"When things go well, a teen's self-esteem is affirmed, but when they don't, teens can be vulnerable to self-criticism," said Kuriansky. "Why years later do we remember and either try to repeat the time when we were a success or repair a time when we were unsuccessful?"
For Debby Kusich, the prom was "the worst experience of my life."
The 56-year-old saleswoman from Sebastapol, Calif., was "devastated" when she couldn't get a date, but eventually found a boy who worked on a farm, smelled like chickens and had bad teeth."
"I had my hair all done up in French curls and he didn't even have a good suit," said Kusich. "But I ended up ditching him."
The next day, Kusich got her just rewards. She was sunburned at the beach and woke up the following day covered with mouth sores.
Amy Spiegel, a 50-year-old who works for a New York City insurance company, said her memory still stings: "I was all dressed up and the guy stands me up."
Samantha Ganop, a 26-year-old cruise ship hostess from New Jersey, missed the bus to her prom. "I got left behind and my friend found me outside crying in the rain in my gown."
But some prom disappointments turn sweet.
Kris Eschauzier, a 58-year-old retired grandmother from Portland, Maine, was not allowed to take her boyfriend Pete to the prom at her all-girls boarding school, where only students from the "brother" school were allowed.
"I asked for special compensation and of course they said, 'absolutely no," said Eschauzier. "I was mad and I remember being so upset. "
A friend offered to go with her, then secured a date. "I went off for the weekend in a huff."
When she returned to school --as was the post-prom tradition -- the underclass girls added insult to injury, "short-sheeting" her bed.
"But it was worth missing the prom," said Eschauzier, who has now been married to Pete for 38 years.
Jeanne Pierce, a computer executive from Shrewsbury, Mass., was injured twice at prom.
"I went to my prom with a black eye, only to get another one the following weekend at my boyfriend's prom," Pierce, 52, told ABCNews.com. "They were both caused by swinging doors in the girls' room."
"My black eye was recovering and I had to wear violet eye shadow and lots of pancake make-up, but it looked a lot better."
A girl with a crush on Pierce's boyfriend followed her into the ladies room.
"I went into the stall and when I started to come out, the door swung back and hit me in the same eye and I had a black eye all over again," said Pierce.
That wasn't the only catastrophe. While sitting in folding chairs at long tables, a friend got up to leave and dragged Pierce's dress with the chair leg.
"When he dragged the chair, he dragged the bottom of my gown with it, only to tear the bottom, making it a full-length gown tea length."
And Leslie Fisher, 45, an Oakland, Calif., financial marketing specialist, also had a fashion fiasco.
"I got home from the prom before my parents and didn't have a key to the house and had to climb through the kitchen window and snagged my prom gown which was borrowed my mom's friend and she had to pay her for it," she wrote ABCnews.com in an e-mail. "I know, pitiful huh?"