The pressure of prom season past

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My nearly 13-year-old kid is going to the middle school dance today after class.

“Who’s going to be there,” I asked.

He rattled off the names of some of his friends that I knew, and then he hit me up for a few bucks for admission and snacks.

“So, what do you guys do at the dance,” I asked.

I was curious. As bright and tall and maturing as my kid is, he strikes me as socially young; I can’t imagine him asking a girl to dance.

Turns out I know my kid well.

“Oh, we run around. We dance a little, like funny stuff,” he explained. “And we eat. There’s always pizza.”

“Do you ask girls to dance?” I said.

“It’s not that kind of a dance,” he replied. “We just hang out and have fun.”

“Well, I hope you have lots of fun,” I told him as I handed over money for admission and pizza.

That’s how dances should be, I thought. Hanging out together, doing some funny stuff, eating pizza.

I had school dances — more precisely, high school prom — on my mind after reading my friend Nancy Flanagan’s piece in Ed Week about the darker side of the traditional spring event.

I found her piece interesting on lots of levels, but especially because I didn’t go to my high school prom. Some of my friends did, but I didn’t.

You see, I didn’t “like, like” the boy who asked me. I liked him, but I didn’t “like, like” him, and the sexual tension I perceived surrounding prom terrified me. I couldn’t get past the thought of slow dancing with someone I didn’t “like, like,” let alone kissing him, and I lacked the confidence to ask one of the boys that I “like, liked” from afar.

It’s true, isn’t it, that youth is wasted on the young? If I knew then what I know now, I may have asked someone to go.

Thinking no one invited me, one of my aunts volunteered the services of a cousin as an escort. She didn’t understand the social implications of such an arrangement — I mean, how big a loser would I be if I were so desperate to go to prom that I’d have one of my cousins escort me? And she couldn’t understand that I willingly turned down an invitation.

My best friend’s mother’s reaction was over the top. She was livid that I wouldn’t go to prom with the boy who had asked me.

There was all this goofy pressure on me to go to this dance. Thank goodness for my own mother.

“You do whatever you want,” she said.

So, I did.

As it turned out, there were enough of us who didn’t go to prom that we spent the evening partying at the pier on Lake St. Clair, our own alterna-prom, if you will.

Had it been acceptable back then to attend prom alone or in a group, I have the feeling that I and my pier-party pals would’ve gone.

The importance of prom — magnified by some of the adult women in my life — illustrated the problem. It seems they may have missed the science lesson about every action having an equal, opposite reaction: The pressure on me to spend a ton of money to go to a formal dance with a boy I didn’t “like, like” made me not want to go even more.

Lucky for teens today, things seem to be changing.

A couple years ago, a supremely well-dressed group of kids assembled outside my neighbor’s house to take pictures.

The kid who was a toddler when we moved into the neighborhood had magically transformed into a handsome, tuxedo-clad guy surrounded by a group of similarly morphed kids. There were at least a dozen of them, and they were going to prom as a group.

How cool is that?

It makes me hopeful that in a few years, if my kid decides to go to prom, he’ll get to run around with his friends, do a little funny dancing, hang out, eat pizza and have fun.

About Maria Stuart 212 Articles
Journalist Maria Stuart lives in Howell. She worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as a reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. She is often spotted holding court at Uptown Coffeehouse. You can check out her website by clicking here.