The Hard Facts: Everyone Is Hanging Out Without You

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“When we scroll through pictures and status updates, the worry that tugs at the corners of our minds is set off by the fear of regret, according to Dan Ariely, author of ‘Predictably Irrational’ and a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. He says we become afraid that we’ve made the wrong decision about how to spend our time.” (“Feel Like a Wallflower? Maybe It’s Your Facebook Wall” New York Times, 4/9/2011)

I mentioned last week how excited I am for the release of Mindy Kaling’s book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). The title alone tells me hers will be my kinda stories.

The titular concern is a universal one—no one wants to feel left out—but I didn’t know until yesterday that there is an actual scientific term for this sentiment: FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. According to this article’s author, FOMO “refers to the blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram.”

The author says she was struck with FOMO on a quiet Friday night when, while she was curled up on the couch, her phone went bonkers with alerts about her friends’ whereabouts. Three ladies were at a nearby music venue, without her. Other pals posted pics from a trendy restaurant. Suddenly her cozy night in didn’t seem so luxurious.

I can relate. I catch a bad case of FOMO whenever I see Facebook pictures of my New York BFFs out on the town together. I feel it even if the pics are simply of them lounging at someone’s apartment. That’s when it hits me: Everyone is hanging out without me.

And it’s not just feelings of being left out. Looking at someone’s photos or reading their Tweets often makes me feel like my life is too plain. I’m not spending my evenings at movie premieres like my friend Adam apparently is. Or eating sushi in Japan like Lauren seems to be. Or having babies like, um, EVERYONE.

These are the moments when I remind myself that Facebook photos and other social media updates are self-selecting. No one is going to post pictures of their lazy Friday evening on the couch (though even that might be enough to inspire FOMO in a super-busy overscheduled type). We document the events that are unusual and exciting, the minutia of every day doesn’t warrant such online real estate.

I’m just as guilty of this as the next girl: I’ve only posted photos to Facebook once, and it was pics of my Croatian vacation. Hardly an everyday occurrence.

FOMO is only going to strike more and strike harder as social media continues to grow. “Streaming social media have an immediacy that is very different from, say, a conversation over lunch recounting the events of the previous weekend. When you see that your friends are sharing a bottle of wine without you — and at that very moment — ‘you can imagine how things could be different,’ Professor Ariely said.”

The solution? Unplug. Step away from the computer or, as the author did, turn your phone screen-side down.

No mo’ FOMO. (Yeah, I said it.)

Have you been struck with FOMO after perusing one too many Facebook pictures or status updates? What’s your cure?


Filed under The Hard Facts, The Search

11 responses to “The Hard Facts: Everyone Is Hanging Out Without You

  1. I saw this article and thought, “Yep, I’ve been there.” I think unplugging is part of the cure – and maybe the other part is reminding ourselves that, generally, we choose to do what we’re doing. So my cozy Friday nights in are on purpose, not usually because I can’t find anyone to hang out with. That goes a long way toward mitigating the discontent/FOMO.

  2. Darlene

    I had to unplug entirely from Facebook when I went through a bad patch at work a couple months ago. I was working obscene amounts of overtime, lots of nights and weekends, and it got so depressing reading about other people’s fun days and nights out. When I found myself getting jealous of the people posting about being crashed on the couch in front of trashy TV, I knew it was time to just stop reading.

  3. Interesting! Generally I feel relieved to be at home rather than having to be “on” during an exciting social event, so things like parties and premiers don’t spark any unsettling feelings.

    But photos of people’s travels give me the worst case of FOMO. Having friends teaching English in Prague or striking hot business deals in London makes being in West Texas (even with a terrific job and friends) seem hopelessly lackluster. There’s no way to make tumbleweeds and swampy 100-degree summers luxurious.

    But consciously unplugging sometimes DOES help (and so does planning my own travels and adventures, even if they’re a year or two away). “No Mo’ FOMO” is definitely my new mantra.

  4. I also wonder if the number of people you’re FB friends with is part of the culprit. For example, say that on any given Friday night 10% of your FB friends are doing something really noteworthy. If you have 50 FB friends then you get 5 updates that evening that make you feel left out and jealous. But if you have 1,500 FB friends, then you’re getting hit over the head with FOMO 150 times in an evening. Talk about depressing! Your phone battery is going to go dead from all the buzzing anyway, so you might as well turn it off.

    I will say this, though… it gets better when you and your friends get into the childrearing years. Of course, you’ll still have nights out, but you (read: they) will care a whole lot less about documenting them in social media. And more times than not a friend’s Friday night Mobile Upload on FB is going to be a picture of Pad Thai carry out and a glass of wine with a caption that reads, “It’s 7:30 and the kids are asleep!” If your kid is boycotting bedtime at that moment you may still be jealous, but in a totally different way.

    • Ana

      I totally agree with the first part of what you wrote, Gale. The whole premise of most social media is very self-selecting & completely artificial. If the only people who are going to post an update are people doing something fun & exciting), then when you check Facebook it will appear that EVERYONE is doing something fun and exciting; you just can’t see the other 90% of people that are not up to much.
      I have to disagree with your second point. The worst FUMO I have ever experienced was after my son was born and life as I knew it disappeared for a while. I basically had to take a hiatus from Facebook because I couldn’t stand to even read about someone having a “normal” life with or without kids. And anyone who posted anything about a baby sleeping through the night was automatically blocked. Even now, I have irrational feelings of inadequacy when I see, for example, people posting adorable monthly pictures of their kid showing how they are growing; why couldn’t I have gotten it together to do that? Why am I not taking gorgeous pictures every so often for my friends and family to see? Aargh.

      • Ana – You can’t beat yourself up about this stuff. You have to have confidence in yourself as a mother. Every kid is different – brings different challenges and different rewards. You know your kid(s) better than anyone else. You know that you are doing your best and giving them what they need. And they don’t need adorable photos once a month. Remember that the kids get NOTHING out of updates about themselves posted on Mommy’s FB wall. That’s just for the mommies.

        One of my proudest moments as a mother was this past Christmas when I got a holiday card in the mail from a childhood friend. It was tri-folded shimmery card stock. Her two girls were in matching monogrammed Christmas outfits. The portraits had been professionally taken. And the whole thing looked completely forced. Instead of feeling inadequate I thought, “Ugh. I’d never put my kids through that just so that I can passively brag.” It was such a weight lifted.

        Anyway, my point is… I’m sure you’re doing JUST FINE!!!!!!

        • Ana

          Thanks Gale! I do know these things when I’m thinking rationally, but sometimes I still have this image in my mind of the “perfect” mother that I’d hoped to become, and it involved for some reason lots of crafty keepsakes. I have to own the truth—that is not me!—and move on 🙂 Oh my, some of those holiday cards really are ridiculous! We never even sent cards out this year, Oops.

    • Anonymous

      Actually now I just see all of my friends having play dates bad kid parties without inviting my daughter and I, and it hurts twice as much knowing they are excluding both me and my child.

  5. LizC

    I so get this but less from Facebook and more, I think, is just my own insecurities. Before Facebook existed I would still feel like everyone was hanging out with me and, sometimes, that was true. I had such a problem in college with friends going out and doing stuff and telling me after the fact and I’d ask why they didn’t invite me and they’d say “we didn’t think you’d come” even though they never gave the opportunity to decide. There’s nothing worse than learning your friends did something fun and the reason they didn’t think to ask is because they didn’t think you’d come so they just didn’t bother to ask you.

    I still feel that a bit on occasion although I tell myself that one does not have to do everything with the same people all the time and that, often, what those people did wouldn’t have been my cup of tea in the first place.

    Facebook just makes me feel like I’m not living as adventurous life as other people. I’m not taking trips all over the place or traveling for my job. I’m not married and having kids. It’s a bit of a “hey look how much your life is boring compared to these people” mirror.

  6. Jules

    Sorry girls. I’m a passive bragger. I have three kids and you know what? We’re just hella interesting! I cAn find interesting ways to posts about ANYTHING! Anyone can of they try. Most people think ‘oh no one will be interested in my boring life’ WRONG, I am! I LOVE status update of all kids. There’s a way to spice up everything.
    This mornings update (I’m currently camping)
    – ‘ dear mr kookaburra, Srsly not that funny, it’s 5:30am dude’ lol. Okay not fascinating reading. But my mum, family, friends will chuckle at me being able to laugh at myself and that’s pretty cool. I’m updating all the fun stuff the kids can do at this place and I’m getting lots of ‘where are you! I need to book in!’ on the flip side one of my friends was counting down the days or her pregnancy, literally…..I blocked her feed. And YOU can to! Lol

  7. Mel

    This is exactly what I’m feeling right now! Not because they are hanging out in secret, there is me but they forget about me.

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