The sweet feeling of relief when plans are cancelled is real – and ROMO is the reason behind it

Written by Leah Sinclair

Cancelled plans can sometimes cause us to feel a sweet sense of relief as we get to take time for ourselves and do what we want – and many of us are feeling this way on an increasingly frequent basis in what is described as ROMO – the relief of missing out.

There’s something euphoric about cancelling plans when you can’t be bothered to go. It’s when, without even having to message each other, you and your BFF can sense that neither of you really wants to leave the house today. Or the guilty excitement you feel when a loved one cancels and, even though you should be disappointed, you’re already thinking about what takeaway you’re going to order while you finish that Netflix true crime doc you started the day before.

Can you tell that I’ve experienced my fair share of this? I’m far from the only one who’s felt the relief of missing out (or ROMO), but it feels like those of us who feel sweet respite from cancelled plans are far less conflicted about it.

The relief of missing out serves as an antithesis to the fear of missing out (FOMO), often for those who feel a sense of emotional ease when the opportunity to keep to themselves presents itself and allows them to narrowly avoid social situations that may have taken a toll on their energy or wellbeing.

A 2022 study conducted by OnePoll found that 71% of people said they look forward to plans being cancelled so they can just stay in, with binge-watching TV shows, finishing a book or going for a walk among the things they prefer to do. 

I have to admit, the occasional bouts of ROMO I experience don’t have much to do with wanting to indulge in a hobby or go for an evening jog. Instead, it links to the overarching theme behind why more of us are experiencing ROMO – it serves as an opportunity to take time for myself and to rest.

Most of my days are spent at work. It requires long periods of intense focus and brain power. In my downtime, I enjoy reconnecting with friends and family and also taking time for myself, but as a moonlighting social butterfly, I do like to overbook my calendar and find myself scrolling through my diary with back-to-back events, dinners and brunches. 

There are occasions when the split between the time I’ve given to loved ones and the time I’ve given myself is far from equal, however. So when a surprise opportunity to stay indoors, on my own, without any obligation to do anything, I’ll quietly take pleasure in doing it.

Perhaps constantly overcommitting is contributing to the sense of joy when plans are cancelled from time to time, but I often wonder what else is fuelling this sense of ROMO that I’m experiencing.

It seems there are a few factors that can play a role – beginning with the never-ending desire to attain a reasonable work-life balance.

While many of us are still hybrid-working post-pandemic, our work habits have pretty much gone back to normal, from barely taking lunch breaks to working long into the night – and establishing the perfect work-life balance has once again become tricky.     

So much so that a 2023 Salary & Recruiting Trends report by Hays found almost two-thirds of employees are willing to accept a lower-paid job in exchange for a better work-life balance, proving that there is desire to spend more time prioritising self-care and better wellbeing. 

Another factor contributing to this growing sense of ROMO is the lack of time we have to ourselves. According to Modern Gov, the average employee will spend 35 hours a week working, which adds up to 1,795 hours a year and over 84,365 hours in a lifetime.

Sharing the free time we have between family, friends and partners means that the time we get on our own continues to dwindle, adding to the occasional bouts of relief we experience when those plans get cancelled.

Then, in the words of one Twitter user, many are “romo’ing in this economy cause [we] can’t afford shit.”

After all socialising costs money, honey – and how many of us can truly afford to fabulously jump from one bottomless brunch to another?

From our finances to our time-poor ways, ROMO presents a moment of bliss as we get to take time back for ourselves to do what we want to do – but it’s important to strike a balance.

“Any pattern that we fall into without being conscious or intentional about can have its downside,” says Becky Hall, life coach, leadership consultant and author of The Art Of Enough.

“If you’re using other people cancelling plans as a way of allowing yourself to have time out or space, it may be worth checking in with yourself about what it is you really need to give you energy.”

As Hall suggests, constantly feeling relieved when plans get cancelled requires some reflection. It’s something I’ve learned over the years while placing importance on setting boundaries and assessing where I need to focus my time and energy – and being able to do so when making plans is key to making sure where I go and what I do serves me and those around me too.

“The best way to make choices is to tune into what matters to you most at the moment, and be honest about your energy levels and what you need in order to live a full and active life,” says Hall.

“Connecting and belonging are really important, and so is resting and giving yourself what you need. Thinking like this can allow you to plan so that all your needs are met and you are able to choose what helps you to thrive by doing some things and getting comfortable with missing out on others.”

While I’m sure I’ll continue to experience the sweet buzz of relief when plans are cancelled ever so often, I’m beginning to look at ROMO a little differently.

I’m no longer overstretching myself and don’t feel relieved when plans are occasionally cancelled.

Instead, I’m able to take those occasions for what they are, now that I’m beginning to be more mindful of my time and how I’m spending it.

So the next time plans get cancelled, who knows how I’ll feel. But at least I’ll be able to eat my takeaway guilt-free knowing that this isn’t the only opportunity I have to relax – and that feels pretty damn good.

Image: Getty

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