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Ahem: Asking Someone To The Prom Is Not A 'Proposal'


There are times when the kindness of a gesture is undermined by its ostentatious nature — when the fancier your method of approaching another human being, the less it appears to be about them and the more it appears to be about you.

This is the risk inherent in any marriage proposal that winds up on YouTube. No matter how charming — and some are really, really charming and ooze genuine love and affection — when you seem to be begging for your proposal to go viral, it can take on a sense of being external rather than internal, performative rather than intimate.

But what often saves proposal videos from maudlin distastefulness is that they have goofiness, but they also have heft: you're often looking at people who love each other very much, whose families and friends are participating in some extravagant overflow of affection. They represent the culmination of something important, and that mitigates their tendency to feel like stunts.

With high school students perhaps concerned that they're missing out on the fun because it's a tiny bit early to get engaged, there seems to be an uptick in recent years in extravagant (and widely shared) prom proposals. Yes, that's prom proposals.

Now look: when I was a rosy-cheeked girl back in the time of butter churning and the building of the transcontinental railroad, we didn't refer to asking someone to the prom as "proposing." There was no such thing as a "prom proposal," as far as I knew, because being asked to the prom basically involved a dialogue that either went something like "Did you want to go to the prom with me?" "Yeah" (for singles) or "We should think about getting our prom tickets" "Yeah" (for couples). If a girl had said, "My boyfriend proposed to me for the prom," we would have had no idea what that even meant, I think.

I generally believe that the so-called "younger generation" at any given moment is just as smart, good, interesting, engaged, bright, and wise (for their age) as any other generation was. And I believe that now. And I don't believe they're being ruined by their phones or the internet or whatever is this week's THEY'RE BEING RUINED! candidate.

Having said that, I cannot tell a lie: I think their propensity for extravagant prom asks, which they call — ack ack — "promposals," is ... weird. And probably not a good idea.

First of all, I'm not sure all girls find this experience pleasurable. This girl looks a tiny bit mortified, and the song is too short (you couldn't even write the "Chapter One" parts, guy?), and bow ties with t-shirts smacks of lack of effort.

And who is this prom proposal for, really? Is it for the girl? You'll notice who's getting mobbed by admirers at the end.

And who's the star here? (Of this proposal he kind of stole from 10 Things I Hate About You.)

Now, I want you to sit down for a minute, because I need to tell you something.

The word "promposal" — or, really, the "word" — has 149,000 YouTube results.

Promposal. Promposal. Promposal. Say it loud, and there's music playing. Say it soft, and it's almost like nothing counts anymore if it's not on YouTube.

It's not that promposals aren't driven by genuine affection of (in the vast majority of cases) boys for girls. And affection is beautiful! And lovely! The problem is the insidious suggestion that it should be competitive, an idea that people who are at the very beginning of their experiences with all this are perhaps not well-served by embracing. If you liked the results for "promposal," you'll love the ones for "best promposal ever."

Call me old-fashioned, call me a stick in the mud, call me an enemy of the romantic ideas of the young, but it seems like you ought to be able to extend a simple social invitation to another human without involving marching bands or lip dubs, and without needing your invitation to be validated as the BEST INVITATION OF ITS KIND EVER.

Furthermore, high school guys, it must be said, have enough pressure on them already (despite the influence of feminism, I think many of them would tell you they are expected to do the asking, even more at 17 or 18 than later on). Enough of them are sitting around trying to figure out how to do the simple, "Hey, would you like to go to the prom?" kind of proposal. I don't want to set them up to feel like they have to have a panic attack about how to involve props, games, fireworks, dogs, cats, parents, school assemblies, the football team, or a flash mob. Believe it or not, when I was in school, getting a limo for prom was considered kind of a show-offy thing to do. Now? Pfft. You'd better bring it more than that, buddy.

I'm not sure it's great for the girls, either. The road of confusing the size/expense/extravagance of a gesture with the sentiment behind it is a long, awful, heartbreaking path to follow. This is how you wind up with ladies shrieking "MY DAY! MY DAY!" on Bridezillas and thinking they're just sticking up for their dignity.

Honestly, nothing would make me happier than a YouTube video that was labeled "BEST PROMPOSAL EVER!!!!" and took you to a blank page that said, "None of your beeswax. Eyes on your own paper, nosypants."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.