Ep. 61: The Myth of the Soul Mate: W. Bradford Wilcox, Ph.D.

How do young people today view marriage? Of those surveyed in one National Marriage Project poll, 88% of singles agreed there was a “special person, a soul mate,” waiting for them somewhere out there. This same poll found that for 80% of the women polled, a husband who could articulate his deepest feelings was a better catch than one who earned a good living.

This soulmate model of marriage suggests there’s one unique person on the planet who connects with us by meeting our deepest longings, desires, and needs. It prioritizes skills such as the expression of feelings and the ability to spark romantic or sexual chemistry. A soulmate marriage is supposed to make you feel, in a word, happy.

There’s just one problem: It’s a myth.

The soulmate view of marriage is not conducive to a permanent commitment because it’s deeply indebted to a romanticized way of thinking about love. No one person is capable of giving us great pleasure and great happiness all or even most of the time. That is why men and women who embrace the soulmate model are often left deeply disappointed by the real-world realities of love and marriage.

Here with me today to discuss the soul mate myth is Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist who serves as Director of the National Marriage Project. He’s also a Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, and a Visiting Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. His research—which has been featured in TNYT, the WSJ, NPR and the Today Show—focuses on ways in which marriage, gender and culture influence the quality and stability of family life in the US and around the globe. His website is https://www.wbradfordwilcox.com/.


5:20 Brad talks about the book Eat, Pray, Love and its author Elizabeth Gilbert: how that book portrays the “soul mate” myth and why this particular story resonated with young adults.

10:40 — 13:28 Suzanne and Brad talk about the soul mate myth in popular culture (such as A Marriage Story) and how these stories have affected people’s view of marriage in real life.

14:00 Brad talks about how the younger generation don’t realize the other “goods” that come along with marriage i.e., financial stability, the welfare of children, support from kin and they oftentimes only think about marriage as being just “intense love and emotional connection.”

15:15 — 19:50 Suzanne and Brad discuss how important marriage is to growing wealth and to a couple’s financial future.  Suzanne talks about her concern with how women no longer consider a man’s financial stability prior to marriage, which will cause problems in the marriage in the future. They also talk about how delayed marriage will affect young people.

20:10 Brad talks about how the divorce rate increased as the soul mate myth became more prevalent

22:00 When people embrace the soul mate myth, they are less likely to be happily married.

25:00  Brad talks about how now more people are relying on the state instead of relying upon their family and spouses and how COVID-19 may inspire a more family-based model when it comes to marriage since people are realizing they can’t rely on the state, their employer, etc.

27:45  Why “feelings” aren’t always a good gauge for a successful marriage.  “Love is not a feeling. It’s a decision.” When people make it your life’s work to love someone and put others first, they tend to be happier.

31:55  How intense passion and romance fades from all relationships eventually.

34:30  Suzanne talks about being an almost empty nester and about the different seasons of a marriage

36:40 — 40:00 You’re far less likely to be happy when you’re pursuing it directly.  Being generous leads to a happier life.

41:00  The alternative to the soul mate myth model is the “family first” model







Suzanne Venker

Suzanne is an author, a coach, and a podcast host committed to helping women let go of cultural beliefs that undermine their happiness in life and in love.