Over the past 50 years, as the education system has gone through drastic change, one tradition has remained surprisingly constant. Prom. The classic coming-of-age moment, the rite of passage for graduating seniors and the crowning event of high school, Prom has been the cause of countless romances, poor decisions, unintended pregnancies, rushed marriages, tearful fights, messy breakups and good stories to tell your future kids.
My senior year is down to its final weeks, and the promenade is nigh. If the movies are to be believed, it will inevitably be the best or worst night of my young life. For the boys of 2013, only one hurdle stands between us and a night of “well-mannered frivolity,” as Professor McGonagall would say. That hurdle is a date.
The awkward, gut-wrenching process of asking a girl to a dance has evolved (except for the awkward and gut-wrenching part) even as the dance itself has remained stuck in a time capsule. Past generations are familiar with the routine of psyching themselves up, putting on that extra swipe of deodorant, and forcing a swagger into their step as they walk up to the girl and calmly say “W-w-will y-youuu go promwimme?”
It really is unfortunate that my generation will never know that experience, never feel the shame or see the look of utter confusion in her eyes as we speak in strange tongues, the extra deodorant melting and dripping down our sides. But times have changed.
Asking a girl to Prom is no longer a cage fight pitting self-esteem against hormones, like the good old days. Now it’s a contest of creativity, originality and, above all, logistics. The name of the game is how. How did you ask her? To the layman (or lame-man – i.e. non-high school-aged person), this question may seem odd. How did I ask her? Well, with words, and stuff, right? Wrong. The stuttered question is as passé as bell-bottom jeans, MySpace and the word “nifty.”
A girl nowadays wants to be flattered, surprised, overwhelmed; she wants the boy to announce his request with 30 balloons attached to her car, with a handmade sign on the side of the road or with a ride in a small plane that gives an aerial view of the word “PROM?” constructed out of railroad ties (true story).
Many may look at these huge performances as an improvement, a way of showing effort and sincerity. To such people I say: That’s because you’re a girl. Others may label these simply ridiculous and over the top. To them I say: Good luck finding a date.
However, as I have recently learned with astounding assurance, it takes two to tango. Girls didn’t start this crazy trend without cooperation from the guys, and it does not require a biologist to recognize that the Y chromosome is competitive and a show-off. When girls are involved, the need to outdo one another escalates quicker than a fight over the last piece of pizza.
A “promposal” with a note and a flower leads to the next guy’s bouquet and song, which transforms into a parade float of flowers and an original song by the time the last guy finds a date. The bar has been set and raised again and again by alpha males trying to reassert their dominance and by one-uppers trying to get the girl of their dreams to notice them.
Whether someone subscribes to the new method or sticks with the stuttering, sweatier route, “the ask” is only the beginning. In my mind, it is Prom itself that will be the most memorable, no matter whether the invitation comes by mouth, email, fireworks, chimpanzee or even newspaper guest column.
Which brings me to this unforeseeable plot twist: Natalie, w-w-will y-youuu go promwimme?Aidan O’Neill, one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page, is a senior at Gig Harbor High School. Email your support through this awkward and gut-wrenching process at aidanomatic127@ gmail.com.