Stop telling Sue Elliott-Nicholls she’s got FOMO. If there’s a party and she’s not there, she’s MO.
The worst thing about having teenagers in these days of social media is that when you’ve caused them to miss a party/afternoon in the park/loiter on the street corner, they now have photographic evidence of what a truly momentous, life-changing experience they have missed. The pictures of their beautiful friends having the best time ever are splashed all over the internet. Photoshopped. Filtered. The choicest shot carefully chosen. Then (when the perfect image has been created) posted: everywhere.
Son: Oh my days, this is the second time I’ve missed going to Sonny’s.
Me: I just want you to spend some time with Nanny; go out later.
Son: Yeah well, you made me do coursework last Saturday and look what I missed.
Son: That. *points at phone screen*
Me: What, the Nisa?
Son: Yes! There was a drugs bust on the flat above the Nisa, everyone was there, except me.
Me: Oh shit! I’m really sorry you missed the drugs bust. I’m sure there’ll be other drugs busts…
We know that it’s not the end of the world if they miss one party (or drugs bust). We know it’s important that they visit elderly relatives. It’s part of life’s circle. We know that one weekend bored out of their tiny minds by chain-smoking smelly nannies watching back-to-back soaps with the sound turned up will not kill them.
“Heaven forbid there are two parties on one night. Who hasn’t spent half the night and half the week’s food bill in a taxi, moving from one party to another rather than missing one of them?”
One New Year, as I looked out over the view of the Welsh mountains, marvelling at the beauty, I commented to my 14-year-old: “Look darling, look at all the different greys in the sky. There’s like a million greys and then the golden sun peeking out from behind that mountain is so gold, it’s like the entrance to heaven.”
“No,” replied my son, “all those dark clouds are Wales and the golden light is coming from Hackney!”
“There will be other weekends, other parties.” We tell them that because we know it to be true… or do we?
Would we honestly book a weekend with the in-laws if there were a friend’s party going on? No we would not. We would find another weekend, a weekend where we would not be missing out. Come on, we’ve all looked through the diary to find a good weekend to have Auntie Ethel to stay and guiltily realised we’ll have to put her off by a year (she should still be alive in a year, hopefully).
FOMO is a much-discussed modern phenomenon, but I’ve had it my whole life. Social media has just given it a name, a hashtag and a silly acronym. FOMO will have been around as long as humans started moving from one village to another.
At the height of the festive season or in the heady long days of the summer barbecues, if I’m not fully booked to the point of nervous exhaustion I start to have anxiety attacks.
Being in ‘entertainment’ was a marvellous excuse at Christmas when the kids were small: “Oh I know Mummy’s been out a lot but it’s part of Mummy’s job. I’d much prefer to be at home with you guys…” *ahem*
On the odd occasion I have actually put the family first it’s been a disaster, sprawled on the sofa sulking like a teenager in my stained dressing gown and smudged mascara trying (often failing) not to dwell on the fact that I could have been at Wendy’s now. Janey’s there, they’re having gin.
“Fair enough,” you might say, “who wants to miss a party?” but this is not a party I’m missing, it’s Wendy, who lives round the corner, who I see most days anyway. (I have only once in my entire life missed an actual party to be with the family. That was 2001, and I’m still holding a grudge.)
But I love going to Wendy’s. I hate missing anything: a walk in the woods, a kids’ party, a trip to IKEA (if my friends are there, I want to be there too).
Even drinks with uber-enthusiastic scary parents from the kids’ primary school, ones I don’t like that much, I still go. Just in case. Besides, I want everyone to know that I was invited, whether I wanted to go or not.
Heaven forbid there are two parties on one night. Who hasn’t spent half the night and half the week’s food bill in a taxi, moving from one party to another rather than missing one of them? Because if you’re there, other people will realise what an excellent party guest you are and make sure they invite you to the next party they’re having.
It’s not the family I want to escape (well not always). I love socialising with them too. In fact that’s the best-case scenario because you get to party without the guilt. I love barbecues, picnics in the park, camping with a group of friends and their families. It brings out the best in everyone; our public personas are so much better than the grunting tired creatures we become after a day at work or school.
I’m sure I should grow out of this and sit at home colouring in mindfulness pictures, happy to miss the occasional social event, content to enjoy what is most important in life. Being home with the family, popcorn and a movie is a joy. I love being home. I’m home most nights, but not if my friends are out without me.
Because it’s not a FEAR of missing out, it IS missing out. It’s not #FOMO, it’s #MO.
We’re human, social creatures. We were meant to be in tribes, gossiping over the hog roast, laughing about our hormones as we forage in the fields. We were never meant to loiter alone in our caves, freezing because we don’t want to go out and stand around the communal fire.
Missing out is crap. Fear it…
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Sue Elliott-Nicholls is an actress and writer. Often heard washing her dirty laundry on Woman’s Hour. Sue is currently on your TV screens playing Moody Margaret in Horrid Henry and Nanno in Hugglemonsters, as well as appearing in Tracey Ullman's show on BBC1. She is also a lone female voice attempting to be heard in a family of Alpha males.