Thursday, June 16, 2016

Zoe vs. FOMO

I made a terrifying discovery about Zoe the other day. To be honest, my fear had been building for a while. Zoe always wants to go to school events. She's constantly asking if she can do a sleepover. And the other day at the park she jumped on a boulder and started dancing, gathering a crowd of children around her. It was then I realized she may be---gasp!---an extrovert.
What's an introvert mother to do?!
It's my responsibility to set up playdates for my social butterfly, but the idea of approaching another parent and setting one up gives me butterflies in my stomach. What if I have nothing to talk about with this child's parents? What if they don't like me? What if I can't stand their kid?!
I remind myself: This is about Zoe, not you, but the nausea remains.
If I take her to a movie night at school, I sweat until the lights to go down, obviating the need for conversation. Two months before, when we went to her school's trivia night, it took all my inner resources to go up on stage with her so she could participate in the game, although she didn't do anything besides stand there.
Which raises the question: Does she really want to do all the things for themselves or does she just not want to be the only one not doing them? Could she already be experiencing FOMO?

Introvert Mom with Extrovert Kid

FOMO, if you don't know, means Fear of Missing Out. Even though we didn't have the acronym when I was young, "fear of missing out" still existed. I remember in grade school not being invited to a party and hearing all the details Monday morning at school. It must be worse today when kids can see pictures and video from the party they haven't been invited to in real time on Facebook or Snapchat.
I wonder who's affected more by FOMO, introverts or extroverts? If you like being around people, maybe it's harder to miss a party, while an introvert appreciates and needs alone time.
Or maybe it's the opposite. Maybe the introvert wants to be social but anxiety makes them an introvert by default.
Of course, we're all made up of a constellation of qualities, and it's hard to find a pure extrovert or introvert. I'm strongly introverted myself, which is why when I know I have to be social, I need a lot of mental preparation, which usually takes the form of anticipating my next dessert.
I went to BlogU, a writing conference, this weekend and besides the informative sessions (and cupcake and cookie breaks!), there was a lot of socializing and making connections. I'm socially anxious, an expert at self-monitoring, and reserve a lot of my scintillating conversation for my head. That's what's known as a negative at parties. Because of this I might be different from the introvert who's less conflicted about needing alone time.
Now let's talk about how social media magnifies reality. It's a rare person who's immune to the effects. Especially if you're feeling lonely, or unsatisfied with your place in life, whether in the life journey sense or in that literal moment, when you may be surrounded by people who make you feel like a stranger to yourself.
So you go on Facebook, and maybe you feel worse due to the comparison game. Everyone's presenting their best sides. They're in great relationships and having so much fun. Why can't that be you?
But let's remember reality vs. illusion. It's not that these happy photos are lies. I'm saying that even a relatively grounded person can look at an undiluted string of joy and feel like maybe they're not that happy after all.
While I was at the conference, a friend of mine who hadn't been able to go expressed his disappointment at himself on Facebook. I think all the pictures were making him feel left out. What was funny to me was I was there and wasn't immune to the feeling! At one point, I saw a video of everyone dancing and thought, wow, these people are really having fun. I wish I was there. And then I caught a glimpse of myself. I was in the video! Then I had to laugh at myself. I mean, I'm looking at a video of people dancing and feeling FOMO-ish when I was one of the people dancing!
Oh the humanity! That's all I have to say to that.
Even we nose-in-book loner types, we are part of the human species, and we are a social species. For good and ill. Yes, we are also competitive, and so yes, we often fall into the comparison trap.
But there are some good reasons. How would you grow as a person if you're always comfortable and content? The seeds of greatness often begin in self-doubt and at least a measure of dissatisfaction. Would you change either your world or the world at large if you were completely happy with it?
So I decided I was glad Zoe was in touch with this human energy, and further, that she's not afraid to dance, no matter who's watching. 
The next day I brought my little extrovert to the park and another girl started following her around, clearly wanting to play. But Zoe ignored her and then suddenly took off running. The little girl turned to me and asked, Why doesn't she want to play with me? I said, I'm sorry. I guess she wants to play by herself. Which obviously meant it was time for me to fret about Zoe being an introvert.

Zoe: 139; Universe: 0

For more on my particular brand of awkward, see my essay on Middle School Awkward, last year's theme at BlogU.

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

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