My friend Cassie is the sort of trendsetter they ought to hire over at People magazine. Ever since she was 18, she's been a year or two ahead of the times.

When everyone else arrived at college with Villager blouses and circle pins that had to be discarded by Thanksgiving, Cassie came with black turtlenecked sweaters and tights. Cassie was married before anyone else - and divorced before anyone else. She had a Cuisinart and a schefflera when everyone else had a crepe pan and a philodendrum.

For these and other reason, people have always thought of Cassie as an individualist, an eccentric. She however, has always described herself as a premature conformist. She thinks of herself as someone who is following the crowd, but arriving a bit earlier.

Anyway, about a year ago, Cassie moved out of the last in a series of Meaningful Relationships and announced that she was now Into Being Alone. At the time, we both happily assumed that, at long last, Cassie was finding her own independent way through the world.

But the fact of the matter is that, once again, she was just a bit ahead of things. This year, everyone who is anyone is Into Being Alone. People who were formerly "lonely." People who were previously "looking for the right relationship." People who were In Transition. Even people who were swinging singles. They are all Into being Alone.

I am now quite convinced that Being Into Being Alone is this year's Alternative Lifestyle, having replaced Communes, the Soil and Living Together. Alternative Lifestyles, the emotional fly-drive packages of our times, come equipped with a set of clothes, a choice of authors, a limited menu of sports and a discount coupon book of cliches.

In the last six months, I have heard more cliches about how to savor aloneness than how to save togetherness. There was one article that told me I don't need a date in order to wash my hair, and another that assured me I don't need a mate in order to cook a three-course dinner. Meanwhile, I keep reading about the Challenge of Living Alone as if a studio apartment in the city were three weeks on a rock with Outward Bound.

I do understand why some people prefer their own company. When you live alone, you can be sure that the person who squeezed the toothpaste tube in the middle wasn't committing a hostile act.

The people who are new in the alone business, after years of being mated, are fascinated to find out exactly what they choose to do now that they aren't compromising. After a decade of Aspen and prime time, they may discover that they don't like skiing or television. They may find that they really prefer Russian dressing, not Italian, and like to keep the air conditioner on medium rather than high.

As for the people who've lived alone for years and liked it, a touch of Along Pride is good for the ego.

But the problem is overkill. These Aloners remind me of the aggressive non-parent organizations that keep defending themselves after everyone has stopped attacking. They seem to go from espousing living alone as an option to extolling it as a positive choice to criticizing those who "need" other people: "What's wrong with them? Aren't they strong enough to be their own best friend?"

Eventually, those who are Into Being Alone limit themselves. To one. They learn that they deserve to cook a steak for themselves. They learn that they aren't lonely in a bubble bath. They learn that they can live alone. But they run out of material. They risk being permanently left with the only person they don't have to reach out to touch.

There is, however, hope. My friend Cassie says that this Lifestyle usually lasts only a year. Eventually the fascination with the details of living alone - my key, my door, my refrigerator - beings to pale.

What happens next? I'm not sure. But Cassie, who is my Jeanne Dixon about these matters, confided something to me last week. She's now Into Making a Commitment.