Best & Worst Prom Proposals

Go big, or go stag.

Prom season is upon us. A whiff of cologne carries on the warm spring breeze, and before you know it, photos of friends’ kids and younger siblings, draped in formalwear, are popping up on your newsfeed.

Prom is a generally nostalgic tradition, but like everything else in the lives of teenagers in 2013, it’s now a more complicated affair than it was during the Sixteen Candles era.

You’ve probably read about a prom proposal or two in the past few weeks. There was Zack, from the Allentown area, who waited for girlfriend Adriana with a giant, neon pink sign and roses outside her school. There was a Marple Newtown boy who lined up a few of his buddies to serenade girlfriend Lauren with “Isn’t She Lovely?” at a local Panera. Last year, John, from Jersey, went on the NBC 10 show to ask Shannon to go to prom with him. (That one sort of hurts to watch).

Prom proposals weren’t news to me. They were a big deal at my high school, where it was considered highly lame to simply ask someone to a dance, whether it was homecoming, prom, or turnabout, the February dance where girls asked boys to be their dates. I remember a guy interrupting the morning announcement on the PA system to ask a girl to prom. I remember posters in classroom windows. One high-school friend’s sister woke up one morning to find two rocks in her front yard, one painted “yes,” and the other, “no.” She was supposed to take her answer to school to give to the guy. “Yes” was an average-sized stone. “No” was a giant boulder.

College friends always thought this was insane, and until recently, I’d only heard about a few other schools (giant, suburban ones, typically) with the same tradition. But based on some very scientific anecdotal and YouTube evidence, it seems that prom proposals are starting to trend in high schools far and wide. “Best yes” videos, where kids capture their creative, often public, prom requests on video, are a new strain of YouTerrible. No more staring at your shoes and scratching the back of your neck while you sputter a half-hearted “wanna go to prom?” This is high school in 2013, people, where you go big, or go stag.

To illustrate: A colleague passed along this photo from Le Bec Fin, where a young Romeo recently wrote his prom request in what looks like ganache. (Classier than Panera, for sure.)

A friend who works at a school in the Boston area had a student who left a one-word note in each of a girl’s seven daily classes to finally spell out, by the dismissal bell, “Will you go to prom with me?” A Facebook friend who’s a senior in high school recently posted an album of her boyfriend’s prom stunt: He somehow got up onto the roof of their school in the middle of the night to secure (with large sandbags) a giant cloth “PROM?” sign in front of the building for her to see in the morning. A three-hour, 2 to 5 a.m. ordeal, I’m told.

People unfamiliar with prom proposals typically roll their eyes at all this rigamarole. And prom’s fuss-to-importance ratio has always been off balance. Does it really need more undue cultural pressure?

In a “satiric” retaliation against what he calls “silly and outrageous” prom proposals, one Los Angeles kid named Jonathan Senn decided to get a girl’s prom commitment by “twerking”—against her, in front of everyone—in gold shorts to “Back That Azz Up.” Of course, he caught it on video.

Senn has a point. But as cheesy and contrived as prom proposals can be, you have to admit there’s nothing quite as lucid and self-satisfying as the memory of a high-school win. My friend Ross still remembers asking his senior prom date. She was in charge of the photography club, and he exposed some stenciled letters to photo paper one day. “I asked her to help me develop the paper, and slowly the letters started to appear: ‘PROM.’” He adds, with complete certainty: “This was the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”

I remember when the guy who I really wanted to ask me to prom showed up at my front door on a school night my senior year. My dad answered, and after the guy had made it clear he wasn’t trying to sell the orchid plant he was holding, my dad shouted up the stairs, “Annie! There’s a boy with a potted plant at the front door.” It was a very big win.