Empty Calendar, Full Heart, Who Knew?
Updated: Apr 15
FOMO: The cultural phenomenon of feeling slightly dissatisfied all the time because of our intense peripheral awareness of everything else we could be doing. I've never thought FOMO phenomenon applied to me.
Sure, I stalked Facebook events for any fun activities I could take my family to each weekend. I soaked up my friends' praise, "You always know what's happening. You're at everything!" I bemoaned simple date nights of dinner and a movie with my husband, because I knew of at least a dozen comedy open mic nights, a few fancy meal pairings, and a new installation of inflatable art or whatever the latest "quirky selfie opportunity masquerading as culture" event was making the rounds that week. I'm a huge fan of modern art museums for this very reason. They were way ahead on that trend.
I never worried that I might be missing out because I went to everything! My house got messier, the to-do lists piled up until they became their own to-do, but I optimized our entertainment as a family, creating memories, and filling our calendar. If my husband and kids craved a little downtime together, I became restless and cranky. "It's the weekend. Let's do something!"
Whenever my family couldn't keep up with my pace, I'd call my mom. She made me the way I am, so we're the only ones who can stay at a theme park until it closes, analyzing the ride schedule to avoid peak line times, skipping trips to the bathrooms, and eating snacks we packed from home in the ride lines rather than sitting down for time-consuming meals. We quickly learned to tune out the complaints of our exhausted family. Complaints about tired feet are only met with eye rolls by my mom. She gets me.
If my husband and kids want to spend a Saturday napping or play video games together, I can always rely on my mom for a craft show, a grand-opening of a store with raffles and free appetizers, or a surprising one-day-only sale somewhere. We go off adventuring together, knowing everyone else is wasting their day.
I've never been very good at relaxing. On vacations, my husband wants to lay by the pool and read a book. I want to memorize the events calendar and see if we can squeeze in ceramics painting before the water aerobics class and still make it to the show in time to get the best seats. I'm an optimizer. So if you take me to a resort or on a cruise, or to visit a new city I will make sure we saw everything there was to see, did everything the internet said was worth doing, and ate all the best foods, as recommended by everyone who has ever come before us.
We have some friends with a beach house. They've invited us to stay there as a family a few times. The first time we went, I spent the first two days miserable. The wifi was spotty, and the nearest town was a half-hour drive away. I felt restless and trapped. But something switched in me by the third day, and I began to love the beach house. There was nothing to do, no plans to optimize, and no schedule to keep. It forced me to relax. I looked forward to cooking dinner each night and sitting down together to eat it. We slept in and watched movies, things I never took the time to do at home. We talked and laughed and played board games and meandered down to the beach whenever we pleased, usually with kites in hand. Now, the beach house is one of my favorite places in the world. It's a place where I can relax, even if I had never able to identify exactly why.
March and April of 2020 have begun to feel like the beach house. Three weeks before stay-at-home orders began in our state, my husband insisted that we needed to be pro-active and stay home to do our part. I struggled. I read the alarming articles about the pandemic, and I agreed with the science, but there were a handful of things I still really wanted to do! I lamented my great sacrifice but tried to bear it nobly. And as the weeks passed, a strange thing happened. I began to feel a peace I hadn't known was missing in my life. All the Facebook events were canceled. Everyone began staying home. There was nothing to go and do, and I stopped missing the adventure. I didn't feel ripped off or disappointed, I felt relieved.
I am relaxing. My family is relaxing. We are enjoying our time together and the simple things we can do at home, without wondering if there is something better we could be doing. The peace and relief I've begun to feel now has shown me that I was living under the constant pressure of never letting myself experience the painful symptoms of FOMO - the phenomenon I thought I was exempt from because I curated the best activities to fill my time.
The global pandemic has taught me that in all my striving to fill my calendar and optimize my entertainment, I was, in fact, missing out on quite a bit.
When the stay-at-home orders are lifted, or perhaps about a month after that, when my cautious husband will begrudgingly agree that it's acceptable for us to rejoin society, I'm going to go out. I'm going to plan events. I'm going to eat at restaurants, and find weird, fun things to do that will make for fantastic photo opportunities. But I won't forget what I've learned about myself. I'll remember that, despite years of denial, I am driven by the fear of missing out.
When the world re-opens, and I'm finding the latest, greatest, funniest, weirdest, tastiest thing to do on a Friday night, I hope that some part of me will wonder if I'm missing out on a peaceful, relaxing night at home. And even though it will feel bizarre, I want to begin to leave some intentional space in my calendar, like a modern art museum that leaves a gallery completely empty, but titles it something contemplative like, "Art?" or "Meditation." I want to remember that the boring nights at home when the children made living room forts, and we talked over board games or simple bowls of spaghetti were nights of memory making too - memories I don't want to miss out on, just because we have more choices available to us again.