The Sunday Telegraph
FOMO is back, but I just need TOMO* (time on my own)
As we return to socialising after lockdown, for many it’s a case of too much too soon, says Rosa Silverman
On Thursday, sday, my friends had dinner in Soho at our favourite te Chinese restaurant. The he one we’d missed most sorely during uring the lockdowns, when the usually ally teeming streets of central ral London were eerily emptied mptied of crowds. Pre-Covid, ovid, we’d pack in there on a work night, each of us having hotfooted it from om our respective offices, ffices, squeezing around und a white-clothed d table and sharing steaming ing dumplings.
We couldn’t t wait to return. Except, t, when the time came, something mething had changed. Most t of us were working from home in the suburbs. It would ould take a while to get into to town. I’d received my second econd vaccination that hat day, and having succumbed mbed to almost every possible side-effect last t time around,
I was braced for or another bad reaction. I was s also about to go away for the weekend. Imagine going out the night before a weekend away! y! When was I supposed to draw raw breath?
In the old times, mes, I’d have done it, felt tired afterwards, wards, got over it, and done it again. But now? I stayed home. For all the months nths of longing for our social lives to return, a manic burst of overscheduling ng once things reopened has led to desperation for TOMO (time on my own). Between adjusting to fun-free lives in lockdown and rapidly burning ourselves out when the first signs of social activity came – restaurants and pubs had an unprecedented flood of bookings before the April 12 reopening, with 14million outdoor pub slots pencilled in for July alone – that freedom we dreamt of during the winter lockdown has been replaced with a desire for emancipation of a different kind: from our overstuffed social lives.
I know, I know, after all that time tucked away from the world, you’d think we’d be grateful to be out of the house. But after weeks of sun-streaked barbecue snaps on our Instagram feeds, and as the catch-up dinners and
coffees and drinks have gone on (and on), all of it has conspired to create a kind of anti-FOMO. Fear of Missing Out? Fear of going out now feels closer to the mark.
This isn’t only affecting working mothers like me, but previously sociable 20-somethings too. Daisy, 26, says she feels “constrained” by the five-plus plans she now has each week, which are due to carry on for months ahead. “How will I know if I have the energy for it?” she says. “Lockdown showed me how important it is to have niksen – the Dutch word for doing nothing at all, having no obligations or anything. Just being on my own, de-stressing.”
Daisy has crammed in “too many holidays”, too. “I try to squeeze in naps on trains because I’m always so tired by it all,” she says. Why do so much, then? “A lot of it is plans that had to be rescheduled because of lockdown, and then squeezed into a short period. But I also experience FOMO when I’m not out there having fun. One thing I enjoyed about the pandemic was the lack of pressure to do anything.”
Emily, 42, a mother of three, has booked herself up for every single weekend until mid-August. “I went to the bad place with the excitement of impending freedom,” she says. “I only realised the other day that I’ve completely overscheduled myself, and now I’m panicked about not having any time to myself for weeks. But there were so many people I wanted to catch up with, and I felt I needed to make the most of finally being able to go out again – however exhausted it left me.”
Then there are those on the other end of the spectrum, for whom a return to socialising has never held any appeal. In April, a Healthier Nation Index survey by Nuffield Health found that almost half (47 per cent) of Britons were nervous about getting back out there again, with 38 per cent saying
they would do so less than before the pandemic.
“As people have settled into a comfort zone that feels safe (although not perfect), they may be reluctant to move from this safe space into the unknown,” said Gosia Bowling, a Nuffield psychotherapist, at the time.
And so it has proven to be. Simon Shattock, a family and couples psychotherapist at Clinical Partners, says he has observed conflicting feelings within those who say they want their “normal life” back but have grown used to a different way of living.
“The idea of going back to normal actually feels a bit counterintuitive,” he says. He recommends we take the pressure off, pare things back and take it as slowly as we need to. Socialise one night a week instead of five.
“Keep it gradual. Don’t feel you have to start living it up. It’s OK to still have reading time or to chill out and watch the football. Just because you can go out, it doesn’t mean you have to.” Another friend who longs for TOMO admits she felt pleased to see the weather forecast promised rain this weekend. “So I don’t need to feel guilty about staying at home doing the garden and clearing out the spare room.”
This, after 15-odd months of doing nothing else. What is wrong with us? Is it time to take a step back? We have just come through an extended period of collective and individual trauma. We are tired and overwhelmed. The threat hasn’t actually disappeared. Yet now we are expected to switch on our fun, social selves again, as if nothing has happened; to dust off our nice clothes (what nice clothes? Why don’t they fit anymore?) and get out there. Oh, and don’t forget to book ahead, limit the group size to whatever the current rules demand and bring a mask for the journey.
For some, it’s just too much. “Looking through my diary fills me with panic now,” says Annie, 33, who is expecting her first child this autumn. “My weekends are full with staycations, hen dos, weddings. And even though I’ve missed these things, it’s stressing me out that I won’t be able to relax at home. In the depths of lockdown I never thought I’d choose to stay home again. But now I’m back to craving some time to myself. Plus I never finished
‘Lockdown has showed me how important it is to do nothing at all’