One could say I’ve had a “rough time” with proms in high school. Last year, I attended junior prom without a date. I tried to find a date, but nothing worked out. Sure, I shed some tears, but I tagged along with a few friends, and it was okay. The pre-party was a little uncomfortable (they always are) but once I arrived at prom and danced with my friends I had a blast.
Senior prom is different.
There is more emphasis on senior prom; it’s considered the hallmark event of senior year. People spend quite a bit of money on the right dress, shoes, hair, limo, and flowers. It gets really expensive really quickly. But the most stressful part of prom isn’t the attire for the event but finding a date to the event. And this year I do not have a date. I don’t want to sound vindictive or bitter or salty–I’m past that stage. But I want to talk about how we view prom and why going without a date, or going in a non-traditional setting, can make one feel isolated or ashamed. Why is it weird to go without a date? Why is it weird to go with friends? Why is it weird to go with a same-sex partner? Whether someone is straight or gay or single or dating should be—by default—a private matter. But prom forces personal situations into the public eye. Basically, prom outs all of us.
For me, the worst part about prom is the pictures of the beautiful couples. It feels like Instagram is taunting me. I open my explore feed, and I expect to see stupid memes, but instead I see a couple smiling. I tap the photo. I swipe back to my explore feed and scroll through more pictures of happy couples. The smile that’s brighter than it ever looks in the hallways. The deep red dress enhanced by the even brighter filter. The slim fit tuxes with the padded shoulders and the dresses perfectly coordinated. This is what prom is supposed to look like. This is what prom is supposed to feel like.
Not everyone feels stress for the same reason, but almost everyone feels some stress. Prom is surrounded by visible excitement and invisible anxiety. She doesn’t want to get asked in front of her math class at school. He is not sure if he got the “right” tuxedo. She eats nervously for week so she can fit into her prom dress. He has to learn how to tie a bowtie without his father to teach him. She’s worried that her dress in the prom Facebook page won’t get enough likes. He doesn’t know if he should get red roses for a friend. We see the excitement build up, but we never talk about the stress that surrounds prom. We have to cope with our own anxieties and emotions by ourselves while worrying about what our classmates will think..
I indirectly asked several people to prom, and each politely turned me down. They wanted to go with someone else. That’s okay. When I came to the realization that I probably was not going to prom with a date, I felt a flurry of emotions. Was something wrong with me? Was I unattractive? Socially inept? Why wouldn’t anyone ask me? My friends assured me that I am beautiful, smart, and funny. They told me, “Erin, you’ll definitely get a college boyfriend. Prom doesn’t mean anything.” I thanked them for their words, but I didn’t really feel any better. After a while, I processed going to prom “stag,” and I was okay with it. Some of my friends are going with significant others and some are going with casual friends. I will have people to hang out with, to sit with, to dance with. I won’t be alone, but I might feel a twinge of loneliness.
When my grandmother called me, she had lots of questions. What does your dress look like? Who are you going with? What jewelry are you going to wear? I had an answer to one of those questions. I have made peace with my situation. She kept on talking about my cousin’s proms, their dates, their dresses, and their night. I felt like a letdown. Of her seven grandchildren, I will be the only one who went to senior prom dateless.
As an underclassman, I often pictured an idyllic version of my senior year. I would be excited to go to the college of my choice, I would party every Friday night, and I would have a date for prom. Everyone, especially me, would be happy. But that’s not what I got; instead it’s a whirlwind of emotions. I’m over parts of high school, but I don’t know what I want to do, where I want to go, or who I want to be. When I put everything into perspective, I see that I have bigger things to worry about.
But I would still really like a date to prom.