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That’s Life: The big ask can be a lot of pressure, and a lot of fun

The crowd parts like biblical waters, creating a human aisle in the cafeteria, now echoing with a crescendo of clapping. At the end, a boy waits with flowers, a sign and a smile. Marker on poster-board spelling a clever question, often ending with, “Hoco?”

Getting a date for Homecoming has become an all-encompassing extra-curricular activity.

It’s like a dressed-down rehearsal for the promposals planned for spring. Or just as elaborate. Banners unfurl from the second story. Music sets a tone. An entourage of supporting characters with props and costumes act out the ask.

These aren’t isolated exhibitions. During fall football season, they’re daily demonstrations of hope and affection. It makes sense. Why should the upper-classmen have all the fun getting a date for prom? Homecoming is for everyone.

But is the elaborate ask?

I’m starting the seventh year in a 10-year stint as parent to high schoolers and have often pondered this piece of current culture with mixed feelings with questions like these:

How will a marriage proposal stack up after these elaborate asks to a high school dance?

Not well if the relationship isn’t right. Just fine if it’s filled with forever-love. You can always take it up a notch, if that’s the goal. The only limits are pocket-book and imagination. Skywriting, stadium lights, or a beach trip with wine, candles and strolling musicians can easily “top” the typical poster-board with flowers.

More importantly, at its heart, there’s a huge difference between getting a date and getting a spouse. One is an expression of hope and affection and comes with an expectation of dressing up and going to dinner and a dance. The other is an expression of love, commitment and synced sensibilities, rooted in the sky-high expectation of spending the rest of your life together.

That emotional intimacy infuses the marriage proposal, no matter how simple or extravagant. I think high schoolers get that. They aren’t doing mini marriage proposals. They’re having fun.

Isn’t this too much pressure?

Yes. It’s always been hard to ask someone on a date and always been hard to say “no” graciously if you don’t want to go. The high-profile ask sometimes shines a spotlight on that insecurity and awkwardness. And when it’s public, as so many are, it can be inadvertently or intentionally manipulative.

This gives me pause.

Left unchecked, manipulation turns into abuse because it’s rooted in one person’s power over another. Do I think this entertaining new tradition of hoco asks and promposals is creating abusers and victims? Of course not.

But it’s an excellent opportunity to talk with our teens about deeper issues than who’s going to the dance.

For all askers, I advocate bravery, consideration and creativity. Be bold and ask the person you want, in a way that shows you considered their feelings.

Some love the spotlight. Others are repulsed by public attention. Some enjoy extravagant gestures. Others prefer simpler attentions. But it’s always flattering when someone takes the time to make you feel special and wanted. The ask should show you cared more about the feelings of the person you’re asking than the opinions of anyone who might be watching.

For all askees, I advocate bravery, consideration and an ear tuned to your gut. Every student should understand the power of the word, “no” and that they can use it. Just because someone asks you to a dance in front of 200 people, doesn’t mean you have to say “yes,” no matter how much thought, time and elaboration went into the request.

And if you say, “yes” because under a high-beam spotlight of attention that’s the word that squeaked out, you still have the power to retract your answer.

That said, if the answer is “no,” it should be delivered with dignity. Remember, it’s hard to ask someone out.

And for all parents, I advocate perspective.

First, by discussing the broader issues behind every high school tradition. Ask them what they think about the “hoco” ask. Listen to the answers. It’s an excellent springboard to talk about affection and rejection, to share your relationship stories and what you’ve learned along the way as well as gain new or renewed insight from their fresh eyes.

Second, remember that these elaborate ways to get a homecoming date didn’t arrive in a vacuum. It grew in the greenhouse we built.

Our parenting practices has created a culture of high-stake expectations, from preschool cap-and-gown graduations and paparazzi-style picture taking at every event to out-of-control expectations for our children’s athletic, academic and extracurricular achievement capped by a celebrate everything mentality.

Today’s high school students had parties for the 100th day of school, set leprechaun traps and got a trophy for showing up to a season of soccer. It shouldn’t surprise anyone they’ve learned how to celebrate the small stuff. Kept in perspective, I think that’s a good thing.


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