She is going to get married.

This is not an announcement, you understand. It is, rather, her statement of intent. The poet has honorable intentions.

In fact, she has been going to get married for years now, almost since her divorce. Often across the telephone line that connects one coast and one life to another, the poet has talked out loud to the journalist about singleness as if she were a transient, somehow awkwardly living "between" marriages.

Tonight she says: "If things work out, we'll get married."

The journalist asks her, "Shall I call the caterer?" and they both laugh through the transcontinental echo. You see, they have been here before.

The poet has said three times in six years, "If things work out, we'll get married." The man in her plural has changed. But not her goal . . . and not her single status.

So, with a sigh of self-recognition, she tells the journalist, "Don't buy a dress yet." There is a pause, while the two friends think in tandem.

The poet is the same skeptic who once wrote a rhyme about the headlines that range like graffiti over wedding announcemnts.: "Woman Has Nuptials." They sound, she said, like parts of the anatomy.

Moreoever, this woman has not lived like those emotional migrants who set up tents, desperately trying to end their refugee life. She has rested with her children and her life quite comfortably.

The poet knows the difference between the times you have to compromise and the times when you are compromised. She won't discount her needs to bargain in the marriage market.

Nevertheless, she is a single woman committed to the ideal marriage. She is going on and on, defying the telephone company, which promised them economy at night rates.

The journalist is not at all sure that her friend wants to mate again and tells her so. There are times she thinks the poet is merely appeasing the gods of her upbringing by assuring them that she, too, wants what she was taught to want. She wonders if the poet is making a bargain -- a promise to remarry in the future in return for living as she chooses in the present.

The poet wonders, too. She sees marriage as the question that demands to be answered, even though she knows from experience and observation that it may answer very little.

She knows that marriage carries a weight of its own in our world. If divorce is the context in which we live out our fragile marriages, marriage is the state against which people judge our non-marriages.

It may be all quite mad, says the poet, but marriage is simple there. It is hard, she says, to be unaffected by its powerful presence.

The poet reminds her friend of the times they have told each other, "Everyone we know either gets married or splits." Perhaps it is true; perhaps it is a truism. But it carries with it a self-fulfilling anxiety.

There is just no way to ignore it, says the poet.

The parents of her students get nervous when the children who are living together "pre-maritally" show no signs of marrying. Her sister asks about her newest love, "How serious is it?" Only marriage is "serious." Every other relationship is, by our social definitions, one that "hasn't worked out yet."

The poet and the journalist have known men who matter more to them than those they were related to by titles. But society takes titles more "seriously" than feelings. An older friend of theirs loved a woman. But when she died, he had no place to mourn. He was not, you see, a widower.

It is odd, living in the State of Flux, with marriages ending in divorces ending in remarriages. No one knows whether the constant is togetherness or aloneness.

The poet on the West Coast believes in the possibility of polishing and perfecting. The journalist on the East Coast believes this: if it is working, don't fix it.

They both see the way the Marriage Issue turns a couple into a menage a trois: she and he and The Question. The journalist tries to ignore it, which may be absurb. The poet tries to accept it, which may be equally absurd.

Later, after they have spent their budgets and their insights over this long distance, the journalist thinks about her friend's last words: "There is something in me that believes marriage is a more complete commitment. When I look at married people, I don't see it often, yet I keep believing it. What do you do with that?"

Maybe what you do is plan to get married. When, of course, "everything" works out.