FOMO, JOMO, and the Reality of Constant Comparison

on the left is a stack of 4 oranges. On the right is a green apple.
Image by Pixabay / CC 0

FOMO: (noun) Fear of Missing Out. Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.

JOMO: (noun) Joy of Missing Out. Feeling of contentment due to staying in and disconnecting, can be considered an act of self-care

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Comparison. These days, there’s really nowhere to hide from it. Not unless you completely isolate yourself. Not only become a physical hermit, a shut-in hidden away from the rest of the world, which let’s be honest, isn’t that hard to do nowadays, at least not for short stretches of time (how long depending of course on whether you can get a gig working remotely at home and are within the range of a good grocery delivery service).

But to avoid comparison, you must also become a virtual hermit as well.  This means no social media.

For some people, that’s a lot harder to achieve than physical isolation.

There are multiple factors at play here, not the least of which is the fact that smart phones and social networks are designed to be as addictive as possible. We get hits of rewarding neurotransmitters every time we pick a smart phone up and see something entertaining, exciting, or validating.

It creates a feedback loop that causes us to seek out those sensations over and over again.

Not only that but social media has become so all-encompassing that it’s altered the way that many people even conduct friendships. It’s not at all uncommon for friendships to be conducted primarily in virtual space with the occasional in-person meetup if you’re particularly close. But sometimes a friendship is basically all online. (Or literally all online in the case of people who meet online at a great distance and never have an in-person meetup and still maintain online correspondence.)

And it isn’t just one-on-one interactions that matter. I’ve definitely found that my opinion of people has been shaped over time — positively or negatively — depending on what they post.

Are they funny? Do they seem genuinely interested in what’s going on in the world?

Or are they petty, vengeful, negative, small, self-obsessed?

I’ll find that I glean an impression based on what they post. What jokes they find funny. Which articles they think are interesting. What they’re celebrating, what they’re complaining about.

And I’ll form an impression, even without them specifically targeting me.

But I’m just one judge with my own set of values, my own specific temperament. And I’m sure their feed will hit someone else who has different values and temperament a different way.

FOMO Makes Everyone More at Risk for Insecurity, Regardless of Relationship Orientation

One of the earliest phenomena social scientists documented in the age of social media was a rise in FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out.

Users were often being barraged by a highlight reel of their friends’ happiest moments — as people posted pictures from vacation. A concert. A party that they hadn’t been invited to.

Based on people’s feeds alone, it became easy to feel like your life was very boring in comparison. And had a lot more pain and misery in it.

It was interesting being in polyamorous relationships prior to the rise of social media, during that rise, and after social media became central to a lot of people’s lives. I watched as monogamous friends were suddenly struggling with a lot of the same issues I had when I was a newly polyamorous person. And coming to me for advice about how to stop comparing and ways to cope with jealousy and insecurity.

Because they suddenly needed those skills in ways that they hadn’t prior to social media becoming a Big Thing Nearly Everyone Did.

“Nearly” being instrumental here.

Joy of Missing Out

Just like there have always been people who were vocal about not being plugged into certain technology, (“Oh, really? I don’t even have a TV,” I’m looking at you), some people never adopted social media. Although it’s certainly worth noting a high proportion of those individuals were immediately adjacent to someone who was on social media (say, their spouse or live-in partner) and so basically got the benefits of all the social interconnectedness the technology afforded anyway.

There are others who take breaks from time to time, metering their social media use, understanding how addictive it is and how potentially harmful. And some who do so for political or business reasons (usually specifically boycotting certain social media platforms).

And those who follow this path will often tout a sort of JOMO — or Joy of Missing Out. A sense of freedom and lightness that can come with disconnecting.

I Unplug Occasionally But Always Return — Because the Benefits Are Generally Worth the Risk

As a person who primarily works online and has to spend a lot of time on social media for professional reasons, I get this. On the rare occasion I can unplug (typically as part of a vacation), my head clears. It can be lovely.

But I always return.

“Why?” a person could very well ask me. Why not just stop using social media altogether?

And the answer is that I generally like social media. I find the benefits are generally worth the risk. I like keeping tabs on what friends are up to even when I don’t have the time or opportunity to see them in person. Reading the articles and memes they post. Social media is particularly handy in my own case since I’ve lived in three different areas during my adult life (Central Maine, Cleveland, and Dallas), and a lot of my friends have moved around a lot themselves. So keeping in touch would be particularly more difficult without the technology.

Professionally speaking, social media is an important way I reach readers — and an important way that they reach me.

It’s the Same With Consensual Non-Monogamy

It’s really the same with consensual non-monogamy. Sometimes people ask why a person would have those kinds of relationships if it takes a lot of work to adjust to having them — particularly in the beginning (especially as most people have a lot to unlearn culturally that works against them when they’re new to polyamory).

It’s because there are benefits that justify that hard work. That justify a learning curve. That justify risk.

Of course, the ability to have more romantic partners of your own and more love in one’s life is a big draw for many. But compersion itself can be a beautiful thing. As can having a network of unorthodox friendships and support.

And besides, everyone’s having to deal with comparison effects these days. In some ways, the relative emotional cost of polyamory is a lot lower than it used to be because of that.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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