FOMO’s Big Sibling ⸺ Senior FOMO
“Team tryouts this week. If you want to perform at Camp Hollywood, show up at the studio on Monday.”
This announcement popped up in my social media feed about two days after I turned sixty-three. Camp Hollywood is a huge deal for Lindy Hoppers and other swing dancers. One of the longest and largest running swing dance camps in the world, Camp Hollywood hosts a weekend packed with all things dance – a marketplace with everything retro, classes from the best instructors, all night social dances. And perhaps best of all, it hosts competitions. Some of the hottest dancers unite in Los Angeles for three days of wild and wonderful dance-offs.
Mixed in with the pro and semi-pro dancers are student teams. About five years ago, I danced on one of those teams. The entire weekend was magic, even though my partner almost dropped me on the final backward dip. I wanted to perform again. Many dancers I’ve known and danced with for years will be on a team. But I won’t be.
Since the last time I performed, I’ve herniated two disks in my neck and torn a ligament in my shoulder. I’m also just not in the shape I was five years ago. Lindy is fast and athletic, requiring spins, dips, and all kinds of physical shenanigans I can’t do. And that makes me really sad. I don’t want to miss out on the bonding that happens during the stressful months of practice. Thinking of the excitement everyone feels lining up just off the dance floor, waiting for their team name to be called, then the whir of the actual performance, it all breaks my heart because I’ll be sitting on the sidelines.
Missing this event isn’t the only thing that saddens me. It’s all the events, experiences, and opportunities seemingly slipping by, no longer available for one reason or another.
I don’t care how well anyone ages, life changes in some weird ways after what can be reasonably called middle age. Let’s not even discuss sex. Even the most creative adult entertainers have nothing on sexy seniors. Aging biology requires some very imaginative problem solving. Age also brings issues of bone density, failing vision, and bruises that seem to come out of nowhere. The list goes on, but what I find most shocking is that my brain, or maybe I should say, my inner self, hasn’t changed a bit. Inside my head, I am at sixty-three very much who I was at thirty-three. I’m still more comfortable in torn jeans than a business suit. I still want to live on the road, taking every side street that looks less traveled. I still fall in love with anyone playing an acoustic guitar. I even picture myself as I appeared then. Just imagine the shock I experience when I look in a mirror! I’m not taking aging at all well. I’m angry at God, or the cosmos, or biology, or whatever. And I’m mad as hell at social media, not because of some weird old person versus new technology thing, but because that’s where I get to see what everyone else is doing.
I have FOMO, the fear of missing out, at a level I don’t think most people under a certain age can imagine. FOMO is defined as the sense that other people are leading more exciting lives than we are. Of course, there’s nothing new about envying what others are doing, but social media has brought this feeling to a whole different level by allowing us to see every well-staged moment of our friends’ (and not-friends’) lives and comparing them to our own very average moments.
One might assume that young people, with less experience and perspective, would be most susceptible to this hyper-charged envy. And in some ways, they probably are. The pressure to fit in and be cool (is this still a word?) surely hits younger people harder. No one expects older people to fit in, so we don’t get the same pressure from others. But chasing online acceptance can be a vicious game for people of any age. Research suggests some FOMO sufferers get so caught up trying to achieve a level of excitement they believe others are experiencing that they lose touch of their actual goals. Also, evidence suggests FOMO hits people even harder if they already believe their lives aren’t going well. For a lot of older people, this is especially difficult, since, for us, life is getting ready not to go at all, if you get my drift. And that’s the problem.
I believe older people experience a whole different level of FOMO because, at least in some cases, we can’t hold out the hope that we might still win the prize at some point in the future. In fact, I think we need a new acronym for senior FOMO (I’m still working on this but perhaps we can use LL DOMO for Late Life Dread Of Missing Out, or TB FOMO for The Big FOMO, or maybe FOMO TD for FOMO Then Dead.). For us, it isn’t just an envy of what others might be doing. It’s also an envy of what our younger selves were doing or might have done.
It happens when doors that once seemed eternally open, mysteriously close. And to add just an extra dose of cruelty, most of these doors close silently when we’re not looking. We don’t get a warning sign that life is preparing to shrink. When I read about the Camp Hollywood team tryouts, I actually checked my calendar to see what I’d have to move around, so I could attend. Then wham! Have you ever seen those old cartoons where an anthropomorphized animal chasing a foe steps on a shovel or something and bang!? I relate. It made no difference if my calendar was empty. My body couldn’t compete.
Right now, the dance competition weighs on my mind, but if it were only this kind of event that set off my senior FOMO, I could handle it. I wouldn’t love it. I would pout and bitch a lot, but ultimately, I’d get over it. But it’s not only that I will never spin and dip like I did not so very long ago. It’s that doors to real-life goals are slamming closed.
I recently retired from my full-time job, but due to years of bad planning on my part, I still need to work. At first, that kind of excited me because there are jobs I would have liked to have done when I was younger but couldn’t because they didn’t pay enough. Now, I only need to supplement my retirement, so I could work for minimum wage. Cool!
I’ve always wanted to work in a health food store. I like the food and the people who hang out in them. And the older I get the more I’m willing to grab on to every “superfood” trend that hits the market in the hope of adding a few more minutes to my life. I’ve entertained the idea of working at a health food store for so long that I can picture the store clearly. In my mind, I work at a place where hippies old and young buy raw almonds in bulk and wheatgrass by the flat. There’s a rustic counter in the back where a server, called something like Mystic Ryvvr, preferably donning neck tattoos and facial piercings, blends up organic shakes and brews herbal teas. The store in my mind is very groovy, (Sorry! It’s a great word.) and I long to work there.
I set about searching through job ads. I made a list of stores where I could apply, and then I pulled up my resume. I’ve done a lot of things professionally, none of them even remotely related to working in my hippie store. So, of course, I deleted all signs of advanced learning and did my best to turn executive-level positions into customer service gigs. I uploaded my new resume to websites for health food stores all over Los Angeles. Then I waited. And I kept waiting. I didn’t get a single interview, not even from the store that sent me a group email encouraging me to apply to one of their openings.
I don’t think I fit the mold of an entry-level employee. And while my age isn’t included on anything, there’s no way to hide the fact that I graduated high school in 1976. As with Camp Hollywood, not working at a hippie health food store isn’t the end of the world. But it isn’t the end of the closed doors either.
Besides another weekend at Camp Hollywood or my dreams of working at a health food store, the following is a random list of things I want to do but probably never will do:
● Earn a law degree (If I got accepted immediately, I might be able to start practicing when I’m around 67, and I’d have student loans.)
● Learn to surf (I tried once not long ago. I was in physical therapy for six months afterward.)
● Move to New York City and work in some grungy coffee house by day while spending my evenings in a dingy bar drinking something on the rocks and writing brilliant but dark short stories
● Use a skateboard for transportation (can’t risk the falls – bone density)
● Wake up with no pain in my body
● Skate on a roller derby team
● Board a freight train when it’s taking off from somewhere and ride the rails to somewhere else (Starting and ending points aren’t the issue, and if you wondered about them, well, that makes me sad.)
I don’t know how to describe the feeling that takes over upon learning there’s yet another thing in the world, something wonderful, adventurous, daring, or sexy that I’ll probably never do. Senior FOMO contains sadness, but that’s too flat. There’s anger. I’m angry at myself for not grabbing every single opportunity that presented itself. I’m pissed I didn’t turn more of my dreams into memories. I want to scream until my throat shreds for every safe bet I ever played.
Above all, there’s a weird kind of mourning for the life that could have been. But I didn’t board this roller coaster of emotions just to be maudlin. And I certainly didn’t do it to one-up younger people’s FOMO. Quite the opposite, in fact. I think older people need to share more honestly what it feels like to be where we are. No one did that with me. Although knowing me as a young person, it’s possible I just wasn’t listening. (I called my mother. She assures me I wasn’t listening.) Nevertheless, I didn’t see this coming, and it’s hitting me like that freight train I can still picture myself riding.
Here’s my proposal: We abolish FOMO so no one else goes on to experience the dreaded senior FOMO. When that feeling of missing something kicks in, we run to wherever the thing is happening and do it. Not invited? Better still! Imagine the social media videos of being escorted out of wherever while screaming “Kaiden invited me.” (There’s always a Kaiden. Am I right?) If we can’t make it happen, then we outdo it. We start something bigger, better, weirder.
Or we do none of this.
Instead, we carefully consider what matters, excites, and motivates us, and we do those things. Ask this question: “If I never do this, will I regret it?” If the answer is even a weak maybe, do it! Do as many of these as possible, because I promise that when senior FOMO strikes, it has little to do with other people’s experiences or expectations.
At 63-years-old, I’m doing what I can to keep the FOMO away. I’m getting that MFA in writing I always wanted. And though it’s toned way down, I’m still dancing. Every now and then, I go off by myself into nature, just me and my tent. My life is good, but damn! What if I had just gone for it? Ah, FOMO.
Kait Leonard holds graduate degrees in literature and psychology and is currently working on her MFA at Antioch University. Her recent fiction has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Every Day Fiction, The Moving Force Journal, and Six Sentences. Her nonfiction can be found in Seniors Guide, Today’s Caregiver, and monthly in The Canyon Chronicle, a community newspaper serving parts of Los Angeles County. She shares her home with five parrots who regularly make her bleed, and her American bulldog, Seeger.