(Graphic: Kat Borosky/TueNight.com)
Fear of missing out — aka FOMO* — made me move to New Jersey, that is. FOMO is a term coined by Dan Herman, to characterize the sense that, and to paragraph Mindy Kaling’s memoir title, everyone is hanging out without you.
You’d think someone with FOMO would want to stay in the city that never sleeps, rather than leave it for a far sleeper milieu, right? Let me explain.
When I first moved to New York City at age 20 to go to law school, I fell in love. Not with a person, but with the city itself. Having moved from the Bay Area, where BART stops running around midnight, I marveled at the 24/7 subway service, art galleries right down the block from my Mercer Street dorm, and being in proximity to clubs like Tramps, Brownies, The Bottom Line (RIP, all) and Mercury Lounge. I loved the Big Apple’s cultural offerings so much that I threw myself headlong into anything and everything that could occupy my time — except studying. Back then, I didn’t experience FOMO because all I was missing out on were contracts and torts classes.
I survived quitting law school via my fast typing fingers (100 WPM!) and parlayed a series of temp jobs into a freelance writing career and, eventually, a seven-year full-time gig as an editor at Penthouse Variations.
For a while, I dutifully subscribed to Time Out New York, determined to take advantage of every interesting offering the metropolis dangled before me. Wasn’t that the point of living in New York? In my sixteen years as a New Yorker, I got to experience so many fun events I actually have trouble recalling the highlights. I, was right where all the action was — bands played at least one NYC gig, limited-release movies always came to New York, and friends visited from all over the world.
Drag queen bingo, the random Julia Stiles spotting seemed less fun when they became ubiquitous.
But over the last few years, and especially once I was laid off from my magazine job, I longed for a break from the nonstop activity. Drag queen bingo, the random Julia Stiles spotting, or running into friends on the subway and making impromptu plans, seemed less fun when they became ubiquitous. I felt obligated to attend every cool happening, in order to “take advantage” of being in the thick of it all, when what I really wanted was peace and quiet.
I found myself relishing trips out of New York more than my time in the city. I wanted to write the novel I’d never made time for. Even basics of city life I once would’ve praised to the mountaintops, (my beloved subway system), started to annoy me — I realized this while loudly cursing an L train that was running just a few minutes later than the red LED display indicated.
My process of detachment happened over several years, but culminated when I fell in love with a born and bred Jersey boy. He’d lived in New York on his own for a few years and had gone to school in New England, but had returned home to his Jersey roots. I started spending several days at a time in his tiny town, one a good 20-minute car ride from the nearest New Jersey Transit station. While I chafed at the fact that Dunkin’ Donuts was what passed for a café, I loved that he had two bedrooms, a basement and a washing machine in his apartment.
As our first year together passed, I knew I couldn’t keep commuting back and forth in what often felt like a long-distance relationship.
Since my boyfriend works in Red Bank, New Jersey, we started our rental search there. I still wasn’t sure if I could hack life in the burbs, but one look at what would soon become our apartment sealed the deal. Rather than the cramped, hot, closetless two-bedroom I’d occupied for 13 years, this place had natural light to spare, my own bedroom and bathroom and plenty of closet space, and was within walking distance of the train.
But the strain of lugging myself an hour and a half back and forth started to feel heavy. Even though we were in a serious relationship, when I was in Brooklyn, flitting off to book parties, concerts and plays, I sometimes felt single. Without the person I loved to come home to, it was hard to stay anchored. I knew exactly what I was missing out on, and it was made all the more poignant when I attended an event I knew my boyfriend would’ve enjoyed.
Now when I go back into New York, I plan ahead to make my $29.50 round trip worth it. I don’t say yes to everything, and by being more selective about what events I attend and how I spend my time, I can savor the city more.
I short-circuited my FOMO by replacing it with COMO — certainty of missing out. I know that on any given night, there’s something cool, fun and cosmopolitan happening 50 miles away, and I’m okay with watching Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune on the couch with my boyfriend instead.
Since moving, I’ve embraced my own inner domestic diva — not in the Emily Matchar New Domesticity way, but one uniquely my own. I actually use cookbooks that had grown dusty in Brooklyn, like Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s awesome vegan offering Appetite for Reduction. Right now I have tofu marinating, waiting to be baked — and I didn’t even follow a recipe, but made up my own!
My life in suburbia is much more inward-focused. Yes, I pay attention to what’s happening out in the world. I keep track of shows I’d like to see, whether they’re at Edinburgh Festival Fringe or in Manhattan, but I also take pride in living in a town small enough that my local juice bar knows my order, my library calls me when books are in, and I can see the Navesink River from my balcony.
What I miss about New York isn’t the cultural frenzy I once treasured; in fact, the frenzied way I approached New York’s around-the-clock happenings was what made me feel overwhelmed by them. I miss my teammates at Big Quiz Thing trivia, the excellent and amusing baristas at Gimme Coffee, walks across the Williamsburg Bridge, full of spectacular people watching and being able to see my friend’s new baby. But Red Bank fulfills any missing hipster angst easily — yesterday I had to cross the street so reality show Comic Book Men could film outside Kevin Smith’s comic book shop Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash. But I’ve learned that missing out isn’t always a bad thing, because it makes you appreciate what you have.
The biggest change hasn’t been about what’s going on around me, but what’s going on inside me. Part of my metamorphosis from city mouse to Jersey girl is about priorities — I don’t want to be everywhere at once. I don’t need to ingest every ounce of culture available. I can focus on building my relationship and career, saving up so I can start thinking about when I can realistically afford to raise some Jersey girls (or boys) of my own.
I will probably always think of myself, at least in part, as a New Yorker. The city shaped me from a timid, uncertain wannabe writer law student into a published author and international traveler. My rewards for having navigated the constant onslaught of information, people and events are innumerable. But now I’m ready to embrace a quieter life. When I want an instant hit of the essence of sparkling, dazzling, glorious metropolis, all I have to do is close my eyes, and know that in the game of life, I’m not missing a thing.
*A quick primer on FOMO, recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary, suggests that you must read/absorb/do everything, or else you won’t be as culturally aware, or have as enjoyable a life as, your friends. It’s been applied with a special emphasis on technology, in places like The New York Times and Fast Company.