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True Love (and Other Lies)

Chapter 1

At the advanced age of thirty-two, I've learned enough about the
world to have developed a well-established set of personal rules by
which I live my life. Here is the first one: The whole concept of a
One True Love Who Completes Your Soul is total bullshit.

I don't mean love in general, of course --- I love my parents, my
sister, a few assorted friends, and Churchill, the English bulldog
I had when I was growing up. I'm talking about the fairy-tale,
Prince Charming, marriage-as-a-happy-ending, love- at-first-sight
kind of thing. As far as I'm concerned, that's a brand of snake oil
concocted by the online dating and wedding industries for the sole
purpose of bilking millions of unsuspecting women out of their
hard-earned money. Maybe it's because I don't have any role models
to look to who've actually sustained long-term love, much less
successful marriages. My parents, and most of my friends' parents,
were of the generation who believed strongly in the power of
divorce and remarriage as an alternative to buying a sports car
when in the midst of a midlife crisis.

You could call me cynical, or jaded, or even a little bitter, and I
wouldn't argue with you. It's not as though I arrived at my
philosophy on love when I was thirteen and still thought I was
going to marry the lead singer of Duran Duran. No, it took years
and years of bad dates, horrible setups, and one real bastard of an
ex-boyfriend for me to come to my senses.

Which is why I never imagined I would meet someone on an airplane.
I mean, how random would that be? After all, in real life, lovers
are not brought together by a quirk of fate, or by some random act
that realigns the universe; most people who get together meet
through friends, or work, or something equally mundane. Those
syrupy tales of two halves of one heart reuniting are just
Hollywood fairy tales, usually starring Meg Ryan, and marketed to
women in my age, gender, and marital-status demographic. But I have
always refused to buy into the hype, just as I refuse to transform
my pin-straight hair into Meg's adorably scruffy, Sally
Hershberger–designed coif. So when I boarded the American
Airlines flight from New York to London, my battered old knapsack
slung over my shoulder (I never can pull off that glamorous
world-traveler look --- really, I'm only one small, scary step from
completely throwing away my dignity and embracing the butt pack),
the last thing I was expecting was romance. In fact, I was fully
prepared for a boring, six-hour trip full of bad food and
uncomfortable seats, and --- if experience was any guide --- a
small child sitting behind me, screaming the whole way.

I snagged a window seat, and was glad that I only had to share one
armrest. I had desperately hoped to get upgraded to business class
--- that Shangri-la for travelers, with its cushy seats, free
drinks, and plentiful armrests --- but the same grouchy airline
employee who wouldn't give me a seat in the emergency-exit row
certainly had no interest whatsoever in upgrading me (he'd been far
more accommodating to the Ricky Martin look-alike who'd been ahead
of me in line, I'd noted). I was relieved when a middle-aged woman
wearing a pashmina shawl and carrying a thick paperback sat in the
empty seat next to me. I usually get seated next to obese men who
have personal odor problems and who snore so loudly they actually
drown out the roar of the jet engines. This woman tended in the
other direction --- as thin as a greyhound and marinated in
Obsession perfume --- but still, a definite improvement. Or so I

Shortly after takeoff, the woman began twisting around to whine to
her husband, who was sitting directly behind her, about how her
back was hurting her and why couldn't the airlines provide
orthopedic pillows, and how could he not have remembered to pack
his blue jacket, and why hadn't the airline honored her request to
sit next to an empty seat so she could stretch out during the
flight, and had she known they were going to stick someone next to
her, she would have rather sat with her husband. Considering her
tone, her husband's weary answers, and the fact that every time the
woman turned around she knocked me in the side with her pointy
little elbow, I was starting to suspect that the husband had lucked
out by not having to sit next to her. It was probably the first
peace and quiet he'd had since marrying her (not that she showed
any intention of leaving him alone to enjoy it). On her third
go-round, this time lodging a complaint on the too-cold temperature
of the airplane, I heard the man sitting behind me offer to trade
places with her so that she and her husband could sit

"Oh, thank you. We would have booked our seats together, but I was
supposed to have an empty seat next to me. But then they sat this
woman here," she said, her voice laced with self-righteous
indignation, as she shot me a dirty look.

I returned her dirty look --- a skill I could win a gold medal in
--- and Mrs. Pointy Elbow was properly chastened . . . or scared, I
actually couldn't tell which, as I've been told that my signature
dirty look is quite intimidating. I base it on a combination of
Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men ("You can't handle the truth!")
and Hillary Clinton when she thinks no one is watching her, with
just a hint of Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry thrown in for some
color. In any event, Mrs. Pointy Elbow averted her eyes and stopped
complaining --- for the moment --- and turned her attention to
collecting her things. It took her a while, a laborious process of
gathering her book and newspaper and purse and pillow and blanket
together, all while this guy was standing in the aisle, waiting
patiently for her to finally clear out of what was now his

To my surprise, the guy was cute, in a scruffy sort of way. I
hadn't noticed him in the airport lounge when we were waiting to
board, but then he wasn't exactly a head-turner. He was tall and
lanky, although not skinny, thank God (I can't deal with men who
have thinner thighs than I do). He had a long, angular face, shaggy
dark blond hair in need of a trim, and his too-long nose was
slightly crooked, as if it had never been properly set after being
broken. From the barely noticeable lines fanning out from the
corners of his eyes, I guessed his age to be about thirty-six or
-seven --- definitely on my side of forty. It wasn't until he
smiled at the woman as she thanked him for changing seats with her
that I was struck by how appealing he was --- his smile lit up his
whole face, his grin open and genuine, his eyes crinkling
pleasantly. And I don't normally go for blond men --- there's
something too California-ish, too frat-rat about them, too much
like Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But this guy was
more Owen Wilson than Sean Penn.

And his considerable height was a definite plus. Men who are
shorter than I am face automatic elimination under the rules set
forth in the Official Claire Spencer Dating Handbook. It's not that
I'm prejudiced against petite men --- it's just that the last time
I went out with one of them, my date spent the evening saying
things like "Wow, you're a lot of woman, aren't you," and then
challenged me to an arm-wrestling competition over dinner. Around
the time I turned twenty-five --- about the same point I stopped
slouching in a misguided attempt to appear dainty --- I decided
that I would no longer date short men, and this policy has saved me
an enormous amount of humiliation. Now I only have to deal with my
good friend Max Levy, who doesn't reach five foot six in his cowboy
boots, and who is always trying to get me to dance with him so that
he can act out the scene in Sixteen Candles where Long Duck Dong
rests his head on the massive bosom of his "sexy American
girlfriend." Needless to say, I don't find this nearly as funny as
he does.

My new seatmate folded his long frame into the seat next to mine,
slouching down like a teenager, and, to my complete humiliation,
caught me checking him out.

"Looks like we're stuck together," he said while smiling pleasantly
at me.

"Hmmm," I said, and to cover for my previous ogling, gave him a
polite, dismissive smile, before hiding behind my copy of Elle

But he wasn't put off. "I'm Jack," he said, holding his hand out

"Claire," I replied, taking his hand.

It was awkward to shake hands in the narrow space, but actually I
was secretly pleased at the attention. Even though I don't believe
in the One True Love thing, I'm not against a little harmless
flirting now and then --- it's all a matter of controlling your
expectations. I did wish that I'd dressed in something a little
more glamorous than my favorite jeans and a black turtleneck
sweater, and that I'd worn my contact lenses instead of my
horn-rimmed glasses, but I'd been hoping to catch a little sleep on
the plane, and so had dressed for comfort, not for a date. At least
my hair was clean, and freshly blown out, and I was reasonably sure
that my makeup was still intact.

Oh God, what am I doing? Don't even think about it, I told myself.
I'm sure I'm not his type. He's all preppy and outdoorsy looking,
and he probably goes for skinny women who like to run marathons and
go camping. Certainly not someone like me.

Because the thing is, I'm big. Big. I'm very tall for a woman, five
feet ten inches from head to toe, and hardly fall into the current
beauty ideal of being Gwyneth Paltrow thin. I'm big all over ---
big arms, big hands, big feet, big boobs, big hips, and one of my
thighs is probably about the same size as Gwynnie's entire body.
It's not that I'm fat, really --- in fact, through rigorous gym
sessions, I'm at a healthy weight, even if I'm not about to go
parading around in public in a bikini. And although I've definitely
grown to be comfortable with my body --- well, more comfortable,
anyway --- it's still hard to live in a culture where the last two
full-figured women to achieve prominence were Monica Lewinsky and
Anna Nicole Smith. There are guys out there who have a thing for
fuller-figured women, but since there are also fetishists of toe
licking and underwear sniffing, this was not necessarily a
reassuring thought.

I pretended to go back to reading my magazine, while Jack turned
his attention to what looked like paperwork he'd retrieved from his
briefcase. It wasn't until the dinner service arrived, and we were
offered our choice between a seafood dish of some sort and chicken
with pasta, that Jack packed up his files and stuck them in the
storage pocket in front of him.

"I think I'll have to go with the chicken. How about you?" he

Excerpted from TRUE LOVE (and Other Lies) © Copyright 2004
by Whitney Gaskell. Reprinted with permission by Bantam, a division
of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

True Love (and Other Lies)
by by Whitney Gaskell

  • Genres: Chick Lit, Fiction
  • paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 055338225X
  • ISBN-13: 9780755344581