I read somewhere that love is a choice.
I think Ozzy Osbourne was the person who said it. Or Paul Newman. Or maybe it was Cher. Doesn’t matter.
Love is the best choice.
Until recently, there was one person on earth who made my skin crawl. So much so that even hearing this person’s name had a negative biological effect: my skin would sweat, the back of my neck would burn, my chest would get tight, and my arms became blotchy, almost like an outbreak of hives.
Man, I needed to get a grip.
We’ll call this person Todd. He and I were childhood friends who attended undergrad and law school together. We had a long history and spoke on the phone almost every day. Todd was one of my best friends. After law school, he moved to a different city and began practicing plaintiff’s work, ultimately opening his own firm as a sole practitioner. I switched firms several years into my career and eventually found myself directly against him, representing a major retail chain in a personal injury case.
Garden variety slip and fall. No big deal.
Well, it wasn’t a big deal until several months into the lawsuit when I discovered his client, the plaintiff, made material misrepresentations to the court and to his doctors about his past physical condition and medical treatment.
Liar, liar, pants on fire.
As soon as I realized the magnitude of the plaintiff’s deception, I called Todd to give him a heads-up that I was going to ask the court to dismiss the case for fraud. I didn’t want Todd to be blind sighted. As Todd worked on contingency and would only get paid if there was a settlement, the court granting my motion meant Todd would receive a big, fat goose egg. This was after he already fronted thousands of dollars on expert witnesses and travel expenses. While I felt horrible about the situation, Todd should have done his homework about his client and, at the end of the day, I was ethically obligated to do what was in the best interest of my client. Otherwise, I would have been slapped with a malpractice issue.
Instead of understanding my position, firing his client, and thanking me for sparing him trouble down the road, Todd was hysterical. He asked me to ignore his client’s deception, not tell my client, and that we settle for a nominal value. He wanted enough money to repay the expert fees and take a small amount for himself to account for the long hours he spent on the case. “Jen… I’ll come to Tampa and I’ll take you and Jason to dinner at a fancy restaurant…”
I didn’t accept his offer, I won my motion, the case got dismissed, and Todd hasn’t spoken to me in five years.
Five flipping years.
Losing Todd as a friend was painful. He wasn’t there for the birth of my children and I wasn’t there for his. I found out through Facebook that his mother passed away and I swallowed my pride and mailed a sympathy card. No clue whether he ever received it. It was a sad situation but, because Todd lived far away and we didn’t have mutual friends, he was off the radar.
Six months ago, I unexpectedly ran into Todd in the elevators of my building at work. Seeing him was shocking and I was stupefied. Probably too surprised to play it cool.
Hey… what are you doing here?
We moved to Tampa and I’m renting space on the twenty-third floor.
It was awkward. My skin was burning. I was flustered, dumbstruck, and feelings of anger that were long off the grid reemerged.
Do you also work in this building, he asked?
Yes. On eighteen.
Great, I thought. Now I’m going to have to agonize about running into him whenever I get on an elevator, when I’m in the lobby, or when I head to the parking garage. That’s a lot of times in a day.
We were cordial to each other but it was forced and inauthentic. I hoped that I wasn’t rolling my eyes or sending rude body language, even though that’s what I genuinely felt like doing.
Truth be told, I wanted to push Todd right off the elevator.
There’s more than 7 billion people in the world and the likelihood of having that “warm and fuzzy” feeling around each of them is low. Everyone has that someone (or two) they’d rather avoid. But for me, Todd was the Hatfield to my McCoy. The Ursula to my Ariel. The Al Capone to my Bugs Moran. The Biggie to my Tupac.
I couldn’t stand him.
As the weeks passed (ok, maybe months), my husband probably grew tired of listening to me bellyache about running into Todd at work. My friends likely wanted to put a muzzle over my mouth. My parents and sister were probably over it.
You know what happened? As time went on, I got sick and tired over feeling sick and tired every time there was a scintilla of a possibility I’d run into Todd. I started avoiding going to the snack stand on the first floor because I was paralyzed with fear that Todd would be in the lobby getting his shoes shined at the same time. It was ridiculous and pathetic. Straight out of a scene from SNL’s Weekend Update where Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler incredulously ask “Really?!”
I needed to get over it and move on. Todd had likely long moved on. He wasn’t freaking out about me. He probably was clueless I even cared.
But how would I get over it? As a serial grudge holder, this was no easy feat.
So I started doing something really weird. Something that would have creeped out my husband, family, and friends.
Every time I started feeling angry and anxious when I thought about Todd, I would say to myself, “I love you Todd, and I hope you are successful and happy.” I started praying for Todd. Not condescendingly, as some people sarcastically declare “I’ll pray for you!” when they’re mad at someone, but I prayed for Todd meaningfully and regularly.
When I began the mental “I love you, Todd!” chants, they were through gritted teeth. But after a while, it became a habit when I felt the nausea or hive-y feeling of anger creeping back in. This didn’t happen overnight. But it happened.
Eventually, I didn’t care when I’d run into Todd. I wasn’t worried about going to lunch downtown and seeing him at a restaurant. Wasn’t freaked out about the possibility of waiting in line next to him at the dry cleaner or post office.
Over time, Todd was just “somebody that I used to know”. There was no more anger, spite, or animosity. Instead, there was nothing except underlying feelings of love.
When dealing with people who have intentionally or unintentionally hurt you, love is a freaking hard choice. With Todd, there really was no choice because my only options were either wholeheartedly loving him or internalizing the anger I felt toward him. The second option was a waste of time.
Todd, if you’re reading this… I love you, friend. Let’s get coffee. I’ll even treat! If you’re not up for it, then that’s okay too.
Cheers to choosing love.