Spring is here. What that means to many kids and parents is it’s prom time.
My nephew warned me the other day that I’m starting to sound like Andy Rooney…To wit: “Back in my day…yada yada yada.” However I can’t help myself on this topic. I have to talk about The Prom in 1973 vs. Prom in 2011.
Thirty-eight years ago I went to my junior prom (we referred to it as THE Prom back then, not simply Prom). I honestly don’t know how the boys felt about this event, but for girls pre-Prom was a highly stressful time. Not getting asked was a big deal, especially if all your friends had already gotten a date. In my case, one of my best friends, Jackie, was all set with her current boyfriend. Another friend, Ann Kathryn, like myself, had not been asked. May 26 was creeping closer. AK and I started to joke around: if we don’t get asked, we’ll go together, ha ha. This was not a real option. This was conversation of the sincerely desperate. While I can’t speak for Ann Kathryn now, I suspect if neither of us had been asked we would have spent the evening draped over the furniture somewhere, drowning our sorrows with diet soda, gasping in sorrow that a hundred teenagers were twirling in long gowns and suits over at the gym while we couldn’t cough up a single boy who wanted to spend ten bucks on a corsage and a few hours in our company.
As it turned out, I was asked first. I heard through the grapevine that a guy named Jim, a senior, was thinking about asking me. For a week I skulked through the halls at school with the dual hope of seeing him and avoiding him. I wanted to go, and I wanted to go with him. But I was terrified. This meant I had to buy a dress and worry about first-date conversation over dinner. Worst of all, I didn’t know how to slow dance. I pondered this dilemma: would I prefer to be grief-stricken about not going, or would I rather go and make a fool of myself? In the end it didn’t matter. On Friday a week before The Prom, Jim caught me after school and asked. Of course I said yes and then dashed off to the ice cream parlor (truly) and shared the exciting news with Jackie. Ann Kathryn’s face went ashen when I told her, but then to all of our great relief (and humor) she was asked not by one, not by two, but by three guys before The Prom arrived. Another close friend, Amy, was also asked. My crowd was complete: we were…worthy.
The weeks before The Prom in 1973 were terrifying and nerve-wracking and wonderful. The Prom itself was great fun. I spent $18 on a floor-length dress, Jim bought me a lovely wrist corsage, and I did not in fact make a fool of myself at dinner or on the dance floor. Our theme, there in the gym, was Dancing in the Moonlight. There was a shiny disco ball hanging from the ceiling and a few teacher chaperones milling around watching. I fussed with my hair ahead of time, donned my under-20-dollar outfit, and we all danced slow, drank punch, and went to a tame after-party. It was a special time, a memory I cherish.
Fast forward to 2011.
A friend told me last week that her daughter, 17, just got her date for Prom. While she hadn’t yet been asked, she bought a dress anyway and told her mom that if she didn’t have a date she’d still attend and hang out with friends. Then a bulb appeared over her head: she texted a boy she knew and asked if he’d like to go. He texted back and said yes. This all happened in about ten minutes over dinner with her mother, the get-together being secured without my friend’s daughter actually seeing her future date face to face. And it got better. The girl’s classmates were then called in to watch a video on Prom. What this video discussed was proper behavior. You will not get drunk. You will not wear a dress with a hem too short. You will not grind.
My eyes, gentle reader, bugged out of my head. You will not grind??
I am tempted to take to my bed over this. My little mind drifts back to an ice cream parlor in a small town where I slid into a booth and told my best friend I’d been asked to The Prom. I remember our delighted faces. I remember dress shopping and hand-wringing. I remember Jim’s anxiety about asking. I remember my own angst about being invited. Never, in my wildest dreams, would I have attended The Prom without a date, it never even occurred that I should do the asking, and I most certainly did not need a video reminding me “not to grind.”
I don't mean to suggest that “back in my day” things were better, but clearly I’m suggesting they were different. There was an element of delightful anticipation and…okay, I’ll go out there on a limb and say it…wholesomeness that somehow has been lost. I know I sound like my mother, and I’m sure she sounded like her mother, and for some reason that’s now perceived as being a negative thing. I don’t think it is. Old fashioned, maybe, but not negative. Besides, I’m something of a feminist. I expect equal pay for equal work. I want my voice to be heard. I want to be a CEO if my abilities can take me there. But at the same time I want a guy to open a door, because it’s the polite thing to do. I want a guy to chop wood because physically I can’t. I want a guy to lock and load when the lunatic arrives on the front porch. I want a guy to ask me to The Prom, buy me a corsage, and slow dance without the worry of grinding. And I wonder about The Prom, or Prom, or whatever it’ll be called in 40 years. Will there be a video four decades from now telling kids there’s no orgy allowed? Will the video say, in 2051, sorry guys, you can’t come buck-naked to Prom. We have rules!
Am I crazy or are we going down a weird and slippery slope here?