Promposals and the Lure of the Extraordinary

I vividly remember the day I called a boy named Jeremy and asked him to attend a Sadie Hawkins-style winter formal dance with me.

The year was 1996, and we were juniors in high school. I used the phone in my dad’s home office — complete with a curly cord and attached to the wall — to dial Jeremy’s home landline. My voice was shaky and my palms sweaty as I rambled my way through that conversation.

Neither one of us had romantic feelings toward the other, but our best friends were dating, plus we had several other mutual friends. “It makes sense for us to all go together,” was my reason for asking. He said “yes” and we made plans. Instantly I relaxed, relieved to have both a date (my first!) and a reason to shop for a fancy dress.

Twenty years later, asking a boy or girl to a dance is definitely different and far more complex than a nervous phone call.

Say hello to the “promposal” 

Last week, I was flipping through TV channels after work and came across the premiere episode of “Promposal” on MTV. In it, a boy named Josh recreated his girlfriend Malea’s favorite music video. A camera crew filmed him singing while hired circus artists performed in elaborate costumes in the background. Josh then rented out a movie theater for Malea and her friends and family to watch the video, culminating the surprise by asking, “Will you go to prom with me?”

The extensive time, energy and money spent on promposals is shocking. On the promotional video for the new television series, the teens comment:

“It has to be a viral sensation and you want everybody to talk about it.”

“It has to be over-the-top, big, loud and better than anyone else.”

“I want the entire junior class – 400 people – involved in my promposal.”

Scroll through Facebook in the spring or hop on YouTube, and it becomes obvious we’re clearly past the days of simply calling someone we like and asking them out…at least when it comes to prom. Even the language of “promposal” speaks to the excess. It’s meant to rival an engagement.

Why does our society feel the need to make regular, everyday rites of passage, like attending a prom, bigger, better or more unique? How does this high school trend carry over into young adulthood? And what truths should we cling to when we feel rather ho-hum in comparison to others’ more interesting lives?

Social media attention and “likes”

Let’s face it, it’s not only teenagers who struggle with social media attention-seeking.  I crave affirmation and, at times, try to obtain it in unhealthy and/or artificial ways.

For example, I might post a photo on social media, hoping that the person I’m crushing on will see it and “double tap.” Waiting for that notification can produce anxiety until I know whether my post (and therefore, my actual self) has been accepted or rejected.

This anticipation and desire for online approval has its root in wanting to be noticed and chosen in real life. But whether or not I can generate social media attention, Colossians 3:12 reminds me that I belong as a member of “…God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.” It’s easier said than done, but I can choose to walk in confidence by remembering my true identity is not my manufactured online image.

Extraordinary “experiences”

It’s not just high schoolers who like to one-up. Adults are also on the hunt for new thrills and experiences. Interest in the traditional measure of success (steadily building a career, buying a home, and building a life with a spouse and children) is waning. The day-in and day-out rhythm of life feels bland to those who want “more” and seek new ways to have their senses stimulated.

“Money is made for memories” is the prescribed tagline. Although experiences away from the daily grind are definitely fun, I want to encourage us to shoot for something deeper and more meaningful in our everyday lives. This verse has been stirring me:

…But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

It represents conduct and character more akin to my grandparents’ generation, and it’s a needed perspective when I find myself unwilling to find comfort and satisfaction in the ordinary.

Heightened expectations

Lastly, we’re not unlike promposal-obsessed teenagers when it comes to heightened expectations for romance. Since my first date with Jeremy, I’ve seen how far I’ve complicated the process of dating and choosing a spouse. The dating culture that produced “promposals” makes it hard for some of us to make progress in romantic relationships whether we’re 25 or 40 years old.

We also need to consider our role in nurturing personal behaviors that impede healthy relationships. If we’re watching countless hours of fantasy dates on “The Bachelor,” obsessing over our crushes, swiping left and right on Tinder and/or engaging in text conversations into the wee hours of the night, we ought to soberly consider the course we’re pursuing and how it can easily lead to dysfunction in our dating lives, both at present and into the future.

In fact, the more I think about it, I’d rather ditch the drama. I’d welcome a phone call from a good man I currently admire, inviting me to go out on an ordinary, old-fashioned date. It would be A-OK if he’s nervous, his voice trembles and it’s not a perfect ask. I’d simply enjoy grabbing a coffee or beer or going on a hike. After all, in this complex world of promposals and big gestures, I believe I was headed in the right direction from my simple, awkward-yet-direct Sadie Hawkins start.

What do you think about promposals? Are they just a fun part of being an American teenager today, or do they reveal something deeper about our identity? Do you find yourself getting caught up in social media “likes” or seeking out extraordinary experiences? How have your expectations for dating and marriage been influenced (or heightened) by the highly romantic examples you’ve witnessed in real life or online?

About the Author

Lindsay Blackburn

Lindsay Blackburn is an ordinary Montana girl who loves life and its many wild and crazy adventures. She works full time as the women’s and children’s ministry assistant at her church and enjoys hosting parties and teaching crafts as a side job. She has a Bachelor’s degree in English literature and a Master’s degree in education. In addition to being an occasional writer, she’s a bookworm, fitness junkie, traveler, foodie, and theology nerd. You can follow her on Twitter @ellesbee.