- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Young single adults are intensely averse to divorce and want to marry a lifelong "soul mate," says a study by the National Marriage Project.

"They know who they want Miss or Mr. Right and they know what they don´t want divorce," said Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, who runs the project with David Popenoe, a sociology professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

The hard part "may be getting there making the right choice, at the right time and sticking to it," said Mrs. Whitehead, who gained national attention with her 1993 Atlantic Monthly article, "Dan Quayle was Right."

Young people´s aspirations for lasting marriages come at a time when marriage is weakening as a social institution, the two researchers said in their "State of Our Unions: 2001" report, issued today.

Marriage has vanished as the normal rite of passage for sexual involvement, parenthood, economic growth and religious and public adulthood, they said.

Instead, marriage is "gaining popularity as a 'super-relationship´ an intensely private, spiritualized union, combining sexual fidelity, romantic love, emotional intimacy and togetherness."

Ninety-four percent of never-married adults agree that "when you marry, you want your spouse to be your soul mate, first and foremost," the researchers said, citing data from a Gallup poll taken this year of 1,003 adults ages 20 to 29.

An upside of the "soul mate" approach is that a high percentage of young people 86 percent believe that marriage is "hard work and a full-time job," said Mrs. Whitehead. This is "not a cavalier attitude" about marriage, she said.

A downside, however, is that couples who are highly dependent on each other for happiness are likely to struggle, especially under the demands of parenthood.

Also, if couples set high expectations for their marriages, they may not handle turmoil well. "Unless you have a very clear understanding about what daily life with a soul mate is all about, there is a risk that someone will be extremely disappointed if that high level isn´t sustained day to day," said Mrs. Whitehead.

The desire for a compatible mate may be fueling the rise in cohabiting, which has grown from 3.1 million households in 1990 to 5.4 million in 2000, the researchers said.

"Many believe that living together yields more useful information about a partner than simply dating for a period of time," they wrote. Therefore, if they´re looking for a soul mate, they may believe they have to live with someone "24/7."

The Gallup poll found that 44 percent of young people had cohabited. Of these, nearly half of the men and more than a third of the women had lived with more than one partner.

In their study, Mr. Popenoe and Mrs. Whitehead found that 88 percent of young adults agreed that the divorce rate was too high.

They also found that:

Eighty-two percent think it´s "unwise" for a woman to rely on marriage for financial security.

Seventy-nine percent believe that "marriage is nobody´s business but the two people involved."

Sixty-two percent say it´s OK but not ideal for a single adult woman to have a child if she hasn´t found the right man to marry.

Forty-three percent believe the government should give cohabiting couples the same benefits as married couples.

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