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Jewish World Review June 21, 2001/ 30 Sivan, 5761

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

I want an eternal soulmate, but the marriage thing is another issue -- THE National Marriage Project at Rutgers University released the results of a survey of twentysomethings on marriage. Their tattoos and nose studs are the least of our worries. Ninety-four percent said that their first requirement in a spouse is finding a soul mate. Well, la-de-da. Wait until their little soul mates develop hemorrhoids.

The Oprahfication of America is complete. New Ageism has finished its tarot card coup d'etat on wisdom. Accompanying the Rutgers survey release were the findings that the few healthy survivors of the NASDAQ crash were the psychic readings Web sites. Are these young people aware that Dionne Warwick could not even find her way to San Jose? How can they rely on her infomercial psychics for direction in life?

Actually, the soul mate statistic is the most heartening one in the survey. 80% of female respondents feel a husband "who can communicate this deepest feelings" is more important than one who can provide economic support. Listen to me, dear Gen X gals. A husband with a regular paycheck trumps sensitivity, incense, candles and anything else mystic tossed about a one-bedroom walk-up you and your Deepak Chopra clone will share at your expense. "I feel your pain" does not a mortgage payment make.

My husband and I have been married a quarter of a century, the last 19 years dominated by four children. Our last deep conversation centered around the date and location for the city's hazardous waste collection. I've never met anyone who understood the intricacies and rules of municipal trash better than this man. He knows his plastics, toxins, and recyclables rules.

Further, he loaded up the paint cans, vintage 1979, the Zap tile cleaner, circa 1985, and found the collection site. Heathcliff's and Cathy's time on the moors could not be as romantic.

I remain confused on the soul mate concept. Angelina Jolie professes to have found one somewhere beneath the whiskers and Prozac of Billy Bob Thornton. I count the word "soul mate" in six Julia Roberts' interviews about 6 different men. Even after studying the full report from Rutgers, I could find no definition of "soul mate."

However, the answers to other questions provide some insight. The twentysomethings believe soul mates emerge only after living with a person "24/7," as they say. In fact, 62% believe you shouldn't get married unless you have lived together. The tattooed tykes are unaware that couples that live together before marriage have higher divorce rates.

They do not see any connection between religion and a soul mate. In fact, only 42% see religion as a factor in their marriage decisions. Religion and faith apparently are not mirrors on the soul. The cherubs ignore high divorce rates among couples with different religions and high marriage success rates among couples that share a faith.

Even fewer see education or socioeconomic background as a soul mate issue. Chelsea Clinton's soul mate is not likely to be a longshoreman, unless, of course, her mother's popularity among New Yorkers should wane and an arranged union marriage would bring votes. A longshoreman reared on shots of Wild Turkey, hogies, and white tank tops won't cotton to a spot of tea and crumpets at Oxford.

This soul mate thing misses the point of marriage. Then again, so do these twentysomethings. Their responses remind me of Miss America contestants on their goals in life, "I want to be a neurosurgeon, raise my own goat cheese and bring about world peace with Bono." Why don't these young people study successful marriages and then apply their infamous talents for reverse engineering to figure out what works?

Therein lies the problem. Their demographics bear out that they are the spawn of the ever-divorcing baby boomers. They have not been around successful marriages and are not particularly well-versed in them.

With a dearth of examples and no religious training, they have reinvented the wheel, drawing on "me" principles for their New Age formula for marital bliss. "My" soul mate. "My" happiness. Only 16% see the role of marriage as an economic and social unit for raising children. Me, me, me, 24/7 me! They will look for all the wrong things, in all the wrong people, all with unrealistic expectations trying to find "me." Their disconnect with the role of marriage in society and in developing, not finding, a soul mate, does not bode well.

Twentysomethings put the chicken before the egg. The inner most feelings of another emerge only through growth born of commitment to causes greater than self such as children, faith and commitment. In fact, the terms children, faith and commitment are missing from both the soul mate survey and in its respondents.

One final statistic: though they believe they will find their soul mate, over 60% of the twentysomethings worry they may not be able to make marriage work. This insight is profound and prophetic. What the Xers don't realize is their failure at marriage will be the result of their misguided searches for "soul mates."

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings