They walk single file some by choice and some by chance. In Utah last year more than one-fourth of those who filed tax returns listed themselves as single. There were 260,518 of them to be exact.

Their marital status may or may not be the envy of their friends. (How long has it been since you heard the word "swinging" thus applied?)And singles are definitely passe in marketing circles. Marketing experts are now studying married folks. (What will they do next, those trendy couple consumers who like to stay home on Saturday nights and rent record numbers of videos and buy record amounts of microwave popcorn?)

Still, single people abound. "There are too many of us to be ignored," is the way one single man puts it. And they have something to say.

Single Utahns are full of insights as to why being single makes them happy, why it makes them sad, whether or not they like their ring finger bare and what they intend to do about it if they don't.

Here are some thoughts, selected at random, from interviews with people who were selected at random. On the subject of being single:

Scott, 31, awning installer, never married. "About being single I guess I'd have to say enough is enough.

"It's not that I have a goal to get married or that I force myself to date. I don't go out unless I happen to meet someone who appeals to me. But I know I'm missing out on all that family togetherness type stuff. The question you ought to be asking is, `What do you fill the void with?'

"Me, I fill the void with gambling and sports."

Janessa, 43, music teacher, divorced with children. "I would much rather be married. But it's not as depressing as I thought it would be. There are so many single people. Nice people.

"I've been divorced for one year - I was so devastated for the first six months I just stayed home or did things with my kids. Then I decided to set some goals: to work on my physical and emotional health and to meet new people. I've met about 200.

"Whenever I meet a new man or woman I go home and make a note of their name and something about them. I've been to more parties in the last six months than in the entire 10 years I was married.

"If the weekend is coming up and nothing is going on, my friends and I plan a party and invite everyone to bring a new person. I also go the `fireside route' (LDS church meetings) and the `Studebaker's route' (private club), even though I don't drink and many of my friends would never go there to dance because they think all the men wear gold chains and are awful.

"The last time I went to a church dance, four other women and I exchanged phone numbers and decided to call each other to go to plays or the symphony together. We were laughing because we knew the whole idea for going to the dance was to be giving our numbers to men.

"But this way, I figure when I am ready to get married I will be meeting so many people that I will just naturally meet the right man.

"Maybe all this sounds kind of superficial. But it's helping me. I'm not home thinking `poor me.' "

Fred, 40, never married. A business owner who travels frequently to Philadelphia, he has had the experience of single life in several different states, so we asked him if there is anything unique about being single in Utah.

"Being single is not as desirable as it used to be in other cities because of AIDS. There is a lot less fooling around, which is fine with me because I didn't fool around anyway.

"Utah is different from other states because there are a lot of really attractive women here who have gotten married young, had a slew of kids and have never grown anymore, intellectually or culturally.

"If you go out in the real world, they just don't compare too well. In Philadelphia I meet motivated, aggressive (and that's a problem sometimes) women. Here I've dated women who have never been out of the state except to go to California. I mean, what does an airplane ticket to New York cost, $225? Why don't they go someplace, see something, expand themselves?

"Here's an example: I was dating this girl who said, `I can see why you're single, you travel so much. It wouldn't work for you to be married because you'd have to be spending more time at home, seeing your kids every day.'

"And I said, `No, that's the kind of marriage you'd have to have. I'm looking for someone who is more independent who wouldn't need me to be home every day.'

"I'd like to marry a Mormon, but I can't find one I have anything in common with except religion. So I end up having to date nonmembers even when I'm here in Salt Lake City, and it sort of makes me mad. I don't even go to singles wards anymore. I'm tired of them.

"Realistically everybody is searching for someone to have a relationship with. People who sit on the other side of the car from me and say they love being single don't fool me for a minute."

Brooke, 45, secretary, divorced with children: "I never thought much about single people, until I got a divorce. I only had one friend who was single. When I was married I lived in my own world."

Jim, 39, an engineer, divorced with children. "I enjoy being single. You have fun where you make it. Oh, I get a little lonely and sometimes when I take my kids home on Sunday night and I'm driving back alone, I feel like I'm missing out on something. But usually I'm very happy."

Mary Ann, 34, nurse, never married. "I'd like to be married. At the age I'm at I find it real hard to meet people. One reason I quit hospital work is you are working when everyone else is playing - I didn't want to give up on social life.

"Doing things with married friends is touchy. I sometimes think the unmarried women in my ward are kind of invisible. But then when I am invited to do something with the couples after a meeting I don't usually go because I don't want to feel like a fifth wheel. So more often than not we single women probably make ourselves feel out of place."

Tiffany, 40s, secretary, never married. "I'm from England where there's not as great an emphasis on marriage as there is here. After I came to Utah 21 years ago, I got a funny feeling that I should be married.

"I used to think I had to have a man to take care of me, but my gosh, I've learned men aren't towers of strength. I used to feel an awful great depression. I've seen this in the women I work with; some of them are desperate to get married and think they are worth nothing without a man. Well, I went to counseling and now I wish I could have had this attitude years ago, because I am very happy with my life.

"I have friends - and if you are my friend you are my lifetime friend. I have children in my life because I teach Primary. I am single because I choose to be single. I'm not against marriage, but I'm not out actively looking for a husband. I think it's degrading to go to a singles dance and be looked over, so I don't go. I feel quite comfortable, quite safe, satisfied.

"You know, if you can't be happy single you will not be happy married."

Al, 43, investment specialist, divorced with children. "I'm not ostracized or admired for being single. It's just a state of being. Sometimes when you are having a bad day you think it's because you are single. You forget you had bad days when you were married, too.

"Most of my friends are single, but I do things with couples, too. And I still have some friends from the days when I was married. Not many. That's because divorce changes people. I changed. They didn't change their attitude toward me.

"But being single doesn't mean you don't have a social life with married people. Two of my best friends are a couple I met through a woman I used to date. The woman was her best friend. The three of us have stayed close and go on ski vacations together.

"I've been divorced for eight years; some days I'll ask myself if I am ever going to get married again. I would like to think I am going to find someone that I care enough about and cares enough about me that we are going to end up together."

Broc, 29, commercial real estate agent, never married. "I want to marry someone who's never been married before. I was engaged to a woman who had children, and I couldn't handle instant fatherhood.

"Plus I think I want to explore marriage without having one partner having done it before. Her being the teacher. Me, the pupil.

"I know I will get married. But when is an issue. You have to learn to be patient, to persevere, to find new relationships. Sometimes you get sick of the whole dating thing and have to hang back for a while. But then you realize that you probably feel that way because you are dating the wrong people.

"I'm in a singles ward that is very active and has a high quality of people. There's a lot of opportunity.

"I have a friend who just moved back to Utah. He finds it a lot more productive to be single in Salt Lake than Chicago.

"Now we are both dating three or four girls from the same ward. He is actually dating three who live on the same street. That's awkward, and we didn't know if it was a good thing to do. He and I talked about it. We decided, `Hey, it's OK to just date whoever you want.'

"You do have to be low key. There's a certain amount of secretiveness because you don't want to get coupled with one woman in everyone's mind. You try not to walk into a party together.

"And there is pressure. There are sexual pressures if you are a Mormon. You keep wondering, `How long is this going to take?' My parents have backed off. They realize that I am dating and I do have a goal to get married.

"But it's also definitely an enjoyable lifestyle. You have no economic worries.

"You do have insecurities and you wish you had someone to share your life with."