Missing the Boat: The Real Trouble with FOMO

We do love our acronyms, don’t we? Things like BOGO, GMO, rBST, etc.  It’s a simple method for shortening a name or expression.  I confess it took me forever to learn what FOMO stood for: Fear of Missing Out. In our highly socialized society, it’s a legitimate fear.  We are a true paradox in that we say we highly prize individuality, and then relentlessly mock those who don’t follow the herd.  (For what? Not being “individual” enough or for calling our attention to our own lack of individuality?? Hmmm thoughtful face here)

As someone who tends to stand out in a crowd (my weight and big mouth kinda give me away- googly face here), I’m used to people looking at me and asking me why I’m so “different” (a polite way of calling me a nonconformist or just plain weird).  Last March we had a retirement luncheon for one of our secretaries at the office and we had been told numerous times that “lunch would be provided” and that lunch turned out to be chips, fruit salad, cookies, sub sandwiches with soda and bottled water.  I don’t eat chips or bread normally.  I had some fruit salad, a sandwich, water and a couple of cookies.  If I had been at Subway, I’d have gotten the sandwich on flatbread, but since it wasn’t an option, rather than rip the guts out of the plain white bread (all the whole wheat and pumpernickel were gone), I just ate the sandwich like it was.  I suppose I could have just had the cold cuts, cheese and veggies, but we were all eating together and I decided not to draw attention to myself. It was Cathy’s luncheon and I was still kinda the “new hire” and didn’t want to make a big deal about how “I don’t eat this kind of food.” (haughty sniff)

That’s part of the double-edged sword of FOMO: people look at you for doing something different.  There are “acceptable” differences, in that they had vegetarian sandwiches available, but nothing Paleo-friendly, other than the fruit salad (which many hard-core Paleo followers won’t eat). By not following the herd, you draw attention to yourself for sticking out and sometimes that is viewed as a condemnation of the herd’s eating habits: “I’m too smart/ good/ healthy to eat the junk food you people eat.” Sometimes people just don’t want to be the center of attention, and it can be viewed as attention-seeking: “I’m somehow sickly or deserving of special treatment” as in those who have a legitimate allergy or condition, like celiac. (While the coordinator took the time to order vegetarian options, he made no effort to include any gluten free options, or for the lactose-intolerant, both of which I would have taken!)

So aside from not following the herd and having everyone stare at you for dumping the bread off your sandwich or gutting the roll, there’s also the whole idea of “missing out” on something special.  This is what most people think of when they think of FOMO:  “Everyone else is having some of that really delicious looking cake/ cookies/ donuts/ brownies/ insert yummy treat here and I’m NOT!! (teary face here) I have to say, that is usually not what I think of when I think of FOMO.  I think it’s mainly because I’m used to eating differently than others.  There are things I like and things I don’t and most of my life, I’ve just gone ahead and ‘ripped the guts out of my bread,’ so to speak, when I’m some place comfortable. I grew up in a large extended Hispanic family, so along with the turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, our Thanksgiving table had beans, rice and enchiladas.  I have never been a big fan of beans and rice (my best friend loves them! lol) So, while I would mash the heck out of the refried beans, I’d leave them off my plate, along with the rice and a few other things that were on the table (not a fan of white meat or ham either). It was never a big deal at our family gatherings, because there were the ones who don’t like olives, or mushrooms, or onions, or were vegetarian.  Our differences were equally embraced in the family (half the family loves walnuts in their chocolate chip cookies and the other half hates them- I’d make a batch of each!) Food idiosyncrasies just weren’t a big deal because we weren’t there for the food- we were there for the family and friends.  To me, the big deal of FOMO was missing out on the family and friends.  The food was good (believe me, I love enchiladas like no one’s business!), but for me the point of being with family and friends for any kind of celebration was never the food.  In fact, I remember one party where we had WAY too much cake (and it wasn’t even good cake!) I got sent home (despite my protests! eye roll) with a 9×9 piece of cake. Ugh! I was thinking I’d just throw it out because it was too sweet to give to my dog (who helped herself to it off the counter as I was hanging up my sweater! scream face) So, problem solved, although I kept waiting for her upchuck the cake.

For most people FOMO is about missing out on tasting something really delicious! You’re out with friends and/ or family, maybe celebrating something, and there is a stack of really yummy looking donuts or cookies or whatever looks absolutely delicious, and you don’t want to say no and have people ask you “why not?” and even more, you don’t want to say no and have to listen to everyone else groan “ohhh, this is sooo fabulous!!!” as they scarf it down.  Really?? How delicious can it really be?? Is it something you’re going to think of years later and say, “damn, I wish I’d had that shrimp/ lobster/ paella/ whatever”??  I would absolutely say, “damn, I wish I’d gone to my cousin’s wedding/ my grandfather’s birthday party/ Christmas Eve 2012.” How long are you going to be thinking about the “scrumptious food” you missed out on?  And more importantly, when you say yes something that takes you away from your goals, what are you saying no to instead?  I got a pretty good idea of that!

For years, I said yes to takeout lunches at the office. Another coworker and I used to order out for lunch; things like pasta and deep fried foods and lots of cookies and sandwiches.  I remember we used to get a lot from Noodles & Company, which I absolutely loved! The food was “sooo delicious” (eye roll) and they have a Rice Krispy Treat the size of slice of cake (which is as good as it looks, FYI!), so I said yes to the “yummy food” while not realizing I was saying no to my future trip to Disneyland.  In 2012, I went with two of my friends and did NOT enjoy myself, because it hurt to walk anywhere.  I spent most of the trip huffing and puffing and barely making it anywhere, and once I got where we were going, I’d have to sit down for 20 minutes to get my breath back and let my feet/ legs/ back stop hurting.  Most of the time, I sat and “watched the bags” while my friends went off to see a show, ride a ride or go shopping.  I was so embarrassed and felt awful for ruining their trip.  It was HELL!  That is what FOMO means to me.  When people talk about FOMO when they go out with friends for food or drinks, that trip is what I think about.  I said yes to easy lunches and yummy stuff and no to Disneyland with my friends.  I’d rather say no to the chips and appetizers and drinks and just enjoy the company rather than say no to our next outing: “Can I pass on the sweet potato fries so when we got to the Greek Food Festival, I can hit all the booths with you and not be gasping like a landed carp?” Missing out on time yakking and shopping and hanging out with my friends and family is so not worth whatever is going to taste yummy for two minutes and be forgotten in less. That’s the real FOMO.


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