I define a modal wife (or husband) as a person you would have married (could have married?) had you met them at the right time, unattached, and under normal life conditions. The number of modal wives is typically greater than or equal to the number of real wives, although clever philosophers will recognize possible [sic] counterexamples.
Under one view, you have hundreds or thousands of modal wives, most of whom you never meet. (How many does the average person meet, how soon do you know when you meet one, and how confused would you be if they were all in the same room at once?) Your correct dating strategy is to cast your net very widely, and hope to find and marry one of these people.
Under another view, modal wives are no big deal. Your so-called "modal wives" are no better for you than, say, the best woman you could pick out of a lot of thirty eligibles. The key inputs for a good marriage are attitude and a minimum degree of compatibility, not search and discovery.
If this is true, searching for modal wives, or perhaps even thinking about the concept, can make you worse off. The quest for the perfect mate makes it harder to come to terms with what is otherwise a compatible marriage. Which perhaps is all you are going to get anyway. Marriage is good for you, and don’t be too fussy, this is not iTunes. Too much choice, or too much perceived choice, is problematic.
The two views offer directly conflicting advice (TC: My views are closer to the first position, although attitude remains all-important). Yet we may be uncertain which view applies to us and to what extent. You could put all your eggs in one basket and pursue just one strategy, but what a risk if you are wrong. You could act upon some weighted average of the two views; I suspect this is what most people do. But then the two strategies are constantly undercutting each other.
That is one reason why it is hard to marry well.
Addendum: Here is a good post on Deception Island, and do also read the excellent comments thread on this post.