The soul mate marriage is very different from the companionate marriage. It's not about finding someone decent to start a family with. It's about finding the perfect person whom you truly, deeply love. Someone you want to share the rest of your life with. Someone with whom, when you smell a certain T-shirt they own, you are instantly whisked to a happy memory about the time he or she made you breakfast and you both stayed in and binge-watched all eight season of Perfect Strangers.
We want something that's very passionate, or boiling, from the get-go. In the past, people weren't looking for something boiling; they just needed some water. Once they found it and committed to a life together, they did their best to heat things up. Now, if things aren't boiling, committing to marriage seems premature.
But searching for a soul mate takes a long time and requires enormous emotional investment. The problem is that this search for the perfect person can generate a lot of stress. Younger generations face immense pressure to find the "perfect person" that simply didn't exist in the past when "good enough" was good enough.
When they're successful, though, the payoff is incredible. According to Cherlin, the soul mate marriage has the highest potential for happiness, and it delivers levels of fulfillment that the generation of older people I interview rarely reached.
Cherlin is also well aware of how hard it is to sustain all these good things, and he claims that today's soul mate marriage model has the highest potential for disappointment. Since our expectations are so high, today people are quick to break things off when their relationship doesn't meet them (touch the hair, no boner). Cherlin would also like me to reiterate that this hair/boner analogy is mine and mine alone.
The psychotherapist Esther Perel has counseled hundreds of couples who are having trouble in their marriages, and as she sees things, asking all of this from a marriage puts a lot of pressure on relationships. I her words:
Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long. So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide: Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one. Give me comfort, give me edge. Give me novelty, give me familiarity. Give me predictability, give me surprise. And we think it's a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that.
Ideally, though, we're lucky, and we find our soul mate and enjoy that life-changing mother lode of happiness.
But a soul mate is a very hard thing to find.
About the book:
In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.
Excerpt from Invisible Monsters
- Chuck Palahniuk
Excerpt from Breakfast at Tiffany's
- Truman Capote