I don’t remember what he said. It was something about being an amazing diver.
We had just come off the boat and straight to lunch. After months of video calling and hours discussing everything under the sun, and especially what meeting in paradise would be like, we had made it. Two weeks, in person, in a beautiful country.
The lead-up was filled with butterflies and excitement. And now, here we were.
The scene was stunning. He was so interested. His eyes were filled with intensity. The depth of the flirtation was palpable. The whole table looked up when he said those words—those complimentary, showering with adoration words.
Except that, he wasn’t talking to me. He was talking to someone else. Someone who happened to be 20-something, blonde, and in a thong bikini.
I was not involved in this conversation nor was I the next time we ran into her. I sat excluded from the conversation while his whole body was turned toward her and away from me. Did I need to be here?
I had spent the day experiencing the most beautiful nature I had ever seen in my life. The colors, the sound, the water. It left me awestruck. And now, I was at lunch watching someone else enjoy my date, dumbstruck.
This was the first time I realized you can hold two contradicting feelings with the same intensity—all at once.
I am having the best time of my life.
I am having the worst time of my life.
I also got to hear about how good her Spanish was later on, and how we could have booked our flights in a way that would have bypassed another night’s stay. That’s what she does after all.
It was hard to think of a time when I felt worse about myself. It was also hard to think of a time when I felt as taken by the beauty of nature as I did in that moment.
During the trip, I had seen the most beautiful waters, colorful fish, and stunning greenery. I also had a terrible first-time diving experience. The diving center did not help me choose an appropriate mask. My face was too small for the ones they had, so I didn’t end up diving. Instead, I sat on the boat and practiced my Spanish with the captain. I had lunch afterward with everyone and listened to them as they went on about their exciting experience.
My good friend and I joke about it now. “So what did you do? Just sat there with your small face?”
And then, to hear about her great Spanish. I have been studying Spanish for about two years now. I am an adult with a full-time job—dealing with generally overwhelming everyday adult responsibilities, annoying neighbors, existential crisis, doctor’s appointments, and mastering pole dancing (which is a challenging sport). I’m doing well with my Spanish despite all of this, considering I was not a gifted bilingual as a child. It takes a lot of adherence and determination to learn a new language as an adult.
That’s not the point, but it was another reason why I shouldn’t have let it make me feel bad. Although it felt like he was pointing out everything about her that, in a way, seemed a shortcoming in me.
I didn’t know that at the time; I did know the dichotomy I felt.
I am loving my experience.
I am hating my experience.
There is a space for everything we feel. One thing does not take away from the other. The good things we feel are good, and the negative experiences don’t necessarily negate them.
Perhaps this is obvious to most. But before taking that trip, it wasn’t that obvious to me. It wasn’t obvious that I can hate my job, and I can still have the best day ever. The subway can smell rancid, and I can totally lose myself in this amazing podcast.
This sh*tty thing that happened doesn’t mean that this great thing didn’t happen. This great thing that happened doesn’t mean that the other thing wasn’t sh*tty.
This realization is a great gift. We have the ability to hold more than one feeling at once. They are all a part of our experience.
What will we give power to? Where will these feelings take us? What gets the most air-time in our experiences? How will we move forward? Will we let the feelings pass as the experience passes? Or will we continue to carry them with us to the next event in our lives?
It seems that it is different with every encounter, and I don’t know if there’s a defined answer to these questions. But I do know that I took my own trip to paradise after this one. I spent five weeks soaking up nature, choosing my activities, speaking Spanish with people (who complimented my efforts thank-you-very-much), and also getting annoyed with Airbnb hosts who said their internet worked (it didn’t), getting lost, feeling frustrated by a lack of signage, and getting stressed by regular work items. I did a lot of holding more than one feeling at once.
This is the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever witnessed.
The lack of air conditioning, where there was supposed to be some, is making my face melt.
I did not let the annoyances overshadow the amazing experiences I had. I didn’t shame my annoyances with the fact that I was blessed to be taking such an awesome trip. I didn’t let the memory of someone who lost interest in me (and seemingly found his next best interest on our trip) ruin my present. In fact, I wouldn’t have been driven to take the second trip without the first. The disappointment was a motivator, and the beauty of the experience was also a motivator.
The best part of it all, I obtained my diving certification during my solo trip. “You made it look easy,” the divemaster said to me. I beamed. In that moment, me saqué la espina de mi corazón,* and thanked all of my feelings for leading me to right where I was. In paradise, wearing a mask that was a perfect fit on the first try.
In those moments, I wasn’t holding opposing feelings. It was a simple:
I am having the best experience of my life.
*I removed the thorn from my heart