In a fawn-colored silk dress and up-do, a contemplative young woman sips champagne while a bridal bouquet flies over her head. As other never-married wedding-goers readily will detect, she's scrupulously ignoring this ritual reminder of an unrealized longing for marriage.

This is the photograph of Kate Bolick, 39, that runs alongside her cover story, "All the Single Ladies," in the November edition of The Atlantic. Beginning with that picture, her piece captures the anxiety of many single women as the age of first marriage continues to climb.

Those who always expected to be married by now are wondering whether to keep hoping for marriage, how to find fulfillment without it, and why relationships with men these days can be so frustrating. Rather than pointing to answers for these important questions, however, Bolick's article leads to a dead end of further disappointment and confusion.

The author is one of countless women who have struggled with the unexpected in-between of prolonged singleness. "If I stopped seeing my present life as provisional," she writes, "perhaps I'd be a little … happier." (The ellipsis is hers.)

Bolick seems to have resolved the sense of being betwixt-and-between by demoting marriage. In her book, marriage should no longer enjoy pride of place as the basic building block of society and the relationship that harmonizes the needs of men, women, and children like no other.

In other words, if experience doesn't match up to the ideal, toss out the ideal.

But should we give up on an ideal just because it hasn't worked out for us personally? That might make sense if marriage were an ideal simply because the majority, the powerful, or forces such as evolution or economics made it so. The unique status of ...

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