Art by Maine Manalansan
It’s 2 a.m. and the world is quiet. My room’s only light is the laptop screen, illuminating a drink and eyes that are weary. I’m not looking at anything, just staring at a blank screen. I just got asked out on a date by someone — someone who has shown me immense happiness — and I said no. Predictably, I said no. I’m not proud of it, nor of my track record of saying so. It’s just that I’m acting on a universal truth: with happiness, comes great sadness.
To be scared of happiness seems counter-intuitive, but it’s real. This aversion has been with me for as long as I can remember. I don’t know when and where it started, but I do know the fear’s still here: that the world is an equalizer, that you owe the world sadness when the euphoria dies down. It’s the trade-off of emotions, one that happens in this plane of existence, that you’d rather not have but still happens anyway. A wake up call perhaps, saying “You were happy. Now it’s time to be sad.”
It’s in this duality that regrets are created. Dating, in particular, has always been this way for me. It’s a pattern. When the messages get more frequent, I can handle it for the first few weeks. My fear then materializes right on cue. It all adds up — what if I screw up when we’re both in too deep? What if my family doesn’t approve? If I reply really late, will that get taken against me? What if they wake up one day and realize they want someone else?
Sure, you might need more drinks and movies to distract you from the void, but it’s safe. It can get lonely, but in here, I won’t get hurt.
Or I go out with someone and it’s great: we have the same interests, pet peeves, and stands on social issues. Things go well, so well that the world seems brighter in that cheesy way, and suddenly they’re gone without explanation. It’s a slow burn and it still hurts every single time. In either scenario, there will be pain.
Blaming it on my dating history is a bad excuse, but I’m tired. I’ve closed off every possibility. And it’s better this way, isn’t it? To not wake up crying anymore, no half-written apologies on my notes app. No more incredible days that end up with someone disappearing after a week. Sure, you might need more drinks and movies to distract you from the void, but it’s safe. It can get lonely, but in here, I won’t get hurt. If it’s true that being happy means you have something to lose, I’d rather not have it than to lose something at all.
If it’s true that being happy means you have something to lose, I’d rather not have it than to lose something at all.
But there are moments where I forget the fear. Sometimes it’s with good food, sometimes it’s the appropriate song playing on the radio. We were driving one night and it’s all quiet— then I look over to the driver’s seat and smile. I could get used to this.
For a few minutes, I’m in this bubble. It feels like the universe conspired to make everything work. I want to stay in the bubble for as long as I can, and I’m not even worried it’ll pop. I just know that the bubble will take me to beyond those rivers and valleys — that it will bring me to a place where sheer joy and contentment are commonplace. By then it’ll pop, but it’s okay: I’m where I want to be.
I’m back in these streets of grief, back against the walls I built from pain and missed opportunities, this city that’s lonely but safe.
In reality, the bubble pops as quickly as it inflates. I’m back in these streets of grief, back against the walls I built from pain and missed opportunities, this city that’s lonely but safe. Every day I get reminded of the pain, both the ones I felt and the ones I gave, and it’s enough reminder for me to go back to my corner and retreat. I always tell myself it’s better this way: this way, no one gets hurt. There are days I tentatively take a step, only to end up being pushed back. With all this pushing, I’m starting to make sense of the motion: the step’s more grounded now. Bit of a limp, bit still too slow, but learning.
It’s been a few days since that night I said no. We agreed to meet up: nothing fancy, just a quick dinner and a drive home. As soon as we reached my house, I knew I had to do something before I left the car.
When you think about it, we live our lives decisions after another. It’s full of choosing and weighing options, and I’ve always said no before giving things a chance. It almost feels like I’m made of stone— with cracks sealed shut. Some of them are slowly showing their age, with the cracks showing to everyone what I fear: that to be happy, you have to be okay knowing you have something to lose.
Maybe the world will get back at me or maybe it’ll let me be happier for a little while, but as I leaned in for a kiss goodnight, I realized I made my decision: if the world operates that way, to hell with it— I’ll let the cracks give way.