Single minded

I was 5 years old in Brooklyn playing Barbies with my friends when the subject of "when I get married ..." came up. I had nothing to contribute to the "dream weddings" conversation and announced, "I'm never getting married." I was impatient with their tedious fantasizing, preferring to play Lost in Space. Getting stranded on the moon sounded great; getting married seemed idiotic and far-fetched.

I had no particular reason for feeling that way, although I lived with a married couple, my parents, who never made domesticity seem like a prize-winner. "I'm never getting married" came out like a sneeze: emotionless and certain. Now it seems like a premonition. You hear people talk about how they "knew" they were gay. I knew I was single.

Thirty years later the moon still seems more appealing than marriage. If you're going to suffocate, you might as well get a trip out of it. I hear girls talk about getting married and cock my head like a dog listening to a slide whistle. I don't get it.

I understand wanting the jewelry, the Bob Mackie dress and parading your lover around the room like the two of you just placed at the Westminster Dog Show. What I don't get is the contract. Being contracted to love someone else is as romantic as a sandbag. People used to think prenups were cynical and unromantic because they anticipated the end of love. Marriage is actually what presupposes that love will end; otherwise you wouldn't need to legally bind someone to stay in it. I just have too romantic a nature for that kind of thing.

Yes, I'm straight. Yes, I've been proposed to. Yes, they were normal.

No-ring situation

I knew that being single never meant being alone, but I never realized how much company I had in these thoughts until a recent Time magazine cover story. According to the "Who Needs a Husband?" issue, more and more women are declining to let their lives become the punch line of a Rodney Dangerfield joke. In 14 years (1963-97), the number of married women in the 22-55 age group dropped a whopping 18 percent. They haven't given up on relationships, or so the figure of 4 million cohabitating single women suggests. They haven't given up on motherhood A not with a 15 percent birthrate increase in single adult women since 1990 (and a drop in teen pregnancy). They just no longer see a reason to bind together love and legality.

Think of the reasons why men coveted their swinging-bachelor status. Those are the reasons women are now shying away from marriage. They have well-paying jobs and can afford their independence. Work is more fulfilling than keeping house like a Stepford wife. Women, Time says, are what's driving the home-improvement market -- 60 percent of single women own their own home. In both business and adventure travel, two out of five customers are women, so they are not sitting around waiting for a partner to see the world with. Boyfriends, friends and family round out satisfying, populated lives. They don't want to end up in the bad marriages/divorces they've seen their friends/parents endure. Considering all this, outside of religious belief or buckling to social pressure, why would anyone want to get married?

Near Mrs.

Maybe one alternative is a middle ground. Leave it to France to come up with new and better ways for couples to couple. In 1999, France created the "civil solidarity pact," pacte civil de solidarite, or PACS. PACS was created as a form of legal partnership for gay couples, but straight ones are taking advantage of it because it's less complicated than traditional marriage. In a PACS, all finances are combined and purchases made jointly unless the couple specifies otherwise. If both agree, the union can be dissolved almost instantly, without lawyers. And if one party disagrees, the other can give them notice and the thing is over in three months.

An April New York Times story says a PACS is vague in areas like alimony and doesn't mention children at all. The gay couples it was designed for find it falls short, but heterosexual couples like this interim step between marriage and nothing, recognized but not official, like Puerto Rico or Camilla Parker Bowles. It is kind of stupid that there are four different kinds of Cap'n Crunch but only one way to officially recognize what might be the most important relationship in your life.

Marriage as we know it is a lot like singing. Everyone thinks they can do it. But come karaoke night, we find out that while there are a few who are gifted, the rest just want to. Unless you're marrying Sybill, it's hard to ask someone to be your best friend, lover, accountant, janitor, shrink, dog walker, spiritual adviser, etc. It could burden the relationship. "It's such a heavy thing, marriage," says Francois Vauglin in the Times story, who united in a PACS with his partner as soon as it was possible.

No wonder women are avoiding it. It's so heavy. And we're just a bunch of girls.