This is getting spooky. One week the cover of Newsweek offers up the shade of Richard Nixon. The next week it resurrects the specter of old maidhood. The only news from the Great Media Beyond that could terrify more readers would be an amalgam of both stories: "Richard Nixon's Back and He Wants to Marry YOU!"

The tale of the unmarrying maidens came wrapped inside a chart showing the slim prospects for any college graduate to get to the altar after age 30. A never-married 30-year-old has only a 20 percent chance of wedding. By 35, she has only a 5 percent chance. And by 40 (this is Newsweek's phrase not mine), she is "more likely to be killed by a terrorist."

Now in its second life, the study has reappeared not only in the newsweekly but in an ABC nightly news report and a Wall Street Journal front-page feature. Stop it before it kills again.

The Journal had the decency and balance to report that more men than women were still single in their thirties and likely to remain so. But collectively, the pieces did little to dispel the belief among biological clock-watchers that all the "good men" were taken. As a Berkeley sociologist told Newsweek, "When you look at men who don't marry, you're often looking at the bottom of the barrel. When you look at the women who don't marry, you're looking at the cream of the crop."

As a married woman I find that vaguely insulting, but never mind. The chart readers are too reactionary for my taste. How gleefully they warn that an uppity woman may be overqualified for the marriage market. Reach too high, young lady, and you'll end up in the stratosphere of slim pickings!

The scare stories about Success and the Single Woman don't answer the most interesting questions. They don't say, for example, whether success makes a 35-year-old woman unmarriage material or whether staying unmarried is what made her successful.

If the highest ranks of female achievers are disproportionately single, it may be because marriage has not, in general, boosted a woman's career. When a young woman marries, she's less likely to get a helpmate than a second job. The opposite has been true for men.

The sense that marriage may come with a lopsided work load has not escaped the notice of ambitious, educated young women. From what they've seen of it, marriage is more likely to siphon than save their energy. It looks like something else to manage.

Those college graduates who want careers and families -- and almost all do -- think they can solve the problem by postponing it. In the new chronology, putting first things first means putting the career first. Many figure that once their work life is launched, they can switch gears into a more wifely mode.

But I know very few careers, male or female, that get "established" and stay there, like a well-trained dog, while your attention wanders. Anyone who waits for work to settle down, waits for a placid moment to walk down an aisle, is heading for the skinny end of the chart. Marriage isn't a second career, but a relationship.

There's nothing wrong with the stretched-out life plan. I'm all in favor of growing up before hitching up. With the current divorce rates, a lot of us hope that later marriages have more sticking power.

But sooner or later a lot of unmarrieds realize they want the same things at 35 they wanted at 25, a balanced life, a marriage that offers more than a labor-intensive way of avoiding loneliness. It doesn't get any easier.

This rash of articles makes the post-30 crowd of single women sound simultaneously desperate and picky. In fact, young women no longer have to marry or burn, let alone starve. If they are as choosy as the charts suggest, it's because there are choices, even second-best choices.

Marriage, when it works, is a mutual-aid society. Two people can make life a little less rocky than one. But when it's a bust? I've got a chart that shows the highest rates of depression are among unhappily married women. It's pretty scary stuff. Somebody ought to put it on a cover.