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August 24, 2012

Get Over Your FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

Obsessing about the party you skipped, the after-work drinks with colleagues you passed on, the second date you decided not to accept? The latest syndrome plaguing do-it-all women is the nagging fear that everyone else is in on something that they're not. Anna Pursglove reports.


Photo Credit: Getty Images

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I AM CURLED UP ON THE SOFA, ready for a DVR marathon of my favorite shows—when my iPhone presents me with a slew of new Facebook updates. A group of girlfriends is also catching up on episodes of New Girl and Revenge, but they are all together ... with wine ... just a few miles away. Before you waste your sympathy on me, the shunned friend, you should know that I was actually invited to the TV viewing party. I chose not to go. It was a perfectly sensible decision given the circumstances (weather: awful; workload: massive). So why, when presented with uploaded photographs of my friends having fun, did I suddenly feel panicky? As though I'd missed out on something infinitely more important than sharing laughs over the antics of Jess Day and Emily Thorne and too much red wine on a school night? What revelations or connections were made? Opportunities presented? What other plans could develop out of this one evening? The mind reels.

I can, at least, take comfort in the knowledge that this form of social anxiety is common. It's been discussed so often recently that it even has its own acronym: FOMO (fear of missing out). The symptom? A nagging suspicion, fueled by the forensic details of other people's lives we are privy to on social media, that our own existences are somehow lacking. If only we'd made the right decisions, we berate ourselves, we'd have the fascinating careers/relationships/opinions/offspring/social lives that we perceive others all around us to have.

Canvassing other women on the issue, I discover that many of my friends are also wrestling with FOMO. Holly, a 30-year-old TV producer, tells me, "I spend far too much time worrying about what others are doing. Media people love using Facebook and Twitter to show off, so I have this constant sense that I'm not in the loop—not doing the cool thing. I have this ridiculous feeling that if I could just behave a bit more like them, then I'd suddenly become some kind of Oscar-winning director. It's as though other people have this magic formula for a successful life that is eluding me."

Meanwhile, Katy, 34, a nurse, says FOMO has her worried that she's missed the opportunity to have kids. "I've risen up the ranks fast, and I love my job," she says. "As a result, I guess I haven't exactly prioritized my relationships, and they've all fizzled. Recently I've been spending more and more time analyzing my friends' lives, mostly via social networking sites, and questioning decisions I made in my 20s. If I'd gotten to know such-and-such guy better, would I be the one tweeting about which school my kids had made it into?"

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