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A little prom perspective, please

Here we go again! I'd like to get excited about this once-a-year event. Every year I think that this time will be different but then I end up stressing about this four-letter word. What is it about special school activities that make me crazy? Maybe it's just that _ they're supposed to be "special." Why does it seem that the things people make a big deal about usually require being in a relationship or at least having a date?

It used to bother me that I had to worry about the date part. I had this fantasy that when I got to be a teenager that I would always have a date. But now that I am here, I realize that most of the time, most people in high school are not dating. Most teenagers in high school don't even have that "special someone" that they thought they would have. I have come to accept that this vision of high school dating was truly a fantasy and at times I am glad I don't have to worry about this added pressure.

But the prom is one of those times I have to rethink my position on this issue. I think I'd like to go but I'm not sure I want to go alone or with a group of my friends. There are so many awkward moments connected with the "high school event of the year" even before I arrive!

First, I have to buy a ticket for one. That's when I realize the price for one is more costly than if I were to buy a ticket for two! How fair is that? Then I have to decide about my prom attire. Do I spend the money on something special to wear even if I don't have a date? Part of me asks why put out the money when the only person I am impressing is myself? Just go and have fun.

Then I have to decide if it is worth the extra money to get a limo or just go with my friends in our parents' nicer cars. I don't know what to do about the flower ordeal. It seems sort of strange to buy a token flower for myself. How weird is that?

"Let's take pictures before you leave" my parents say. Oh great, I think to myself. Won't this be a great memory when I look back and see myself dateless!

Then there is the "going out to eat" part. We made a reservation for five. Oh, they'll have to take one of the chairs away from the table because five is odd, like us. Maybe I am paranoid but it feels like everyone in the restaurant comments on how dressed up we are. They know where we are headed and they see that we are without dates. I bet if we're gutsy enough to question them we'd learn that most of them didn't have a date for the prom either. So why are they looking so sadly at our "single group" tonight? There is this expectation even with our parents that says to us that if we were anybody we'd have a date. This is a special night and special equals being a couple.

I'm not even at the prom yet and I am already tired of trying to decide what to do. If I end up actually showing up at this event, I need to have a plan. I need to decide ahead of time how I want things to be so I won't regret going. Will I be okay sitting on the sideline watching all night? Will I dance in a group, let loose and have the fun I think this event is supposed to represent? Will I talk to as many people as possible or will I stay to myself because I'll feel like an idiot because I'm "single" and everyone will notice. Will I have my picture taken with all my friends or will I skip that part of the night so I won't feel so "singled" out? Will I have the nerve to hang around with the "couples" or will I be compelled to stay with my own kind?

I have to decide where to go with our single group after the prom, too! Is going to the prom worth all of this worry? What will it take for me to relax and realize that even though this is one HUGE event in my life now, later I'll look back and it won't be the only event in my life? I want to have fun!

IT! (Private thoughts of the Indomitable Teen) is written by Cecilia Tucker, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the Counseling Center for New Direction in Seminole. Tucker, who has been in counseling practice since 1979, writes this column under the guidance of a panel of teenage advisers, who approve the topics and offer their insights (in exchange for pizza). You may write her c/o: IT!, X-Press, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail