No prom date? Go anyway!

Story highlights

  • Back in the 1990s, CNN's Kat Kinsman was an awkward teen with no date to the prom
  • Kinsman thought about not attending but decided to take a chance and go anyway
  • School faculty tried to discourage her but she forged ahead and attended solo
  • The decision was a boost to her confidence and helped her navigate other social situations

Dear 17-year-old self considering staying home on prom night because you don't have a date,

Oh, you poor, stressed-out, self-hating misfit girl, just suck it up and go.

It won't be the night of your life, as all those '80s movies and special TV episodes would lead you to believe. The boy you've had a crush on since junior high won't suddenly declare his hidden love for you as he twirls you across the dance floor (as it turns out, he'd rather ask someone in a tux to dance).

There won't have been a secret addendum to the ballot electing you prom queen. No one is packing pig's blood. Your "virtue" will remain thoroughly intact.

You'll eat a perfectly adequate chicken cordon bleu in the company of your coupled-up and cuter friends (one of whose "virtue" will undergo a status change after a six-pack of peach wine coolers).

You'll dance badly and happily to "Funky Cold Medina" while listening to your girlfriends whine about how their dates are ignoring them in favor of the lively card tournament at the corner table. You'll drink terrible schnapps in someone's cousin's hot tub afterward and comfort your tipsy pals as teenage romantic drama unfolds around you.

You'll also learn something pretty fundamental about yourself that night: You don't need anyone's permission to experience life or like yourself.

Distressed parents: Prom dresses too short, too sexy

I wish you could see what I see, some 23 years later -- that what seems right now like a shameful, public declaration of your unlovability is actually one of the things you'll use as a source of strength time and time again.

When you move to a sharp-edged city where you barely know a soul, board a plane for a solo trip to an unfamiliar country, or walk alone into a glittering party full of bold-faced and beautiful people, you'll sometimes think about that early vote of confidence you took in yourself, square your shoulders and stride in like you belong. You do.

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The damaging messages of proms

I know you haven't been made to feel that way -- that the boy who you'd gone to the previous dance with quite publicly said no this time. That you haven't been kissed since eighth grade. That your parents were not thrilled by the notion of shelling out cash for a dress when your date was technically a school-owned Nikon camera.

You've gone through the indignity of knowing that the faculty advisers had to convene a special meeting to discuss your case and allow you to purchase a single ticket, as they had only ever been sold in pairs.

Yes, they decided you could technically attend in your capacity as yearbook photographer (the pictures will be a huge hit on Facebook -- it's a future thing -- the year you all turn 40) but not all teachers had been in favor of that decision -- and made sure you knew they felt that way. And do you really want to embarrass yourself this way?

Buy your own corsage, fix your terribly permed, purple-tinted hair, take a deep breath, walk in and make some memories, kid, before it all flickers away.

High school prom, 50 years later

Just a few short months from now, everything, all of it, will change -- for the better. The college you chose contains your people -- warm, bold, weirdos bursting with life and art and big dreams, and they'll like you an awful lot.

If they'd gone to the prom at all, it was in a tattered dress and combat boots or a duct-tape tailcoat (the man you'll marry attended his with green hair and played in the band) and they'll heartily encourage you to take your fussy little prom frock and turn it into a sculpture.

The lack of kissing (and that pesky virtue) will be tended to in fairly short order in the company of a ridiculously beautiful boy who loves you for all your awkward angles and the fact that you don't wait to be asked to dance.

And when you look back at all the pictures snapped with that yearbook camera, you'll be awfully glad you handed it off to a few friends as their prom dates spun you around on the dance floor. You're in a few of those pictures. You look dorky, you look delighted, you look so very alive.

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