When it comes to FOMO, in Trinidad & Tobago the struggle is real

Feature image via Canva Pro.

The first time I heard the term FOMO, which for the acronymically challenged means the Fear of Missing Out, I was on my way back to the mainland after a weekend DDI (Down De Islands), a cluster of smaller isles off Trinidad's northwest coast that is a popular R&R (Rest and Relaxation) sanctuary. It was late, and with us on the boat was an exhausted but determined toddler who was ducking sleep with such dexterity, she could have taught Muhammad Ali a thing or two about bobbing and weaving. Her parents, who clearly knew when to throw in the towel, chalked up her resistance to FOMO.

Toddlers, I get. They're naturally curious, everything is new and exciting, and their brains are developing at breakneck speed, making all sorts of important neurological connections that help them figure out how the world works and where they fit in. With adults, however, health experts believe the FOMO phenomenon is intricately tied to the perception that other people are having more fun than you are. For some deep-seated reason, this triggers such a sense of anxiety that you may suddenly find yourself doing unexpected things to avoid being left out. YOLO (You Only Live Once), after all — just check all the LYBLs (Live Your Best Lifers) on Instagram.

On Monday January 9, in her eagerness to attend the state funeral of former prime minister Basdeo Panday, Karen Nunez-Tesheira, a former Minister of Finance, scrambled over a railing at SAPA (the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts), even as she rationalised why she “had to jump over” to members of the media, who were very much there for it: “The minister, who was my colleague, chose to ignore my presence. […] So you ignored me, now you all saw me. And now they have to help the former president of the Senate do the same thing, 'cause he got no invitation.” The clip then showed Timothy Hamel-Smith following Nunez-Tesheira's lead and scaling the barrier.

I honestly had to replay the video a few times in an effort to understand why, even if they were inclined to break the rules as so many in Trinidad and Tobago routinely do — when as leaders, they should be setting the example — they would brazenly do so in full view of video cameras, with justifications being uttered even as they lolloped over the fence. Neither appeared particularly grief-stricken either, although grief, like FOMO, I suppose, can manifest in any number of ways.

Given that in December 2022, Nunez-Tesheira unsuccessfully challenged current prime minister Keith Rowley for the leadership of the PNM (the People's National Movement) in an internal election, resigned from the party in August 2023 claiming that the country's democracy was “under threat” and joined Hamel-Smith's fledgling political party, it is not unreasonable to assume that her government colleagues may still be harbouring some resentment. As one Facebook friend of mine quipped, however, “It's 2024…are we still storming weddings and funerals?”

Apparently, the answer is yes. Trinidadians can't stand the thought of missing anything — from showers to wakes, beginning to end, we like to see and be seen — and if we need to rattle the proverbial cage in order to sidestep the big emotions FOMO stirs up in us, so be it. Had it been two ordinary Joes storming the North Stand at Panorama, though, you can bet the narrative would have immediately gone to a dark, derogatory place — but the higher you get in society, the more FOMO seems to be tolerated; expected, even.

It's absurd to me — but then, I don't suffer from FOMO. I'm as TTTB (Trini to the Bone) as the next gal, but anyone who knows me will attest that I can usually be found very far from the madding crowd. If anything, I'm the poster child for JOMO (the Joy of Missing Out). It may have something to do with a birthday party I was allegedly invited to sometime over the course of my primary school career. I must have been about seven or eight because what transpired shows that I had already reached the age of reason.

It was pickup time, and a classmate — whose name or face I honestly cannot remember, though I do recall that he had a large sense of entitlement and very few friends — sprinted towards me to hand me an invitation, accompanied by some throwaway line about the party needing more girls. Needless to say, I steupsed, stuffed the thing in my bag, went home and promptly forgot about it. My mother later found the invite and asked me how come I hadn't said anything. “Because I'm not going.” When she asked why, I recounted the exchange, and she fully agreed that no child of hers was being sent anywhere to make up numbers. (I suspect she may even have been a little impressed.)

That attitude has stuck with me to this day. I love my own company; if you don't feel the same way, fine by me, but don't expect me to scrape and claw my way into your club, concert, party, wedding or funeral. I won't take it personally either — I completely understand that you may have run out of tickets for your fete, preferred a more intimate gathering for your nuptials, or overbooked your dining room.

In the case of the rail-climbing dyad, the oversight may have been intentional or simply a snafu. Either way, if you aren't in possession of an invitation to a solemn state event — for which the guest list was likely discussed with and/or approved by the deceased's family — should you show up? And for what? To prove a political point? Make the organisers look petty at best and, at worst, inept? Or perhaps, to be able to say you were there. At least we got a plethora of entertaining memes out of the whole fiasco.

In a country where we're still irritatingly hung up on status and hierarchy, where “all-inclusives” are designed to exclude, where practically every event has not only a VIP section but a VVIP section — ostensibly, there's always rarer air to be had in the FOMO universe — people forget that they have options and IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), the dynamic duo could have availed themselves of one. The simplest and most dignified choice may well have been to leave and send a sympathy card. To be fair, though, that's a secret we JOMO sufferers keep close to our chest: absence makes the heart grow fonder.

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