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May I Have This Dance?

The moment had come. She stood there pretty as a picture, and he was nervous as could be. Could he pull it off? Would she say yes? “I pulled out a rose, got down on one knee, and popped the question,” the young man said. “She was just staring in disbelief, like, ‘What is going on right now?’ But she said yes — thank gosh.”

What makes this story strange is that the happy couple aren’t adults, they’re high-schoolers. And this wasn’t a marriage proposal, it was just an invitation to the homecoming dance.

But in fact, there’s no such thing as “just an invitation” to a dance anymore. Teens all over America have taken to grand, showy gestures to land a date to homecoming or prom.

“You have to,” explained Jack Haley, the question-popping San Marcos High School junior mentioned above. “It’s expected. You can’t go up to a girl and just go, ‘Hey, you wanna go to homecoming with me?’ because the girl will say, ‘Ask me in a better way,’ and you won’t get any respect from your peers.”

Inspired by watching The Last of the Mohicans in history class, he wooed his date by blasting the movie’s theme song from his car in the school parking lot as he fended off faux attackers (his “bros”) with a plastic sword, shouting, “No, she’s mine!” When the last bro was mock-slain, Haley knelt and asked the amused, confused girl to the dance.

“Every girl wants to be asked in, like, a sick way,” he says. “It’s fun for everyone: fun to watch, fun to do — fun to be asked, I’m guessing.”

I wouldn’t know. In my day, notes were passed, friends were sent on scouting missions to inquire about a potential date’s availability and interest, invitations were awkwardly mumbled while passing in the hall — and the thing was on. No roses. No swords.

But no more. This week in Santa Barbara, there were homecoming “proposals” involving four-part harmony, a movie marquis, cars covered in Post-it notes, football game halftime stunts, and a guy who hiked a mountain trail in a blue tuxedo to arrange a rock formation spelling “FORMAL?”

In Nokesville, Virginia, a kid had his dad fly a helicopter over the football field and drop a stuffed animal for the boy’s would-be date. In Sioux City, Iowa, a guy took out an ad on a billboard: “Maria, will u go 2 homecoming?”

“This is definitely a trend,” said San Marcos principal Ed Behrens. “It seems to be on the increase, probably due to students getting ideas on YouTube.” Behrens has been known to get in on the act, calling students into his office under false pretenses so another student could jump out from behind his desk, or bust through the door with a cupcake. “How fun is that?” he said.

But is it overkill? Most of these proposals are more fun than any homecoming dance I ever attended.

“I think it’s a little ridiculous,” said Matthew Goodkin-Gold, a junior at Ventura High, where such stunts are common. Most often, the couple’s already been dating awhile — so the flashy ask is just an elaborate formality. “It seems unnecessary to me. Nothing you’re doing is actually going to affect the answer to your question.”

One girl, a senior who’s been on the receiving end of such overtures, says the more she likes a guy, the less ambitious his invitation need be.

Interesting. So in today’s high schools, marketing skills — and a willingness to briefly humiliate oneself — make a dude more datable? The same may be true for girls, but there’s not enough data to back up the theory. With a few adorable exceptions, I’m told high-school girls are less willing to, er, wield the plastic sword of ostentatious proposals.

“There was a Sadie Hawkins dance last year,” recalls Haley, with a sigh. “But the girls really let us down.”

Published inColumnsParenting

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