Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Topic of the Day: Is the Re-Opening of Society Giving You FOMO?

I would never say that the pandemic has been a blessing. It’s been traumatic in numerous and immeasurable ways, even for the luckiest among us whose loved ones have survived and who kept our jobs and homes and most (some?) of our sanity. But among the upheaval and the loss were some silver linings:

time to give attention to domestic pursuits and hobbies; elastic-waist pants and afternoon naps; and, for a lot of us, a welcome relief from FOMO, or the the constant reminder that other people are (seemingly) living more exciting, fun, adventurous lives than we are. FOMO really kicked in for me shortly after I became a parent and could no longer partake in the kind of spontaneous adventures and relaxing or exotic vacations my child-free friends – and social media contacts – enjoyed. Over the years, I’ve unfollowed or muted a lot of folks simply because their pics of white sand beaches and late night excursions made me jealous. When I was in the thick of parenting a challenging baby or toddler or preschooler – an exhausting stage I only transitioned out of shortly before the pandemic hit – a friend’s photo of a sublime afternoon on a hammock at just the wrong moment (any moment following a tantrum or a poop-in-the-tub incident) could be enough to do me in.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like my own life, but I’ve never stopped missing the freedom I enjoyed before motherhood limited some of my personal choices. When the pandemic hit and everyone else’s personal choices were so dramatically limited and my social media feed was no longer filled with highlights of all of the different kinds of fun I wasn’t having, I felt some relief. Maybe a lot of relief. As tedious and pretty awful as the past 15 months have been, there was a sense – at least in the early days – of all of us being in it together. We might have been scared and bored and maybe even miserable, but we were all those things together. And most people – in my circle, anyway – who were still living their best lives despite the extraordinary circumstances at least had enough sense to not brag – humbly or otherwise – about it. And the ones who didn’t, I promptly unfollowed (a tactic I will continue to use liberally in post-pandemic life). Now that vaccines are widely available to most people over 12 years old and Covid cases are plummeting, life is beginning to return to some semblance of normal. And with that, the return of FOMO, the return of social anxiety, the return of that needling worry that we aren’t doing with our limited time (on earth, with our summer, in our youth) the best of what we could be doing. The fear that beyond the personal choices we’re making are … other choices and maybe those choices are better? If you’re feeling re-entry anxiety, you aren’t alone:

“Ours will be a rickety reentry. Like Rip, we are unpracticed, we creak. (“As he arose to walk,” his story goes, “he found himself stiff in the joints and wanting in his usual activity.”) But more than that, we are anxious — about being back and not being back. Are all my friends hanging out without me? Have they been this whole time? Now my phone glows with scheduling and agita. “I feel like my feet are rejecting shoes that aren’t running sneakers or Birkenstocks,” a friend recently admitted to me. “When I put on even the tiniest stitch of makeup, I feel like a Kardashian. I know for sure that I don’t ever want to return to the lifestyle of dinner plans on most nights, but I’m so out of practice when it comes to planning that I can’t seem to strike the right balance. Basically I’m lost. I don’t want to miss out, but I don’t want to go out, either.””

Some people are still (understandably) feeling uneasy about being in groups – not just in a socially anxious way, but in a nervous-about-their-health way. Some people are trying to balance the desire to make up for lost time with a newfound calm they don’t want to lose by filling their calendars with too many events. Many of us are leery of returning to a normal that wasn’t very equitable. We’ve become more anti-capitalist and don’t want to jump back in to a culture that rewards over-productivity at the risk of people’s well-being. We want the joy of being in the company of the people we’ve missed so much, doing the things we’ve longed to do, but we don’t want to over-do them, to burn out in the way we were burning out before. There’s fear of missing out on all the fun, but there’s also fear of missing out on some of the peace we may have felt with far fewer social obligations.

The obvious solution is to do less, to keep some of the guardrails of quarantine life in place as the old ways return. “Philosophically, the pandemic should’ve forced us to reconsider a lot of things,” said the designer Mary Ping, who is such a slow-and-steady type that she named her company Slow and Steady Wins the Race. “Personally, I’m going to be a lot more intentional.” But paring back plans and declining invitations in an attention economy is easier said than done.

How are you handling the re-entry? Are you saying yes to all the invitations or being more intentional with how you fill your time? What are you feeling anxious about – if anything – as life begins to return to normal, or a new normal?

8 comments… add one
  • Phoebe June 10, 2021, 11:10 am

    I’m fully vaccinated, my friends are fully vaccinated, and…we aren’t getting together yet. It’s strange, but I feel as if going out to restaurants or inviting someone over is just too foreign! I’m sure I’ll eventually adjust, but right now it’s an odd feeling.

    Part of the unknown is that my son won’t be 12 until August, so we still have an unvaccinated one at home. Even if it’s actually okay, it just doesn’t FEEL okay to go out yet, you know?

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  • Copa June 10, 2021, 11:20 am

    I have never really had too much FOMO. (I might be more of a JOMO person, ha.) Our summer weekends are filling up with fun activities with friends and family, most of whom we haven’t seen in a long time. I think we have something on the calendar for every weekend through July so far. As an introvert who maintained a smaller social circle and had some social anxiety pre-pandemic, I’m already a bit overwhelmed staring down our calendar. I think my boyfriend will understand if we come up to a weekend and I just need a day by myself, but I’m playing it by ear. My boyfriend is an extrovert with a huge group of friends, so he’s excited.

    We went to a baby shower two weekends ago for my boyfriend’s cousin and the cousin’s wife. It was basically a family reunion at a beach. I wore a $5 Old Navy floral midi dress and threw a denim jacket on top… and I actually asked my boyfriend if I was too dressed up. Even a casual dress felt so dressy after a year-and-a-half of living in leggings.

    This weekend, we have a double date planned with a friend I haven’t seen since October and the boyfriend she met last summer (a COVID dating success story!). It seems so crazy that I’ve never met him even though they are now living together. I also have my first indoor event (another baby shower).

    The one thing I really want to get on the calendar is a weekend getaway… with my mom. 🙂

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  • Kate June 10, 2021, 11:49 am

    Not really? I have some things planned… picking up the Martha’s Vineyard house share trip with friends I inherited from my former boyfriend (this trip has happened every year since like 2006 but last year was a small group and I didn’t go). Some dinners and things with friends. Also my parents moved to the Cape permanently (right before real estate prices there shot up, so good for them), and I can hang out there all summer if I want. We’re not asked to come back to the office yet. Some family is visiting and we’re having a dinner for my parents’ 50th.

    It’s fine. I wish maybe I had more close girlfriends these days but overall not in a bad place. I don’t mean this in a bad way at all, but I thank the lord every day that I never got pregnant/decided to have a kid. Not an ounce of regret at any point ever.

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    • Kate June 10, 2021, 11:50 am

      Also I’ve been losing a pound a week since I realized wtf had happened to my body in quarantine.

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  • ele4phant June 10, 2021, 1:06 pm

    I’ve found socializing and being around more people is getting back on a bike. At first its very strange, but it comes right back.

    Loosening up on all those mask wearing/distancing behaviors felt strange at first, but those feelings passed very quickly. It felt weird at first to walk around outside with no mask (not even under your chin to tell others you are a good person doing your part), but after the first few walks, forgot about it. Didn’t even think about it. Same with going into people’s homes, felt really strange, but after about 5-10 minutes I relaxed and forgot about how long it’s been since I’ve been in someone else’s space.

    I still wear a mask in stores and businesses, because most businesses in my area still ask for that; but when the time comes I think it’ll be similar, super weird at first but quickly forgotten.

    I really never felt too much FOMO about doing what I wanted/tgurning down socializing, so I don’t feel it now. However, the pandemic taught me I’m *more* extroverted than I realized. I need a nice balance between me time and social time, but the amount of alone (or rather just me and husband time) was way too much for me. I’ve been pretty excited to get back out there and see people.

    I am also pregnant, so that puts a drag on things, regardless of COVID.

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  • Hazel June 10, 2021, 4:49 pm

    going to the first social, in a garden with few people. ordinarily I would be going “argh scary people” but right now I am really looking forward to it. `it will be a tiny gathering, but at least two people I have missed a lot will be there. And I will be driving 23 miles in a different direction from me and my nearest supermarket so the novelty will be off the scale 🙂

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  • Bittergaymark June 10, 2021, 5:25 pm

    At 50, it’s more COMO. Certainty Of Missing Out. Yeah. It a awfully grim day when one realizes that all that truly lies ahead is regret and disappointment.

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  • allathian June 11, 2021, 4:42 am

    I must be odd, because I’ve never experienced FOMO. Maybe because I’m not on social media, so I’m not exposed to things I might regret missing out on?

    I guess it’s just that I’m living the typical middle-class life I’ve always wanted for myself, with a husband and a kid, a 5-bedroom house and two cars. I do remember being dissatisfied with my life in my 20s and early 30s when I was single, unemployed or under-employed, suffered from depression that delayed my college graduation by two years when I needed, and received, treatment for it. But once I got the life I’d always wanted for myself, I stopped worrying about keeping up with the Joneses.

    Now that summer’s here and we’re allowed to socialize outdoors without physical distancing or masking up regardless of vaccination status, I’ve become more comfortable about having coffee with my parents and in-laws on our deck. My best friend, her husband, and son have also been here. It was great seeing them again as I haven’t seen them for more than a year.

    I miss my friends, but I’m in no hurry to start going to restaurants again. With my husband and son, we did ride our bikes to a nearby pizza place and had pizza outdoors last weekend, it was lovely!

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