What I Don’t Know About the Fleeting Importance of Important Events

I had a fantastic Valentine’s Day this year. That makes about 10 years of great Valentine’s Days, thanks to my luck finding and being with an incredible, loving woman. This year we both had the whole day off, so we enjoyed a peaceful morning, shared gifts, went to a movie, and had a delicious meal at a favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Ben Thanh.

While the rest of the movie-going country was checking out Deadpool, we celebrated the holiday and the 80s by going to a 30th anniversary showing of Pretty in Pink. It was a fun experience, and I really enjoyed seeing the movie in the theater. Pretty in Pink has never been my favorite John Hughes teen movie. It is a good movie, and I like it just fine, but if I were to rank his teen films from the 80s on my personal enjoyment scale, I think it comes in last.*

Thinking about the movie this morning, I felt it odd that the prom (should it be The Prom?) was represented as such an important event. Granted, I’m not a high school student, and as a movie directed at that market, The Prom might seem to be an obvious touchpoint for the filmmakers to hold up for their audience, but the presentation of the dance as a critical life event is bewildering. Especially in this story, with these characters.

I mean, Molly Ringwald‘s character, Andie, an otherwise demonstrably independent and strong non-conformist, appears to regard attending the prom as an idyllic objective. Even though nothing goes well on her date with Blane as she stands her ground as an independent thinker all night, all Blane has to do is (somewhat desperately) ask her to prom and she immediately, gleefully throws herself at him.

Iona, Andie’s boss at the record store and an even more obvious non-conformist, also romanticizes The Prom. Not only does she become wistful recalling her high school experience, but she tells a cautionary tale about a classmate who didn’t attend prom and ever since has recurring periods of dread that something is missing in her life.

The thing is, that’s not the way I recall the senior prom. Not now, and I sincerely don’t recollect holding it in such high regard even when I was in high school. Did you?

Maybe it is different for some folks. Certainly others were more invested in prom and similar social gatherings than I, just as I’m sure there were concerts and other experiences I expected to be totally life-changing that many other people easily overlooked. I can’t think of any, though. And that’s the thing. It’s not about The Prom, per se. It’s that most of the events in our lives we anticipate as being monumental and ultra-important turn out… not.

I came to this realization way back when I was a young adult. Perhaps you did too. It’s still a truth worth revisiting every now and then as anxiety about impending activities can still pop up for many of us time and again.

In five years, is that Big Deal still going to be such a big deal?

Without doubt, there are experiences that stick with us. Some crucial events really do make us who we are. There are moments we each revisit recognizing their immense importance. What I’ve found, though, in my life, is it less often the major ceremonies and more often the unplanned, serendipitous encounters that wind up mattering the most.

Even if we expect the grandest possible outcome, setting high expectations on singular events might not be completely realistic . Or healthy.

These points are effectively illustrated in, interestingly enough, another John Hughes movie — a whole franchise of them, actually. In National Lampoon’s Vacation, a father’s overwhelming drive to achieve a perfect family vacation (The Vacation) results in a series of mishaps and tragedies. After the calamities escalate, the dad eventually realizes his absurd determination to create an ideal experience and the stress associated with it has caused the opposite of his intention.

So what is one to do? Live in the present. Make the most of each moment, and maybe expect great things to result from them. I don’t know about prom, but try treating each day as if it’s a big deal. It might turn out to be.

*Opinions differ, but I believe Hughes and director Howard Deutch did a better job telling the same story a year later with Some Kind of Wonderful.

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