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'Wanna Go To The Dance?' Is SO Passe. Try YouTube

Andrew Forsyth, a high school junior, devised an elaborate scheme to ask his girlfriend, Maddy Powell, to their high school's homecoming dance.
Gigi Douban for NPR
Andrew Forsyth, a high school junior, devised an elaborate scheme to ask his girlfriend, Maddy Powell, to their high school's homecoming dance.

She doesn't know what's about to happen, but this is a moment high school junior Maddy Powell has been waiting for.

She's sitting in her Advanced Placement biology class, and her boyfriend, Andrew Forsyth, is finally going to pop the question.

Don't worry — he's not asking for Maddy's hand in marriage. But what Andrew has planned is perhaps as elaborate as a marriage proposal.

Andrew has the teacher play a funny video he made. As it rolls, the class sees Andrew ask several different girls (and one boy) to the homecoming dance. Each time, he gets slapped and turned down.

Then, Andrew's teacher shows him a picture of Maddy. He thinks, "What a great idea!" The video ends a with a text crawl across the bottom of the screen: "Will you go to homecoming with me?"

Back in the classroom, the video ends. Maddy says yes, and the room erupts in applause. "Thank you! That was so sweet," Maddy says. "Oh my God."

'Modern-Day Machismo'

Gone are the days when a boy would subtly ask a girl to the big dance. Students — especially teenage boys — are feeling pressure to stand out from their peers with a big "promposal."

Maddy and Andrew are both juniors at Spain Park High School in Hoover, Ala., a Birmingham suburb. Maddy had seen similar romantic scenes play out with other girls at school, and she wanted one, too.

"Yes, every time I see somebody else get asked a creative way, I wish that Andrew would do something like that," Maddy says. "And he did!"

"This is just kind of a way of trying to show our independence ... and do things that are bigger and better to show, 'Hey, we're not little.' "

In an age when men are proposing marriage in stadiums and on YouTube, and even spending thousands of dollars to hire flash mobs — teens like Andrew are saying, "Oh yeah? We can do that, too."

"So this is just kind of a way of trying to show our independence, I guess," Andrew says. "And do things that are bigger and better to show, 'Hey, we're not little.' "

"For boys, this is the modern-day machismo," says Vanessa Van Petten, an author who writes about parenting and teens.

"This is their way of sort of strutting their stuff, showing how much money they spend on a promposal, how much energy can they can put into it," Van Petten says. "Who's the bigger man, showing off to their ladies and their guy friends."

Of course, there are girls who publicly ask guys to the dance, or announce secret crushes through videos. But this is mostly a guy thing.

Casey Middlebrooks, a librarian at Spain Park High School, is amazed.

"Oh man, I don't know how the kids do it these days. I guess I'd have to be for sure that she'd say yes before I went to those extremes," she says.

Back when he asked a girl to prom, the last thing he wanted was to make a big show of it. Instead, he waited until the girl was all alone in class — and it didn't go entirely as planned.

"Actually, she did say no," Middlebrooks recalls. "So [it] ended up, me and my best friend went together, went stag."

Getting Rejected, Even If She Says Yes

Van Petten says that while a promposal may seem incredibly audacious to adults, that's not always the case. She points out that Andrew and Maddy have been together for eight months — practically an eternity by high school standards.

"There's very little risk involved," Van Petten says, "because usually the boy knows the girl will say yes."

A lot of these promposals are posted on social media sites. Getting thousands of views on YouTube or dozens of "likes" on Facebook is a huge motivator for teens. But there is some risk involved, too.

"All of a sudden, you see in the comments, 'Oh, this guy's such a loser' ... 'He's so ugly,' " Van Petten says. "So even if they succeed, if they get the girl, they get rejected."

Some schools are getting fed up with the disruptiveness of it all. Recently, a Virginia teen asked one girl to a dance by having a U.S. Customs pilot fly over his school to drop a plush bulldog onto the football field.

Andrew brought his teacher in on his promposal. Sometimes, kids enlist the entire school band or the cheerleading team. But just as quickly as promposals have become popular, some schools are already banning them.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Gigi Douban
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