In the crowded hallways of a new planet, a male subject, age 15 approaches a group of females his age. (The male subject happens to be this researcher’s son, Alex.) The female subjects he approaches appear to be outgoing, intelligent, attractive, and funny.
Alex: So, how’s your day going?
Female Group Leader: Oh, my gosh! An evolved male! They do exist! We do want to tell you about our day. Where are you from?
Female Group Leader: Wow! I’ve never been there. What do you like to do?
Alex: I like to swim and do art and hang out.
(Female Group Leader calls out to another friend, who happens to be walking by): Hey, Sally! This is Alex. He’s from Idaho.
Sally: Idaho? Wow!
(Another friend interrupts): No, he’s from Hawaii and he swims.
Sally: Cool. He doesn’t look Hawaiian though.
Alex: I’m an Ohioan.
Female Group Leader: So, there’s this dance coming up. It’s girls ask guys. Do you want to go?
Alex: Sure. Sounds like fun.
(Male subject now approaches a group of male swim teammates):
Alex: Hey, guys. How’s your day going?
Male Group Leader: Dude, we’re guys. We don’t talk about our day.
Alex: What do you talk about?
Male Group Leader: Our awesome swim times—like who has the fastest time on the 50 free.
Alex: Oh. So, are you going to the dance that’s coming up?
Male Group Leader: Dude, we don’t talk about dances.
Alex: Has anyone asked you?
Male Group Leader: No.
Alex: Well, if you see a female classmate, you should ask her how her day’s going. She might invite you to the dance.
This researcher is quite impressed with her son, but she wonders how the actual dance will go. Will he survive? What should he wear?
Some very intense texting takes place between Alex and his date about a week leading up to the dance. The theme for the dance is James Bond, so Alex’s date suggests a tux. This researcher’s husband (Nate) takes Alex to Men’s Wearhouse to pick out a tux that comes with a black bowtie and his choice of socks. He’s distracted by the myriad of choices, but he settles on black, gray, and white argyle socks. (He gets lots of compliments on the socks and is glad he didn’t just go with a plain solid color choice.) More frantic texts reveal that he is to sit at his date’s table at lunch so that she can give him the tickets for the dance and to tell him about plans for dinner. She made reservations. She does not want a corsage. Neither does Alex. He prefers a boutonniere, but he’ll wear anything his date asks him to wear. A laughing face emoji indicates that she is not requiring him to wear any flowers at all and that it’s “totally fine” if they don’t do the “corsage thing.” Alex is relieved.
The day of the dance, Nate takes Alex to Men’s Wearhouse to pick up his tux. There, they discover that there are only two major things you should never do in a tux: skydive and swim.
Later, Nate and this researcher review etiquette:
Nate: Hold out your arm so that your date can take it and walk with you.
Me: What if she thinks he’s just playing, “I’m a Little Teapot?”
Nate: Then, he should just play along.
Me: Good idea—just play along.
Nate: Hold the door open for her and you should tell her she looks nice, too.
Me: But if it’s girls ask guys, then she might hold the door open for him.
Nate: True. Just play it by ear, Alex.
(This researcher notes that Alex looks thoroughly confused.)
Nate: You should also pull the chair out for her at dinner. Oh—and here are some options for slow dancing. (Nate and this researcher demonstrate.) Don’t stand too close to your date. She might find it creepy.
Me: Oh, and if she has a backless dress, she might appreciate it if you put your hand on her waist and not her back.
(Researcher wonders if Alex is getting any of this. He just stares off into space.)
Researcher’s Notes: The videos above may make a male subject look a bit ridiculous in the light of day, but when the lights are turned low and the music is loud—and there are tons of people on the dance floor—the male subject doing these moves just blends in. Oh, and it’s assumed that the male subject keeps a decent distance away from his date when performing these moves, in order to avoid accidents/creepiness.
Two hours before leaving for the dance, the male subject goes upstairs to take a shower and get ready.
Me: I can smell cologne all the way down here, in the living room! I shouldn’t smell cologne all the way down here!
Nate—shouting from the bathroom above: I just sprayed it into the air for him to walk through! He won’t smell overpowering when he comes down! Trust me!
Eventually, the male subject comes down the stairs and this researcher’s heart melts. He is so grown up and handsome. The tux fits perfectly. Alex reveals a few tips from his preparations:
–Make sure the shirt is flat, then put your pants on.
–Make sure the gorge flaps fit.
–That’s pretty much all there is to it.
Nate, Alex, and this researcher get into the car. More frantic texting ensues. Pictures are to be taken by the tennis courts at the high school. Nate parks by the tennis courts in an effort to spot minivans. Alex’s date’s mom will drive him, his date, and another couple to dinner and the dance, but pictures are first. However, it’s raining heavily. This researcher is worried that she won’t get any pictures. Nate is not concerned about pictures. This researcher really wants Nate to be concerned about pictures.
Alex spots his date and climbs into her mom’s minivan.
Me: What’s happening?
Nate: I don’t know.
Me: Are they taking pictures?
Nate: I don’t know.
Me: They’re leaving! The minivan’s leaving! Drive! Drive! Drive!
This researcher now texts Alex: Where are you going?
Alex: To the front of the school for pictures.
Me: Nate, Drive! Don’t lose them! I want my pictures!
Arriving in the nick of time, this researcher gathers plenty of photographic evidence for Facebook.
Alex and his group leave. At 10:30 p.m., Nate works up the nerve to text him.
Nate: Are you dancing? Is your date still there?
Me: Is that good or bad?
Nate: I think he’s too busy to text.
Nate and this researcher climb back into the car to pick up Alex. He walks out of the dance with his tux still fully intact. He looks pleased. He offers the next few tips/pieces of advice:
–When stopping by Starbuck’s, just minutes before eating dinner with your date and the rest of the group, order a large sandwich and eat all of it.
–At dinner, split a pizza with one of the males in the group. Eat your half and, if you’re still hungry, order some bruschetta and eat all of that as well. Then, chow down on dessert. (“They did kind of say I eat a lot,” Alex remarked.)
–Offer to pay for dinner because you feel terrible that you ordered sooo much food. (Alex says it was worth it.)
–When everyone arrives at the dance, they will be intimidated by all of the other teens who are having a good time and who seem to know each other really well. Just encourage your friends to get out there anyway. Just start dancing. It’s a great way to meet new people and have fun. Just jump in.
Researcher’s Conclusions: Navigating this new high school planet is difficult for Alex and his friends, but Alex is handling it with courtesy, style, grace, bravery, and a good sense of humor. He fit the James Bond theme of the dance perfectly. This researcher, whose eyes are swelling with sentimental tears, will now require a large box of tissues—and a dance, late into the dark of night, in her living room, with Nate, who holds her close.
Your Turn: What are your memories of high school? Do you have high school age children? If so, what are your tips for surviving these years?