"Hah! Scared of getting old?" echoes Candice Bergen, mugging nonchalance to an invisible third party. She laughed shortly. "I'm practically paralyzed!"

"When I turned 30, I thought, I'm going to combat ageism singlehandedly.' I thought 'I'm so happy I'm 30. I've never been so happy to be anything. I am 30. I AM 30.' And then suddenly I thought, I'm THIRTY.' It was like this infinite youth was all spent. You just didn't have much time left."

And will she end up being one of those lonely little old ladies who carry shopping bags and babble on street corners?

"Not me!" Candice Bergen laughs. "No way!"

These who compliment themselves on their choice of career, feeling that, give or take a few horrendous moments, they have'nt done so badly after all, should take a close look at Candice Bergen. She has been, in the course of 31 years, an actress, a photographer, a writer, a political backer (George McGovern) and a product promoter (Polaroid, Cie perfume).

"Attractive women," says Candice Bergen with gorgeous understatement, "attractive women have more options of a cerain kind." She broods on that. "But thers's also the fact of being an attractive woman and being treated just like that, ever since I was very young frightened to not be considered in just that way. On God, sure. As a child and an adult, by both men and women."

Virtually the only difficulty in talking to Candice Bergen is that one finds it very hard to commiserate on the hardship imposed by excessive beauty.

That is, of course, precisely the kind of loneliness she is talking about. And yet one can't help thinking that it is, after all, an enviable burden, carrying with it an acceptable degree of suffering.

Because Candice Bergen's carrer and all of her options are predicated in good measure on the accident of flawless lick. She was born rich, she was born smart, and she was born to Edgar Bergen who was famous, having previously concieved Charlie McCarthy, the funny dummy.

And she would grow up possessed of a cool, arch beauty, all blue, blond and almost masculine in its severity.

She grew up, in other words, charmed.

"I wanted adventure," she says now, romance and adventure. I wanted to travel.I wanted to explore, I wanted to be Brenda Starr. But I really I mean, I wanted to be a journalist but I didn't want to suffer for it."

She grins easily. "I wanted black orchids all the time."

And so the adventure happened. And even when a lot of the movies did'nt work out, as her latest, Lina Wertmuller's A Night Full of Rain," has in fact not worked out, and even when the romances failed, as her affair with moviemaker Bert Schneider ultimately did, and even though in a Cie perfume promotion tape she talks about contributing my creatice input on the scent itself . . ." (which is a phrase only she could get away with). there is one thing you have to give Candice Bergen:

She has made a very elegant, very enviable career simply out of being Candice Bergen.

"Through thick and thin." says Candice Bergen with a wry, self-making grin. For in private her face, her gestures betray an astonishing animated mobility she keeps off the screen.

"But the point is - is that life is harder than we grew up to expect it was. It's more complicated than we were led to believe. And it wasn't that they lied to us that much. It's that life has also changed.

And so has she. Candice Bergen, who used to have a certain difficulty figuring out what, exactly, job discrimination was, is showing her Wertmuller film for the benefit of the National Women's Political Causus, has become a feminist, and so must put up with quite a bit of resentment.

"The only way to difuse that kind of resentment," she says slowly, "is to make women understand that it's also hard having choices. It's also as scarey being out there. And - you know - if you choose life in the fast lane you also go faster.

"And - you know - it's scary."

"When I crossed the 30 line," Bergen resumes her theme, "I started being more realistic I thought, 'We don't have to do everything. It's time to settle down, because it's not going to go on forever the way I thought it would.' " She adopts the tone of a nurse with a bedapan. "I thought - okay. No more 'Adventures' or 'Domino Principles." We have to draw the line somewhere . . . "

She seems to have been thinking lately about what comes easy for her and what does not. Movie offers ("The Group." "Carnal Knowledge") have come to her easily. She is pursuing what does not.

I asked myself what the most important work achievement for me would be. And that was writing a book. It was also the scariest thing, other than -" she flashes a grin, "other than marriage that I could think of doing.

"I just find it so terrifying. It's like a journal. It kind of goes from, you know dancing around the maypole in Beverly Hills with Liza Minnelli and people like that to growing up in a Republican household, with Reagan and Eisenhower in the living room and on the golf course . . . "

She laughs once again. "To campaigning for McGovern and getting arrested in the Capitol for blocking corridors by lying down. And also casting aside relationships for awhile and trying to pretend I didn't need them. To finally realizing there was nothing I needed more."

For some time, although that time is now past, Candice Bergen had what she calls "more touch-and-go relationships than I would have liked. But now I would rather make the effort to grow and stay put. I've been with someone now for one year."

She thinks about this, obviously discomfited with public revelations about her personal life. Finally she says it. "But there are times, you know, when you come out of a relationship - when you really miss that relationship, and so you look to replace that with company.

"And also, you know that Mr. Right stuff takes a long time to grow out of. Only -" the corners of her lips turn down sardonically - "only just recently have I begun to throw it over. There are mechanisms that I'll never understand. How we defend ourselves from these perfect relationships."

There was a time in her life, and it wasn't very long ago, when it may have seemed that Bert Schneider (who made "Hearts and Minds") was the fabled, fantastic Mr. Right. Certainly, they were very much in love with each other. Certainly, too if we are to believe the gossip columns, Bergen was very much wounded by the break-up.

"We both were." She grimaces, then continues drily, "I don't know what the party line is, but I was not seduced and abondoned. It's just that a lot of people who had these intense passionate relationships, found - possibly for those very reasons - that it didn't work. The intensity and passion were really exhausting. I wasn't strong enough."

She gazes mildly at the honeydew melon she is eating, then sets it aisde. "It's very hard when those people go out of your life because you can't restrain yourself from thinking - Well, what if. Maybe if.Maybe if I. Maybe if he."

This is what she does not want: she does not want to be set off from the rest of us. She wants to be included in the larger scheme: her problems and needs presented, of course, but only in relation to ours. Six years ago, for instance, Candice Bergen points out, she at last began to have close, enduring friendships with women.

But she came to feminism later than many, feeling as she then did, "I wasn't suffering. I had worked since I was 17, and never had any problems whatsoever. What were they all screaming about?"

And so she recognizes and deprecates the difference even while desiring a communality of experience with others.

"I'm not so concerned about the getting-married part," she says. "It's the sticking-with-it part. And - and I sure hope so. Because a lot of us in the heat of the Movement thought we didn't need to. Thought we overcame those kind of dependencies because they were really hard.

"Really," she insists. "It is hard to be a woman and to need being with a man the way we're conditioned to need it . . . "

She leans forward with a frown, her brows closing on navy eyes. In her sand-colored jeans, with her sand-colored hair, she looks young, leonine - permanent. One cannot in fact imagine Candice Bergen getting old.

"I think maybe the longest marriage you can think of today is like a 10-year marriage, as a general thing. And I think that's really sad. But maybe with the way our lives are bombared today, the way things are telescoping - maybe that's the best you can hope for.

"I mean it's such a weird time to think about marriage.I mean since we have been born, there has been atomic weaponry, people landing on the moon, sending out cassettes with 'Jonny B. Goode' playing on them, global climates changing, transsexual operations.

"I mean if men aren't necessarily men and women, women . . . "

Her words, anxious and rushed, finally trail off.

"I mean," says Candice Bergen, "there is NOTHING reliable any more."

She chuckles to herself. "But listen. Don't make this so people jump off their roofs and kill themselves. I mean make it so there's a new set of realities.

"The old realities," says Candice Bergen very firmly "are not. The old realities are no more."