The End of FOBO: Could a Pandemic Quash the Fear of Better Options?


The Fear of Better Options (FOBO) is described as an anxiety-inducing, indecisive loop that impacts your social life and hinders your ability to commit to plans at the fear something better will present itself.

Someone with FOBO is quite likely to respond “I’ll let you know” instead of committing to attending an event and might bail on plans last-minute when something more appealing pops up.

We all have friends with FOBO, and we probably all experience FOBO at some point, but amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t help but wonder whether the end of this toxic phenomena could be nigh.

Now that we’re presented with fewer plans, and may also have learned the value of meaningful friendships in isolation, is it possible that we’ll do better to commit to things without hesitation or the fear something better could arise? Could the end of FOBO be the silver lining of 2020?

Annie Gurton, relationship therapist and psychotherapist, says the COVID-19 pandemic has, indeed, taught us the value of human connections and has thus prepared us to be better friends.

“Isolation is, for many people, a huge challenge. For others, its a relief to be permitted to enjoy solitude and the lack of contact with others. Such a range of responses is a demonstration of the wide variety of differences between us.

“However, what is common is that human beings are social creatures, and we fundamentally seek connection with others — this is true for everyone, even though the frequency of connection and intensity of contact that individuals require varies hugely.”

Gurton says with social restrictions and stay-at-home orders in place, plus the opportunities to meet new people taken from us, the past few months have seen us redirect time we would typically spend making new friendships into nourishing existing ones, which has been highly beneficial to these connections.

“People are seeing their friendships deepen and intensify. The conversations we’re having are generally more intimate, and we are getting to know our friends better and on a more intense level. As that happens, we grow to trust those individuals more, and we open ourselves up to these friends in a more vulnerable way.”

Gurton says: “This creates a heightened sense of consideration and empathy. We are becoming better friends who are more likely to initiate contact with others and to hold confidences.”

But is this enough to quash FOBO for good? Now that we’re acting in the best interest of our friends and have an improved sense of empathy, will we finally be able to follow through with our plans and leave FOBO in 2019 where it belongs?

Sadly, if history is anything to go by, we are likely to revert to our old ways in a couple of years time when all restrictions are lifted and we return to being able to travel freely and meet up with friends without social distancing or mask-wearing,” says Gurton.

“We can hope that we have learned how to be better friends — being trustworthy, being reliable, reaching out to friends who are struggling and showing empathy (rather than sympathy, which tends to drive away connection).”

Gurton says that with any luck, we’ll have learned from experience the value of our friendships. She hopes that we’ll continue to open up about our emotions and invite the same responses from our loved ones. She says it’s possible we could emerge from the pandemic to become more trustworthy, less gossipy, and more understanding, but unfortunately… “I doubt it.”

Gurton says the Fear of Better Options is engrained is our personalities, and that not even a global pandemic could reset those behaviours. “FOBO is related to our sense of security and confidence, and when we feel FOBO, we generally feel anxious.

Anxiety is a normal part of what it means to be human; its part of our primal survival strategy. When we are confident and feel secure in ourselves, we are able to better consider other people and realise that hesitating around arrangements or changing our plans affects other people negatively, so we try not to do it.

“FOBO tends to affect people most when they are feeling insecure and are only thinking of themselves. Because when we are highly anxious, that’s what we do — consider ourselves first. Its a survival instinct.

“And yet those who are able to make a decision and stick to it will find life far calmer, safer and more certain. And that, as human beings, is what we want and need.”

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