Dear Captain Awkward,
So my prom is coming up (it’s at the end of May) and I was asked to prom by this guy. He’s been in some of my classes and I’m really excited that we’re going together. We hang out, but our conversations always turn out, well, awkward (as in lots of awkward silences). I think this guy is pretty cool and I’d like to go to prom with him, but I’m just not good at having conversations. This isn’t just a problem with this guy, it’s kind of a chronic issue. I just don’t know how to have a conversation or just “hang out” with people (the exception is close friends, but this guy was more of an acquaintance until a week ago). I usually hang out with a group of people, but that doesn’t exactly work with a date. Can you give me some tips to make this prom, and all of my conversations, less awkward?
Awkward Prom Date
Prom is fucking weird. Dating is fucking weird. I think that formal dances like prom were supposed to maybe prepare you for adult dating? Maybe that was true back in the day where you sort of met your future husband a couple times at formal dances before you became his property (close your eyes and think of England!) Now proms seem more like 1) excuses for makeover montages in teen movies and 2) preparation for dating reality shows where everyone goes on very stilted, awkward manufactured “dates” and then stands around crying in prom dresses over whether some bland dude is going to give them a rose.
And now, a poll. Which is worse?
This collection of bad prom dresses from the cast of the Bachelor, present day?
This collection of bad cocktail dresses I wore to school dances, circa 1989?
Let your eyes recover from that for a moment….
Okay! Your question! While you and your date have temporarily entered a dimension I’ll shorthand as “A Michael Cera movie with extra stilted pauses” the good news is that actual proms are not like movie proms, and that you’ll probably have way more fun if you and your date go with a bunch of friends, so it will be like hanging out with people you like except everyone is more dressed up and one of them is designated Your Date. There is safety in numbers, and you will remove the pressure to magically connect romantically with this dude.
I also think you can use the weirdness of the occasion in your favor. You are two normal high school students who are undergoing a very weird ritual together. Fortunately you have a script for the night – one of you will pick the other one up, and then there will be posing for photos with parents while they coo over how grown up you are (weird!), corsages (weird!), promenading around while trying to walk in dress shoes (weird!), seeing everyone dressed up (weird!), seeing your teachers in formal wear (really weird!), trying to slow dance to whatever bad songs the wedding band hired for the occasion will try to cover…(and if you want to see something weird, go to that video and see the message the guy who uploaded it posted under it), whatever gross rigamarole your school goes through to elect prom king and queen (weird). The collective weirdness of the night might make talking to each other seem really normal by comparison and you will have bonded in the face of adversity.
So for prom: Try to band together with friends and go as a group. Don’t force it, watch the drinking, don’t feel like you have to have a romantic connection, definitely do not feel like you have to have sex, and whatever you do, don’t wear floral print because your moms will keep and display those photos forever.
For conversations in general, eh, my dad gave me advice for dealing with big networking events with strangers by saying “Everyone feels weird at those things, so pick out someone who is standing alone, go over to them, introduce yourself, and think about how by being friendly you are making it less weird for one person at a time.” It’s okay to be a small group person, or a one-on-one person, and it’s okay to be quiet as long as it’s a “I’m listening intently to the other person” silence and not the silence of “Oh god, I am so self-conscious right now I can’t even hear what the other person is saying so I just try to nod and smile” silence. (The good news? No one can tell the difference most of the time. Bad news – You might find yourself nodding and smiling at the wrong time and eventually get called out on it). Everyone is a self-conscious awkward freak inside, so you can maybe let go of some of your own self-consciousness by doing what you can to be kind and attentive to others.
And hey, the other good news is that I talked to my prom date on the phone the other day and we’re still friends after…eep…21 years.
Readers? Got any good prom stories or social anxiety advice?