Chilling Process: Unexpected love


Our culture is obsessed with love. Yet it seems so elusive and frustrating because it isn’t something we can buy online or watch on-demand. We certainly can’t will it to happen. True love, it seems, appears when we’re not really looking for it.

When love found me I didn’t have my life in order. I didn’t know what my life was going to be like in the next six months, let alone the next week. But for the first time in years I felt OK not knowing. I had just left a week-long retreat doing the Hoffman Process which helped me to release a lot of old resentment and anger at my parents.

For those of you who wondering, the Hoffman Process is a week-long retreat where you are guided through experiences designed to help you become aware of unhealthy patterns that were often handed down to you, subconsciously, from your parents. These patterns are the beliefs and behaviors that shape our worldview in our formative years.  And during that time these beliefs and behaviors are often quite effective; they get the job done. But as adults they can sabotage our happiness and compel us to act in a manner that goes against our best interests.

The months leading up to this retreat I was in the lowest place I had ever been. I felt like my old identity as a touring musician didn’t fit anymore, but I was terrified to let go of it. I was living alone, isolated, in a small town in Colorado where I didn’t know anyone. I felt like my life was stalled out and I was doomed to live out the rest of my days in that snow-capped purgatory. I started to see a Naropa-trained therapist and, incredibly, begin to see myself a bit more clearly.  It was a painful process. It was true that I had been anxious and depressed for years and years.  But actually sitting with those feelings and bringing my full conscious focus on them was, in some ways, even more painful than when I just tried to escape them through beer, sex, and the endless treadmill of external success and achievement.

One day, about six months into seeing my therapist, she mentioned The Hoffman Process. Apparently her whole family had done it, and were closer than ever. This hit me like a ton of bricks: you mean there are families that do things together and don’t avoid each other? I knew that whatever the Hoffman Process was, I wanted to do it…after reading every website I could find to make sure it wasn’t a crazy cult led by a smiling (or non-smiling) “guru.”

Going through the process helped me gain perspective on old behaviors and beliefs that no longer served me as an adult, like how I often pursued women who weren’t interested in me while ignoring the ones who were, or how I tried to befriend people who didn’t respect me and, in some cases, didn’t even seem to like who I am at a fundamental level. Good times!

Every relationship taught me something new about myself, and I was feeling grateful as I moved back to Los Angeles and found a little studio at an apartment complex in the hills of Los Feliz, which literally means “The Happy People”. I was sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag, feeling content with having nothing, when an old friend called me up. He was in town for business and wanted to meet at a bar. I felt a pang of resistance; why bother going out and risk letting the real world harsh my “life buzz”?  I’m traditionally a light-weight and was starting to realize, after a decade of hangovers-from-hell, that I don’t even like alcohol. And my friend, whom I love, was a notorious party animal.

There was a short internal battle: on the one hand, I didn’t want to get drunk. But on the other, I felt more inclined than ever to say “yes” and just go with the flow. Not to mention that I quickly remembered the one bar I actually enjoy going to in Los Angeles: Good Times At Davey Wayne’s. It’s a cool space that’s been designed to look like a basement in a Midwest rambler from the 70’s. They play classic rock and sometimes have roller-skaters on a plexiglass roof in the outdoor patio. I texted my friend back and sent him the address. He would meet me there.

It was late afternoon – around 4 o’clock – when I arrived at the entrance, a shallow alleyway that ends at a refrigerator set against the wall. I opened the fridge, stepped through, and entered the hidden passage which leads into the bar.

My friend was already at a table with beers. We hugged and caught up.  About a half hour later a cute young lady walked by and said “Hi” since we were pretty much the only people in the room. We enthusiastically offered her a seat our table while she waited for her friend. She agreed.  Maybe she was in a “yes” phase too.

She was funny, smart, friendly, and very cute and we hit it off right away. She showed me her paintings and graphic design work. We laughed and joked around as time stood still. My friend, who is a mensch, took our flirting in stride and continued ordering drinks while I scooted closer to this very cool lady.  Everything was going great; it was the perfect start to my new life.

Naturally, I asked for her number.

And besides, I trusted something about her. She wasn’t your run-of-the-mill rando you meet at a bar. She was really, really cool.  For example, she had all of the emotional intelligence I had just spent six months with a therapist, a week of the Hoffman Process and a cross-country move trying to acquire. Also, she was pretty.  And so, I trusted myself. She gave me her number and told me that she had the next day, Friday, off. She had to drop off some books in the morning so I could meet her at the Atwater Village Library if that worked? “Yes!”, I said, a little too eagerly.  Considering I had no job, no direction, and barely even a bed, I was pretty free…Here I was, making those bold choices that successful people make.

Soon her friend showed up and my friend bought everyone drinks. I was on a higher high than before. I had plans with a woman who seemed to like me.  Life seemed to be pretty great when you trusted yourself. Who knew?  

That was when the bomb dropped: “I have to tell you something. I have a boyfriend.”  


I smiled awkwardly.

She quickly qualified their relationship; it was relatively new. It was a rebound, etc. And since I was essentially starting over in LA, I gulped back my disappointment and told her I would be fine just making a new friend.

The next morning I met her outside the library because disappointment doesn’t outweigh hope. I brought her fruit from Lassens. We sat and chatted while we waited for the library to open. For a second, I felt my old pattern of second-guessing good things rise up as I silently questioned the reason I was there. Was I just being overly excited and entertaining wishful thinking by pursuing someone I had connected with briefly at a bar? “You can’t meet anyone decent at a bar” my brain told me. As we chatted I felt my old patterns of being distrustful come creeping back. I felt myself withdrawing a little bit, constricting, and preparing for the worst. But the strangest thing happened – I found myself aware of these patterns as they were happening, and I could feel them creating a sensation of sadness and even nauseousness inside of myself. I was making myself feel sad while I sat with a really cool person on a nice day: the story of my life!  I realized, then and there, that throughout my life I had been the one making myself feel bad when ostensibly “amazing” things were happening. My brain loves to judge.

Luckily, this sweet lady made me feel at ease like no one had ever done before. I felt like I could be myself around her, and as we chatted and joked, I felt myself relax and reconnect. The library opened and we went in. The enforced quiet made us even more giggly and soon we were laughing loudly together making inappropriate librarian jokes. It was clear we enjoyed the same dark sense of humor.

Outside the library we agreed that we should grab coffee so we drove to Cafe De Leche in Highland park and sat outside. I found myself telling her stories that I had never told anyone. Like the time during Freshman-year cross country practice when I shit my shorts in the middle of a long run and had to duck-walk down a Twin Bluff Middle School hallway to the boy’s locker room.

For whatever reason, I wanted this beautiful woman across from me to know everything. All the imperfections. All the gross stories. I told her everything. And she just laughed. I felt fearless to reveal myself, and it felt incredible to be seen and accepted. After coffee we went to Echo Park Lake and sat near the fountain. It was clear we both liked each other. We both felt like we had met the person who gets us. And soon, we were kissing.

After leaving the park I was, clearly, on Cloud Nine. The world seemed perfect. I felt happy and glowing and I drove out to Venice where I met a friend and started recounting everything that had happened in the last 24 hours. But there was clearly one little issue, and it stood out to me when I got to the “she has a boyfriend” part.

Fuck. How could I be so stupid? As I got in my car to drive home, I felt the growing sensation of anger fill my body. It was anger at myself. Anger that I was getting excited and allowing myself to entertain romantic feelings when this other person was technically unavailable. In the past I would have ignored the red flag and tried to rationalize it, but no longer. I knew that I couldn’t proceed with this woman even though I felt, potentially, that she was “the one”. It was a terrible feeling – the cognitive dissonance between a feeling that love was within my grasp, yet also knowing that it was unavailable and unhealthy to pursue.

I texted her and let her know that I couldn’t see her until she was single. Hardest text of my life.  But for the first time it felt like I was respecting myself and putting up a boundary. I was saying “no” to my brain’s desire for immediate gratification and saying “yes” to my long-term stability and need for healthy relationships. She immediately got back to me and agreed and said that she respected my wishes and would do the same thing if she was in my shoes and I had a girlfriend. ARGH! Why was she so cool? It made it way more difficult to put up a boundary when she was so respectful and understanding.

I went home and started looking at her pictures on Instagram, which obviously didn’t help, so I unfollowed her on Instagram.  I was distraught. I threw up in the toilet. I felt physically sick. My heart hurt, because some part of me knew that meeting a kindred spirit rarely happens, while another part of me knew that I was doing the right thing. Or was I? I was so confused. Was I supposed to “say yes” to life, or was I supposed to put up healthy boundaries and respect myself? How does one tell the difference?  This definitely was not covered in my months-long soul-searching escapade. As my thoughts whirred around my brain like a blender, I re-followed her on Instagram.

I woke up to a message within the app: “Did you unfollow and then re-follow me?” Yeah. I admitted I had. But luckily she thought it was as funny and stupid a move as it actually was, and we started texting back and forth. I called her and we talked for a while, mostly about a video clip she had sent me from a reality show called “Freaky Eaters” where a woman could only eat Cheesy Potatoes. We agreed that although we seemed to get along well and we liked each other, it was best to not interact until she was single. Luckily, I was flying to Minnesota that day, so I would be free of the temptation to break down and try to see her.

While I was in MN, however, she let me know that she had decided to break up with her boyfriend so we could see what happens. We continued to text and talk all weekend, and true to her word, two days later, she had broken up with her boyfriend and was single. She picked me up when I got back to Los Angeles and we’ve been inseparable since.

When I’m with her, I feel free to be myself. I am totally accepted and loved. I’m encouraged to be the very best version of myself that I can be. I felt that from the moment I met her, but if I hadn’t put up a boundary and if she hadn’t left her boyfriend it most likely would have never worked out. It feels like a miracle. And I’m certain that it was only possible once I began the process of loving and accepting myself as well as releasing all the people and elements from my life that were as negative and critical of  me as I was of myself. Love is everywhere, but we are the only ones that can remove the barriers to love that exist within ourselves.

At least that’s how I explain the story of how I found my best friend, the woman I’m engaged to, on the other side of a refrigerator in a Hollywood bar.

Paul Sprangers
Paul is a TV writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and two bunnies. He was the co-founder of internationally-touring rock band Free Energy and the founder of the vegan jerky company Power Plant. Paul loves meditating, reading about metaphysics, and cryptocurrencies.


  1. This is a wonderful story of a natural order that is brazenly transparent and a powerful suggestion of how we should all look at life. The concept of rebooting and seeking help when we need it to get over the “hump” of past hurts touches a nerve in me and I am sure many others.

    Even though married for many many years, I still recall the difficulty of not contacting a less than interested party even when you knew it was not in your best interest!

    The sappy part of me loves loves loves The happily Ever After! Great story Paul!

  2. Thank you for offering a window in to my heart and yours. May your love always give your lessons of gratitude and happiness.


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