In case you hadn't heard, teenagers are no longer allowed to ask each other to prom discreetly, perhaps via evening phone call or at their lockers between classes. Now, the prom experience demands a creative, often public "promposal." Because it's not like high school felt high stakes enough, right?
Problem is, they're basically emotional blackmail.
CNN takes a long, hard look at this latest #teen trend, offering as an example one Abby Rodgers, who arrived at a date's car to discover flowers and a stuffed animal:
In the moment, Rodgers said yes, "because it was such a nice gesture and he was so sweet and brave to go through with it." Later that evening, when she had a chance to process what had happened, she realized she didn't actually want to go with him.
"I realized that prom is more of a couples atmosphere," she said. "I didn't want to be there with someone I was not in a close relationship with."
Filming has become de rigueur. This year, a boy asked his girlfriend to prom on Good Morning America. I'm not sure I could even turn down a haircut if the hosts of Good Morning America put me on the spot.
Sure, there are plenty of situations in which this criticism doesn't apply. Maybe both kids are a couple of hams who just love staging flash mobs, and there's nothing wrong with wanting to stage a romantic moment for a steady. There are also well-meaning impulses at work, here. But, as one high school senior admits, a big production can help a boy who's afraid of rejection hedge his bets:
"It takes a lot for a guy to put himself out there for a girl, and they want to do everything they can to make sure they're not humiliated," he said. "By doing it in a special way, or publicly showing that he really wants to go with that person, 99% of the time the girl will say yes."
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And before anyone says "just say no, duh," please take a moment to remember what it felt like to be 16. As one teen put it:
"Turning him down marks her as a 'huge bitch,' a label she doesn't deserve in any way. Yes, rejecting him will hurt his feelings, but doesn't every girl deserve the chance to make the decision that she wants to make?" she wrote.
This seems like a pretty fucking clear sign that we're sending teenagers all the wrong messages about relationships. Boys ought to be taught that rejection happens, and you've just got to get up and dust yourself off. (This isn't simply a matter of whether everyone has happy memories of prom, either, as this devastating story out of Connecticut demonstrates.) Girls shouldn't be trapped into saying yes, and nor do they need anything else encouraging them to believe their lives should revolve around whether a man will pop some sort of question.
Obviously, living in a culture saturated with TV shows about weddings is influencing teenagers, too. Who knew it could get any worse than the days of Carrie and Pretty in Pink? It's like we're moving backward. And if public marriage proposals are kinda B.S., "promposals" are eleventy-million times worse. Who to spend your adult life with is a big decision. Who you take to prom really shouldn't be. It should be a learning experience, a baby step into adult dating. Kids shouldn't feel like this is something they have to get "right."
They shouldn't even feel obligated to take a date! Just go with some girlfriends and bail after an hour and a half for the Waffle House! (Also, if you stay after everyone leaves to get drunk you've got a better shot at the door prizes. This was my primary life lesson from prom, and it was a damn good one.)
This isn't a trend adults really have the power to stop, of course. I promise you, if a high school principle were to issue a blanket ban, it would double the number that happened. What we can do is send better messages. Sure, it doesn't look like they're listening—does it ever? But generally if you yammer in their direction long enough, they get the sense of it.
Photo via AP Images.