My ideal Saturday night consists of the following: ordering fried dough from Mondo, dimming the lights in my room, turning on a cheesy Netflix rom-com to watch with my friends, and going to sleep by midnight. So why is it that come 10 p.m. on any given Saturday night, I find myself getting ready to go out?
I blame FoMO.
The fear of missing out (FoMO) refers to the social apprehension, common among college students, that others are having fun without you. FoMO can provoke compulsive behaviors—obsessively reloading social media apps, for example—to stay connected or join in on the supposed fun. So, even though I might like to plan my ideal Saturday night to a tee, I often remain one “oh you should come out with us” away from ditching my fried dough for Doc Martens and eyeshadow.
Now, I’m definitely not saying that I dislike going out. The process of putting make-up on, fixing my hair, picking out an outfit, and blasting music with my friends is nothing short of exciting. Most weekends, I genuinely look forward to it. My problem with going out, however, lies with my recent realization that even on days I don’t want to, I begrudgingly make the trek. I worry that by staying in, I’m making an error in the perfected formula of the college experience I’m expected to have. With only a month left of my freshman year, I hesitate to skip a night of going out. I justify any wavering feelings by reminding myself that I need to make the most of my time on campus.
By nature, humans crave acceptance from others and a sense of belonging. Feeling connected with others benefits our nervous and immune systems, and social acceptance decreases cognitive pressure and worry. Social psychologist Erin Vogel Ph.D. emphasizes the connection between belonging and self-esteem, saying, “When we feel as if we’re part of a community and others approve of us, we feel better about ourselves. When we don’t get that sense of community approval, we feel worse about ourselves.” Over a longer period of time, FoMO has been linked to lower self-esteem and issues with overall morale. Feeling as though we are missing out activates our “fight or flight” response in which we perceive the lack of social connectedness as a threat, disturbing our nervous system and worsening stress. Beyond those physical consequences, FoMO also aggravates feelings of loneliness, nervousness, and fear.
In recent weeks, I’ve found that my FoMO causes me to subconsciously misconstrue my desire to stay in with the idea that I’m boring: going out means I’m fun, whereas staying in means that I’m not taking full advantage of the college experience. My FoMO-induced conception of fun irrationally limits my decisions, and I find myself going out on days I don’t truly want to. My false perception of fun is only solidified through external social pressures. Going out is marketed as the norm; it is not only socially acceptable but wholeheartedly encouraged. Especially as a freshman, it’s easy to get wrapped up in what seems to be the expected college experience. Throughout high school, the college party scene was advertised as a lucrative endeavor that is key to achieving the college experience. Even the phrase “the college experience” implies more of a preconceived checklist than an individual journey.
Additionally, when comparing the Wesleyan party scene to that of bigger colleges, it’s almost natural to succumb to FoMO. How else am I supposed to explain that we don’t darty every weekend? It’s easy for me to feel that going out is an obligation so that I have exciting, comparable stories to share with my friends at larger schools. Even within the Wesleyan community, there seems to be a pressing need to maintain an active party culture. Rather than asking what someone’s plans are for the weekend, I’ve noticed that the question is often phrased through the lens of “are you going out or not?” When coupled with FoMO, my perception of fun eliminates all other potential options or plans, leaving me to oblige.
Scrolling through social media only worsens my FoMO—story posts of flashing lights, dazzling colors, and roaring music paint an enticing picture of what I could be doing. The advent of social media has accelerated the social, physical, and mental ramifications of FoMO. Platforms including Instagram and Snapchat are specifically designed for individuals to post the highlights of their night. In fact, the phrase “the fear of missing out” first gained notoriety in the early 2000s, not long after Facebook was launched. Feed and story posts glamorize going out, condensing the activity into an inaccurate five-second clip for unsuspecting viewers. Unfortunately, FoMO is directly correlated with increased social media engagement, which catalyzes FoMO. Social media use and FoMO engage in a destructive, self-perpetuating cycle which often results in stress and compulsive social behaviors.
I understand that FoMO has altered my perception of the college party scene: going out on the weekend has been advertised as an expectation. However, while I recognize that my decisions, even subconsciously, may be influenced by FoMO, I’m learning to prioritize what I genuinely want to do, rather than external social validation. Navigating the college party scene is a big ask, but I shouldn’t have to give up my ideal Saturday night to pursue a sense of belonging.
Going out can be fun; however, dragging myself away from a relaxing evening the second someone mentions going out accomplishes nothing. I remind myself that social media is a dangerous illusion, projecting a cherry-picked facade on my phone screen. My decision to stay in, order fried dough from Mondo, dim the lights in my room, turn on a cheesy Netflix rom-com, and go to sleep by midnight doesn’t mean I’m “missing out.” Instead, it gives me the opportunity to create new experiences on my own terms.
Lyah Muktavaram can be reached at email@example.com