Letter to a high school girl on prom night

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Confession:  I was wildly unpopular with the boys in high school. At the time I didn’t know if the problem was my size, my unthinkably problematic face, or the reality that I invested little time in hair, makeup and clothes. Now, looking back, I think my personality played a role, too. I wasn’t exactly warm and willing… or even nice.  Political and opinionated from an early age, born with a resolute moral compass, I was very apt to publish an editorial on the futilities of partying in the school newspaper.  It’s true.  I actually did it.  (My abrasiveness is not a result of my upbringing. My sister, the well-liked and successful one in the family, never seemed to take issue with partying.)

The other problem was that, as a youngest-quasi-only child (my sister is 13 years older than me, so I was not only the baby of the family but also the only kid at home), I was a little spoiled and not so great at peer relationships.  Looking back, I also believe I was emotionally immature for my class.  I vividly remember reaching the age of reckoning (realizing I was responsible for what I was saying and thinking and that my actions affected others and my own reputation).  I was 17 years old when it sank in… about to graduate.  Coming from a small town, I had been with the same kids in school from age 5, and I didn’t mature until I was 17.  That gave me a lot of time to make immature social mistakes in front of my peers in public school.  Definitely not the kind of stuff that gets a girl asked to prom.

The saddest part of this happy-ending tale is this:  It all added up to many proms and winter formals that went by with no date for poor little Tami Jo. One time, I remember, the phone rang on the evening of a winter formal. I answered and a boy from school asked to speak to another girl from my class. He had dialed the wrong number. I hung up and Mom tried to convince me he had been calling to ask me to the dance and just chickened out!

Girls, please know that the boys who aren’t paying any attention to you today are not people you will still wish you had shared your life with when you get a few years down the road.  High school will be over soon. Chances are very, very good that these will not be the best days of your life (hooray!).  I promise, great things are ahead for you. (Fair warning, though: your 20s might be tough, too. They were for me, anyhow. I feel like I’ve finally hit my stride here in my 30s.)  There are a lot of wonderful people to meet and fantastic things to do out there in the big world after you throw your graduation cap in the air.

But I know right now matters to you. I know it hurts to wonder why you’re different than everyone else today. To guess at reasons why you weren’t asked to the prom. And I don’t know if I my advice can help you right now, but maybe it helps to know you’re not the first (and you won’t be the last) to go through this.

I also know you think you’re all grown up, and that your classmates are all grown up, but here’s a little-told truth about high school:  You’re all still kids. You’re just walking around in grown-up bodies.  (Well, the girls are anyway.  The boys might grow five inches after graduation.)  Still, it’s one of the devastations of life:  Your body matures way before your mind does.  I promise you, you don’t really know what you’re doing yet.  Even better:  You are not the real you yet!  You’re still a work in progress! If you work at it, you’re just going to get better and better as you get older.

At the risk of you dismissing me as another out-of-touch adult, I’m going to repeat what is obvious because it’s true:  If you don’t have a date to the dance tonight, there are other things you could do.  Maybe something fun with other girls who don’t have dates. And you know who might be worth investing in for a life-long friendship? The boys that the popular girls aren’t paying any attention to. Even if he’s short… or wearing the wrong brand of jeans… or a terrible basketball player. Remember, you’re (obviously) not perfect either.  (I want to take a moment here to publicly apologize to Justin O., who took me to our freshman prom [under the supervision of his mother].  Unfortunately, Justin was about eight inches shorter than me then, and in my immature awkwardness I’m afraid I was very cruel to him that night.  I think he did turn out to be taller than me in the end… but then, I haven’t seen him since graduation.  Remember:  Some of the wounds inflicted during high school years might never completely heal.  And so, in the interest of your future conscience, I would advise that having received high school cruelties will be much easier on Future You than having distributed high school cruelties.)

Good news alert:  There’s probably a boy out there somewhere — and you might not meet him for years down the road — who’ll think you’re lovely.  There was just such a gentleman waiting for me.  And because I didn’t invest much in those high school boys, I had more to give him when we found each other.  By the way, he grew up 2,000 miles away, which I always say is for the best.  If we’d known each other in high school, it definitely wouldn’t have worked out.  (He did some partying back then, and he was also short, and I was mean to short boys because they made me feel big [see Justin:  above], and in case you haven’t figured it out yet, mean is the go-to response for confused females.)

Take it from a late bloomer.  I’m 33 now, and I can honestly say I’m proud of the wildflower I’ve blossomed into.  I think I’m aging like a fine wine (which is something you ought not taste until 21, and then only in reasonable quantities:  For my complete editorial on the subject, see the HHS Cutlass, circa 1999).  Today I like the gal I see in the mirror, scars and wayward eyebrows and moles and all.

As for the boys who paid me no attention when I was an ugly stalk showing little promise… some of them I can see today and honestly wish them happiness.

But some of those boys, now men, I still have trouble forgiving for that sub-human message they drove home… despite my best intentions.

But the forgiving is definitely easier if they are bald and pot-bellied… which a lot of them are.  Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

To wrap up:  If you don’t have a date to the prom tonight, you’re in good company. Or at least in my company. And see?  I turned out okay. I’m not a misfit in the grand scheme of things. I’m actually pretty normal (the definition of normal expands quite a bit as you get older). I have a handsome husband and three adorable kids and all these imaginary friends who read my blog!  I’m doing great!  And you, my girl… you’re going to be just fine, too.

© Tami Blake

3 thoughts on “Letter to a high school girl on prom night

  1. Tami, it was nice seeing you the other night at the Dairy Queen. What an odd coincidence that my niece posted a link to your blog on FB today. I’ve read several of you posts and love them! You have a beautiful family and I love reading about your adventures. Keep up the wonderful work. Ann Wells

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    1. Thank you for reading, Ann! I’m sorry I didn’t readily recognize you the other night… I knew you were a 4-H Mom but I wasn’t sure which one. I notice in the sleep-deprived state I’m in that people all start to look similar to me! Hope you are well.

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