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Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is something I have experienced on a regular basis in the past couple of years. Being poly as a socially anxious introvert is sometimes not a pleasant experience. I find this can be particularly exacerbated within poly communities, when I look around and can easily see my friends and loved ones being actively poly all the time – going on many dates with lots of different people.
Triggers of FOMO: Dating, Mental Health and Introversion
Relatively speaking, I don’t date very many people. I tend to be picky, but more than that I am extremely introverted. That means, while I love being around people, doing so saps a lot of my energy. When I go on a date with a new person, unless I already know them well as a friend, it means I have to put on my ‘game face’ – I have to be ‘on’ and I have to perform. Some of you might think this sounds odd, but it’s just the nature of my introversion. My most natural state is being quiet and speaking rarely, and while I love intense conversation with friends and lovers, if I do it too often without a break I become completely mentally and emotionally exhausted. On top of that, struggling with depression for most of my adult life means that I don’t have the spoons to act happy and energetic and generally socially presentable as easily and regularly as some others.
In the past, I think one of the reasons I experienced FOMO on a regular basis was because there are many people who I would like to date, but I simply don’t have the energy to engage with that many people as intensely as I would like. Very often my social anxiety gets in the way of flirting with or even speaking with new people I find attractive. Sometimes being in a crowded room at a party overwhelms me so much and saps so much of my energy as an introvert that I have difficulty approaching new people. When I see people around me working the room and chatting with and making out with people they’ve just met, I can become convinced that I am missing out and that I am the reason that I’m missing out.
Overcoming FOMO: Self Acceptance
One of the ways I’ve found to overcome FOMO in these situations is to emphasize self-care and self-acceptance. I’m introverted, I struggle with anxiety and depression and dealing with those characteristics is part and parcel of being me on a daily basis. For better or worse, it takes a lot of time and energy to deal with being me, and I have to be my number one. I have to make sure I get enough alone time and that I prioritize dealing with my mental health. This means not spreading myself so thin dating lots of people or going to huge parties, despite the fact that I am poly and have been for most of my adult life.
Several years ago, I dated many people at once for a few months. I had just split up from a mostly monogamous long-term relationship and I had a bit of that old familiar “kid in a candy store” mentality. After a few months it became clear this was not good for me, at all. I had started a lot of relationships and then went through a lot of break-ups. Gaining and losing so much in a short period of time took its toll on me. I decided to take a break from dating and a break from sex for a little while. I experienced some FOMO during this time, but mostly I felt relief that I was allowing myself a break from something that – in the long run – I knew was not going to make me that happy.
During that period I experienced much less FOMO when I realized not dating was a choice I was making and that it was good for me. I was able to feel happier for my friends who were dating a lot because I felt more relaxed and I had more energy. I knew that, while dating lots of people might make them happy, that it wasn’t for me. So I experienced less FOMO and greater ability for compersion. Eventually I started dating again and got into two very fulfilling relationships. I don’t think I would have been able to enter into those relationships if I hadn’t given myself a break and some time to recover.
FOMO and Distance
At the moment, I am taking a similar sort of break but for different reasons. I have just moved to a different country and therefore many thousands of miles away from the community/communities I had been a part of for the past several years. I am physically removed from my strongest support network. At the moment I am experiencing massive changes in my life, including reverse culture shock. And I admit it, I have been experiencing lots of FOMO because of this. I know lots of the people I left behind are having lots of fun without me. But why shouldn’t they? They are awesome and they deserve love and fun when I am not around. I love hearing about what my friends and loved ones are up to. I just wish I could be there to experience it too.
The way I’m handing this now is, perhaps somewhat oddly, slowing down my life in my new country. I’m not making myself go out and meet lots of new people, as I was sorely tempted to do. I have enough on my plate already – enough new factors in my life that could trigger some serious mental health issues. I’m limiting the new factors entering my life right now and that means taking a break from dating new people. Chances are that, even if I were in London, I would want to date lots of people but wouldn’t have the energy to do so. Doubly so now that I live in New York, where I’m getting to know a new city, a new transport system, and basically a new culture in which I am immersed on a daily basis. Once I can expend less energy on adjusting to all of that and looking for employment, I am likely to consider dating again.
In the meantime, the FOMO is dying down as I realize the decision to not date anyone new is really the most healthy decision I can make for myself right now. Perhaps this active decision-making will work for others who struggle with FOMO too.
PS – When it is time to date again, I am thinking of developing something like this “Social Anxiety Elevator Speech” that Life on the Swingset discusses. Some of you might find this and the links below to be useful resources:
For mental health issues and polyamory, I highly recommend contacting Pink Therapy in the UK for poly and queer friendly therapists, some of whom operate on a sliding scale.