It’s that time of year when high schools host proms for the students. I’ve been asked many times what my prom was like and who I went with to the event. The truth is that I did not go because nobody invited me to be his date and I could not imagine going alone. Instead I allowed my teenage angst to overtake me and I held a mega pity party for myself. By happenstance there was a tragic romance movie on television that night and I had an amazing cry for several hours. When everyone was talking about how much fun the event had been the following Monday at school I walked away. I was certain that I was the only person ever left out of attending such an event. My hyperbole reigned supreme.
In fact, there were others who did not attend the big dance for one reason or another. Over time I moved on and rarely looked back to what had been at the time a low point in my life. I was only reminded of how silly I had been whenever I got those questions about what prom had been like for me. I realized that if I had been even the least bit creative I had a number of options for attending. I might have been brave enough to ask someone if he would be willing to accompany me. I also had a treasure trove of sweet and handsome male cousins who would have been more than willing to escort me, and I’m quite certain that I would have had a very good time with any one of them. Instead I chose to wallowing in misery of my own making, thinking that would forever spend my life unloved and alone.
I am quite happy to note that proms are much more democratic these days. Lots of students arrive by themselves and then join a group of like minded souls. Even the dancing tends toward freelancing. Anybody can come and have a very good time. In fact, I almost seems that the ones who come unattached have a better time than those with a date. There is no pressure to look or act a certain way among friends. There are fewer disappointments when magical expectations are absent.
I’m not sure who came up with the idea of proms. Perhaps it was a way for ordinary souls to partake in a kind of debutante ball like the aristocrats. There was a time when the wealthiest families had a coming of age ball for their seventeen or eighteen year old daughters. The event announced that the girl was an adult ready to move into the world of a woman rather than a child. The idea may have been to provide young people with a transition into the next level of their development. As with many traditions sometimes such events have gone over the top.
Dresses, shoes, tuxedos. make-up, hair stying, manicures, pedicures, flowers, limousines, dinners, after prom parties have become key elements of today’s proms. The expenses for a couple can run into the thousands of dollars. It almost feels a bit like a money making scam for the adults who cater to such events. It seems that when we create customs we have a tendency to make them more and more complex and expensive over time. Proms really are big business.
When I think back to my prom night I feel rather silly. I took a single event and imagined that I would lead a totally tragic life. I wondered what was so wrong with me that nobody thought to ask me to be his date. I worried that I would never marry or have children. One silly idea led to another until I was an emotional wreck. Luckily my Aunt Polly came to my rescue. She came to visit our home and noticed that my eyes were red from crying. She sat down next to me and asked what was wrong. When I told her that I was just upset that I had not been asked to the prom her response was perfect. She hugged me and said, “Oh, honey!” Then she just sat silently with me for a time while I leaned on her. Just knowing that someone understood how I was feeling set me on the path to recovery of my usual happy spirit.
I wonder how many young hearts have been disappointed or broken at prom time. No doubt there have been a few. I hope that those young souls were put back together by someone as wonderful as my aunt. A bit of empathy without lecture or advice goes a very long way. Sometimes just a big hug is all anyone ever needs.
I’m glad to have grown up from the seventeen year old me. I’ve become quite resilient over time. Very little steals my joy. I have developed patience and enough confidence to feel rather good about myself. I’ve had opportunities to just sit quietly next to someone having a very difficult time like my aunt did for me. I learned more about how to be a caring person from that experience than I might have if I had gone to the prom. Things really did work out.