Prom dresses and self-esteem

I recently pulled out my old prom dresses to donate them. Just for kicks, I tried them on one last time. Fortunately, they still fit (albeit, it was a struggle to zip them up), and when I looked in the mirror, I felt like a princess.

My junior prom dress is especially elegant. It’s long, black, and strapless with white beading. I’m sure I looked gorgeous in it ten years ago (wow, that makes me feel old…). But the weird thing is, the guy friend I brought to that dance hardly even noticed me. I remember he ended up dancing more with our friend Julie than me, and by the end of the night he had his arm around her. Meanwhile, I hung out with Julie’s abandoned date; he’s a dear friend, but he never seemed to notice me either. Even still, my mom will ask me if he ever calls, and my answer is always “Nope, haven’t heard from him.”

Looking back through my high school pictures, I realize I was very pretty (at least, after I took Accutane and got my braces removed…). There was certainly nothing wrong with me. And yet, I always felt invisible.

Fast forward to senior year of college. I have a blog site entitled “Not-Quite-Princess,” on which I wrote a post where I stated “with mediocre grades, looks, and talent, there’s nothing about me that stands out above the average.” I can’t believe that’s how I viewed myself at age 21; in reality, I was very pretty, young, smart, ambitious, and an excellent swimmer and writer.

I’m not sure why I’ve always been ignored by guys, or why the ones who did pay attention to me turned out to be total jerks. I’m also not sure why I never thought I had much potential and that I was ugly. I still feel this way about myself to a degree, but when I’m 30 I will probably look back and wonder why.

Every girl should know that she’s beautiful. This is my hope for the two young women who receive my prom dresses, whoever they may be.

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“Describe the perfect man,”

said my health teacher on our last day of class as she handed us each an index card. I was silently celebrating the end of the most awkward class of my high-school career: sex ed. Our teacher was a spunky, tell-it-like-it-is kind of lady. And we were a bunch of Catholic-school girls in blazers and plaid skirts (some shorter than others, a measurement which was directly correlated with social status). The assignment was to list traits we wanted in a future husband. “You need to start thinking about what’s important to you. You need to set standards,” she lectured. The little cogs in my under-developed brain began turning. And my 15-year-old self concocted the following list, word-for-word (prefaced by the statement “I want to be an independent woman! But if that doesn’t work out, my man has to be…):

  • tall
  • handsome
  • pale
  • black hair
  • conservative
  • well-educated
  • not a slob
  • funny
  • laundry-doing
  • non-jerk
  • likes animals
  • polite
  • loving
  • no drugs
  • no more than 7 years older than me

Okay, okay. So some of these items are negotiable–like, I’m not sure why I thought paleness was an important trait; maybe because the Twilight series had me in a vampire craze? However, I like my list and I’m sticking to it! (Er, for the most part.)

Since I wrote that list, I’ve been on a few dates here and there and I’ve had one long-term relationship. But none of those guys quite fit this description. At the age of 22, I’m starting to see many of my peers get married, and–I’m not going to lie–it’s putting me in a mild panic. While I’m sitting around waiting for Prince Charming/Edward Cullen to come along, all the guys my age are getting snatched up. My pool from which to choose is dwindling.

I know, I know, I’m being a little melodramatic. But dating can be a daunting thing for today’s young adult. Many young people are already divorced. Many already have children. Even in their 20s, singles come with baggage that complicates their relationships. Furthermore, in our increasingly promiscuous society, people have varying ideas of what a relationship entails. Finding a gentleman who isn’t already taken or emotionally unavailable is not easy. And where to find them? I don’t go to bars to meet guys, because I don’t want the kind of guy who hangs out at bars. Nice guys have the same problem with meeting people. I can only imagine they struggle to find a girl who isn’t catty, spoiled, gold-digging, or “plastic.”

It’s taken a while, but I think the lesson my health teacher taught us that day has finally sunk in. We shouldn’t settle for someone who doesn’t meet our standards, even if it seems like that ideal person will never come along. As you mature, dating becomes more than just a fun game; it’s the journey to finding your life companion. Everyone you date will have flaws. You have to consciously think about which flaws you’re willing to live with (it’s okay if Prince Charming/Edward Cullen doesn’t have black hair, but doing drugs is a deal-breaker). I believe the trick is finding someone whose flaws only make you love them more.