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Opinion | Sexuality

Fear of Missing Out Isn't Just a Season

FOMO is real, and it takes on a new dimension at midlife.
Fear of Missing Out Isn't Just a Season
Image: Chris Wolcott / Flickr

We humans have always been prone to wonder: What if I’m left behind? What if I’m forgotten? What if I blew my only chance at success? Why is everyone else having such a great life?

Now we have an easy descriptor for this below-the-surface panic that shapes our behavior, thoughts, and prayers. It’s Fear Of Missing Out, or FOMO. Now in my 50s, I’m more inclined than in earlier years to experience the rear-view-mirror corollary, which I’ve dubbed Fear Of Having Missed Out (FOMHO).

We learn FOMO/FOHMO early. “But Mom, everyone else is going!” a fifth-grader wails after a parent says no to a mall trip. My mother’s stock response in these instances was usually, “If everyone else was jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you follow them?” The question was meant to warn us about blindly following the pack, yet I remember thinking to myself, I probably would. I can swim! Jumping seemed far less scary to me than being excluded.

Our fears of being left out can serve a purpose. According to psychologist Audrey Sanz, attentiveness to social dynamics is so essential to our survival that it is wired into our neurobiology. “Because being left out is considered that important an event for us to pay attention to and to respond to quickly, we actually have a part of our brain that is specialized for sensing if we are being left out,” she said. “Not having vital information or getting the impression that one ...

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