As I sit down to write this article, my daughter is primping for prom. She has spent the morning at the hairdresser, new highlights and an up-do give her a sophisticated look. She chose a French manicure and pedicure, hoping it would last throughout the honeymoon, oops, I mean the summer. She has been practicing with liquid eyeliner so she can create a look she saw Angelina Jolie wear. Her dress hangs nearby, ordered from France, at a cost higher than any dress I have ever owned, besides my wedding dress.
I am having an epiphany that I didn’t have when when my sons went to prom. I am struck by the many similarities I see to another “big day” a woman looks forward to throughout her youth. Preparations for prom began months ago. Savings have been drained, and in some cases, participants have gone into debt to meet the requirements of the event. The girls have all been shopping for dresses, losing weight to look their absolute best.
The limousine has been ordered. The boutonniere and corsage match the dress which matches the tuxedo. It is a fairy-tale event, and my daughter wants to look like a princess. She will be accompanied by a prince-charming who happens to be just tall enough that they will look fantastic together in the photographs, photographs she will put into an album and place in a frame on top of the baby grand piano. It will be an occasion to reflect on the rest of one’s life, a celebration of something, a celebration of…exactly what???
We know exactly what we celebrate when a man and a woman get married and throw a lavish wedding. The dresses, tuxes, flowers, and limos seem entirely appropriate for an occasion as important as the joining of a man and a woman together for the rest of time, and perhaps eternity too. This is the day the couple will look back on for the rest of their lives as the day they became one. Their children will celebrate this day, and their grandchildren and genealogists for generations.
We put effort into planning a wedding because the event is of tremendous importance. The people who attend will be witnesses to the union and may be asked to support the union over the coming years. I expect there could even be a correlation between the effort a couple puts into their wedding and the effort they put into their marriage. A quick Las-Vegas style marriage can easily become a quick Las-Vegas style divorce. However, a couple who only intend to “only do this once” (both the wedding and the marriage) might, when times get tough, recall all the work they put into the wedding, and work at least as hard on the marriage.
In the LDS culture, and in cultures throughout the ages, the wedding ceremony was not only a celebration of the day the couple were bound, a wedding was also a celebration of the occasion on which the bride and groom would lose their virginity. Traditionally, a bride and groom saved themselves for marriage and their first time having sex would be on their wedding night. This transcendent event certainly called for a celebration. Many traditions and rituals across cultures directly reflect the fact that a couple getting married will, for the first time in their lives, indulge in the privilege of sexual relations.
This is a similarity between prom and weddings that seriously concerns me. Why all the hoopla over prom unless something seriously big is being celebrated? A time-and-all-eternity union is certainly not being celebrated at prom. The couple is often fully aware that their relationship will not last beyond high school and may not even last beyond that night. But something big must justify all the anticipation, all the expense, and all the planning.
After so much fanfare and so much preparation a dinner and a dance can often seem anti-climatic. Particularly when the dance is not unlike the many dances these kids have attended before. Some couples try to combat that feeling of anti-climax by spending the night at a 24-hour bowling alley, or staying awake to greet the dawn and eat breakfast together.
For other couples of the world all the anticipation, expense and planning that goes into prom will culminate by renting a hotel room, one they will not share with other couples like they shared a limousine. For these couples prom can be a celebration of the exact thing a wedding is meant to celebrate: the loss of one’s virginity, their “first time.”
One has to admire the courage of the Long Island principal who in 2005 cancelled prom because he was fed up with the “bacchanalian aspects” of prom. He referenced students who put down $10,000 to rent a party house in the Hamptons, and fathers chartering a boat for their students’ late-night “booze cruise”.
As Latter-day Saints we would hope that our relentless teaching would eliminate any semblance of such debauchery and immorality among our youth. We would hope that our youth could be “in the world, and attend prom, yet not be “of the world” and participate in all that prom may inspire. Yet, I fear that the grandiloquence of the event makes it tougher for our youth to resist all of the above. After watching my own children attend prom, I fear that all the excess that is prom sets up an expectation that can’t possibly be met within the bounds of morality and decency. However, if we were to decrease the hoopla, we could decrease the expectation that the evening should produce greater thrills than it actually will.
Prom should in no way rival a wedding. It should in no way resemble the sacred occasion of a wedding, and there should be absolutely no inclination for youth to indulge in the same privileges a wedding affords. Prudent folks will decide just exactly what it is that a prom is commemorating in the particular locale where it is being held, and then craft a celebration that is commensurate with the occasion.