When I first saw Jaws, I cried – when the shark died. Like inconsolable, Kim-Kardashian-lost-her-earrings-in-the-ocean style tears. “He didn’t know any better!” I sobbed of his carnivorous ways as my mother stroked my hair. Little did I know, ten years on and this is the same situation I go through every time someone lets me down. Maybe minus the sobbing – maybe.

The other day, I found a picture of myself at age six on Halloween. The photo shows a giant, undead monster with a group of gawking children surrounding it. Then there’s me: off to the side, looking completely the wrong way, and grinning eagerly up at our TA. He even gestures towards the monster, but evidently fails to get me to look in the right direction. This picture sums up a big part of who I am.

It’s hard knowing how to be an optimist in this world. Since I was little, I looked for the good in everything and everyone. When my fifth grade teacher taught us about the glass half-full/ half-empty metaphor, I argued until all the cows (and chickens and sheep) came home there is no-freaking-way a glass could be half-empty. In my head, it just wasn’t possible. She may as well have said the glass was half-donkey and called it a day.

I remember the more mature kids (i.e. – annoying know-it-alls) in our class said the glass was obviously both. Most people seem to have grown into this way of thinking over the years. Sometimes we’re optimists, sometimes we’re pessimists – it all comes down to experience, and maybe how recently we ate. But I’m older now, and my optimism has become a problem.

People tend to think you’re pretty naive if you try to practice a little positivity, or hope in life. Whenever someone looks like they’re having a rough day, I always make sure I smile at them. We all need to be reminded sometimes that things are never as bad as they seem. It can save someone to know that there are people out there who can bring a smile to their face. But a lot of people find my habit confusing.

“Why are you smiling all the time?” a girl in my class asked me accusingly the other day. I’m faced with this question a peculiar amount, and it only pops up more with age. Whenever I’m introduced to people, I often get the: “Oh, that’s Chelsea. She’s happy.” Like people need warning, like I have some kind of mental disorder that makes social situations uncomfortable. It’s a strange thing for people to view happiness as a personality quirk. For me, happiness is just a feeling, a way I like to feel.

That is the end game to my life as an optimist. Be happy, make people happy. The problem is my heart is nothing if not a complete people-pleaser. Its spirit animal would probably be the new girl in junior high who just wants to fit in. I once had a friend in third grade who prank-called me with creepy messages. I confided in her that I was pretty scared of these calls prior to finding out it was actually her making them. Still, she continued to call me for months, usually on sleepovers she didn’t invite me to. This girl remained one of my best friends into my teens.

I’m not stupid: I know when someone isn’t treating me right. My issue isn’t seeing when someone has done wrong; my issue is always seeing straight past it to the “good”, or excusing the issue with the “reasons” behind it. There’s good in everyone, surely, I figured – where my parents saw someone who harassed their daughter for the better half of a year, I saw a girl who had a rough time at home and a desperate need to fit in. A girl who made me giggle and would always share her chocolate chip cookies with me at lunch without asking. Every time.

Then in college, I fell for a guy who wrote me songs and called me beautiful everyday. He would tell me that I was it, there was no one else in the world for him – but he never really let me in. It was like his heart had a child-lock on it, and no matter how many times I twisted or popped, the damn thing never gave. Eventually, this boy I’d completely fallen for revealed himself to be a very different person, but I stayed on that bus until the end of the line anyway. For over a year, I’d let all the good I’d wanted there to be in him mask all the hurt he would cause me.

At first, I let it change me. Crushed was an understatement – I just wasn’t happy anymore. I lost the drive to see the good in anyone. There are a hell of a lot of half-empty jackasses out there, lesson learned, I got it – or so I thought.

In the past couple of months, I actually found myself trying to get to know a guy again, despite his quirks and flaws. I realised I could spend my life with half-empty glasses, or I could give someone a chance. So I leapt, and maybe, just maybe, I would get caught this time.

And then I fell unceremoniously on my ass. Turns out, there wasn’t enough good there – not this time, anyway.

Here’s the thing: I tried being cynical. I tried to learn the lesson and start looking for the bad in people. But just like I will never fit into extra-small booty shorts, I will also never suit being a pessimist. I like seeing the good in the world. It’s not the “bad boy” with the endless stash of Greaser combs and switchblades in his back pocket that attracts me. It’s the guy who’s closed off, has been through things, and just needs someone. I like making these people happy. But while you can make someone happy, you can’t make them treat you how you want, and deserve, to be treated.

I now know that I can’t help myself – I give the benefit of the doubt like it’s going out of style: the reasons a friendship will be a little one-sided, the reasons I’ll put up with someone who yells, or lies, or disappears; the reasons that person is a good person, and that’s just that. But I also know this isn’t fifth grade anymore. People are so much more than just sharing their cookies and playing nice. It’s allowed for there to be a little ugly inside us, too.

The good, kind-hearted, beautiful bits of ourselves aren’t what define us – our warts are just as important. Let’s face it, we have all been that bad person to someone. There’s no such thing as the Nice guy or the Bad Boy. We aren’t just Man-eaters, or Good Girls. Bad is everywhere. It’s the weather, the feedback you got, the day you had. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few months, it’s that we need it. We need the emptiness inside to really appreciate when things are full – full of sunshine, full of love, full of laughter. Optimists like me need the rainy days, the F grades, and the bad friends and relationships. They’re there so we know when we’ve really found the good ones. They’re there so we know what happiness really means.

By Chelsea Asher

Feature image via.