If your child is in high school, s/he may be caught up in prom fever, which is likely to re-stimulate some of your memories. In any era, prom is a time of drama. The romantic dreams. The anticipation. The awkwardness. The fear of rejection. The actual rejection. The logistics. The clothes. The cost. The pressure to look cool, be cool and make prom a night to remember.
I've been thinking about my high school prom and what went wrong. If I knew then what I know now, what would I do differently?
A few weeks before junior high graduation, we had a ninth grade prom. A boy I liked asked me and we had a good time. End of story? Not exactly. Later, we talked about our future. He assumed we'd continuing dating in high school. I had other plans, so I told him: "I don't want to start high school with a boyfriend." He didn't take it well... at all.
A year later, my new (older) boyfriend invited me to his Junior Prom. I was thrilled until I learned we'd be double dating and the other girl was the sister of my ex-ninth grade boyfriend. (Are you getting this?) She and her parents knew me as a heartbreaker, still, they graciously invited me in for pre-prom photos. Right there, hunkered down in the living room, was my ex, glowering at me while I did my best to smile pretty for the camera. How do you spell E-X-C-R-U-C-I-A-T-I-N-G-L-Y A-W-K-W-A-R-D?
Since then, I've learned that people's feelings matter. If I knew then what I know now, I would have tried to minimize my ex's suffering. Spoken to his sister beforehand. Suggested we take pictures outside. Maybe passed on the photo session altogether.
What life lessons did you get from prom? I put out that question and crowd-sourced some profound replies:
- I thought I was too cool to go to prom. I felt alienated from my high school and really wanted to move on. I now regret how detached I was from my class.
- I wanted to go, but people that have lived in poverty look at things like prom differently. How many people will never date because of the clothing issue?
- I was super naïve about what goes on at prom and after. I wish I had been told more about the "dark" side of prom and how to make informed decisions ahead of time about what I was willing to do or not do.
- When I finally got up the courage to ask a boy I'd had a crush on for year, he politely and respectfully turned me down. While hurtful in the moment, I stopped wondering "what if" -- I knew the answer. No regrets. I chose to be brave in that moment, because I knew the worst that could happen was that he could say no.
- I wasn't exactly "dating" material. As prom got closer, plans materialized and five misfits, two boys and three girls, ended up going as a group. Even though it wasn't the romantic experience that many teenagers dream of, I know we had as much fun as people who were part of a couple. I wouldn't trade my feelings of friendship between that fierce five-some for all of the romance in the world.
- I invited a male friend, but in reality I didn't want to go because I couldn't go with the person I really wanted to go with -- my best friend, Carol. I knew inherently that I had no right to be who I was so I pretended, like most GLBTQ teens did at that time. It was painful -- there was a sense of profound loss when I went home later that night and did the obligatory goodnight kissing. It felt wrong. But it was 1963, and we didn't even dream things could change for us during that time.