There’s a curious trend happening right now in high schools across our country. Perhaps I’m late to the game (I mean, I still listen to CDs, so this is likely), but I had NO IDEA about this particular “thing.” Let me explain:
Last week, I’m sitting in a restaurant with a girlfriend, sipping some cocktails, when all of a sudden, a server stands up and hushes the restaurant. “Ladies and gentlemen, could I please direct your attention to the table in the middle of the room! Johnny has something he’d like to ask Melanie!”
I immediately squeal, spring out of my seat, and turn on my camera, thinking I’m going to record a proposal. And I LOVE this stuff! But then, I glance at the couple and think, “Hmmmmm. They look really young. Like, high-school-young. Or maybe I’m just old? Is he wearing a YOLO bracelet? Yes. Young. Either way, carry on. Pop the question, Johnny!“
Two other servers emerge, carrying roses and a giant poster board with candy bars and a message glued to it. Johnny looks like he’s about to vomit on his shoes. Melanie is looking for a trap door in the floor.
Visibly shaking, Johnny reads the message on the poster, and then I hear the question: “Will you go to homecoming with me?” Homecoming. As in, a dance. A date.
I am immediately relieved for two reasons: First, because Melanie says yes. (For the record, a “no” would have made the Mama in me run to Johnny and sweep him out of the restaurant beneath my coat. Which would have been awkward. For both of us. Glad we weren’t put in that position). And second, because they are practically fetuses and aren’t getting married. Phew. Just a dance.
But then, the relief turns into confusion. I turn to my friend. “What just happened? He did all of THAT to ask her to HOMECOMING? Who is this young Casanova?!”
“Oh, girl! That’s what they do these days!” she tells me. “It’s ALL ABOUT THE QUESTION. The bigger the better.” And then, she proceeds to tell me about some of the elaborate “invitations” around town. She’s not kidding– a quick look at my Facebook feed confirms this. Picture after picture of homemade T-shirts, serenades, driveway murals, skywriting… (ok, not really skywriting, but I’m sure it’s been done somewhere).
I pull my mouth off the ground. “What happened to the old-fashioned note slipped in the locker between third and fourth period?!” No, she tells me, that doesn’t fly these days. The “proposal” is part of the entire experience. The HOW is just as important as the question itself. The more elaborate, the bigger the “awwwwwww factor.” It’s all about the awwwwwww.
I’ve been chewing on this newfound discovery for several days, trying to make sense of it. On one hand, I see the appeal, from the female perspective. It’s charming to be desired. To be courted. To be picked.
But I can’t stop thinking about the others. The girls who don’t get picked. The girls who, even if the process were simple, still aren’t asked. I think about them because I remember being them at times. Wondering and waiting. Hoping. Hoping until the morning of the dance, and then sitting at home, unpicked.
And I think about the boys. Oh, the boys! I’ve never been in their shoes, but I imagine that for most, asking a girl to a dance–and the accompanying fear of rejection– must rank pretty high on the list of scary teenage experiences.
And now, society has added this other wrinkle to it. This other even scarier, even more vulnerable piece. “Hey guys! Let’s take this really frightening moment and make it TERRIFYING. Put yourself out there! Make a T-shirt! Do a song and dance! Anything to get the girl! And if she says no? Not a problem! Just be sure to make two shirts and move down the list.”
No doubt, there are many boys thinking, “No thanks. Keep your silly dance, and I’ll keep my dignity.” Can’t say I blame them. With that said, I firmly believe that some of our greatest moments arise out of our vulnerability– But this certainly wasn’t something I understood at 14.
Do you see what’s happening here? So many of those quiet boys, boys who MAY have asked one of those quiet girls to a dance, won’t. To so many of them, dignity > a date. (See my high school math coming in handy there?)
As a former teacher, I am privileged to follow many of my former students on social media, and I am watching this story play out in their lives. So to all of my kids out there, let me say this: I get it. This is HARD STUFF.
Girls – I see your tweets and your pics. If you were picked, I feel your excitement! If you weren’t, I feel your pain. Oh, do I feel it, darlings. I could tell you it’s “just a dance,” but I won’t. I could tell you that years from now, this dance won’t matter. But I won’t. I could tell you that being asked (or not asked) to a dance says NOTHING about your self-worth. But I won’t. I won’t say those things because I know that right now, those are the worst words you could hear. Right now, it means more than that. And I get it. So instead, I will tell you what I wish someone would have told me: This is a hard. Being a teenager is really, really hard. And I love you.
Boys – If you had the courage to conduct one of these elaborate proposals, I am SO proud of you. So proud. Because putting yourself out there like that? Well, that’s a hard and scary thing to do, and you did it.
And if you didn’t ask anyone, that’s ok! If you decided, “Nope, this isn’t for me,” I’m proud of you, too. So proud. Because going against the crowd, especially as a teenager, is tough. Really tough. That takes some major guts, fellas.
Teen-aging is tricky, kiddos– For everyone–even if it doesn’t appear that way. And right now? Well, it’s the trickiest of those times. I don’t have all the answers, and I can’t make it easier. All I can say is this: I’ve been there. And I remember.