Tom Purcell: ‘Do over’ proms pursue perpetual adolescence |
Tom Purcell, Columnist

Tom Purcell: ‘Do over’ proms pursue perpetual adolescence

Tom Purcell
Norwin students arrive for their prom at the Syria Shrine Center in Harmar May 10.

Prom season is upon us. We all know what that means: More American adults are doing their proms all over again.

A New York Times headline about a growing number of adults says they are taking “A second shot to have the best night of their lives.”

And carrying on like a bunch of retrograde adolescents.

The modern prom, reports Slate, “may be traced to the Ivy League and the annual tradition of a ‘presentation week,’ during which formal dress and dancing accompanied a promenade concert.”

Not content with only the well-to-do experiencing the awkwardness and misery of the prom, high schools across America embraced it, particularly after World War II. Now the prom is a rite of passage for American teens everywhere, with many blowing thousands of dollars on their big nights.

But I certainly wouldn’t want to do my prom over.

I didn’t know my date very well. She was in my photography class, very pretty and, more importantly, still available.

When she agreed to go with me, she greatly disrupted the Bethel Park High School prom-date pecking order. Whereas my date greatly raised my social status — even my friends and family were shocked she’d go with me — I lowered hers.

She was awfully sore about it.

“I heard about you,” she told me at our pre-prom date. “A regular class clown! You better not show up in a limo, wear a top hat or cane or do anything else to embarrass me!”

That set the tone for an incredibly unpleasant weekend.

We got lost on the way to the prom, lost on the way to my friend Cook’s cabin in Ohio and lost on the way home. My first foray into the adult world was rough, to be sure — a precursor, regrettably, of many more unpleasant adult experiences to come.

Similarly awkward prom experiences may motivate the growing number of adults trying to “get it right” during a second round.

But there are no “do overs” in life. Didn’t novelist Thomas Wolfe make it clear that we “can’t go home again”?

The prom is supposed to be a teen’s first foray into the adult world, not an adult’s eager return to adolescence.

That’s not stopping ever more “adults” from trying. Too many are not just doing their proms over, they’re doing summer camps over, too — another hot trend.

To be sure, a growing desire for perpetual adolescence among today’s “adults” is revealing itself all over the place — from delaying moving out of their parents’ homes to delaying marriage and parenthood. That same desire leads Hollywood to keep recycling favorite movies and TV shows from their adolescence.

Look, if you had an unpleasant prom experience when you were 18, as I did, those are the breaks.

I wrote an earlier, lighthearted newspaper column about my experience. It was published all over the country.

After that piece ran, I bumped into my old prom date at the grocery store. She still looked great, but, boy, she was really sore now.

It turns out her husband was so delighted by her rare rude behavior — so delighted, for once, that she, not he, was the one deserving a lecture — he carries the column around in his wallet, showing it enthusiastically to total strangers.

The joy I get from that story almost makes my lousy prom experience worthwhile — but certainly not enough to make me want to do the prom all over again.

Freelance writer Tom Purcell of Library is author of “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood.” Visit him on the web at

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