news I was reminded of what he looked like, only to forget again within seconds. I didn’t so much see a face as a digestive biscuit with eyes. It took me weeks, or even months to learn his watery, Margaret Keane-esque expression and be able to picture him in my mind’s eye.

Then there’s Shia LaBeouf. Of all the men I’ve struggled to identify, the Transformers star and professional public meltdown haver has been the most frustrating. A couple of years ago, people started talking about Shia LaBeouf a lot. I felt like I needed to be able to recognise him, or something very embarrassing was going to happen. I went through a phase of Google imaging the guy practically every day, just so I could try and learn his face. And every day I saw the same thing: a five-year-old’s impression of what a man looks like. Some eyes, a nose, a mouth. “Who the fuck is Shia LaBeouf?” became my mantra.

For me, getting to know a man’s face is a bit like listening to a new album. Specifically, it’s like when I tried to get into Can, because I was living with a DJ who insisted that Krautrock is important. After listening to Ege Bamyasi what seemed like 700 times, some of it stuck and it ceased, for the most part, to be a load of sounds in no particular order. Men, particularly middle aged ones, may as well be Lego people. I’d have more luck recognising a sandwich I ate last week than a forty-year-old man I met yesterday.

Male politicians are especially hard for me to recognise, as their drabness is almost quite intense. And the Lib Dems, it seems, are the worst offenders. The Tories, at least, have some terrifyingly distinctive faces. I very much doubt I’d fail to recognise a Jacob Rees-Mogg or an Eric Pickles. But I once spent an entire evening at a charity dinner without realising that the guy sitting opposite me was Brian Paddick. Considering I voted for him in the last mayoral election (let’s not get into that) this was pretty poor form. But why just men? I put it to you that, while I couldn’t clock Brian Paddick from a few feet away, I could spot Theresa May across a crowded room, even if she had her back to me.

I could tell you the eye colour of every single one of my female friends, while struggling to even picture a lot of my male ones. Face blindness, or prosopagnosia, is an actual condition. But why is mine gender specific? Does my gayness prevent me from paying attention to men’s faces or do all men, as I strongly suspect, genuinely look exactly the same?