Live Through This

Saying No to FOMO

A roundtable about feeling like everyone’s hanging out without you.

Illustration by Ruby A.

Collage by Ruby A.

OK, let’s set the scene: It’s a decent, normal Saturday morning. Everything’s fine—in fact, everything is pretty good! You marathon-watched movies last night and you got to sleep in really late. You reach for your phone and start lazily scrolling through Instagram, warm and cozy in your bed. Content. Happy.
And then you see it.

A picture of a whole bunch of people you know, hanging out together. People are dressed to kill and mugging for the camera. Everyone looks like they’re having the time of their lives.

Where even are they. You weren’t invited! And now, even though you were totally happy to stay in and watch movies last night, and perfectly at ease just a second ago, your good mood is ruined. It’s like ice water got poured down your back. You’re hurt no one invited you, afraid that you’ve missed out on something major and fun and life-changing, and certain that missing this cool hangout (that was documented on Instagram for all the world to see) was a grave social mistake.

This horrible feeling you’re experiencing is called “FOMO,” sugarcube. FOMO stands for “Fear of Missing Out.” It’s a newly named social anxiety phenomenon that’s been featured in the media a bit lately. FOMO is so many things. It’s the feeling that you must attend a particular party, even though you’d much rather stay home, because what if this party is the most fun party of the entire year, where stuff so crazy happens that everyone talks of nothing else for months? FOMO is the icy-water feeling of scrolling through Facebook and seeing a bunch of your friends or peers doing something fun without you; it’s the way you feel when you get a Snapchat video that shows two of your good friends doing a Beyonce dance routine at one of their houses…and you weren’t invited, even though you live a block away. FOMO is feeling pressure to go to the same college all your friends are going to, or feeling pressure to go to college at all, even if you don’t want to go, because OMG WHAT WILL YOU BE MISSING, you know? FOMO is being sure that everyone else is having more fun than you, that everyone is doing something cooler than you, that everyone is more successful than you and having a wilder, better youth/life than you. It’s a black hole of suckage and negativity, and a handy acronym that neatly encompasses a huge range of complicated emotions, including feeling left out, envious, hurt, anxious, angry, and unconfident. Awesome.

I wanted to see if other people experienced this fear of missing out in life, so I talked to some Rookie staffers about it. AND SWEET LORD DID THEY WANT TO TALK ABOUT FOMO. Here are just a few things I gleaned from this enlightening conversation:

Almost everyone experiences FOMO.

And because we are all special miracles, we all experience it differently, and at different times! Let’s just be clear, though—FOMO usually feels crappy for everyone.

NAOMI: FOMO is the least productive feeling, because you feel like you’re missing out, but you can’t do anything about it. The missing-out feeling makes you feel uncool and therefore unconfident, which makes it even harder to fight the feeling by doing anything proactive about it. It is an absolute vicious cycle.

JENNY: I think my FOMO is especially bad when I’m trying to be “good” by staying in and working. In college, I would go through bouts of wanting to be a really serious student and turn down every single social event for weeks, but then I’d spend whole nights agonizing about whether or not I was missing out on something instead of studying. I also had horrible FOMO the summer after my junior year of college. I was a community organizer and all my friends had just turned 21. They were going to shows, parties, and bars in San Francisco, and I was interviewing homeless mothers in shelters and giving out clean syringes to teenagers on the street. Even though I knew that later in life I would be glad to have had that experience, at the time all I knew was that all my friends had inside jokes I couldn’t participate in and I had this self-absorbed, nagging fear that I was somehow doing YOUTH wrong…like, why was I wearing a parka and freezing outside with 50-year-old social workers instead of dancing to Swedish pop with cute boys?

LOLA: My experience of FOMO is divided into two types: fear of missing out on a desired experience (“I wiiiish I was doing X but I have to do something else ughh”) vs. fear of missing out on a possible future (“I know I SHOULD be having X experience but I really just want to ____ but then I’ll never _____”). Here’s an example: I get invited to a party. I’d feel that first kind of FOMO if I was supposed to be studying: “Ugh, I want to go to the party but I can’t because I have to stuuuudy why why whyyyy WHY! WHY! WHY!” I’d feel the second kind if I really would just rather be at home: “I know I should be wilding, but I really just want to put on my jim-jams and organize my rock collection, but then I’ll never meet my Future Wife. Ughhh why why whyyyy WHY! WHY! WHY!”

ESTELLE: When I was younger, I had a touch of it: Like, why do other people constantly go out to parties and I don’t? Why are people looking fabulous at some event while I am literally spilling water on myself at home? Ew. FOMO is a sign of not feeling you have control over your life. Because it’s a helpless, crappy kind of feeling—not one you routinely have when you are making meaningful choices that mean you are working towards your goals, even if your goal is to taste every Ben & Jerry’s flavor (I am halfway through).

DANIELLE: When I was in middle school, missing out on things meant something else—it meant you weren’t included in the group, or you somehow didn’t make the list when things were being decided. Finding out people were hanging out without you meant you didn’t belong, and that always hurt.

SUZY: As a teen with strict parents, I missed out on a lot of shows and parties. I tended to blame myself for not being cool enough for my friends, and felt really hurt when they stopped hanging out with me because my mom rarely let me go anywhere.

LAUREN R.: As a kid, I never wanted to go to sleep and miss out on the mysterious things grownups were doing past my bedtime. If you’re a curious person by nature, how can you not wonder about all of the cool shit the rest of humanity is up to?

MARIE: A while back, I was bummed that the friends I introduced would get together and hang without me. It’s not like they didn’t invite me, but I lived far away and couldn’t make it. I just felt left out and like everyone was having fun without me, so it bummed me out. It especially sucks when there are INSIDE JOKES being created without you—and cute Instagram and Facebook pics.

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32 Comments

  • kat_disco March 6th, 2014 3:30 PM

    Great and totally relevant article! <3

  • magenta04 March 6th, 2014 4:10 PM

    Oh, man! There’s a word for this feeling?? Totally helpful. Thank you.

  • blueolivia March 6th, 2014 4:11 PM

    “all parties are the same unless your best friends are there with you, holding your hand on the dance floor and hugging you all the way home.”
    that’s so true, jenny ☂

  • ASpoonfulOfSugar March 6th, 2014 4:42 PM

    Oh my goodness! You guys always have the most spot-on articles <3 This is kind of high school in a nutshell – everyone worrying about seeming cooler/funnier/hotter/wilder/smarter/prettier than everyone else, and it just gets SO EXHAUSTING haha :D I try to remember that the people who look like they're having the most fun posing in the photos probably have acute FOMO too – I'm not alone:) Plus, if you're a loner sometimes, you have that whole mysterious vibe going on, and that's never a bad thing…

  • Sophiajeanine March 6th, 2014 5:57 PM

    I never knew this was like a thing but I have it ALL THE TIME. My two best friends have known each other since like birth and when they take trips together or hang out together without me and they send me snapchats of all the fun and NOOO I AM SITTING AT HOME WATCHING PSYCH AND EATING ICE CREAM STOP HAVING FUN WITHOUT ME.

  • Laurets March 6th, 2014 6:36 PM

    This is so on point. I have this group of friends who, since the last New Year’s Eve or so, go get hammered together to very cheap liquor every single week. I used to envy them A LOT at first –especially because their parents seem super loose and cool and let them come back in the morning after, while my curfew is 2 AM — but now that I’m a bit more conscious of it all I actually want to stay away from this. They always end up having to clean up someone’s vomit and do generally stupid shit while high. If that’s what they like, fine; I just happen to prefer long bubbly baths and Netflix.
    Also, Lola hit it right on the spot when she pointed how acting out of fear will generally lead to suckiness.
    Once you stop worrying about what other people are doing and focus on what you want to do, the FOMO just kind of disappears.

  • Erin. March 6th, 2014 7:47 PM

    Ugh, it feels like I’ve had FOMO for the last two years, ever since I graduated from uni. Everyone else seems to be doing stuff, and for me it’s a big deal if I go to the library (a ten minute drive from my house). I mean, I can deal with it sometimes, but other times it really hurts. I guess because I’m not the type to document and upload my entire life, my life as represented on the internet seems supes lame compared to others.

    • Erin. March 6th, 2014 8:41 PM

      Though, when I think more about it, I know that the FOMO is like a cover up for an even bigger fear: that I don’t have any friends. That me and my friends from high school don’t have enough in common anymore, and that they don’t need me as much as I need them.

  • wynnndhamm March 6th, 2014 8:07 PM

    This literally happened to me last week.

    Friday night, on Facebook, scrolling through, to see that FIVE of my best college friends had checked in at Chicago airport to visit another one of our college friends.

    I DIDN’T EVEN GET THE INVITE.

    I immediately texted the girl from the group whom I was closest with, plus the one who lives in Chi, and my bff of the group just said “oh…I thought you weren’t really friends with **** anymore…I’m so sorry you weren’t invited! :( ”

    And the other girl didn’t say anything.

    Although initially disappointed, I realized those FOMO feelings were soon subsided by running in a race dressed as Power Rangers with my best friends where I live now.

    NOMO’ FOMO.

  • christinachristina March 6th, 2014 8:21 PM

    Now I really want to be at the record-listening party lying on the ground in the dark with strangers… where is that a thing?! I want to go to there.

    • taste test March 6th, 2014 10:01 PM

      I thought the same thing! does this happen? can I make it happen? where can I find people who will do this with me?

  • laneyjane March 6th, 2014 8:40 PM

    I think Danielle basically summed up all my FOMO feelings which I’m pretty sure I’ve been feeling since birth. I’ve never been a very social person, but I’ve always wanted to be a social person (pretty much an inner civil war). I actually used to get invited to tweenage parties (long before alcohol was served and blunts were passed) but I always turned them down. I obviously made excuses as to why I couldn’t be there, all of them being lies. Eventually people stopped inviting me. Like why send this girl an invite when she won’t come anyways?? I regret this now, but I feel too uncomfortable to try and work my way back up to the party-invite-worthy-level.

  • taste test March 6th, 2014 10:00 PM

    I have serious introvert FOMO- I want to be out doing fun things with cool people, but I actually don’t like being around loud crowds for a long time. this means house parties, dance parties, and concerts kinda make me crazy. but I should be at them having fun and meeting people and stuff :( like, for example, I love the idea of house shows (cool bands! diy venues!), but being surrounded by loudness and high strangers in someone else’s basement gives me all kinds of bad vibes irl. it makes me feel like I’m going be a square forever against my will.

    also, estelle, reading “Why are people looking fabulous at some event while I am literally spilling water on myself at home?” made me laugh and spill water on myself. and laugh harder.

    http://xyzzyzzyzx.blogspot.com/

    • Erin. March 7th, 2014 10:25 AM

      Oh my, this is so me, too. It’s like, I want to go to concerts, but at the same time I hate the environment, which I know ’cause I have tried going, and being in dark, loud, crowded rooms, listening to bad music with the constant threat of being injured in mosh pits is just not my idea of a good time. But it’d probably be different if the music was actually good.

    • honorarygilmoregal March 8th, 2014 3:36 AM

      This is totally me! I want to go to parties or concerts with friends but my introverted nature holds me back. And ugh, crowds.

  • LilyB March 6th, 2014 10:49 PM

    This actually happened to me a few weeks ago when everyone was at a party I wasn’t invited to and was posting pictures. This article totally helps. PREACH!

  • Lillypod March 6th, 2014 11:42 PM

    woah the social media stuff is so. true.
    i don’t have instagram or facebook, i don’t generally document amazing awesome stuff as its happening. so when you look at other people’s IG it seems like they’re having way more fun.
    after wasted hours of scrolling through people’s feeds and feelin like poop, i realized i was being really really stupid.
    because my life is awesome. being alive is awesome!
    I read an interview with Mindy Kaling, and before her mum died she gave her some advice – “You have to be your own best friend” – i really love this.

  • RatioRae March 7th, 2014 2:44 AM

    This is so important to me, I’m always guilty of this.

    http://thegirlwhodrankstars.blogspot.com
    http://ratiorae.tumblr.com

  • eva-stark March 7th, 2014 11:17 AM

    ugh this is exactly how i’ve been feeling for the last couple of years. it is absolutely the worst :(
    but the most recent was when i saw my friend’s picture at the 1975′s concert and i was dying of jealously. I want to do things and I usually don’t have the courage to them or that somehow the timing is always wrong. it sucks.

    but yeah feeling left out by my ”friends” hurts like hell as well. seeing pictures of them having fun and happy without you and all. sigh.

  • thatchocoholic March 7th, 2014 11:22 AM

    I haven’t even read this yet but it’s my life story. I don’t feel that close to my school friends in a lot of ways but have that twisty feeling when I see a picture of them together without me. I’m used to it now and scroll on but YES ROOKIE

  • Bethany March 7th, 2014 1:56 PM

    Aww I love this!

    I think I have two kinds of FOMO: generational FOMO like that each party or gig or festival I miss could be my generation’s Woodstock. An attitude I combat with the Lena Dunham ‘a voice in a generation’ idea that there are lots of different voices that define this age, so I shouldn’t feel bad if I miss a super expensive concert by a band I don’t even like that much.

    Still I definitely think this also works into the whole ‘why am I not a time traveller who can zip thru space attending every important pop culture event in the past century?!’ sort of FOMO.

    The other FOMO is trans FOMO like that by not being cis I am missing out on all the important milestones or something?!

    It sounds silly but I just try to remind myself that my existence is okay and my experiences are not worthless.

    XOX

  • Flossy Mae March 7th, 2014 1:59 PM

    I used to get this terribly, but then I made a coping strategy a few years ago and it hasn’t failed me yet:

    “You only regret the chances you don’t take.” – some quote I found on the internet somewhere.

    I apply this quote to everything, including the FOMO feelings. But the point is that it doesn’t mean that you’ll regret not going somewhere, it’s actually rather open to interpretation. When I’m deciding what to do with my night, I say this quote to myself in my head and whatever choice I associate the ‘chance’ with the one I take. Sometimes that means going to that party even if I’m kind of tired (and actually having a great time dancing the night away) but other times it means ‘don’t miss that chance to finish that TV series with your sister!!!’

    So yeah, that’s my strategy and it really helps to work out what matters to me, which obviously changes depending on how I’m feeling x

  • unicornconnect March 7th, 2014 4:00 PM

    This is my life!!!!

  • dottie March 7th, 2014 7:36 PM

    this article really hits home with me

    even right now im kinda having those feelings cause i know a bunch of my friends are hanging out without me

    ugh those kind of feelings suck and i know i should try to get rid of them but its so hard and i just feel so crappy

    i really liked this article, though, because i feel like it has put to words something i have been feeling for a long time and idk, it just makes me feel a bit better knowing that im not the only one who struggles with these feels and that other people have broke through those feelings, like, maybe i can too

  • maggiemadge March 8th, 2014 1:03 AM

    This article came up tonight when I was feeling FOMO. I had spent the evening eating a lot of rice crispy treats I had made and dinner and watching bad tv. I began to think about all the fun things my peers do with each other outside of school when I don’t even leave my apartment in the evenings. Being new at my school this year has been tricky, especially being a transfer student and being somewhat older than most of the students in my basic art classes (I am going for my BFA! Finally!) I know I am not nearly as talented as some other students in my classes and thus I feel like I am behind. However I remind myself that I have done a lot of different things in the past and I am just now adjusting to my new surroundings. So a night in (or weekend I should say) is okay since I get overwhelmed with social situations. What also has helped me is realizing my passion and it has helped me so much more with working on my artwork. So I’m growing up (slowly but surely). I loved this so thank you Rookie again for this helpful article!!

  • honorarygilmoregal March 8th, 2014 3:34 AM

    This article is so relevant to me! I definitely felt FOMO in high school and still have those feelings in college. It’s good to know I’m not alone and that there are ways to help combat FOMO.

  • Beatoon March 8th, 2014 2:14 PM

    I’ve experience FOMO this winter more than ever, my friends sending me videos and photos on snapchat when litterally ALL the group is hanging out together exept me, showing me all their facebook group I wasn’t invited to … I was really annoy and felt sad every time it would happen. So I decided to stop my FOMO by callling out my friends on being so rude and insensitive. I don’t think it really work well (they haven’t talk to me since, or apologies) but sometimes it just show that those people are crappy friend that don’t consider your feelings. Thank you for this article, it’s really helping since FOMO had cause me so much sadness.

  • vaudevillian March 8th, 2014 4:51 PM

    ever since i left college and lost contact with most of the friends i had there, FOMO has plagued me. and living in NYC hasn’t helped matters. like, here i am in this historic city at the center of everything and all i’m doing on a friday night is watching Louie and writing bad songs in my apartment and falling asleep at 10pm after eating a carton of ice cream in bed… Not really what one pictures their early 20s in NYC looking like. I really would like to make friends here but I don’t even know how to start — either people seem to already have established friend groups w/ no more room or there aren’t spaces conducive to making friends openly available (or if there are, i don’t feel comfortable enough going alone…). though damn, if there are any record-listening star-gazing parties happening i would have to make an exception!

    all of this being said – if anyone finds themselves relating to this and also lives in NYC – let’s hang out!

  • Jane-Eyre March 9th, 2014 6:08 AM

    Thank you so much for this! I’ve been feeling pretty blue about this exact same thing that is going in my life right now :)
    I don’t drink, and all my friends do… (even though everyone is underage, haha.) So it’s like I’m not fun and don’t get invited to anything. I’ve been with these people my whole school life, and now it’s the last year it’s like ‘oh, so NOW you decide I’m a goody two shoes and aren’t cool/rebel/stupid enough to hang out with you? And then you put up a bunch of photo’s on facey without me. Ta.
    It’s not like I’m into that whole getting trashed stuff anyway, but it’s nice to feel included, you know? So THANK YOU I’m glad I’m not the only one :)

  • churchpants March 10th, 2014 1:58 PM

    I totally have this! This year I stayed home to make money while all of my friends went off to college to be the coolest people of all time. Social media makes me feel like everyone has a better social life/shoe collection/alcohol tolerance than I do, and makes me feel guilty for being happy in my non-clubbing life. Like “WHY AM I NOT GOING OUT?!” this article made me realize that “Oh, I’m not going out because clubs make me awkward and I don’t actually like it that much.” It’s weird how friends and strangers can make us feel so inferior because we’re living a life different from their own.

  • julalondon March 23rd, 2014 7:17 AM

    Oh ROOKIE, this is so on point. I wish someone would have told me that when I was in High School. Now I am 22 and still experiencing FOMO. I think it’s Instagrams fault….but of course it’s mine because I let it affect me. I’m glad to know that all of you amazing girls experience FOMO as well..that makes me feel better about myself!!=) Thank you for that!

  • Jenoris May 4th, 2014 1:52 PM

    Ugh, I feel Suzy’s response deeply. I was raised in a really over-protective environment and as a result, my entire grade-school career was one massive blur of FOMO because I couldn’t even go to the movies unless it was for a school trip. I thought with college things would get better but they didn’t. It was like I forgot how to socialize and I ended up having a hard time making friends. The friends I thought I made, towards the end of my second year of college last year, slowly drifted away from me and often went out and did things without inviting me at all. Now that I’ve decided to leave school, I find myself really angry and frustrated seeing photos of those same people (who, mind you, haven’t really tried to keep in touch at all since I left at the end of last year) doing all these great things on Instagram and I feel like I’m stuck in a perpetual state of FOMO. I’ve been slowly trying to let go of this bitterness, and I want to start focussing on not letting my FOMO keep me from being productive, the way it has been. Maybe I need to focus on spending time with people who actually want to be around me instead of being angry and sad over people who never really did. I’m so glad this article is around because I’ve been wanting to articulate this feeling for such a long time but I couldn’t think of how to express it or how it affected me without feeling petty. This is such a great article and all these different viewpoints really made me feel happier and more comfortable knowing I’m not alone in feeling alone in this particular way.