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Carolyn Hax: Managing the ‘constant fear that my friends are hanging out without me’

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn: I recently moved into my own apartment. I’d previously lived with the same roommate for eight years, and we wanted to spread our wings and live separately.

Well, now I'm in my new place, and I just live in constant fear that my friends are hanging out without me. It goes away while I'm working, and emerges at night and on the weekends as a constant anxiety.

The group typically makes a weekend plan together, but weekday nights seem to be a free for all with people hanging out. My therapist just keeps asking me what I can do to help myself feel better. And short of trying to force my friends to always invite me places, I’m not sure what I can do. I also have a fear of coming up with a plan myself, and no one saying yes. Any advice?


FOMO: First suggestion is renaming what you have. It’s less anxiety than hurt feelings, no? Anxiety suggests a worry that’s disproportionate to the risk something will happen. What you describe is friends who get together sometimes without you, during the “free for all,” and the tough feelings that stirs up: Do they not want me there? Was I just the less-popular part of a package deal?

These of course are real concerns and very painful. And your worry that they don’t like you, separate from your missing out on whatever’s happening on that day/night, does sound anxiety-based.

But because your bad feelings are largely about something that is happening sometimes, whether out of innocent proximity/spontaneity or deliberate exclusion, that would explain why you’re getting the response you’ve gotten from your therapist. You can respond to it as a fact and not as a fear: Will you start contacting friends on weekdays? Will you find other things to do on weeknights to distract you? Will you choose those things also to broaden your social prospects, in case your group dissolves? (Happens all the time, so diversifying is rarely a bad idea.)

Will you work on enjoying your own company more, so your social time is more choice than compulsion?

Meaning, what are you willing to do? That’s the answer — taking some action toward holding the reins of your own social life instead of leaving it to your group.

Dear Carolyn: Thanks, I suppose I will have to diversify. I didn’t mention that I made the deliberate decision to not drink, about a year ago, and they all are big binge drinkers. I would assume I’m not the first person anyone thinks of anymore when it comes to a “fun night.” I guess I’m just worried about having this fear/anxiety about making plans, getting invited, having FOMO forever. Plans and friends never stop. It’s overwhelming to think about.

— FOMO again

FOMO again: Sounds to me as if you’re at a crossroads, foot hovering and ready to step in an entirely new direction, and paralyzed with fear of taking it.

If so, please take it. Your friends might be lovely and simpatico and devoted to you for the long haul, but they’re still not, at least for a while, the best besties for a teetotaler.

So my other suggestion is to commit your next therapy appointment to not immediately ruling out where your therapist is trying to lead you.

I also beg you to stop using “FOMO.” Lingo forms to convey a relevant concept, but with overuse it becomes the enemy of nuance and even a dodge unto itself. You have partially faced something really important. It’s not a thing, a moment, a mood, it’s you. Good for you. Now go follow through.