If you’re over 30 and want to feel real ancient, talk to a teenager about how they ask each other to prom these days.
First, teens rarely just ask someone to prom anymore. They “prompose.” Promposals are “marriage proposals for high schoolers,” one 20-year-old man told me this week. They’ve been a national trend for about a decade, though the first mention in a newspaper was in 2001.
The ask can be as simple as delivering a pizza with “PROM?” spelled out in pepperoni or as elaborate as choreographing a flash mob. Then the results get broadcast to friends and family on social media.
These stunts can get expensive. A 2015 Visa study found that the average prom-goer (or their parents) spends $324 on a promposal, and over $900 on the event overall.
The promposal appears to be all for the ‘gram and the public glory. There are countless social media accounts devoted to capturing those “she said yes” moments. MTV even had a reality show called “Promposal.” (It was canceled after one season.)
Over the years, as I’ve read about promposals that have gone viral — for being silly or sweet, extravagant, or downright racist — I’ve thought they were just too much. This trend can put too much pressure on a teenager to create a gesture that’s grand enough but not over the top, and put too much pressure on someone to say yes. What if someone doesn’t get a promposal or gets rejected in public? High school is hard enough; why add another measure of popularity to the daily struggle?
But once I spoke to a handful of people who’ve been part of a promposal, I had a change of heart. Perhaps their stories can nudge people of any age to be a bit more creative in their pursuit of romance. Here are some of the things I learned about promposals.
Promposals are more common for established couples. Most of the teens and grown-ups I spoke to said that if you’re going with a friend, or someone you have a crush on but aren’t currently dating, a promposal isn’t required. A simple ask will do.
Generally, you don’t prompose without knowing the answer. “People definitely check before it happens to make sure that there are no disasters,” such as a public rejection or an awkward “I already have a date,” says Noah Klein, an 18-year-old senior in Stamford, Conn. Klein promposed to his girlfriend by sending her on a scavenger hunt around Stamford. That check-in might sound like: “Hey, would you like to go to prom with me?” Followed by: “Is it okay if I prompose? Do you want me to prompose?”
There can still be a surprise factor. When Annie Orloff tells the story of her promposal in 2008, there’s still a bit of terror in her voice. She was driving home from dinner with some friends, and as she pulled up to her house in a quiet neighborhood in the Chicago suburbs, she saw a car parked and a man approaching her in a law enforcement uniform. When he said, “Annie Orloff, I need you to step out of the car,” she sped away, terrified, and called her parents. “There’s a fake cop outside,” she remembers telling them; she thought he was trying to kidnap her.
Orloff’s parents told her nothing was wrong and convinced her to drive back to the house, where she saw a display of CAUTION tape and her boyfriend with a sign that read: “It would be a crime for us not to go to prom together.” The fake cop was her boyfriend’s father. “We had talked about prom, but I was very surprised. I had no idea this was coming,” Orloff, now 28, recalls. Perhaps not the smartest tactic for 2018, but definitely a surprise.
Promposals don’t have to cost $324. A promposal can be simple and sweet, like when Sean Meyer presented his friend Gianna, who loves math, with an apple pie and poster that said, ” ‘Pi’ the way, it would be irrational to say no …” Appropriately, Meyer made his ask on March 14, also known as Pi Day. Since their 2015 junior prom, Gianna and Meyer have segued from just friends to in a relationship.
Girls ask guys, too. They’re less likely to do the asking for prom, students tell me (unless they’re in a same-sex couple). But for “turnabout” or Sadie Hawkins dances, girls are supposed to do the asking. When Gianna asked Meyer to winter formal the year after his pie promposal, she dressed up in an elf costume and had a poster board that said: “Quit elfing around and go to formal with me.”
Most people think this trend is fine. None of the teens and grown-ups I spoke to thought promposals put too much pressure on teenagers. The most romantic moments of a person’s life likely won’t involve puns on poster board. They’ll be the quieter moments that social media isn’t privy to.
And if teens can learn, early on, to make big asks like this in person — rather than by just sending a text — isn’t that a good thing?
“It’s become a pretty important thing to a teenager’s life,” Klein says. “It brings back an old-school element of asking someone on a date, which I think is pretty cool.”