Close your eyes; can you hear it? Beneath the din of all the regular noises: the low, hissing whisper of FOOOOOMOOOOO. It is all anyone can seemingly think about, now that actually fun things to miss out on are happening (and being posted about on Instagram) again.
It’s understandable if you want to get in on the potentially fun things you see other people doing—and there are good reasons to more actively try to do that, outside of just wanting to party. FOMO is a real phenomenon that can be painful. Most studies on FOMO focus on the feedback-loop relationship between FOMO, social media, and depression: The feeling of missing out (via stuff you see online) leads to loneliness, which leads to depression, which leads to further missing out. So how can you stop wistfully looking on and wishing you were cool enough to be a part of the action, and actually start doing cool shit with your friends? Can you do the unthinkable and simply… invite yourself to stuff?
In my experience: Absolutely. It’s easier than you think. When a friend mentions that they’re going to a house party later? Ask if it’s cool for you to join! One of your group texts is inordinately silent, hinting that perhaps a side chat is buzzing with Plans? Text someone individually and ask if they’re up to anything later, and if so, might you tagalong? Et cetera, et cetera; you get the drift. Despite the fact that this feels like bad etiquette, or even like “loser behavior,” I’ve never experienced it backfiring. The key to this is: Be mindful about your self-inviting. This isn't carte blanche to ask your friends to come to everything and anything they do without you. Inviting yourself is more likely to work out if you're self-aware about not only what you're asking to come along to, but how often you're asking a given person or friend group about joining in on plans.
Most people who are your friend and who love you want you to be part of the fun they’re having, and are happy to have you join. Who hasn’t, in the flurry of plan-making, accidentally left someone out? Adopt the attitude that missing out is a choice, not a default, and face your fear of missing out head on by becoming what pop psychology refers to as an “Asker.”
Coined in a viral, much-blogged-about comment posted by a user named “tangerine” on MetaFilter in 2007, you’re an Asker if you have “the expectation that it's OK to ask for anything at all, but realize you might get no for an answer.” Askers exist in contrast to the other group of people, Guessers, who “avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes.” In practice, the difference between the two types of people might look something like this: Let’s say a friend mentions they are going to the cool new disco dance spot with some of their friends, whom you’ve met a few times. Askers will ask if they can join, despite the possibility of being turned down, while Guessers will say nothing until it seems like they’re about to get an invite—which they might not, because the friend doesn’t realize they want it. Askers take risks in the face of potential rejection; Guessers hedge their bets by only swinging for near-certainties, even if that means missing out sometimes.
In one reaction to the Askers/Guessers comment, writer Jonathan Chait, writing for The New Republic, argued that “Guessers are wrong, and Askers are right. Asking is how you actually determine what the Asker wants and the giver is willing to receive. Guessing culture is a recipe for frustration.” To me, this is a bit too hard-line, but, in a small way, I sort of agree. Especially for the purposes of confronting end-of-lockdown FOMO.
Still, being an Asker comes with certain responsibilities. The first is considering how you ask. Rather than saying, “Can I come?” (which sounds cloying and puts pressure on the other person to say yes), maybe try something more like, “Is that the sort of thing I might be able to come along to, or do you think another time would be better?” The more room you can give the person to say no, the better. By the MetaFilter comment’s original definition, Askers feel comfortable asking for things because they assume those they’re asking will say no when they really mean no. But that, in itself, is kind of asking a lot of people who can’t always stomach saying “no,” even if that’s how they’re feeling.
An advice column published by the Washington Post in 2013 confronts this exact problem: A letter writer complains that a mutual friend invited themselves along on a trip between best friends, and the third-wheelness of it all sort of wrecked the vacation. In response to how to delicately say no to this self-inviting mutual friend, Carolyn Hax advises the letter writer to offer something else in return, as a softer “no.” For instance: If a friend invites themselves to a hang you were really trying to keep to just you and one other person, you could say something like, “I think the two of us are overdue for a catchup, but I’d love to see you sometime this week!”
A response to the original column (probably written by an Asker, but we can only assume so much) makes the point that they would’ve done nothing in college if they hadn’t invited themselves along to things. This is a good point! But there’s a big difference between inviting yourself to a multi-day trip and inviting yourself along to a big house party in your early 20s, as Hax writes. Ask away, but within reason: Inquiring about inviting yourself to a big group outing (especially if you know most of the people going and are in good standing with them) is fine; inviting yourself along on a vacation among a group of close friends who didn’t ask you initially and/or whom you only sort of know is probably not.
To be clear, Guessers aren’t wrong, but they do run the risk of missing out on things they want because the fear of getting a “no” or forcing a half-hearted “yes” is daunting. To me, that feels like a bigger risk than just asking for what you want. The fear of rejection on the part of Guessers reminds me of a phenomenon I recently wrote about, the “liking gap.” The liking gap theory, formed by a group of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, explains that sinking feeling you sometimes have after a pleasant conversation, when you convince yourself that the person you were talking to actually secretly dislikes you. Essentially, it posits that humans often miss out on cues that people really do like us because we’re too focused on how we’re being received.
If you’re reading this and thinking, Shit, I am definitely a Guesser, I encourage you to take on more of an Asker role this summer and start inviting yourself to other people’s plans. Here’s what I think will happen: You’ll get fewer nos than you anticipate—especially now, as friend groups that went dormant over the past 18 months are revitalizing and the edges of them are hard to fully recall. Who even remembers which friends were in which group, and what groups do and don’t ever mix? It doesn’t matter anymore; the vibe in the air is very much one of, Let’s all get together and have fun. There’s no one I wouldn’t want to see at any given party in the coming months.
It may be “a little thirsty” or even “uncouth” to invite yourself to stuff, but if we all do it, self-invites will reach critical mass and perhaps slide into the realm of acceptability and normalcy. Even if not, risking a smidgen of cool-guy reputation is worth it, to be among friends at the cool new disco dance spot, or whatever’s going on on Instagram these days, and noticing the FOMO that once felt debilitating lighten. There will never again be a summer like this one. Invite yourself in.
Follow Hannah Smothers on Twitter.