His name was Brian and he was a junior. He had red hair, an ambitious goatee, and he liked me. I suppose I should have been flattered. As a shy freshman, I didn’t get the attention of boys — or upperclassmen — very often.
One day after class, Brian approached me and said hello. I muttered a quick hi and cast my eyes down at my Keds. He mentioned something about our football team and then politely asked me to the homecoming dance. Embarrassed, I made up some excuse about having family in town that weekend, never once even bothering to look him in the eye. He said he understood, that it was cool, and began to walk away. As I scurried in the opposite direction, I shouted an obligatory “Sorry!” his way before ducking into a hallway. It was awkward and terrible, and for years I’ve regretted the way I handled his sincere request. Lately, however, I feel even worse because now my teenage son is doing the asking.
In the past, my son has always conscientiously objected to school dances. But this year, in a new school with not-so-new feelings for someone special, he expressed mild interest in attending homecoming. Of course, I was thrilled. The memories! The experience! The photos! But knowing mom-thusiasm would surely dissuade him, I let it go. Like, I really let it go. I didn’t offer to strategize some fail-proof invitation. I didn’t Pinterest a perfect plan. Following his lead, I said nothing. I did nothing.
Days went by and stories of giant teddy bears (yeah, those Costco ones), Up-inspired balloon bouquets, extreme candy offerings, and clever signs made by clever boys to ask pretty girls to homecoming filled my ears. I expressed interest without investment and wondered what he was thinking.
More days passed and with them brought more stories of songs and skits in great public date displays. Again, I wondered what he was thinking.
Finally, as the ticket deadline loomed near, I mustered the courage to ask in my coolest, most casual tone, “Do you think you’re going to ask someone to homecoming?”
That was when he told me he already did.
“What?! How?! Who?! Is it who I think? Why didn’t you tell me? WHAT DID SHE SAY?!”
“She said no. She said something about me not making a big enough deal out of it.”
In that moment, in his heartbroken eyes, I felt that old, familiar mama bear flair. Are you kidding me? All that stuff is expected now? Any girl would be lucky to go with him! He was asking for a date to a dance, not a date to FOREVER! As I sorted through total mom feelings of indignation and wondered what was left for the real romantic milestones to come, I decided I could never fault a young lady for saying no (remember poor Brian?). I could, however, feel disappointed in the reason. A special girl will always be worth special effort, but for some kids, like my son, the reality of trading personal affection for public consumption is far too harrowing.
I took a deep breath.
“What did you say to her?”
“I said, ‘That’s OK.’ I mean, it’s a dance. I thought the big deal was how special you make the date. Besides, I don’t think I should have to go all crazy with stuff in front of everyone just for someone to go with me.”
He’s not wrong. For every kid who loves the limelight, there are at least a dozen more comfortable in the shadows. And when you’re 13 and new to romance, maybe the shadows are the safest place for the timid to earn their stripes. Besides, I think we can all agree there’s something really charming about a sincere invitation shared by two. Grand gestures might indeed be grand, but a private moment has the power to be worth just as much … and sometimes even more.
So what’s the story with the now routine school dance mega-ask? Is it all just some big virtual reality contest to become the most envied of all? Has the ask been reduced to likes and views? Principal Rodney Logan told US News and World Report in regard to elaborate invitations, “I think it is partly because kids are so much on the social media now that when they actually get a chance to grandstand, they want to jump on it. They want to take advantage of it.”
But at who’s expense? To start with, the parents’. Did you know kids spend an average of $342 just on the ask for prom? That’s not even including the dance itself! Are the kids unable to afford the extreme invitation somehow now precluded? And what about the biggest potential cost of all: humiliation by way of public rejection. Think about how bad Brian must have felt receiving his private rejection. Now add spectacle and Snapchat into the mix. No thank you.
“So what now?” I asked, “Are you going to ask someone else?”
“No, I don’t want to. But if I ask someone next year, I hope they’ll say yes.”
“Do you think you’ll make a bigger deal out of it next time? Like maybe offer a present or prize or whatever the kids are doing?”
“Probably not. That’s just not me to do that. Besides, I’d hope she’d think our date was the prize.”