Why I Didn't Go to Prom : Anna Swenson

I'd like to introduce you to Wise Sister's guest blogger for the day: Anna Swenson! Anna and I went to college together but didn't really connect until after graduation. She's an incredibly insightful and honest writer, not to mention a brilliant woman. I hope you enjoy what will surely be the first of many Anna Swenson posts.


Prom is such a huge deal when you’re in high school. Who’s going with whom? What are they wearing? How are they getting there? Who’s going to look like they had the most fun when they post pictures of the night on every social media possible?

I read all the magazines and saw all the movies. I thought prom was going to be the most glittering, glamorous, emotionally authentic night of my young life.

But I didn’t go to prom.

Even after watching the vintage classics (16 Candles, Pretty in Pink), the modern classics (Mean Girls, 10 Things I Hate About You, Never Been Kissed), and the campy not-exactly-classic-at-all (High School Musical 3), I don’t have any pictures of me all done up in a dress that will be out of fashion before the shutter clicks. I kind of regret that, so I want to share my experience with you, in case you’re having the same kind of struggles with that huge rite of puffy taffeta passage.


It’s not something I think about a lot – college was an immense social relief for me, and I’m at peace with the girl I was at sixteen. But she was wrong about many things, and her anxiety about prom is a great example of the narrow way you can get to thinking when you aren’t sure who and what is right in the world.

As a feminist, I kind of cringe to tell you that the major reason I didn’t go to prom was the silliest of reasons: I didn’t have a date. Even though I was trying to be a confident, independent young woman as a senior in high school and few of my friends had dates, I felt such a bruising shame that no one asked me to prom that I couldn’t bear to buy a ticket just for me.

I had this argument to myself then that if I acted like I didn’t want a boyfriend, a prom date, or even a guy friend, no one could hurt me by not giving me that. For years I’d been hearing about the elaborate ways guys asked girls to prom using bathtubs, whipped cream, and roses. But I pretended I didn’t want that – saying it was dumb that guys had to ask the girl, that prom was for boring squares, that it was a capitalist con to get us to waste our money on limos for a false sense of belonging.

Those might be true, but they weren’t true to me: I wanted to be asked to the prom in an elaborate and public fashion. I thought the fact that I hadn’t caught the attention of the catcher on the baseball team or the cute debate guy meant I was wholly unworthy. That’s the opposite of true. I didn’t need an elaborate scavenger hunt leading to a corsage to validate the fact that I deserved to wear a pretty dress and dance under the stars. I needed to believe it about myself.


I went camping with my parents the weekend of senior prom. I remember laying on the bank of a river as my whole class was spinning on the dance floor, feeling as though it were true to the rocky bottom that no one would ever dance with me. But the deeper truth – below the rocks, to the clay – was that I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to make my own center, around what I believed and not around what I’d seen in magazines and movies. I wasn’t ready to dance alone in a crowded room, to tell people I didn’t have a date. What I regret really, more than not going to prom, is not allowing myself to be on a different emotional schedule than on the school calendar.

If you are waiting for someone to dance with, know for yourself that you don’t need the someone to allow you to dance. And if you don’t feel ready to dance alone, allow in your gentle heart for that to be okay. If the person you are interested in doesn’t even notice you exist, it’s really okay – don’t let that scare you. Someday, if it’s right, they will be ready. Someday, so will you.

I should say that my story has something of a happy ending: College was a great unfurling for me, of learning and forgiveness, for the world and myself. It took me until I was twenty-one to even kiss someone, but now I’m with a great guy who really notices me, for the right reasons. And though he’s a great dancer, he’s proud of me when I want to dance alone.


Way, way better than a prom date.

Way, way better than a prom date.


Anna Swenson is a writer living in the desert. A public relations professional by day, she enjoys making up stories, riding her bike around downtown Phoenix, and painting her nails colors of which her mom doesn't approve. More of her work can be found at www.annaswens.com.