The Truth About FOMO

There was this girl I knew in high school. She was great- bright, bubbly, friendly, and a leader on dance team. We weren’t close, but after we graduated I enjoyed seeing her posts on Facebook every once in a while; I knew that she had been pursuing a career as a dancer and a model, and I loved her photos because they made me proud to know someone who was actually going for what she wanted even though it was scary.

One day recently as I scrolled through my feed, I stopped at one of her photos, expecting an interesting update. But what I read was unsettling caption: “I never posted this on Facebook [almost a year ago] because I thought I wasn’t skinny enough.”

I was shocked. I had always admired this girl for seemingly feeling so at home in her body as she followed her dreams post-graduation. The thought had never dawned on me that she might feel like she wasn’t good enough.

And then I got to thinking… what do I look like to people who can’t see my insecurities?

It never occurred to me that perhaps some people couldn’t. I suppose things look good for me in the Facebook world: all of my pictures since high school have been of fun, adventure, friends, family. All of my blog posts- even the ones about really tough things- have been full of hope, causing people to leave remarks that confuse me: “you’re so strong,” “you’re so wise.” I didn’t realize that people think these things because what I present to the outer world is so different than the anxiety and insecurity often going on within.

Here’s the truth.

All any of us wants is to be happy. Everything in our lives is geared, some way or another, toward making us happy in the short run or the long run. But there is one thing that, if we want to be happy, we simply cannot live without: self-confidence. Actually liking yourself, what you can do, what you look like, who you are.

Often, so many of us think it would be easier to be someone else. Facebook is great for helping us to keep in touch, but it also leads to FOMO- fear of missing out.  You see somebody with the job you wanted but never went for on Facebook, and they seem to be having a great time at it. FOMO. You see an old friend who got engaged to the perfect guy, and you’re still single. FOMO. You see that one person who always posts pictures at the gym while you’re chilling in bed. FOMO. And we’re not just afraid of missing out here. We’re afraid that we’re not good enough (too shy, too lazy, too whatever) to have these experiences of our own.

But look at my high school friend. Look at me. Those pictures are not those whole people. For every gorgeous shot you see there are plenty of less glamorous moments behind it, moments of feelings like anxiety, indecision, inadequacy. I say this not because I know all of your friends or because I want to be a downer, but because we all have these feelings. They’re part of the human experience, and that’s okay. But FOMO is allowing us only to see the bright sides of other people, making it feel wrong to have any dark moments ourselves. Looking at all of these pictures and feeling like you’re missing out is a really great way to start feeling bad about yourself for a totally understandable but super unnecessary reason.

So how can we feel good and happy and bypass the FOMO? We have to get at whatever it is that bothers us and face it head on. Instead of FOMO, GOMO: go out more often. For all the FOMO you have when you see people’s awesome jobs, GOMO and learn about new talents that you have. For every FOMO of an adorable relationship, GOMO and meet people who make you realize that you are capable and deserving of companionship of your own. And for all of that FOMO about the gym, GOMO and do something fun with your body- hike, swim, dance, roller disco? If you’re a fan of lists, you could even start your own 101 Goals.

I’ll be the first to admit how easy it is to just hang out at home and watch movies or TV. I love it not just because it’s entertaining, but because it’s safe. I can watch my shows and write down my thoughts and then send them out into cyberspace with my eyes glued to the screen in order to gauge how many likes I can get before I’m allowed to feel good about my work. I can be comfortable with that. But you know what it’s so hard for me to do? Talk to strangers. Go out alone. Try new hobbies. But honestly, I’m a lot more likely to feel good about myself after I do those things than I am after a day as a character-analyzing vegetable.

So here’s what I’m thinking. Let’s be real, and realize that every person is a whole person experiencing both good and bad all the time; let’s not forget that if they only want to show us the happy parts. Let’s stop allowing FOMO- this illusion that everyone else has the secret to life and you’re missing out on it- to keep us from feeling good about ourselves. Instead, let’s GOMO. Let’s get out there to some event, or even create our own. Let’s get scared. Let’s get our hands dirty. Let’s feel really uncomfortable. And, along the way, maybe we’ll actually start to be happy.

He’s Her Lobster

As you, my devoted readers, know, I’ve been writing quite a bit about my current distaste for fairytale endings. But I wasn’t always like this; there was a time when I believed that the universe would eventually give us whatever we wanted if we asked nicely enough. I believed that people had soul mates and that everything turned out okay in the end. Reality was not a factor for me. Think of me as Ewan McGregor in the beginning of Moulin Rouge.

During this time, my very favorite on-screen couple was Ross and Rachel of Friends. To me, they represented the holy grail of “will they/won’t they” relationships. They were perfect for each other. They were each other’s lobster. No matter what the storyline, there was always something between them. And, without fail, my favorite episodes of Friends were the ones in which they were together, or even pining after each other, because for me their love just made sense.

This was all several years ago and I’ve grown up since then. I’ve learned a lot about people, romantic relationships, messy feelings, things that come to an end before you want them to, and even television and film writing. My opinions have shifted much more closely toward reality, and it made this time around watching the end of Friends very different.

Seasons 8 and 9 feature a lot of Joey and Rachel. First Joey falls in love with Rachel in a way that is so genuine and sweet, and then after a while Rachel returns his feelings. Everyone recognizes that Ross and Rachel haven’t actually dated in several years, and a lot of totally believable writing gets Rachel and Joey together. But as soon as we enter the last dozen episodes of the series Joey and Rachel suddenly can’t make it work. Why? Not because they’re just too great as friends. No. Because the writers needed her to get with Ross. Because, lobster.

Watching how the writers get Ross and Rachel together at the end, I was shocked at how little they actually had to do. Throw in a couple of remarks here and there, a reference to their first kiss, and suddenly they’re in love again. Truly, the buildup to this last leg of Ross and Rachel’s relationship is about as short as Rachel’s final miniskirt. Rachel was never jealous of Charlie (except for when she was dating Joey), and while Ross obviously was not “fine” with Rachel and Joey as a pair, he apparently wasn’t affected enough to explain what was bothering him or, in fact, to end things with Charlie. Nothing happened between Rachel and Ross, really, until Rachel’s dad had a heart attack and she was feeling vulnerable and lonely.

Rachel and Ross are each others’ weakness. The minute one of them is drunk or sad, or feeling much of anything really, they run into the other’s arms. And I am open to edits on this, but I can’t honestly think of why- other than that chemistry. With Joey and Rachel, or even Chandler and Monica, we see fun times that they share together as friends before they’re in a relationship. But, other than 1994’s laundromat adventure, Ross and Rachel seem to have either big romance or just nothing. They are each others’ default.

Here’s where old Leah and reformed Leah battle. Old Leah says that this is romantic: whenever Ross or Rachel feel something strong, they know with whom they want to share it. When their guard is down, they want each other. Isn’t that love? But realistic Leah fights back: why can’t love be about sharing the banal parts of life? Why don’t they want to be together when everything is normal? Why only when Rachel feels sorry for Ross or realizes he’s about to get married or is on a plane to Paris? Why not when Ross makes one tiny mistake while they’re actually together? Why don’t they want to work on it then?

That’s what makes the end so confusing. Rachel and Ross don’t spend any part of the last season figuring out their relationship except to say that it isn’t off the table. Rachel is genuinely excited about her new job and Ross has come to terms with her going. It doesn’t make sense that, when Ross tells Rachel that he loves her, she suddenly doesn’t care about her next career move or the adventure that she’s so ready to have. But, of course, she gets off the plane. Even less surprising: I still cried.

So many of us have experienced this on some level, where we realize that we have real feelings and that we have choices to make, and we have to pick one over the other. Feelings are messy and they don’t simply go away when a relationship ends. In fact, much like Rachel and Ross, we do not all have control over our feelings. Many of us have had relationships that have been on-again and off-again. What’s to say that Ross and Rachel aren’t the same?

I’ll tell you what… the fact that it’s not. It’s Ross and Rachel, and that’s how we know that it’s more. The crazy thing about love is that it’s the one thing that can turn even the greatest skeptics into the biggest believers; we simply don’t believe it can happen for us, until it does, and then we can’t imagine having a doubt. It doesn’t have to mean that fairytale endings exist for us to know that when something is right it’s right. And even though the twilight of Ross and Rachel’s story makes me so mad, I cried because, despite my venturing over to reality, I still believe. I believe that Ross and Rachel can happen in real life. I believe that two people can, in fact, be right for each other.

Maybe Ross and Rachel aren’t so unrealistic after all. Here’s what they’ve taught me: sometimes you’ll have feelings for someone and it just won’t work out. A whole bunch of times. And you will be able to walk away, because you are an individual, and there is no love that a person simply cannot leave. Ross and Rachel teach us that chemistry and friendship aren’t all it takes- that a relationship, even one between two lobsters, doesn’t work until you work for it. Ross and Rachel are actually pretty incredible because they understand their feelings, and they know that they are each strong enough to be okay on their own or just as friends, even despite them. There is no realization that they must end up together, because these two adults know that life won’t end if they don’t. But they make the choice that they want to be together, and that makes all the difference.

Ross and Rachel are not two lost souls who were destined to find each other. Like so many of us, they are two people who have had feelings for each other and then messed up. But what makes them special is that one day they decide to make it work no matter what. They take control of their decisions, no matter how crazy those decisions might be. They decide that they wanted to be together, that they are willing to work for this and that they will do anything. Even getting off the plane.

Life is not a one-way path to the magical ending. It is full of disorganized and unproductive feelings, decisions that need to be made, and people whose roles fluctuate constantly even though we can always care for them. Perhaps my transformation toward reality has allowed me not to reject happy endings but to realize that they can happen even if things are complicated. In fact, they are that much more powerful when we realize that people chose them: if Rachel can choose her lobster, so can I.

Here’s to airplanes and their left phalanges, to planetariums, to complicated and full and unplanned lives. But, most of all, here’s to lobsters.

rossandrachel

What I Learned From The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years is a difficult movie to watch, and yet somehow I’ve still seen it several times. Quick synopsis: Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) and Cathy (Anna Kendrick) take turns singing songs about their five-year relationship from beginning to end, but while Cathy starts from the end and goes backwards, Jamie starts from the beginning and goes forward. They meet at the middle and then switch after Jamie’s proposal. For sure, part of the reason I’ve seen the movie so many times is the interesting chronology, and the fact that I love Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan and I could listen to them singing literally anything. But there’s also something about this story that stumps me.

This time watching, I tried to figure out what the stumper was. I was surprised to realize how egotistical Jamie is from the very beginning: “Jamie” is the first word of the movie, even though it’s Cathy’s song. In contrast, Jamie’s first several songs are essentially about himself, although he does mention how lucky he is to find his “muse.” So I thought maybe the message I could get from this movie was something about how our flaws don’t seem to matter when we’re in love. In fact, Jamie’s egotism remains somewhat well-hidden until he withdraws from being one half of a whole with Cathy. Before that, his flaws are acceptable, or even unnoticed, because he has found someone who doesn’t seem to mind them.

the last five years couch

Isn’t that the message that we so often glean from romantic comedies? Everybody has problems, but eventually you’ll find someone and when you do your problems won’t matter. The other person will accept them or fix them or make it easy for you to forget about them, and if you’re lucky they’ll bring out the best in you. That’s why we’ve all got this crazy idea that “I’ll never be complete… I’ll never be alive… I’ll never change the world… until ‘I do.'” It’s like we’re each a work in progress, and we’re not finished until we can find somebody else who fits.

But I don’t like that lesson so much. For one thing, it puts our own self-improvement in the hands of another person. But, more importantly, what really gets me about The Last Five Years is the last scene. Anyone who has been through a relationship and a breakup has felt the vast array of emotions present in this scene; we watch Jamie write a note about how it simply doesn’t work between them anymore and then walk away at the same time as we see five-years-ago Cathy, giddy and thankful to say goodbye to her newfound love. In one camera pan, we have the magical beginning and the ending that’s so unremarkable that it hurts. Nothing huge happened to make Cathy and Jamie grow apart- nothing that we can chalk up to dramatics and Hollywood, anyway. Jamie and Cathy grew apart because jobs and lives and personalities became too difficult to make working on it worth it, and that’s something that can happen to anyone.

The Last Five Years hurts to watch, in other words, because the story it tells is so remarkably unremarkable. It’s a love that begins in a way that makes us hopeful and ends in a way that makes us feel like hope is lost. What can make these characters happy now? They’ve already said that they’ll never be happy without each other. And then they weren’t happy with each other, and now they’re not together at all. Are we to assume that they’ll each find someone else? That they’ll be alone? Will they ever be as happy again as they were with each other? These questions are painful to ask and impossible to answer, and that makes this movie tough.

But I still watch it. I do it for those couple of moments at the end, the moments in which there is nothing but pure hope. The morning after their first date, Jamie’s and Cathy’s hearts are so full and they feel an infectious sense of promise. Seeing that right next to their utterly deflated ending is heartbreaking, but it doesn’t mean that their time spent together was wasted. Instead, I think the lesson here is that there is nothing stronger than hope. With it, Jamie and Cathy can hold out through disappointing jobs and temptations and all the things that make life difficult. Without it, the same challenges become impossible.

Jamie and Cathy teach us that even things that are wonderful can come to an end; although some parts of life do go the way we want them to, sometimes there’s no reason why others just don’t. Sometimes something simply awful happens and suddenly life is no longer the same. But that doesn’t mean that life is ruined or that we have to just wait through the sad song montage until everything gets better. The Last Five Years tells us to sit through that awful moment and let it wash over us in the same way that we embrace hopeful beginnings, because we have no more power over these things than we do over falling in love.

the last five years last scene

Just because something ends does not mean that it was worthless. It does not mean that it was doomed from the beginning. It does not mean that we should give up control or hope. When a part of our life ends, we can look back on the happy times without tainting them- because they were happy, and that’s still allowed. And we can have hope for whatever comes next without believing that it has to “complete” us. That’s allowed too.

So, I love the music. I love the raw and eloquently expressed feelings. I love the creative take on moving through a story. But most of all I love that The Last Five Years reminds us to give equal weight to the happy parts and the sad parts, because together they make up our lives. They both make us feel something, even though we like some of those feelings better than others.

Every ending, no matter how painful, came from a beginning that’s worth remembering. This movie can teach us to look at life as a series of beginnings, to tinge all views with the brightness of hope, and to appreciate the bad alongside the good. In real life there are no finished products, no flawless people. The only way to make sure that every story has a happy ending is to make it end with hope. That way those bad parts, which hurt but which are still important, can become a part of the story too. Because, no matter the ending, The Last Five Years teaches us that every story deserves to be told.