The real truth about asking someone to a dance, with guest co-author Mary Grant

As+part+of+a+promposal+this+year%2C+an+SPA+senior+constructed+this+3D+prop+and+sang.

Photo submitted by Maggie Vlietstra

As part of a promposal this year, an SPA senior constructed this 3D prop and sang.

“How to ask a girl (or anyone) to a dance.”

This was the suggestion that appeared in my box. I was immediately struck by how resistant to gender norms this suggestion was (props)! I was also struck by how tremendously unqualified I am to answer this suggestion on my own. I’ve never successfully asked someone to a dance with any shred of romantic intention and I’ve only ever been asked once, so I sought out a friend who could shed some more light on the process, my good friend Mary Grant. Together we’ve worked up some answers to “dance ask FAQs.”

Before we dive in it’s important to note that these are recommendations for semi formal dances NOT prom. Around prom asking season is a good time to ask these questions but promposals are not the direct subject of this column.

We’re all awkward. We’re high schoolers fumbling around in the dark trying to figure stuff out. That fumbling needs to happen before we can get comfortable.”

— Riley Wheaton, Columnist

  1. Should I do it in person or can I do it over text?

Never ask over text. (I’ll say that again because Mary seemed to think it was pretty important) Never ask over text. If you live in the same city or go to the same school then ask in person. If you really can’t reach them in person then a phone call is an okay option. If you can’t manage to ask them to their face, then spending the whole evening with them is going to be incredibly awkward! Asking someone to a dance is like checking on Schrodinger’s proverbial cat which is in a box and may be dead or may be alive but can’t deterministically be in either state until it is checked on. If you and the person you want to ask are going to be too awkward to spend time together it’s far better to know that before you get dressed up to the nines, pay for tickets, and show up for a three hour extravaganza.

  1. Where should I ask?

In private. Asking in public puts a lot of pressure on the other person to say yes since saying no means a complicated mixed bag of reactions from the audience. Now you may be thinking “but I want him/her to say yes, so why shouldn’t I put together a situation where that will happen?” This is a perfectly logical question if your goal really is for your prospective date merely to say yes. If your goal is to not have a terrible time at the dance then the logic is different. Consider the situation in which someone is asked to a dance in front of the whole school and says yes (cuz what else are you gonna do?) and then realizes that they don’t really want to go with the person who asked them. Either they go anyway and the two both have an abysmal time, or the person backs out which is messy and stressful for all concerned. That doesn’t sound much fun to me for any of the parties. So find a place, neutral territory, where you’re both reasonably comfortable and ask there, just the two of you.

It can happen in public but the public shouldn’t be in on it.”

— Mary Grant, guest co-author

  1. How dramatic should the ask be?

This ties in with the previous question and the answer is, not very dramatic. There’s an upper limit to these things. As Mary put it, “it can happen in public but the public shouldn’t be in on it.” Getting a whole sports team to take part is probably over the top, painting messages on windows of cars (apparently something people do) is also out, and a choreographed song and dance number is probably more work than it’s worth. The reason these ideas should be saved for promposals (if that) is that the dramatic ask also puts undue pressure on the prospective date and leads to the same kind of muddying of the decision as asking in public. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. Bringing a few flowers is totally fine because it shows you care but doesn’t put too much pressure on the person you’re asking. Flowers are a pretty happy medium.

  1. This sounds hard, who can I talk to?

Mary suggested that you should be fairly careful who you trust. If you tell someone you don’t absolutely trust it will, in all likelihood, get back to the person you’re asking that you’re going to ask them. This isn’t always a bad thing since it gives them time to prepare for either an enthusiastic acceptance or a sensitive rejection (which can be hard… So I’m told), but you’ve got to know that if you tell someone, that secret will spread like wildfire.

Asking someone to a dance is like checking on Schrodinger’s proverbial cat which is in a box and may be dead or may be alive but can’t deterministically be in either state until it is checked on.”

— Riley Wheaton, Columnist

  1. What do I say?

Mary surprised me by saying that this is actually the least important part. No matter what you say, the question remains the same and the person you’re asking will respond the way they would no matter the phrasing. The phrasing you use to ask someone to a dance is like an M&M, no matter what the color it tastes EXACTLY the same. Mary said you truly can ask simply “hey, do you want to go to the dance with me?” perhaps proffering some well chosen flowers while so asking. That really is perfectly acceptable. The longer you talk, the greater the chance you’re going to step in a pot hole. If you start rambling on about how “we’ve become really good friends and I really enjoy spending time around you and the dance is this weekend and I’ve got this awesome tie” you’re doing the equivalent of creating a malformed puke colored M&M. Still an M&M but you’ve lost the important part.

  1. Should I get them a corsage?

Now this is often a slightly gendered phenomenon. If you want to get your man a corsage and you can convince him to wear it, I will respect you until the end of my days, but it’s more common for a guy to get a girl a corsage. If the two participants are dating then do a corsage unless you’ve agreed not to. If you’re not dating then Mary suggested that a corsage is a good way to clearly indicate that you’d be interesting in giving it a try. So if anyone offers you a corsage in the near future you’ll know what it means! Otherwise, no corsage.

  1. This sounds super awkward…

Yep. It’ll almost certainly be a little awkward. Go into asking someone to a dance expecting a little awkwardness. Maybe they’ll say no. Something will almost certainly go wrong. Go into it expecting something you can learn from so that when you pursue romance out in the real world you’ll have some experience under your belts.

  1. What if I know what the person is going to say?

If you’re very close with the person you’re going to ask, or if you really know what they’re going to say, then these suggestions are less important. Fundamentally in those situations it’s best simply to work it out with your partner/friend. I’ve twice gone to semi formal dances and once to prom with a best friend and it’s delightful! This is a perfectly valid option and can be less stressful than the process we’re outlining here.

If you can’t manage to ask them to their face, then spending the whole evening with them is going to be incredibly awkward!”

— Riley Wheaton, columnist

  1. So if I follow these suggestions I’ll just win at life?

Eh… Every asker and every askee are different. Mary and I want to emphasize that nothing is cut and dried and every situation has its own nuances and its own complicated circumstantial factors. These are merely a few humble suggestions on how to approach a general asking from the brains of a writer and a dance aficionado. Always always always use your own judgement.

  1. Is it really worth it?

Maybe. That’s the best answer there is. We’re all awkward. We’re high schoolers fumbling around in the dark trying to figure stuff out. That fumbling needs to happen before we can get comfortable. Maybe something will go wrong or you’ll be rejected or an even less well defined fear, but I’m reminded of the words of Peter McWilliams. “It’s a risk to love, what if it doesn’t work out? Ah, but what if it does?” Every time you ask someone to a dance, or take a risk on love of any kind, is a step closer to that “ah but what if it does.” So maybe it is worth it after all. And hey, it might even be fun!

Big thanks to Mary Grant for co-authoring this week! Your wisdom and wit are much appreciated by everyone but particularly, this week, by me.

Stay tuned: next week we tackle national day of prayer/national day of reason and how you can pray in your everyday lives without even knowing it.