Tall, smart and athletic, Paul Kluitenberg isn’t the kind of boy girls typically say no to when he asks them to a school dance. So you wouldn’t have expected the senior to stress over asking fellow cross-country runner Meagan Guest to his school’s homecoming dance.
Then again, when you were in high school, you didn’t have to worry about whether you were asking “cute.”
In recent years, the laws of attraction for teens have drastically changed. Not only had you better put out feelers to determine whether your intended date would say yes to avoid a Totally Awkward Moment, but you better find an interesting, adorable and hopefully novel way to invite a girl to a formal dance.
“I knew I couldn’t just say, ‘You want to go to homecoming?’ because that’s kind of lame,” explains the 17-year-old in Ben Avon, Pa. “It’s more fun for the girl if you ask in a creative way.”
And you thought chivalry was dead.
Kluitenberg and his 13-year-old sister, Miriam, devised this super-sweet action plan for the dance: Get to cross-country practice at the high school track a few minutes early. Write “Homecoming?” in huge letters in chalk on the pavement, and when Meagan approached, greet her with a single red rose.
What girl could say no to that?
Fortunately, he got the answer he wanted.
The teen was equally creative for last year’s dance. At an invitational race, Kluitenberg placed a poem in teammate Shelby Bell’s running shoe: “Roses are red / Violets are blue / I’m awful at poetry / So look in your other shoe.” In it, Bell found a bouquet of flowers with a note that read “Homecoming?” (She also accepted.)
No one’s sure when the idea of asking cute sparked the pre-collegiate crowd’s imagination. But a good guess would be the MTV reality show “Laguna Beach.” In a 2005 episode titled “Our Last Prom,” the main characters try to impress their high school girlfriends with prom proposals by fake-towing a car and dressing up in gorilla costumes. A 2006 sequel further resonated with its young viewers.
Then there’s the 2011 film “Prom,” in which one of the running gags is a boy’s repeated attempts (and failures) to ask a popular girl to high school’s biggest dance in crazy ways.
“Ask cute” now extends to homecoming events at schools across the country.
The video-sharing website YouTube also has given the trend cultural currency. The simple search “ask cute” and “school dance” turns up video after video of boys (and a few girls) going to great lengths to pop the question. Date-seekers also have been inspired by countless message boards, teen-centric websites and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. There’s even a tutorial on WikiHow.com.
Some popular ideas circulating this fall include surprising a would-be date with pizza with the word “Homecoming?” spelled out in M&Ms, filling a balloon with puzzle pieces that spell out the asker’s name, and decorating the inside of the girl’s locker. But they also can be over the top.
Last month, a junior at Patriot High School in Nokesville, Va., assured his place in Asking Cute history with a stuffed animal, aircraft and a federal investigation.
As the boy’s would-be date, a soccer player and female kicker for the football team, walked from her car after school to the district weight room, a Huey helicopter flying over the football field slowed to a noisy hover. When kids looked up, a miniature plush bulldog fluttered to the ground. Around its neck was a card with the girl’s name on it asking “Fall fest?”
The student had gotten permission from school administrators for the flyover. But officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, where the pilot works, were not amused: The Washington Post reports he was reassigned to administrative duties while the incident was reviewed.