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Stag in the wilderness

12:31 AM March 31, 2015

I HATE proms.

I hope I haven’t turned you off. I promise that this isn’t going to be just another tirade on how couples have it all, and how single people like me should be given more attention and loving. And as much as, admittedly, this will become quite rant-y, I hope somehow I’ll be able to open some things for discussion.

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No, I hate proms because of how exclusive they really are behind the facade of the general celebration of friendship and growing up. Those claiming that all the frills of “promposals” or making that one person feel special for a night are purely platonic is fooling themselves. A prom has all the ingredients of a romantic heterosexual relationship brewing, inviting everyone to take a swig. And as in any drink, everyone has different tastes. But the difference is that secretly we’re all taught to be dismayed whenever we can’t stomach this cocktail.

I honestly don’t see why it’s such a milestone to take out a girl by one’s self or with a group of friends and their own dates to have a sophisticated, intimate dinner. The idea becomes especially murkier when the dinner has to be at the same time with hundreds of other young couples in the same ballroom or—I curse my school for this—covered courts. I feel the general pressure to act civil toward one’s peers and the natural incentive to act much more sophisticated for romantic interest is enough motivation for us to refine our personalities. And while formal dinners are concededly occasions to further develop ourselves—who doesn’t like enjoying good food in good clothes, while acting high-class?—it seems as if high school promenades have become the end in themselves rather than such goals. The prom has become the end-all and be-all avenue to display our maturity.

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We also have to consider the numerous costs of being able to execute a good promenade. For one, you can just hear the riffling of bills or the swiping of credit cards to the tune of thousands of pesos. This probably isn’t much of an issue for people anymore, especially those in the private schools that are used to holding more lavish proms. But I do sincerely believe that proms are becoming quite a profitable space, financially and socially.

Recently I saw a huge “PROM” sign propped up in the middle of a mall’s main corridor, complete with flower bouquets and a promenade arch. The promo being advertised was that you’d win prizes if your “promposal” idea trended the most in social media. It’s admittedly quite anecdotal, but it does illustrate the fashionability—perhaps even faddishness—of being the most prominent and creative couple of the night. So worry not about your exquisite dresses or snazzy suits growing dusty after the prom, because somehow that one night is all worth it. The admiration of your family and friends, the prizes of business, and everything else in between make it so.

And secondly, we’d have to consider the social costs. Yes, the prom has grown not just to be the event of couples but also of the entire barkada. It’s quite fashionable to go to multiple proms and do “promposals” with friends. All those nights worrying about the “promposal” being novel are supposedly worth it, just to have her for one night. But I’ve always felt, after hearing conversations planning such things, that a prom is generally treated as a springboard to romantic relationships. Everyone feels the kilig as they think their friends are close to winning their date. Everyone wants their evenings to feel special. It seems harmless, but the reality seems rather coercive. People want to see relationships of their own or their friends bloom, and as a result are more likely to shoehorn romantic or even sexual expectations from each other. At a time when we usually seek strong affirmation from others, this can take quite a toll if we feel heavily pressured to take on such roles.

And what about the actual night of the prom?

If this really were just a celebration of the friendships we’ve made, then let me go stag at the equal cost of going on a date. Don’t slap on more money per person for going alone than if I went with a date. Don’t leave me with a consolation fedora—a fedora, the symbol of desperate loneliness!—when couples get simple yet endearing trinkets. Don’t tell me that going stag is a perfectly legitimate choice if it means getting sidelined by your friends with dates. Maybe romantic relationships do take precedence over simple friendships, and even among friendships. But at least be completely honest about the whole point of the event.

And ultimately, if it really were just about the maturity we’ve cultivated over the years, if it were about us making our own identities and coming into our own, then let me take my same-sex friend to the prom. If I really had to buy into the prom’s coercive culture of luxury and matchmaking, then let me or others enjoy it with the people we’ve fallen in love with. Don’t pretend we don’t exist, and don’t you dare say that we are confused individuals who need counsel. Don’t lump us with the other LGBTs who are happy enough to go stag or go with their opposite-sex friends and just have a hoot about everyone else’s heterosexual awkwardness. We don’t want to be ornaments to spice up everyone’s prom, if we do have to go to the prom. We want to be couples who, for one night, found meaning in the struggle we take up as our schoolmates throw slurs in our faces or when we have to continuously lie to our parents about who we are.

Now, a major disclaimer. Perhaps a prom is more of a symptom than the cause of what is a generally heteronormative culture. And people have been trying to reclaim it left and right. Hence the protests of LGBT couples in the United States to be included in proms, or even the posts of popular students taking the supposed outcasts like special-needs students to proms.

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But that isn’t enough to wipe away the harm already done. So many people have felt they were prey to the hunters among their family, friends and school. So many people have been led around in circles, looking for the way out. So many people continuously get lost in these wildernesses, and at times have been swallowed whole.

I hate proms.

“Kingsman,” 18, is an economics freshman at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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