Experiencing FOMO As an Introvert: It’s Complicated
Sometimes, I get invited to social events — a birthday celebration, a friend's party, an evening of debauchery — and all I can feel is dread. My immediate, instinctual reaction is to try and find the closest exit route. What's the politest excuse I can come up with on the spot to get out of this shindig? Now, I want to be clear that this response isn't because I secretly despise these people. Usually these invites comes from individuals I like, individuals I would even enjoy hanging out with during my free time.
So what's the problem then, you weirdo? is what you're probably thinking. Well the gist of the issue is this: I like being social (with select groups of people, for select periods of time), but I like being by myself more. Attending social outings requires extensive mental preparation. Who will be there that I feel comfortable around? How much small talk will I have to put up with? How long will they expect me to stay? How much information should I be prepared to share about myself? I get exhausted just thinking about it. Staying home and hanging out on my couch, on the other hand, genuinely makes me happy. Happy without the hassle. So usually I choose the easier of the two options.
But you see, the thing is that I still experience FOMO. (That's fear of missing out, for those of you who haven't yet caught up to the lingo of this decade). Yes, I'm content to hide at home like a hermit. However, a part of me still envies the people who choose to be social and attend the festivities. And of course the inevitable pictures on Instagram and Facebook don't help much. The resentment I begin to feel toward those individuals is palpable, as the photos clutter up my feeds. (Yup, I know it's ridiculous and makes me sound incredibly bitter.) But what's a girl (with introverted tendencies) to do?
Why don't I try and break down my rationale behind this topic (a topic that undoubtedly sounds absurdly silly to you, dear reader).
The Social Life of an Introvert 101
Let me paint a picture for you — a picture of what it's like to be an introvert who sometimes likes being social. (I said sometimes. And by sometimes I mean like twice a month. Okay, once. IF I'm feeling up to it.) Before said event, I give myself a pep talk (internally, that is; promise I don't have conversations with myself...very often). I pump up the enthusiasm because holy cow something exciting is happening — and I'm actually leaving my apartment! I also ready myself for the inevitable cons, because a social outing means crowds and annoying people. Ick.
I mold my mind into a mental fortress (and spend an hour or more doing hair and makeup), preparing to deflect nuisances and focus on the positives. Now I'm ready to enter the world and partake in the festivities. As the socializing begins, I inevitably gravitate toward the handful of individuals I know. And then try my best to stick by their side for the duration of the event, much to their annoyance. Why? Because person I know and like equals buffer between me and everyone else.
After about an hour or so at said event, I begin watching the minutes drag by on my phone and plotting my escape. (Unless it's a concert. In that case I put up with the longer time frame, because I feel pretty good about the trade-off of getting to see my favorite musicians live.) Eventually, my desire to leave will outweigh the guilt I feel for wanting to take off, and I swiftly depart. There may or may not be goodbyes. A silent exit is preferable to those of us who hate chitchat and drawing attention to ourselves.
Following said socializing I return home to my couch, upon which I collapse and proceed to binge-watch my show of the week. I shut down my brain for recharging, my capacity for human interaction fried. I get up only to fill my arms with all the snacks I can possibly carry, then immediately return to the worn-in couch cushion where my butt has made its home.
So, What Does FOMO Have to Do with This Elaborate Storyline I Just Shared?
Basically, participating in social outings as an introvert is a double-edged sword. If I choose not to go, I will feel bad/guilty/jealous. Yes, I love sitting at home and endlessly consuming various media forms. (Nope, I don't get bored doing this. And yes, I'm telling the truth. Pinky swear.) But I am also acutely aware of the good times and bonding moments I'm skipping out on.
Now if I do attend, I will (maybe) enjoy myself for a period of time, then head toward the exit as soon as I start to lose energy. I'll likely leave early, and on the way home I will be consumed by thoughts of the fun I am certain everyone else must still be having. (If you're wondering whether the gears in my brain are always on overdrive, the answer is abso-fucking-lutely.)
The most amusing part of all this is that my favorite outings don't even involve me being all that social. I'm consumed by thoughts of FOMO, but I will generally choose not to spend time with people if given the opportunity. In fact, I can think of maybe three people of whom I rarely tire. (Don't worry boyfriend, you made the cut. Sorry everyone else, this is just how us introverts are.) In fact, the types of excursions I most like are:
- Seeing my favorite bands live (the occasional music festival is cool too). Preferably with just a few other people I know.
- Hiking with the boyfriend. Something about being in nature and escaping city noise makes me feel so content and peaceful.
- Vacations, preferably of the variety that involve minimal interaction with other people — and no crowds. I get a break from everyday life and paid not to go to work? Sign me up.
- Shopping. Not exactly a social event, but it counts in my book because I have to dodge cranky children and tunnel-vision shoppers.
My "Tools" for Making the Most of Social Outings
What have we learned so far, kiddos? Let's recap: I nearly always have a good time when I voluntarily attend an event (coerced work outings don't count). And yet...my psychological process of preparation never gets any easier. So I often choose dealing with my emotional response to missing out over the intellectual prep work. But when I do decide to make the mental and physical trek, I keep a couple of (metaphorical) tools in my back pocket to help me deal.
1. Alcohol, alcohol, and more alcohol
I realize this makes me sound like an alcoholic, but that's really not the case. (Seriously. No denial situation to worry about over here; on the rare occasions I do drink, it's often just a glass or two. I'm quite displeased that my immunity to hangovers is not what it used to be.) The issue isn't that I need alcohol to function, but it is literal liquid courage for me. I loosen up significantly when I'm drinking — plus I'm a happy drinker. I enjoy myself a lot more when I'm not concentrating on how awkward I feel making small talk or whether it's been an appropriate length of time for me to check Instagram again.
2. A Friendly Face
The people I know and like — and can stand to be around for more than, say, 20 minutes — are basically my unknowing social buffers. Outings where I know there won't be many familiar faces are particularly intimidating. They require me to expend enormous amounts of energy — on smiling, retelling my backstory, and speaking in-depth about shallow topics (bleh). My default options are usually A) stand in the corner by myself or B) cling to someone I already know. Frankly both make me uncomfortable, but at least when I follow an acquaintance around I look slightly less like a weird outsider. These people also help deflect some of the attention and inevitable small talk away from me. And bonus: they can even be fun to hang out with.
3. Scheduling Before/After Downtime
Outgoing, extroverted people won't fully understand the significance of this 'tool,' though I'd say it's probably the most important one on the list for me. The best way to ensure I'm in the right frame of mind for a social event is to promise myself some downtime, whether earlier in the day or after the outing. The truth is I find soirees (especially long ones like weddings or work events) daunting. I get nervous and anxious before the event even begins. So it's SUPER important for me to know that I'll get a mental break at some point. I need that time to recharge and give my (mediocre) social skills a break. My poor brain just isn't wired to interact with people all day. I prefer inanimate objects, like books and computers, or natural landscapes.
So there you have it. For those of you who thought TL;DR, I can basically sum up the entire post by saying I'm an awkward introvert who suffers from a fear of missing out — even though I only really enjoy the occasional social outing.
P.S. to the boyfriend and two other friends who read my blog regularly — Sorry about the inconsistent blog schedule. I swear I have plenty of excuses, including a work project that has just about killed all of my creative brain cells. I'll try to do better. No guarantees though. 😁