It started the summer before I went into high school. “It” being the stream of movies that centered around high school life, prom and graduation. In my day, these movies included such hits as American Pie, She’s All That, Never Been Kissed, 10 Things I Hate About You, Cruel Intentions and Can’t Hardly Wait. The storylines of these films were really rather similar and simple: get someone to fall for you, so you either win a bet or prove your worth, only to get caught by them – but not until after you’ve fallen in love with them and were going to tell them the truth.  

They all resulted in the same outcomes: That after being hurt or played, the once “outsider/well-meaning” character would walk away from whoever hurt them, only to accept said other back in a grand final scene - sappy song playing in the background - where they profess their love for one another, promise it won’t happen ever again, embrace and seal their words with a long passionate kiss, and presumably live happily ever after into college and beyond. 

I’d watch these cliché ‘teen films’ over and over again, and sadly, in grade 8 and in high school, I mistakenly believed that they mimicked reality.

Though I’d never admitted it then, I was a sensitive, empathetic, impressionable young thing, and these movies created an expectation in my mind of what prom should be, or where I should be by the time I graduated high school (see either: In a serious relationship, saved by someone who was crushing on me, and/or no longer a virgin.) 

At the ripe age of 17 going on 18, success to me was seen through this lens, thanks to the unrealistic yet ever-so-present movies I’d watch. 

10 Things I Hate About You  (1999) Touchstone Pictures

Boy, do I ever wish I knew then what I know now. 

It’s been 15+ years since my prom. I graduated high school without ever having the coveted “girlfriend” title, and I never hooked up with someone I loved, who respected me and who I respected in turn. 

I didn’t walk into prom on the arms of my high school crush, and for a while, the idea that things wouldn’t play out how I was taught in the movies I loved, made me feel sad, unworthy and created negative self-talk about being unlovable. 

So as prom got closer and closer, I started to wonder how I could get someone to ask me to be their date. I had this fantasy that some cool guy would profess his undying love for me and include me in his plans, but hopeful though I was, I was also never one to sit and wait around for what I wanted. And so, when I realized I wouldn’t pass away from asking a guy out and possibly getting rejected, I reached out to a guy in a different social circle than me out for dinner one night. My intention was to scout him out for prom so I could be his saviour (one he never asked for, mind you).

He agreed to the dinner date, and the moment he arrived it was as awkward as you’d expect a date to be with a guy who I ignored for all four years of high school. So as we parted ways after forced conversation over a meal of food, I let go of the idea and ideal of what prom should be and started to face reality: That I’m my best self when surrounded by my friends who love me for me – date, boyfriend or not -  and that I feel my strongest when I take control of my own destiny. 

Take control of my destiny I did. At the end of March, I proudly asked my best guy friend to be my platonic prom date and he happily accepted (and even let me convince him into wearing an all-white tux!) He’s one year my senior and he had brought me to his prom the year before. This wasn’t only a safe option, but one that felt natural. We have now been friends for 20 years, and I love that we were each other’s prom date, as opposed to a random guy who was using me or I was using just to “feel cool,” based on what pop culture dictated cool was during my high school years.

By the time prom arrived end of May, he was dating one of my closest girlfriends (who he is now married to!) but like the mensch he is, he still kept his word and all of us and our mutual friends had a great night, albeit, not the one these teen movies would tell me would be legendary or ground-breaking or lead to a high-school success story.

I felt comfortable and happy in my skin , and felt in control and proud of having great friends to celebrate the evening with, even though my prom night ended eating slices of garlic-dipping-sauce drenched pizza. 

Looking back, I’m happy with how things unfolded.  I just wish I didn’t feel like such a failure leading up for prom for not having The One to go with and wasting my energy by focussing on all the girls my age who did have boyfriends and friends with benefits to go with. 

Never Been Kissed (1999) FOX Pictures

Over the past year, I’ve watched a handful of Netflix movies with my teenage niece that also center around prom, and though they’re seemingly innocent and feel-good, I would hate for her to take away from them what I once did. Which brings me to you, dear reader. 

As a relationship columnist, I’ve written hundreds of articles over the years about dating and relationships and have advised various clients and viewers on the topic. I can tell you – no, wait - I can guarantee you, that there is nothing wrong with you if you don’t yet have a date for prom, for grad, for your school dance or even your older siblings wedding. Sure, tis the season of all the aforementioned celebratory occasions, and prom is less than a month away, but don’t lose focus or get caught up in thoughts about what the night should look like. Instead, grab your best pals together and make a pact that you’ll all go together, whether someone else comes into your life by then or not. 

Prom, though special, is not it’s all made out to be, but it can be fun, if you lower your expectations and surround yourself with your favourite people who are always by your side; who you know won’t let you down. 

For me, it was the getting ready part where I felt excited: getting my hair done at a fancy salon my mom frequented for her weekly blowouts. Trying out a unique style that Jennifer Aniston rocked at the 1999 Emmy’s and playing it off. Wearing a black tie gown. Going with my best friend and his girlfriend, now wife, and all our friends in a limo bus (on our own!) into the city. Taking tons of pictures before, during and after, to have something to show for it all. Because I look at those printed pictures that take up three mini photo albums and really love, it feels like just yesterday. And I remember that day, the excitement and the feeling I had to be not with fair-weather friends, but those who I always spent my time with. 


American Pie (1999) Universal Pictures


Jen Kirsch

Jen Kirsch is a freelance writer, columnist and on-air personality, known predominantly for her work on dating and relationships. She also covers everything from culture, parties, society and lifestyle. She writes for numerous publications both in Canada and internationally and regularly contributes to Toronto Star, with bylines in ELLE, Women’s Health, Canadian Living and FASHION