science of us

The Irreversible Horror of Being Forgotten

Photo: lose Turgeon / EyeEm/Getty Images

In a touching new study on what it’s like to be forgotten (or, “the psychological impact of being remembered or forgotten”), researchers plumb the depths of how it feels and what it means when someone doesn’t remember our names, the things we say, or that we exist at all.

The most salient aspect of the study, for me at least, is that although we claim to be understanding when someone forgets us, deep down we apparently don’t quite recover from the sting of being told, essentially, that we didn’t register as a person. In their paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the researchers write that “even when being forgotten was explained away” (e.g. “She already met too many people in the last couple of days”), being forgotten “still reduced felt importance and closeness.” Or, as they put it later: it “appears that people usually try to explain away being forgotten … but are not fully successful in doing so.”

I once dated a guy I’d met years earlier, which he remembered and I didn’t. I liked this little story because it made me feel important, although he later dumped me, so maybe there’s a silver-lining corollary about how it’s the un-showy, initially under-the-radar people who can often have more lasting impacts.

The study also includes this poignant detail: “Each day over a two-week period, participants described every experience in which they were forgotten by others.”

A new kind of morning pages?

The Irreversible Horror of Being Forgotten