NEW YORK – Never mind a text that meekly asks “will u go 2 prom w/me?”
Today’s teenagers are taking a cue from elaborately staged wedding proposals, inviting each other to prom with flash mobs, scavenger hunts, homemade music videos and even airplane banners flying over the beach.
And while coming up with clever or romantic ways to ask someone to prom isn’t an entirely new concept, the effort and expense going into the big ask these days has given rise to a new term: Prom-posal.
“This year is the first time we’ve done prom invitations,” said Remy Colin, owner of Aerial Messages, a company that charges $600 for a plane to fly a banner with a message on it. “It’s expensive as hell for a high schooler who doesn’t have any money, but we’ve done two in the past three months,” one in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and one in Tampa, Fla.
Alex Chichkov, 17, arranged for a plane trailing “Come to prom with me, Kayla?” to fly over a student fundraiser his girlfriend, Kayla Bennett, was attending at King High School in Tampa in March.
“I’ve seen it for weddings and I wanted to do something huge or unique,” said Alex, a senior who paid for the flyover with money he earned working at a family business. “I didn’t want to do anything generic. In the history of the school, no one has done anything that big. It’s going to be my only prom, first time ever, last time ever, with someone who’s been my girlfriend for two and a half years, so it deserves to be that big.”
The plane flew over a student Relay for Life event, which raises money for the American Cancer Society, right before the talent show, while a sound system played a Michael Buble cover of the Frank Sinatra song, “Come Fly With Me.”
“Everyone was cheering and she had the biggest smile on her face,” Alex said. Naturally, Kayla said yes.
Rebecca Leet, 17, had an audience of more than 250 people for a prom-posal from her boyfriend, Joe Nelson, 18. Rebecca and Joe both worked on a school performance of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” at Collierville High School in Collierville, Tenn. At the end of the show, their teacher, Keith Salter, told the audience to stay put for one more thing.
Joe came out on stage, got down on one knee and pulled out a box with a ring in it. “It’s not what you think!” Salter quickly assured the audience, as some gasped, thinking it was a teenage marriage proposal.
Then Joe popped the question – the prom question. “She got all teary and said yes,” Joe said. “It made my day just knowing I did something memorable and she really enjoyed it.”
Nancy Darling, an Oberlin College professor of psychology who studies adolescent development, said teenage relationships go through stages, one of which is taking the romance public. “It’s a public declaration of `I really want to go to the prom, and I like you!’” she said.
She added that despite stereotypes of teens “as sex-driven and aggressive,” data shows kids are now becoming “more conservative” socially, with less sexual intercourse than previous generations. “We’re back to being romantic,” she said.
And while some prom-posals come from girls, most are planned by boys, letting them show off “this whole sweet side that doesn’t get a lot of chance to come up,” said Darling. “We’ve really underestimated the romance of guys.”
The Heart Bandits, a “romance event coordinating company” that usually arranges marriage proposals, has, for the first time this year, gotten requests for help with prom-posals, said Michele Velazquez, co-owner of the company. The Heart Bandits created a scavenger hunt in Santa Monica, Calif., that led a girl to a classroom with candles, rose petals and her prospective date holding a “Will you go to prom?” sign. In Michigan, signs were posted on a road ending with an invitation to prom. Velazquez said she’s had inquiries from other teens, but most can’t afford the $300 pricetag.
But many prom-posals are creative without costing a fortune. In East Greenwich, R.I., baker Michael Valente at Felicia’s Coffee got an order for a cake with a frosting heart and the words, “Juliana, Prom?” “It was something new for me,” Valente said. “But I think it was so sweet.”
Search YouTube for “prom invitation” and you’ll find homemade videos of lone Romeos crooning to their beloveds, flash mobs dancing to taped songs during the formal ask, and groups of kids wearing T-shirts that spell out “PROM” one letter at a time. Keith Naranjo, a senior at a high school in Manhattan, Kan., put together a fruit basket with cute notes for each fruit like “Let’s go to the promegranate” and “I’m berry serious.”
“A lot of times you’ll see notes written on kids’ car windows with markers,” said Will Sherwood, a student at Plant High School in Tampa who hid his prom invitation in a bouquet of flowers. “Or there will be 2,000 sticky notes and each sticky note makes a letter. I saw one on Facebook where someone left tiny candles lit on a front porch that spelled out prom.”
He added that “because of social media, people like to take pictures of it and put it up on Facebook, and then other people will say, `You have such a good guy!”’
Just be careful where you hang those signs. Last year, James Tate, a student at Shelton High School in Shelton, Conn., was barred from his prom because he had put the invitation in big cardboard letters on a school wall. Fortunately, after the story made national headlines, the school headmaster relented, and Tate was allowed to go.