20th Century Fox
Jess Goodwin
February 29, 2016 9:45 am

I don’t remember exactly when I decided not to go to my junior prom, but I know it was somewhere between buying a dress (a flirty little black and pink number) and realizing I wasn’t going to find a date. You see, that was when I’d discovered my school’s pre-prom tradition: the couples’ parade, a custom during which attendees and their dates were lined up and literally paraded before their family and friends and whatever townspeople decided to show up to gawk.

Though there were a couple guys who had caught my eye as potential dates (less out of romantic interest and more out of being able to tolerate them for an entire evening), neither were available. My class consisted of less than 100 people and I didn’t really have any guy friends at that point. Terrified at the prospect of standing before a crowd all by my lonesome and not bright enough to realize I could have just skipped the parade and shown up late, I opted to completely skip the dance instead. (I did, however, attend the after-prom trip to Hershey Park, because what better way to drown my dateless sorrows than doing the closest thing I could to visiting Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory?)

Twelve years later, I still look back on my decision now and feel horribly sorry for my teen self (only because I didn’t go to the dance — Hershey Park ruled). These days I wouldn’t think twice about attending a fancy social function solo, something I’ve done numerous times over the past few years, now that I’m at that all-my-friends-are-getting-married age. Back then, though, I cared so much about what other people might think about my single self that I’d have rather forgone something as momentous and rite of passage-y as prom altogether than let it be known I couldn’t rustle up a date.

This choice didn’t bother me for years, but one springtime after I graduated college, I began to feel forlorn during prom season. I’d see Facebook ads for prom dresses and listicles about biggest prom fails and think, That could have been me in that black tea dress with the sweetheart neck, eating it on the dance floor after one of the dummies from my Spanish class spilled his soda and didn’t bother to wipe it up.

I know that at the end of the day, going (or not going) to prom isn’t a big deal — the whole affair is trivial at best — and it’s not like people are constantly telling me about what an amazing time they had at their prom, leaving me feeling all excluded and sad. And in some ways, I did go to prom eventually — my college put on “Zombie Prom” every year, and even covered in blood and fauxpen wounds, I looked damn good.

Still, if I could go back to high school and do one thing differently, I would go to my prom (this time skipping the daily — and ultimately completely fruitless — 100-sit-up regime I’d started two months prior to the dance). I’d spend three hours getting ready, glad I had the foresight to choose a stretchy dress I could slip on from the bottom up and avoid ruining my hair and makeup. I’d eat cheap food and drink cheap soda (and possibly some cheaply spiked punch) with my girl friends, many of whom didn’t even spend the evening with their own dates. I’d take photos that would eventually be published to my Instagram as #tbt pics. I’d dance hard enough to tire myself out for the five-hour bus ride to Hershey Park. In other words, I’d have the most basic of basic proms, and I would have loved it.

I’m sure I’ll continue to mourn the evening that could have been — at least until I get engaged and plan a prom-themed wedding.

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