Elaborate ‘promposals’ are now the norm


Although the students have to do the hard part — asking for a date — Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School parents put effort into a dinner gathering at Jake Rubenstein's house before the school prom April 27. Rubenstein asked his girlfriend on air during the school’s morning news show and then led a group serenade to her in class — all filmed and uploaded to YouTube, of course. (George P. Smith/FOR THE GAZETTE)
May 1, 2013

An earlier version of this story had the wrong last name for Jake Shapiro. This version has been updated to correct his name.

In front of the garage at his Rockville home, Jamie Rotbert, 18, belted out the pop song “C’mon, C’mon” by One Direction while two friends played guitar and drums and two more guys danced in the corner.

This was no regular garage band practice; it was Rotbert’s “promposal” to his girlfriend of two years.

Sitting in a chair facing the band, among chalk flowers drawn on the blacktop by Rotbert’s sister, his girlfriend watched the garage door rise to reveal a huge banner with the word “PROM?” painted on it.

The answer was yes.

“It’s prom. You gotta go all out,” said Rotbert, a senior whose prom at Wootton High School is May 18. Rotbert captured the whole thing on video and put it on YouTube. “It’s your last chance.”

It’s a sentiment echoed across the country this time of year. Prom proposals, or promposals, have become big deals — a chance to showcase talent, creativity or just plain old perseverance.

Some attribute the phenomenon to MTV’s reality show “Laguna Beach,” which aired from 2004 to 2006 and followed the lives of a group of well-off high school students, including their outlandish prom proposals. One involved dressing up in gorilla suits, another a fake car-towing.

In 2011, to promote its new movie “Prom,” Disney hosted a contest called “Prom: Ultimate Invite Contest” and asked for videos of creative and unusual prom proposals.

Whatever its origin, the trend has become the norm, many local teens say.

“It’s kind of a tradition now,” Rotbert said. “Everyone wants to top the last one.”

Tobin Pagley, a junior at Quince Orchard High School, agreed. On Sunday, he asked his “sort-of girlfriend” to the prom by decorating a sun porch with balloons, flowers, boxes of Girl Scout tagalong cookies and a sign that read, “Will you tagalong to prom with me?”

The Quince Orchard prom is May 24.

“Everyone comes up with a funny idea,” Pagley said. “If I just asked her, she’d say, ‘No, find a better way.’ All the girls are like that.”

Or if not all, at least many of the girls.

“There are some very high-maintenance girls out there,” said Lauren Cherrick, 17, who said she would have been fine with a face-to-face, old-school invitation. Instead, her boyfriend, Jake Shapiro, proposed to her on air during Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School’s morning news show “Wake Up B-CC.”

When she didn’t give him a definitive yes, he and some friends serenaded her with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” during class. Of course, Shapiro filmed it all and put it on YouTube, where it had racked up 650 views.

There’s a name for this craziness: “prama” — a combination of prom and drama.

Zoe Barnes, 17, knows all about prama. When asked if it would be okay if a guy simply popped the question, the B-CC senior looked aghast.

“No,” she said. “Prom is, like, a big deal for girls.”

It’s a big deal for lots of folks these days. Between the dress, the tux, the flowers and the limo, prom is one pricey evening.

The average family shelled out $1,139 for the prom last year, up from $1,078 the year before, according to a survey released by Visa, which launched a free app called Plan’it Prom to help students budget.

The biggest spenders were single parents, who spent $1,563, almost double the $770 that two-parent households spent.

“Prom has devolved into a competition to crown the victor of high school society, but teens shouldn’t be trying to keep up with the Kardashians,” Nat Sillin, Visa’s head of U.S. financial education, said in a statement.

Not every big gesture costs big bucks. All it cost Alex Tatem, 18, was the gas money to get to the airport.

The B-CC senior didn’t have a song to sing, but he had the exact time and place his would-be date was leaving the country for a spring break jaunt to Paris. So Tatem got there first and waited at the airport with a big sign that read, “Juliette — prom?”

Then there are the rebels who refuse to succumb to the trends.

Eli Schwat, 18, asked his date to the prom the old-fashioned way. “I transcend that pressure,” he said.

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