Not a Ball

Spring is in full bloom. Everywhere bees are busy pollinating, and birds are chirping in hope of landing a mate. Meanwhile on campus, Seniors are also scrambling. What they need is a prom date. Although prom is supposed to be a fun and light-hearted occasion, the weeks building up to it are a whole lot of stress. There are dresses to buy, shoes to match, tuxes to rent, hair appointments to schedule and, of course, the most important part of all: the date. Who are you going to go with? The anticipation is so pervasive, there is even a website listing the already-made pairs. This online reference helps to aid guys in preparing their propositions. As more and more couples are announced each day, Senior guys track the progress of their dwindling options, stressing over who to ask, how to ask and if she’s going to say yes. On the receiving end, girls agonize over the guy that decided to go with someone else and now who in the world is going to ask them, if anyone at all? The poor individuals who struggle to secure a date cringe at the possibility of going alone, of awkwardly breaking an unspoken rule and still showing up to prom. What has happened here? How has a fun tradition turned into something uncomfortable, tricky and stressful? We already have enough stress at Andover, but even when we’re planning on having fun we have managed to twist the event into something complicated. Does the date really matter? Is it so important who is next to you when you walk around the campus in the “promenade” or who you sit with on the bus? Literally speaking, that is the extent of the purpose of the ‘date.’ Once the actual event starts, the entire class is reunited to eat dinner, dance and socialize. Yet we obsess over the idea of a date, scurrying to find a partner in order to prevent the downfall of the human race. The parallel between finding a prom date and committing to a marital partner is not as far-fetched as it may first appear. Prom is the Seniors’ last chance to practice the ritual expected of everyone from society – the pairing with a mate. The prom date website, a public reference to who’s going with whom, acts like a virtual wedding ring, letting all those who are curious know that you’ve committed and are no longer available. Just as society has traditionally asserted that those who remain single or choose not to have children are abnormal, so too is the kid who decides he or she is going to prom solo viewed strangely and misunderstood. Prom differs from the other formal dances in this sense, since it is a “last-chance dance.” To the society of Phillips Academy, the Senior class will soon become alumni, and with this graduation, we become a part of the elder society, metaphorically too old to imitate the practice of mate-pairing. It is not unusual to see people going alone to Blue and Silver or Sadie. Certainly, people go with dates, but that is because they want to, not because they feel an obligation to do so. So why is the idea of a prom date so hyped up? Tradition? Opportunity cost – the feeling that we are missing out if we don’t follow the norm? And all for what? Prom is just a fancy dinner and dancing late into the night. While parties can be entertaining, they’re not ultimately what make us happy. NPR and Psychology Today recently picked up on a study done at the University of Arizona that shows that people who have deeper, more substantial conversations are happier individuals than those whose social interactions contain more small talk. Prom is not exactly the best place to get all deep and personal. Yet we value it more than the student-faculty dinner, also an important part of the graduation program, which will surely bring more satisfying conversation. On the other hand, perhaps the charm of prom is that it is a rare moment to relax and let go from the need to be highly intellectual. Without teachers, without adult authority, prom is an outlet for a buildup of four years of strain, rules and deadlines we’ve had to adhere to. Prom is a time for celebration, yet we ironically adopt a work-hard-get-it-done attitude. The bottom line is – when you take the idea of a party too seriously, it loses the aspect of being fun. Raya Stantcheva is a four-year Senior from Somerset, NJ.