I really hope you read this because I am having a very serious internal struggle with something and I hope that you in all your wise-sageness can help me figure a few things out. Here it is: although our prom isn't until March, for some reason the subject has been all anyone is talking about lately. I am definitely planning on going and look forward to it. A few of my friends are going to prom in a small group, which I was delighted to join.
Here's the problem: there is a girl with special needs at our school who I have acted as a sort-of big sister to. She sits with us at lunch once a week or so and she is the sweetest person ever. However, she is also very high-maintenance and rather mid-functioning. She brought up the senior prom a few days ago and told me she was going. When I casually asked who she was going with, she answered right off the bat: me and her boyfriend.
I have always been one of those people that says yes to everyone to avoid hurting feelings. This being said, it's my senior year, and as bad as I feel about wanting to say no to the special needs girl, I feel like I have to learn to say no. It is my last chance to have a really awesome, memorable night with some of my closest friends, and as much as I don't want to hurt her feelings, I feel like I can't bring myself to end up babysitting this girl for my whole senior prom! What should I do, and does wanting to say no make me a bad person?
Dude. Of course it doesn't.
And as wonderful as it is that you've been willing to squire your special-needs friend around the high school and make room for her at your lunch table on the regular—you are an uncommonly kind person, Sparkler, and you deserve so much credit for it—it's also totally understandable to draw the line at chaperoning her to the prom. You're not this girl's parent, guardian, or professional caregiver, and the prom is an important experience for you, too; it's normal and natural that you'd want to enjoy it on your own terms, and not as somebody else's lady-in-waiting.
Unfortunately, you did kinda miss your best chance to deal with this as easily and organically as possible, in the form of a gentle on-the-spot shutdown (e.g. "Oh, actually, I have prom plans already and I won't be able to go with you. But I'll see you there!"). And if your friend (and everyone else) has been assuming all this time that you'll be with her all night, it is important that you tell her, her parents, the school administration, and/or any adults who'll be in attendance at the prom that you can't be responsible for her throughout the night.
Which is how it should be, anyway—and it shouldn't be a big deal. The whole point of the prom is that it's controlled, contained, and provides minimal opportunities to get into trouble; someone like your friend should be able to enjoy herself in relative safety, and without needing constant attention. But since the prom is a school event, if a student needs special assistance, the administration and her parents should be working to arrange it. For the adults in charge to just assume that you'll be her aide during the evening, and to not even discuss it with you, isn't okay.
But once you've ironed things out (which you should do ASAP), and knowing that this girl cares for you and considers you a close friend, I hope you'll keep being there for her in other ways. Be an enthusiastic audience for prom-related conversations. If it's possible and you're feeling up for it, ask her to go get a manicure with you the week before—or help her do her hair/makeup before the big night. And at the prom itself, take a few moments during the evening to talk to her, dance with her, and make sure she's having a good time, and ask your classmates to do the same. Not because she's your responsibility, and not because you need to put yourself in charge of her welfare, but because the prom experience you're so excited for is an experience everyone deserves: a fun, fabulous, memorable night with the people you like best.
And if you can make that happen for someone else in addition to enjoying yourself, your prom will be that much better for it. Have fun!
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