Dateless on dance night

IMG_1468_2There are boys dressed like knights and white horses, boxes of doughnuts with poems in them, and cute handmade signs in the commons. There are roses and sidewalk chalk and Hershey’s kisses.

But none of them are for you.

It’s the season of the much-anticipated Homecoming dance, and it’s all anybody talks about these days. The girl who sits in front of you sneaks a peek at sparkly dresses on her computer, pretending to take notes. The boys behind you whisper not-so-quietly about who they’re going to invite.

And you sit in between, just trying to get your work done, but unable to focus, because it’s all just too much. You try to learn the difference between reflexive and intensive pronouns, but all you can think about is the difference between you and all those other girls.

You might go to the dance with your group of other dateless friends – after all, the dance is for everyone, and you don’t want to miss a chance to get dressed up. But inside, you feel a twinge of pain.

It’ll be me and all the rest of the girls who weren’t quite good enough.

You might just avoid the whole thing and stay home with your mom.

I’ll just make my own fun plans. Who needs a dance, anyway?

Trust me, I understand.

I’ve been to that place of longing, and I remember it well: Homecoming, junior year of high school.

I remember wishing Homecoming weren’t such a formal affair – couldn’t we all just go in our jeans and celebrate after the football game? And why did people have to have dates, anyway? And why the dramatic asking – whatever happened to a simple face-to-face invitation? It was all too much pressure. It was silly.

But deep in my heart, I wanted to get asked just as much as everyone else did. I watched and waited.

Even getting picked for one slow song at a casual all-school dances was a big deal. Three minutes with a cute boy’s hands on my waist as we swayed back and forth were like waltzing on pink clouds. But getting asked to go as someone’s date for an entire evening – that would be a fairy tale.

When will it be my turn?

On the day of the dance, my sister got a kitten named Truffle. We picked it up from a family acquaintance, who told us some shocking news: A boy from school had thought about asking me to the dance! But this wasn’t just any boy. He was a football player.

I wrote about it in my journal that afternoon. I’ve changed his name, but other than that, the words are the same: “There was a boy who was going to ask me to Homecoming! It was Devin Trapp – what a surprise!!! I’ve only ever had a grand total of 2 classes (wait – maybe 3 or 4) with him, and I don’t really know him that well. I’m just in shock that I’m the kind of person he would ask . . . He was seriously thinking of me? . . . When in P.E. with him, I just figured he’s thinking, ‘What a loser.’ Wow!”

He hadn’t actually asked me, of course, and I don’t remember if I ever found out why. But knowing I had crossed someone’s mind, made it onto his “maybe” list, was exhilarating. I didn’t get asked, but I had been noticed. I had been NOTICED!

One of my friends did get asked – not by him, but by another guy we both knew. He then asked if I wanted to go with a friend of his who didn’t go to our school, but I said no. Who wants to go to a formal dance as a favor with a complete stranger? No, thank you.

I remember helping my friend get ready. As I curled the layers of her hair and pinned them up in place, I forced my emotions down.

Keep calm. Stay composed. Don’t cry. This is fun, right?

She was Cinderella, and I wasn’t even part of the story.

How come she got asked and I didn’t?

I sat at home that night with my mom and sister and watched Nicholas Nickleby, a movie based on a Charles Dickens novel – not exactly your typical movie for a girls’ night in. Overall, I had a good night. But I couldn’t shake the thought that somewhere, people were dancing.

It took me a long time to realize that high school dances aren’t as important as we think they are.

IMG_0002

My favorite hair accessories – not from a dance, but from my wedding.

Yes, they can be sweet and special. I’m not anti-dance – I enjoyed the casual all-school dances, and eventually, I did go to a couple of formals with a guy friend of mine. There’s something to be said for the fun of putting on a sparkly dress and spectacular shoes.

There’s also nothing wrong with wanting to be desired. That’s part of being human. We want to be praised, admired, and loved. That’s natural.

The problem starts when we start to think there’s something wrong with us because Mr. Cute Brown Eyes over there hasn’t asked us to the dance.

When we focus too much on what others think of us and whether we have a date to the dance, we start to view ourselves as less than what we are.

Read this carefully: Not having a date doesn’t make you any less beautiful, smart, funny, sweet, talented, or special than anybody else. It doesn’t mean nobody likes you. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you.

It just means, well – actually, it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just a fact of life. Sometimes, it’s just not your turn, and that’s OK.

Is it rough? Sure it is. During one casual all-school dance, I cried to friends in the bathroom because a guy I’d been hoping to dance with on “ladies choice” got snatched up by someone else.

At another casual dance, I was so desperate for a slow song with one particular guy that not only did I request a song, but I disobeyed my parents and stayed at the dance later than I was supposed to.

I’m not proud of those moments. But I share them because I know how easy it is to get wrapped up in who’s paying attention to you – and who’s not.

Trust me on this: Your worth is not determined by whether you have a date to this dance, or the next one, or any other dance.

It comes from simply being YOU.

When I re-read that journal entry about being on someone’s “maybe” list, my first thought wasn’t “Whoa, that guy almost asked me!” Instead, it was, “Who was that guy, and why did he matter so much?” I couldn’t even picture his face.

I’ll let you in on a secret: Most of the women I know have similar stories of staying home. I know it seems like “everyone” goes, but you’d be surprised by how many sweet, successful women didn’t have dates to high school dances.

And you know what? Life went on, and we learned that confidence doesn’t come from chocolate and roses and white horses that turn into dance invitations. It comes from knowing who you are. The best dance isn’t the one you get invited to in high school – it’s the one you do yourself as you move through life.

When I look back at that Homecoming night, I remember the pain of not going. But more than that, I remember the love I felt from my mom and sister. I didn’t spend the evening with a guy I kind of liked – I spent it with two of the people in the world who I loved most, and who loved me right back. Years later, that’s a much sweeter memory than any dance could ever be.

. . .

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.”

– Psalm 139:14

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