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Hi. My Name Is FOMO.

Growing up gay, getting bullied and the ultimate fear of missing out.

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My name is Tyler. I’m a successful, 36-year-old gay man. I’m outgoing, and have great friends. Most people who meet me think I have got it completely together, but I have a secret. It’s a secret most of us have, though we never talk about it.

Say you go to work on Monday and check Facebook. In your newsfeed you see a photo posted of your friends together at a party or get together over the weekend – a party you knew nothing about it. They are tagged in it and the photos show them laughing and having a good time. Now, if you’re like me, this scenario sets off alarm bells and unleashes a wave of deeply seeded insecurities. You feel anger and resentment. Your brain tells you:

I don’t fit in.

They purposely didn’t invite me because I’m flawed.

Nobody wants me.

I’m not worthy.

I’m not good enough.

Sound familiar? Even if you only feel one of those things for a split moment, then you share my fear. Welcome to the darker, much harder side of FOMO. Welcome to the fear of not being included, or more accurately ‘The fear of exclusion.’ Think of it as the emo cousin to the much cuter, “OMG I so wish I would have gone to Cancun” FOMO.

So where does this intense FOMO stem from?

As humans, we are intensely social creatures and much of our happiness is derived from our social interactions - our belonging to a tribe and feeling wanted and worthy. It all starts when we are kids - feeling part of our family, and our social group at school. As kids, being included in a group of friends and in activities meant being liked, which brought a sense of value and happiness to our lives. But sometimes getting excluded as a child has lasting effects into adulthood.

All of us have been excluded at one time or another as a child. Maybe it was from a game at recess, or being picked last in baseball. A few of these are expected and you can usually grow up to navigate social interactions without much trouble from this. But what if the exclusions went deeper?

Take my experience, and probably the experiences of most gay men when they were kids.

For me, I was constantly excluded as a child for being “other.” I was too effeminate, too much like a girl, for the boys to want to play with me. They didn’t invite me into their games at recess, or to play sports. I was different. I was not like them, and that made them uncomfortable and unsure of whether I should be there.

Then there were the girls. I fit in much better with them and they were my closest friends in my early elementary school years, but I was still not like them. I was a boy. I didn’t like playing house or skipping and I didn’t have a lot of the same interests. I did love my Skip it though! I had mine in light blue because I was butch… Overall, I desperately wanted to play tag, 21, tetherball or red rover (I’m really dating myself here) with the boys. They wouldn’t let me though. Not really. They talked about me. They even seemed scared of me. I was bullied. I was kicked, sat on and called gay. I had to wait in my classroom sometimes after school to avoid being beat.

As I got older, the divisions came more from a sexuality standpoint than from a gender based one. The boys were highly uncomfortable with me; even though I didn’t yet know I was gay. This discomfort turned into fear. The bullying ramped up. I was now called Faggot and Fag. I was spat on, pushed and threatened. I was lucky that this wasn’t always a daily occurrence, as sometimes I was able to avoid them, but it was pervasive enough to leave some pretty deep emotional scars. All through primary school and into high school, I was also lucky that I found people who were also different. They didn’t fit in either. We helped give each other strength and understanding. Most importantly, we formed our own tribe. And it really helped. But they couldn’t protect me from my deep down feelings and my overall sense of worth.

Though it wasn’t always easy, I’m proud to say I persevered. I did well in school and found my way to a happy, successful life as an adult and openly proud gay man. Those feelings from my childhood are still here though, as emotional scars. People can’t see them, but they are there, and they have a way of resurfacing when it comes to friendship dynamics.

Today, If mutual friends of mine get together for say dinner, a game night, skating, the beach, or a weekend away and don’t invite me, it instantly transforms me into that hurting, 7-year-old boy. My brain automatically unloads a tsunami of fear in the form of feelings.

Nobody likes you.

You are flawed.

You’re not good enough.

They don’t want you.


Thanks to years of family support and therapy under my belt, I am able to recognize that these feelings are not truths. They are simply triggers from my past. My friends have not excluded me, not on purpose anyway. They are not like that at all. They are wonderful people. I know this, but sometimes I get stuck for a day or two feeling like I did as a kid.

So, being a new year, one of my goals in 2018 is to process these truths faster and act on then more productively. Instead of feeling sorry for myself for a day before remembering that I’m simply triggered, I am going to tell myself in the moment that I am indeed worthy and that I have the strength and resolve to turn any negative feelings into positive ones. I can recognize that these feelings aren’t truths, and I can take action by asking those friends if I can come along next time. I can invite friends over. I can plan an activity with them. I can remember that sometimes I prefer the “me time.” I can tell myself that I’m not that scared little boy anymore. I don’t have to be afraid. I’m strong, and sassy, and I know people have my back.

No matter if you were excluded as a child for being gay, poor, a nerd, or just different - recognize that you have made it through. You’ve grown, and have joined some of the most driven, creative, funny and interesting people I know. We are Weirdos, and we are pretty fucking awesome.

So here’s to 2018, and to knowing ourselves that much more.

Here’s to telling fear to take a hike.

And here’s to every brave homo fighting back on all that fomo.

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