If you don’t have a date for prom

A reader asked:

How to cope with not having a date at prom? Everyone else has someone to go with but I don’t even have anyone to ask out. I feel that I will just stand in a corner while my friends and class mates will have their own company.

realsocialskills said:

I’m sorry you’re having to deal with that.

I think that you’re probably not as alone as you feel. Dating is hard, and it can be especially hard when you are young. Finding people to ask out doesn’t always happen on a schedule, even if seasonal events like prom mean you’re surrounded with messages that tell you that it should. It doesn’t always work out that way, though. It’s not just you. It’s that this stuff isn’t easy and the reality isn’t like the cultural mythology.

It’s also worth realizing that it’s ok if you don’t want to date, or if you don’t want to date yet. Some people aren’t ever interested in dating. Some people are eventually interested in dating, but aren’t ready in high school. Some people need some time to mature before they’re ready to date. Some people don’t have so much of an emotional or social peer group in high school, and so don’t meet anyone they want to date. Some people have a sexual orientation or gender that is stigmatized in their high school in a way that makes dating exhausting to even consider. Some people are still figuring out their sexuality or gender and don’t want to date while they’re struggling with it.

All of those things are common, and normal. So are any number of other reasons you might not want to date. If you don’t want to date, or don’t want to date now, that’s completely fine. I don’t know whether or not you want to date now; only you know that. It’s worth realizing that either answer is fine, and that it’s also ok if you’re not sure.

You’re probably not the only one at your school who doesn’t have a date for prom. Unless your school is tiny, there are almost certainly several other people at your school who don’t have dates either. You’re definitely not the only one in your state, and there will be any number of people online during prom who didn’t have dates either. When the culture tells you that you should have a date, not having one can feel like a failure, but it’s not. All it means is that you don’t have a date. It doesn’t reflect poorly on you. These things happen.

There are some options for how you might deal with this:

You don’t have to go to prom if you don’t want to:

  • Prom doesn’t have to be important
  • Nothing awful will happen if you don’t go
  • If you think you won’t enjoy it without a date, it’s completely ok to do something else instead
  • If you decide not to go to prom, it might be a good idea to plan what you’re going to do instead
  • That will raise the chances of enjoying the night rather than dwelling on the fact that you’re not at prom
  • (Eg: You could go to a movie, make a cake, have a party with friends or family who aren’t prom-aged, go to a concert, check out a store, etc)

Asking your friends to set you up with someone:

  • If you have friends who you trust, it might be worth asking if there’s anyone they can set you up with for prom
  • There’s a good chance that they will know someone
  • Going to prom with someone doesn’t have to mean that you’re dating them
  • Or that you’re particularly into them
  • It can just mean that you’re both going to an event together and attempting to enjoy the event and one another’s company
  • (It’s not such a good idea to do this if you don’t have friends you trust; some people use this situation as a way to be cruel)

Going without a date and enjoying the other aspects:

  • Some people go to prom without a date
  • You probably won’t be the only one
  • People don’t spend the entire night glued to their dates
  • (especially since a lot of people go with people they’re not actually dating in order to have someone to go with)
  • Going without a date doesn’t mean that you’ll spend the evening alone
  • If you have friends you like who enjoy your company, they’ll still be your friends at prom, and you’ll still get to spend time with them
  • If you want to do the rituals like dressing up and taking pictures and eating the fancy food and celebrating the end of school, you can enjoy all of those aspects of the event even without a date

Have an escape plan and distractions:

  • If you have a phone, bring it
  • You can use your phone as a distraction if the night is miserable
  • You can also use it to take breaks
  • If you get overwhelmed and upset, you might be able to take a break, distract yourself with a phone game or Tumblr, then go back in and enjoy things
  • It’s also ok if you need to leave. You don’t have to stay if it turns out the evening is miserable
  • If you have the option of driving yourself, or otherwise having access to transportation you control, do it that way
  • If you know that you can leave if you need to, it can also make it more likely that you will enjoy it and not feel trapped

Go to or throw an after party:

  • Prom often isn’t just about the official part; it can also be about parties that happen afterwards
  • If you like parties, you’ll probably enjoy them even if you don’t have a date
  • And you don’t necessarily have to go to prom to go to a party
  • And even if you go and hate the actual prom part, you can decide that the party is the main part and enjoy that
  • You also might be able to throw a party after, if you have friends who would be interested in going.

Short version: If you don’t have a date for prom, you are not alone. You might feel like the only one, but it’s actually fairly common. You have options for what to do on prom night. Scroll up for concrete suggestions.

Preparing for a college interview

A reader asked:

Any advice for college interviews?

I have one coming up and I always get tongue-tied and I generally don’t do well at them at all, but this is a really big deal and I don’t want to mess it up…

realsocialskills said:

The best way I know of to prepare for any type of interview is to get someone else to do a practice interview with you before you do the real interview.

In a practice interview, someone asks you a whole bunch of questions that might come up, and you practice interviewing them. Once you have practiced, it can be a lot easier to answer interview questions for real.

If you’re in school, you might be able to get a teacher or guidance counselor to do a practice interview with you as you’re applying for college. A lot of adults in that role do that kind of thing regularly. Many adults in schools or teen programs really want to help their students get into school, and most people who want to help are likely to understand why practice interviews are a good idea. (If you’re currently in therapy and your therapist is someone you somewhat trust, you might also be able to convince your therapist to help you practice.)

If you don’t have a teacher or someone like that to help you practice, it can be helpful to practice with a friend. (And you might also be able to help them practice for their interview). While it’s particularly helpful to practice with someone who has good knowledge of how college admissions work, practicing with someone who doesn’t can also be very helpful.

It’s especially helpful if they ask you the questions you’re afraid of hearing. Because if a question you’re afraid of comes up in the real interview, it’s a lot harder to figure out an answer on the fly than if you’ve practiced. It can help to tell the person practicing with you what questions you’re worried about.

Some questions that some people might be worried about:

  • Are you worried that they’ll ask about your activities, and that you might not be able to say anything that sounds impressive
  • Are you unsure about what you want to study and afraid that will make you look bad?
  • Are you worried they’ll ask disability-related questions?

Whether or not the questions you’re nervous about come up in your real interview, it will help to have practiced them. If you feel confident about your ability to answer possibly-difficult questions, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable during the rest of the interview and it will be easier to focus on communicating.

Some questions that are very likely to come up in most college interviews:

“Why do you want to attend this college?”

  • Any answer that reflects positively on the school will work for this
  • Eg: “It’s academically rigorous”
  • “Some of the most interesting people I’ve met have gone to this school”
  • “I’ve heard really good things about the archeology department”
  • “The first year classics curriculum seems like an excellent foundation for further learning”
  • It’s also ok if the reason is partly personal, so long as it also says something specifically positive about the school, eg
  • “I’m looking to study pre-law and stay close to home so that I can be there for family. I like that this college has a large percentage of non-traditional students so that I will have a peer group even though I won’t be able to live on campus.”
  • Don’t say something that would reflect negatively on the school like “I’ve heard that everyone passes” or “I’ve heard it’s a great party schools,“ or “I just don’t want to work that hard.”

“What do you want to study?”

  • The answer to this question should show that you have interests, and that you like learning things
  • It’s ok not to know what you want to study; a lot of entering college students in the US do not.
  • If you’re not sure what you want to study, your answer to this should still indicate that you’ve thought about it and that you care about something, eg:
  • “I’m not sure yet, but I’m considering either history or political science or economics.”
  • “I want to learn a broad range of things before I decide for sure, but I really enjoy math.”
  • If you do know what you want to study, say so, and say something about what interests you about the subject (it does not need to be original, so long as it’s reasonably sincere), eg:
  • “I’m interested in the history of conflict. I want to try and figure out why people fight wars and how we can make peace.”
  • “I’m interested in studying biology so that I can eventually do medical research.”

“Do you have any questions for us?”

  • This question is likely pretty much any time that you’re interviewed for anything
  • It’s helpful to have a question in mind to ask them; it will show that you care about the school and aren’t just generically applying
  • The question should be something that you can’t easily google or get from their website, and it should show that you know something about the school
  • Eg: “I saw on the website that a lot of undergraduates do research. What’s the process like for finding a research adviser?”
  • (Don’t ask about possible exceptions to policies. That’s a conversation to have after you’re accepted, especially if it’s disability-related.)

Short version: If you’re interviewing for college (or anything really), it’s very helpful to do a practice interview. There is likely a teacher, guidance counselor, or coach at your school who would be willing to give you a practice interview. Having a peer do one can also work. Whoever does it, it is most effective when they ask you the questions that you’re afraid or nervous about being asked in the real interview.

High school graduation when high school was awful

My daughter graduates from high school in a month. She has Aspergers and had many challenges but managed to do well academically. However, she didn’t feel that the school dealt well with her. She is happy to close the door on that part of her life and wants to do it without ceremony. I get it. My husband and I would like to see her walk at graduation but are willing to accept her not attending the ceremony. However, she has said she will go if we ask her to. Should we ask or leave it alone?
realsocialskills said:
I think that the graduation ceremony probably has a very different symbolic meaning for you than it does for your daughter.
I think that, for you, it is probably like this:
  • As her parents, you are very proud of her accomplishment in doing well in high school in a difficult situation
  • You want to celebrate that
  • For you, seeing her walk at graduation is a profound symbol of what she has accomplished and how proud you are of her

I think for her, it is probably like this:

  • High school was a bad experience for her
  • Going to graduation feels like a celebration of the school and her relationship with the school
  • She doesn’t feel that the school treated her well, so she doesn’t want to celebrate with the school

If I’m reading the situation and the symbolic meanings it’s taking for all of you correctly, I don’t think that it is a good idea to ask your daughter to go to the ceremony for your sake. I don’t think that it’s good to push her into something that, for her, feels like celebrating people treating her badly.

But, deciding not to go to the graduation ceremony doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate your daughter’s accomplishments. You can likely find a form of celebration that would suit all of you, for instance:

  • Having a graduation party for your daughter and her friends
  • Having a family dinner at a restaurant your daughter likes
  • Buying a symbolic present (eg: something related to your daughter’s interests, or something she will use in the next phase of her life)
  • Taking a trip together
  • Baking a cake
  • Writing a story or a poem
  • Or however else your family celebrates milestones