x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

End-of-year prom the threshhold between childhood and adulthood

Teen life: Dates, dresses, disappointment… a fairy tale ending to the school year

It started months ago. Prom fever descended upon our school stealthily, infecting at first only a couple of giggling girls who had seen the oh-so-perfect dress in Jane Norman or Aftershock and decided it was just what they wanted for the yet faraway prom.

More and more students were gradually affected as frantic arrangements for corsages, suits and ties for the boys, and hair, make-up and the all-important prom dresses for the ladies began to be made, and everyone rushed around to make sure they would outdo everyone else on this grand night of fluttering about in gowns and posing for flattering photos to be instantly made profile pictures on Facebook.

All of a sudden, there was a scramble to ask people out; a lot of people in our year group realised with a start that their days of immaturity were over and if they wanted to arrive at the prom and get everyone's respect, a date was in order. It wasn't long before the news that there was to be a prom leaked out that couples had started sprouting all over the place.

My friends and I were cheerfully passed over as potential dates, left waiting sadly by the telephone. We needn't have worried about turning up without a date, though, because in the end something else cropped up and we weren't able to make it to the prom after all.

So began the days of loudly discussing the merits of singledom. We couldn't think of many except, "You can occupy yourself with useful pursuits like history revision?" (Raised eyebrows all around.) One of us came up with, "No one can break your heart because you haven't given it away to anyone." There's a reason Disney's been on top of the game for years: we're all mushy princesses at heart. The blokes are just as eager to play the part of Prince Charming, though, as demonstrated at the prom by the extraordinary number of tailored suits and slicked-down hair on people who usually sport unidentifiable objects vaguely resembling birds' nests on their heads.

Anyway, that broken heart theory was quickly shot down because someone pointed out that she was devastated already because she hadn't been asked out: it didn't take a break-up to make her hate the male section of the human race with a vengeance.

Most of us may be past the stage of doodling hearts with names entwined or "Mrs So-and-so" at the backs of our books to ease our suffering while undergoing a painfully boring lecture, but the excitement surrounding each new couple was palpable. The routine was the same in each case: Jack, say, asked Jill out. This would involve Jack contemplating the move for days, working out when the best time would be and what he should say, and casually asking Jill's friends if she'd ever mentioned him.

He would then "accidentally" find himself alone in the company of Jill, and shrug his shoulders and mumble in a voice much deeper and slightly more clueless than usual that he wasn't going to the prom with anyone. Then pause to gauge her reaction. If all proceeded according to plan, he would wonder if she would like to go with him? Jill would give an indifferent wiggle of her eyebrows, walk away, squeal and tell all her friends, who would tell everyone else in hushed tones, with the prefix, "Hey, don't tell anyone but did you know...?" And in a matter of minutes there wouldn't be a single soul alive who wasn't firmly convinced that Jack and Jill were the cutest thing ever. The cutest thing ever until the next cutest-ever couple pops up, of course.

While getting a date was important, it wasn't nearly as important for many as making sure their dresses weren't worn by someone else. In fact, in the days leading up to the prom, all the girls created a Facebook group dedicated to ensuring that no two people donned the same dress. Everyone posted a picture of her dress on it so everyone else could see and make sure they didn't buy one like it - an idea that worked pretty well because it was soon awash with gorgeous dresses and gushing comments of "OMG so pretty!!!" and the like.

While I wasn't able to attend the prom itself, the anticipation crescendoing up to it and the frenzied preparations couldn't be ignored easily. The prom, in a way, serves as an exciting reminder that we usually scruffy, nail-bitten teenagers are not simply playing dress-up as we don exquisite gowns or bow-ties, and squirm anxiously in the hairdresser's chair. It signals our transition from childhood to adulthood. Though judging by reports that one boy spent the evening moaning to his lucky date that "I can't believe this thing's making me miss my football match", it must be a rather patchy signal.

* Lavanya Malhotra

The writer is a 15-year-old student in Dubai.