'The Modern Girl's Guide to Sticky Situations,' by Jane Buckingham

If you're getting to the point in your life where you're really beginning to panic, I offer a few pieces of advice -- and remember, there are whole tomes devoted to this subject. First, do not -- I repeat, do not -- set out just to get married. Decide what's important to you. Do you want to have a child? Be with someone? Have a full set of china and crystal in your cupboard? If it's the last, forget the manhunt -- throw yourself a big birthday party and tell everyone it's your birthday wedding and you've registered so they can buy you your dream gifts. Trust me, far easier than finding a guy who may turn out to be Mr. Wrong. If you want a child more than a partner, think about whether you're ready to raise a child on your own and what that would mean to your lifestyle.

That's no more nightly trips to the gym, no more sleeping in on Sundays. Do you want a baby because everyone else has one or because you think you should? Studies have shown that children don't actually make your life happier. I would suggest they make your life fuller, but if you want this for any reason other than desperately wanting to care for a child (not dress up a child), then don't do it.

But if you truly long to fall in love and settle down, then let's think about that. Has something been holding you back? Look at the past few years. Has there been a pattern to your relationships? Have you even made time to have a relationship? Are you waiting for Mr. Perfect to swan in, à la Pretty Woman? Because let's not forget: She was actually a hooker!

It's time to be realistic. To have a great relationship, you need to work at it! Work harder at it than you have at any job. That does not mean you need to do everything for your man, but it does mean you should look at things from his perspective.

Does he have a hobby you might enjoy trying out? If you aren't really a cook, maybe now's the time to give it a shot -- for example, with the step-by-step man-friendly recipes on thepioneerwoman.com. (With millions of readers, four children, and a happy marriage, she must be doing something right!)

Other practical strategies:

• Go beyond your traditional circle of people to find men. I know you've heard this advice, but you have to do it. Men do not rain from the sky (typically).

• Do some soul searching about what you want in a man, as opposed to what you think you should want in a man . . . because they're often two different things. It's not about meeting your best friend's or your mom's expectations -- it's about meeting yours.

• Put your best foot, and face, forward. You may expect this date to be a dud, but always look your best. That doesn't mean layers of makeup, but even at the Laundromat you may meet that certain someone, and looking a little spiffy can give you the confidence you need to ask to borrow a quarter.

• Go out with the guys, not always the girls! If you go out with a pack of girls, you might lose the chance to connect with your Mr. Wonderful. Let your best guy friends go out on the hunt with you.

• Once you find someone, don't overthink it, and don't assume this is the one! Nothing is worse for a man than feeling as if he has to ask for your hand by the end of date three. Relax, have fun, and give your relationship time to see if it works.

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