The other day I saw a spate of Instagram stories showing a party I was not invited to. For some inexplicable reason, it was on the banks of the Thames, there was a fire (??), music, a lot of drinking and somewhere between one and two hundred people. This wasn’t a Southbank tourist scene; people I recognised were there. The level of hilarity and vibes first made me confused, and then it gave me emotional whiplash. A familiar feeling came across me: faint sense of loss, shame, envy, irritation and there it was – FOMO.
The whole concept of FOMO has been around for a little under 20 years. It emerged with the internet and our ability to spy on everyone else’s posturing: holidays, nights out, dates and parties. It’s such an established and recognisable modern phenomenon that it has been in the Oxford English Dictionary for ages: “Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media”. I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing at the moment is FOMO or just ROMO (rage over missing out).
That’s mostly down to the fact that FOMO disappeared entirely from our lives in March 2020, as soon as everyone went into their homes and locked up for months on end. No one could be anxious about missing out when we were all essentially doing the same thing, albeit some in far nicer houses than others (an inequality heightened from all the posting and livestreaming and Zooming from home).
The majority of people still working were jealous of those on furlough, but that’s just being envious of people being paid to watch Netflix, not FOMO. When we were briefly let out last summer, there was still the residual feeling of confusion or distress; plenty of people were still rightly fearful of the virus so didn’t do a lot or stayed at home.
Much has changed now we’re coming out of Lockdown III (the worst of the franchise, by many measures). Our grandparents have had both vaccines. Our parents are nearly at that point. We know that by the end of the summer, we’ll all be in the same position. We’re sick of boredom and there’s only so long you can hack staying in one place without wanting to live a little, moderate risks be damned.
There will enviably be a more bitter edge to this wave of FOMO. We’re in a different position coming out of this phase of the pandemic than we were going into it. There’s more potential for missing out entirely if you’re unemployed – almost two-thirds of people who lost their job in the pandemic are under 25. “There’s nearly half a million fewer young people in work than a year ago,” Laura-Jane Rawlings, the chief executive of Youth Employment UK, told the Guardian. “The pandemic has simply raised the barriers [for employment] and put the hopes of thousands of young people on hold.”
Those with jobs have had a chance to save, with spare cash to enjoy this summer however they see fit. For some, bars, restaurants and Airbnb trips are out of reach. When we are able to travel freely again, many will be locked out of the holiday experience. Lockdown might be over, but the feeling of being locked out has the potential to be especially smarting and isolating.
Regardless of how much experience you can pack into your coming months, you’ll not be immune from FOMO. At least for me, the feeling of having lost time is just as strong as the hunger to drop everything, move anywhere warm and spend as long as my ageing body will allow partying.
I know some people are talking about social fatigue: meeting up with people, getting exhausted after an hour’s conversation and wanting to return to bed. But I got over that after a couple of hangs with mates. There is no amount of activity I could engage in that would be “enough”. I literally need that lost year of fun and connection injected into 2021 and enacted in double time. I will do anything and go to anything. And there is literally nothing I could see on Instagram stories that I would not get FOMO over.
So welcome back FOMO into your life – it’s a gorgeous thing, being able to have enough of a laugh that we can make other people blisteringly envious. Remember that you can log off if you’re pained with it too badly. More importantly, remember you’ll be giving your acquaintances FOMO back any weekend now.