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About six months after my son was born, he and I were sitting on a blanket at the park with a close friend and her daughter.

It was a sunny summer weekend, and other parents and their kids picnicked nearby—mothers munching berries and lounging on the grass, fathers tossing balls with their giddy toddlers.

In fact, take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you’re not worried, because you’ll see how silly your face looks when you’re being disingenuous. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling “Bravo! Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics.

Whether you acknowledge it or not, there’s good reason to worry. The birthday girl smiles a bit too widely as she delivers these lines, and everyone laughs a little too hard for a little too long, not because we find these sentiments funny, but because we’re awkwardly acknowledging how unfunny they are. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go.

In fact, it took not settling to make me realize that settling is the better option, and even though settling is a rampant phenomenon, talking about it in a positive light makes people profoundly uncomfortable.

By the time 35th-birthday-brunch celebrations roll around for still-single women, serious, irreversible life issues masquerading as “jokes” creep into public conversation: Well, I don’t feel old, but my eggs sure do! At their core, they pose one of the most complicated, painful, and pervasive dilemmas many single women are forced to grapple with nowadays: Is it better to be alone, or to settle? Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year.

(It’s hard to maintain that level of zing when the conversation morphs into discussions about who’s changing the diapers or balancing the checkbook.)Obviously, I wasn’t always an advocate of settling.

My friend and I, who, in fits of self-empowerment, had conceived our babies with donor sperm because we hadn’t met Mr.Right yet, surveyed the idyllic scene.“Ah, this is the dream,” I said, and we nodded in silence for a minute, then burst out laughing.In some ways, I meant it: we’d both dreamed of motherhood, and here we were, picnicking in the park with our children. The dream, like that of our mothers and their mothers from time immemorial, was to fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after.Of course, we’d be loath to admit it in this day and age, but ask any soul-baring 40-year-old single heterosexual woman what she most longs for in life, and she probably won’t tell you it’s a better career or a smaller waistline or a bigger apartment.And despite growing up in an era when the centuries-old mantra to get married young was finally (and, it seemed, refreshingly) replaced by encouragement to postpone that milestone in pursuit of high ideals (education! Oh, I know—I’m guessing there are single 30-year-old women reading this right now who will be writing letters to the editor to say that the women I know aren’t widely representative, that I’ve been co-opted by the cult of the feminist backlash, and basically, that I have no idea what I’m talking about.

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And all I can say is, if you say you’re not worried, either you’re in denial or you’re lying.

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