I was 16 years old, sitting in history class taking deep breaths and trying to calm my nerves. He sat directly behind me, and I could feel his presence like a shadow. I wondered if now would be the right time. I knew the bell would ring soon, and then it would be too late.
I took a deep breath and slowly turned around.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” he repeated back to me, giving his signature smirk. My stomach fluttered.
“I was wondering…” I hesitated, feeling the nerves kick in, but still I pressed on. “Will you go to prom with me?” I saw his eyebrows raise and he looked down at the notebook in front of him.
“Uh, I don’t think so,” he said, and I felt my heart sink.
“Oh,” I faltered not knowing what to say. “Okay. Sure.”
“It’s just,” he said. “I’m not really planning to go to prom.” I nodded, shrugging it off.
“That’s fine,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.” But inside the disappointment was flooding in and tears threatened behind my eyes. Luckily the bell rang, and I was saved. The teacher started class, and it was like nothing had happened at all.
I’d had a crush on him the whole year. We rode the same school bus and talked daily. We were friends. But I wanted more. I wanted to be brave and daring, and I wanted my perfect prom moment, and I was sick of waiting. So I asked him.
I’m not sad that I did it. In fact, asking him like that, putting myself out there, was completely out of character for me. I was shy and timid and usually would never be so bold. But this was prom we were talking about.
I’d been dreaming of the day I could go to my prom since I was a little girl. I wanted to be like Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink. To me, prom was an important romantic milestone in a girl’s life. The first big event that would set the tone for my romantic life for years to come.
Except that moment never came. I was turned down. Denied my chance at the quintessential high school romance.
What was the point of going to prom without a date? I was independent, yes, but going alone didn’t fit with my vision of the event. Going alone would’ve been a let down, a disappointment, and I would’ve felt the absence of a date like a missing limb.
The truth is not going to prom didn’t doom my love life for years to come, like I thought it might. I was a late bloomer, yes, but I got the romantic moments I deserved. They just didn’t happen at prom like I imagined they would.
In love, as well as in life, things rarely happen as you expect. And I’m sure even if he had accepted my prom-posal, even if we had gone together, it wouldn’t have lived up to my expectations. It probably would’ve been awkward and uncomfortable. I may have even regretted going altogether and wished I’d never asked him in the first place.
Or. It could’ve been a lovely, magical night. Even if he didn’t have romantic feelings for me and we’d just gone as friends, we may have had a great time. I may have worn a beautiful dress that made me feel like a princess. We may have danced all night. It might have been everything I wanted it to be and more.
I know in the grand scheme of things, prom doesn’t really mean anything. It hasn’t had a major impact on my life since then. But I still can’t help but feel like I missed out on something.
I built it up for so long to be this huge momentous occasion. A coming-of-age. A blossoming. And to not go at all just feels like I took a wrong turn somewhere.
I’ll probably always feel a little sad about not going to my prom. About not having someone who cared about me that way in high school. But high school doesn’t last forever. I had to wait a little longer to find someone who loved me. And even though I didn’t go to prom with him, he was worth the wait.