For two months, I excitedly prepared for prom. But instead of planning with classmates during sixth period study hall, I consulted with coworkers over coffee breaks. That’s because I’m not an 18-year-old high school senior; I’m a 23-year-old recent college grad. Don’t be alarmed –there was nothing salacious (or illegal) going on. I simply started dating a guy who was in his fourth year at a college two hours out of town. Every year, the small college holds a senior formal for its impending graduates and he asked me to be his date. I, very happily, accepted.
A part of me hoped this formal experience would get the bad taste of prom out of my mouth.
Back in high school, I had horrible luck securing a date for dances. It was 2005, and I lacked both a boyfriend and a close, single guy friend, making my options very limited. Plus, my school only sold couples’ tickets, so even if I wanted to go solo, I couldn’t. This meant shamelessly posting my single status on my online journal months earlier and entertaining friends’ attempts for me to go with the cousins they hadn’t seen in years.
While my coupled girlfriends fretted over hairstyles and limo reservations, my anxiety grew the closer prom neared. A month before the spring dance, still dateless but determined to go, I embarked on several dress shopping trips. Three weeks prior, I made the hasty decision to purchase a $200 non-refundable ticket. The next 14 days consisted of meeting my date (a childhood friend’s ex-boyfriend), scrambling to find a table to sit at, choosing a gown, and buying my shoes mere hours before the dance.
Years later, prom time still sparked more frantic memories than festive ones. I did the sorority thing for a short time in college and attended my first wedding this past summer, but never went to a formal event that had the same allure. But I felt giddy as my boyfriend explained that his May dance would be held at a nearby mountain resort with roughly 950 attendees, all in tuxedos and evening wear. With a hot, new boyfriend in tow, I finally got to indulge in the giddy, prom-like preparations my teenage self missed out on.
I made trips to the specialty stores, and scoured dress racks next to high school girls fighting with their moms over price tags and risqué hemlines. I fussed with lace-up backs, sashes and zippers, fought my way through many ruffles and frilly layers, and emerged from dressing rooms more glitter than girl. I consulted with sales associates over different colored frocks and tracked down dresses I liked out-of-state online. I unabashedly spent a considerable amount of time on this—mostly because this time around, I could.
Whether making hair and spray tan appointments, discussing corsages, or pondering if tiaras came in one-size-fits all, I gladly partook in every activity, no matter how nerdy. It was his dance, which meant there was little to no planning on my end: The tickets had been purchased, the seats at the table had been reserved, and the group hotel room had been booked. Plus, in my early 20s, there were no concerns over curfew, no need to sneak alcohol and no social pressure to have awkward, “American Pie”-esque sex on the big night.
When the date of the formal finally arrived, I couldn’t have been more excited. With my Grecian-inspired hair, white dress, bold jewelry and three-inch heels, I gladly posed for pictures, danced under soft lighting, and heard about everyone’s post-graduation plans. That night, I might have very well looked like the girl who got lost on the way to prom, but the description was fitting. This was the senior dance experience I had always wanted; it just took me five years to find it.