Dating is Waiting for Eucatastrophe
Updated: Jun 7
Eucatastrophe. When I first saw the term, I disliked it based on sheer clunkiness. It's coined by Tolkien, a manwho did not shy away from composing intense words.
It sounds terrible. Say it out loud for the first time and it feels bad in your mouth. But it means something good. And as I've seen it used oftener and oftener, the meaning takes over and I find myself enjoying it.
Eucatastrophe is the opposite of catastrophe. It is the sudden arrival of help, the swift and unexpected deliverance from disaster. It is you, backed in a corner, and a sudden bolt of lightning striking your opponent. It is a light turning on when you thought you were relegated to eternal darkness.
Alan Jacobs writes beautifully on this here. The Winning Slowly podcast has a great debate about tech, culture, and eucatastrophe here. And I am going to tell you how this very nerdy concept relates not just to middle earth and tech cultures, but dating, too.
When you are actively dating (defined for these purposes as meeting a lot of people for first/second dates to suss out the possibility of a long term commitment) you are actively seeking eucatastrophe. You are looking for someone to unexpectedly change everything. And change it for the better.
It sounds simple enough to date. Just find someone cool that you wanna make out with. But it’s tricky. Dating requires a weird combo of flexibility and staying put.
You're open enough to meet new people, but you hold this 'but probably not' skepticism. You hope it will be your last first date, but all prior evidence points to no.
You are looking for something clear enough to say "yes, time to change your life." You want it and…you don't.
You're hoping to be saved from everyday life. And with the right person, it can feel like that for a little while. It can upend you in the very best ways. But you also have worked so hard on the life you have right now. It doesn't make sense to toss it based on the flimsy hope of different. If it's not spectacular, you get to send your 'no spark!' text and get on with your real life.
Dating is optional. It can be gut wrenching, funny, banal, or lovely. It's like eating a carton of blueberries. You don't know if the next berry will be sweet or mushy or sour or musty.
We who keep it up have our own version of eucatastrophe in our minds. The fuzzy hope for something else.
Are we allowed to say something better?
I think at least better than first dates. Most first dates, anyway.
I don't think single life should be compared to deep darkness or losing in a Middle Earth battle, but the moments in dating where a guy on an app says "Great smile! Your dentist must love you!" feel like being dragged through a mud puddle when you asked for a party. It must get better than this.
"God bless our unkillable hearts." -Michael Perry