KITTY WANTS TO KNOW where her husband is. It's getting late. No, she means really, really late. Kitty is starting to think maybe her husband died in Vietnam.

It's plausible: The man she was supposed to meet and marry is dead. She doesn't know what else to think anymore.

She is 42. She wants a husband.

She has a career, she has a closet full of size 8 Donna Karan suits, she has a condo in Arlington, she has a dog. She is not embarrassed to admit that she wants to be married, although she'd be the first to acknowledge that this desire marks her with a certain stigma. She is bored with the debate. Blah, blah, blah and no, she doesn't need a man to complete her life. She has a very full and happy life. She wants to share it with someone. Why should that be such an unworthy ambition?

She's pretty. She's fit. She's funny. She's smart. She's the kind of woman who is always hearing: "I can't believe you're not married. You must turn down proposals every day."

But Kitty has never gotten a marriage proposal. Not one. She thinks: Is something wrong?

In high school, a private school, they didn't talk about becoming a wife. They didn't even offer home ec. They had you sit through Latin because it would help you get into med school or law school. That was the direction. This was the '70s. This was a time for women to make strides.

In college she fell in love. After graduation, they moved in together, and for the first time she started thinking about what it would be like to be married. As the years passed, she waited for the proposal. Maybe this Christmas, she would think, or maybe her birthday. He knew she wanted the ring. He would say, Someday. She didn't push, didn't obsess. It was the '80s and, really, was this what a woman should be thinking about?

Ten years went by. She was still with him. She held him when he tried to understand the news: His parents had died in a plane crash. He inherited great wealth. He nearly lost his mind trying to understand all that. He went to a college reunion, met up with an old flame. He came home to Kitty and said, I'm marrying her, not you.

She was 30. She was resourceful. She applied to law school, got accepted at Georgetown and flew through. She became an intellectual property lawyer, earned a ton of money. She fell in love again, felt it even more strongly than before. She was with him five years, waiting for the proposal. Then she discovered something: Quite by accident she discovered that he'd been cheating on her the whole time, sleeping with his best friend's sister. "I hate you," she said. She was turning 41.

She gave her heart six months to heal, and then met a sweet young man. He was just 27. They enjoyed each other. He had a 5-year-old daughter, and Kitty fell for her, too. She'd never known how much fun it was to sit around on a Saturday and help a little girl drip cupcake batter into paper cups. She thought of marrying this man. She would have done it. But after six months he called to say: I just don't feel enough passion to marry you. She sighed. She said okay. But when he kept calling to say, I miss you, I need you, but I can't marry you, she had to say no.

She placed an ad on the Internet for a man closer to her own age and got 500 responses. It's the '90s, and this is how it is done. She answered ads, too. She met one of the guys last night. They had a good time. She worries he won't call. She sent him an e-mail thanking him for a nice evening. She wonders if that was too forward. She doesn't want to come off as a person desperate to get married, a woman with nose prints on the window of the Vera Wang bridal boutique.

For all of her licks, she is not a bitter woman. She is not a woman who hates men. She isn't depressed. She isn't pathetic. She isn't needy. She isn't a snob. She's the kind of woman who is always hearing: "I can't believe you're not married." She thinks she is the only woman in the world hearing this, but really everyone knows at least one.

People say: Maybe you intimidate men. Maybe you're too pretty, too smart, too accomplished, too interesting, too independent. Maybe you're not needy enough. People say all sorts of things, as if her personality were some kind of hairstyle she could untangle and redo.

But she likes her hairstyle just fine.

She thinks about her husband on Sunday mornings, when she is reading the paper.

She thinks about discussing a book review, and hearing him share a funny line from a comic. She thinks maybe he'll take the dog out for a walk today, or maybe they'll go together.

She wonders what he wants for dinner. She wonders where he is. She doesn't think he's on the Internet. She hopes he didn't die in Vietnam. She wonders if she'll recognize him when he comes along.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is laskasmail@aol.com.