Study: Americans Seek Soul-Mate Spouse

ByMary Kelleher

N E W   Y O R K, June 13, 2001 -- Single Americans in their 20swant to marry someone who shares their innermost thoughts andfeelings, rather than someone rich or of the same religion, asurvey said today.

Today's young Americans are on a quest to find their "soulmate," compared with past generations that sought spouses withsimilar religious and social backgrounds, said a new surveyfrom Rutgers University's National Marriage Project.

"Seeking a compatible mate who shares similar values is notnew, but what is new and surprising is that the soul mate idealhas become the most desired marital partner characteristic forthis age group — surpassing religion, economics and even theability to be a good mother or father," said David Popenoe,co-director of the National Marriage Project.

Among Americans in their 20s who have never been married,94 percent said the wanted a soul-mate spouse "first andforemost," said the survey, which was called "Who Wants toMarry a Soul Mate?"

They were very confident of success. Of those surveyed, 88percent agreed there was a "special person, a soul mate,waiting for you somewhere out there," and 87 percent thoughtthey would find that person when they were ready to getmarried.

For 80 percent of the women polled, a husband who couldarticulate his deepest feelings was a better catch than one whoearned a good living. Only 42 percent of single Americans intheir 20s thought it was important for their spouses to havethe same religious beliefs, the survey showed.

The survey is part of the project's wider "The State of OurUnions" report on marriage trends in the United States. It wasbased on telephone interviews with 1,003 married and single menand women age 20 to 29 from January through March this year.

In Vogue

"There's an awful lot about soul mates in popular culture,"Popenoe told Reuters. "It's the term of the hour. … It's abig change from times past when you maybe hoped a spouse wouldbe a soul mate by the end of life but you didn't start outlooking for such a person. You were looking for someoneresponsible and reliable who would be a helpmate for the tasksof life."

The term soul mate is in vogue, cropping up in popular U.S.television shows like Sex and the City, as marriage continuesto lose appeal in the country, Popenoe said.

"The marriage rate hasn't started to go up; theout-of-wedlock birthrate hasn't started to go down;single-parent families are still going up slightly and therehas been a tremendous increase in nonmarital co-habitation," hesaid.

According to a recent report from the Centers for DiseaseControl and Prevention, 43 percent of first marriages end inseparation or divorce within 15 years.

Nor does the soul mate quest necessarily produce a happymarriage, experts said.

The belief that there is only one perfect mate for a personsets unrealistic expectations for marriages and often can leadto divorce, they said.

"Twenty-somethings are still romantic and idealistic, stillwant to find their soul mate and have the marriage of theirdreams, so that's very good," said Diane Sollee, the founderand director of the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition forMarriage, Family and Couples Education. "The bad news is if wekeep operating on that premise, we will keep repeating thecurrent trend of a very high divorce rate."

Children Not the Goal

At the same time, young Americans were more concerned thanever about divorce, Popenoe said.

Close to nine out of 10 Americans in their 20s thought thedivorce rate was too high, and 47 percent believed laws shouldbe changed to make it more difficult to divorce, it said.

The fear of divorce and the hunt for a soul mate couldexplain the high rate of young Americans who live togetherbefore getting married, the survey said. Among those polled, 44percent had lived together, at some time, with a partner of theopposite sex while not married.

Marriage was no longer associated with having children theway it once was, the survey said.

Only 16 percent of young Americans saw having children asthe main purpose of marriage, while 62 percent believed it wasacceptable — although not ideal — for a woman to have a childon her own if she had not found the right man to marry.

The soul-mate relationship also created tension when acouple had children, marriage experts said.

"The soul-mate ideal intensifies the natural tensionbetween adult desires and children's needs," the survey said.

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