Dating someone with OCD: how to balance Love and OCD?
Dating someone with OCD: how to balance Love and OCD?
This is an edited transcript of URevolution's Sex Like This Podcast | S1 E2 Mark’s New Rituals: Dating with OCD
Oh, my dating life was like – I don’t know – taking a flame thrower to a library. Because it was all about trying to control uncertainty and avoid and control difficult emotions. And I think I just said, “I think I’m depressed and there’s something going on with sex.” I think that was probably the way I presented to the counselor.
There are over 7 billion people on the planet. And most of us are looking for love. So if we couple off, you know, unless you’ve come up with a more interesting arrangement, that means there are theoretically about three and a half billion people in the world that could be the one for you. And counting. So, with all of these options, why do we always hear the same love stories?
The cookie-cutter, storybook version of what it’s like to fall in love is told over and over again. Well, friends that stops here, you’re listening to Sex Like This, a podcast brought to you by URevolution about sex and dating with a chronic illness or disability. I’m your host Health Journalist, Nicole Edwards, and today we are going to explore the topic of dating someone with OCD and try and answer the question: can someone with OCD fall in love?
I guess I knew – kind of – about depression. And I was at a point where even the slightest thing that went wrong, or even the possibility of something going wrong, I would just spiral into the deepest hole imaginable. And was totally convinced that the world was going to end and I could really feel that. If I just saw a kid drop an ice cream cone on the street, I was convinced I would collapse in tears and never get up again. I was like, I don’t know, like a muscle that’s just so worn out.
The reason Mark’s brain felt like a worn-out muscle is because his brain had been working on overdrive for a long time. Most of his life actually. He remembers being little and obsessing for weeks about leaving a cup on a friend’s coffee table. He says that every time the phone rang, he was sure it would be his friend’s mom calling to say that the cup Mark had left had made a ring on the table and they were going to have to throw the table out.
Most of us would forget leaving a dish somewhere in a friend’s house almost instantly. But Mark thought about it for weeks. And because this intense rumination was something Mark did for most of his life, he didn’t have a reference point for whether or not the amount he was worrying about was actually reasonable. It was just how he was. And he thought everybody’s brain worked like that.
Like it just became the norm. So the challenge then with that, is that by the time I was much older, like, say in my 20s, I was really becoming very disconnected from reality. To the point that, you know, I thought people were trying to poison me all the time. I thought I was always being watched in my home. I would stand in front of the stove and just watch it to make sure it didn’t spontaneously turn on and combust and burn the apartment down. And that would be after doing all sorts of rituals to check it and make sure that it was off. And I still saw all of that as totally normal.
The more Mark’s compulsive behavior started to escalate, the harder it was for him to do normal day-to-day stuff.
Because if I was walking along to the grocery store, and in my head, I thought, “Oh, I’ll get some cucumbers and some tomatoes. I’ll make a salad.” As soon as I would think that in my head, I would see myself slicing a cucumber and slicing off my fingers. And I would feel it up my arm: the pain and my nerve. And then I would have to check my fingers to make sure they were still there. And it just became to the point where to my brain, it was real. And it’s probably similar to what happens when we dream, right?
Like we believe the dream and that just became the norm. My brain would come up with things. And I no longer could believe what I was seeing. And then that would go into things like the checking. The more we check, the more we chase certainty, the more uncertain we become and the more disconnected from reality we become.
So, in relationships for me, I would need to have physical contact to sort of proving to myself that I was likeable, or that person liked me. But then inevitably, I just, I would need that all the time. If I hooked up with somebody – because I was like, ‘Okay, I need to hook up this person.’ And then okay, I’ve reassured myself I’m attractive, or I’m likeable or whatever. But as soon as I would do that, I would need to do it again. And again and again. And again.
Just like checking the door lock, checking the stove, whatever. We also try to put these things into like little categories. But really, it’s like an interaction with uncertainty. And so that’s across the board. That’s with the stove, with a knife, with crossing the street, with relationships. The works.
Would you date someone with OCD?
Mark – as he often says himself – has been slapped with a whole bunch of mental health diagnoses over the years. OCD, addiction, anxiety and depression. And the addiction part ended up manifesting sometimes as sex addiction. And that craving for intimacy didn’t lead to long term relationships for Mark. For his potential partners dating someone with OCD became an impossibility.
I was completely obsessed. You know, if I was into somebody, then I was completely obsessed. Or if I made some judgments about them – even the tiniest judgment – then I’d be like, ‘Oh, it’s over there. The wrong one, we have to end this now.’ And I’d completely check out. I’d just ignore them. I guess I did that in every relationship. I mean, would you date someone with OCD?
Before I started to work on my mental health I hadn’t, as far as I can remember, ever been dumped or anything like that. And this always would happen in relationships because of, again, that inability, or that lack of skill to handle uncertainty. So if there was one little thing that, to me, made the person no longer perfect, it was over.
A big part of something like that, too, is really getting into control and avoidance. So not only would I be trying to avoid feelings, I’d be trying to control the other person. This hilarious thing always happens where, if I’ve decided that this person I’m dating isn’t right for me (I can remember doing this), I’d be like, ‘Okay, that person is not right for me.’
But I don’t want to experience the pain of telling them that, so I’m going to make them dislike me now. Or I’m going to make them feel dissatisfied in the relationship so they break up. And, that kind of manipulating was something I did all of the time.
Read more: Having OCD sexual thoughts
Can someone with OCD fall in love?
Eventually, Mark becomes acutely aware of how unhappy his OCD habits around sex and dating are making him. He starts to think that maybe he’s depressed and reaches out to a therapist. He knew he need help if wanted to date and find love with OCD.
So actually, what happened first was because – and this is often the case in mental health – because we just don’t talk about these things. And so when I went in, of course, I’m saying, ‘Okay, it’s depression and sex.’
So they sent me to a psychologist who specialized, supposedly, in sex and mental health. And she was terrible. Like, really terrible. And so she was really bad. So then I went back to the counselor that I’d first spoken to, and I told her, “You should never send anybody to that therapist ever again. And also that everything still sucks. So let’s do something else.”
And then because I’d already started to get a hold on some of the – what I could see were some problematic OCD compulsions around hooking up with people – I think when I went back to the counselor – and this is quite common for people. That when you start to cut out one compulsion, your brain just explodes in other areas.
So I feel like I’d gone back to that counselor and I was like, ‘Okay, look ever since I stopped doing the following, sometimes I can’t leave my house. And here’s what’s going on in my head.’ And then I think she said, “Oh, why don’t we look at some other options here.” And then she got me into an OCD treatment program.
The OCD program was incredibly helpful. In that I learned how to make changes in my life. I learned how to accept difficult emotions and do the things that actually care about doing. What’s unfortunate is that, because the mental health care system is so divided up around imaginary lines, doing anything around sex or relationships wasn’t something we could cover there. Because it didn’t technically fall under OCD. But, the way you make any change is the way you make every change. And so through that program, I was able to learn how to start making changes.
I was able to learn how to sit with uncertainty and uncomfortable feelings and make healthier choices. So then I was able to take what I learned there and apply it in all these other areas of my life that didn’t fall under what’s technically considered OCD.
That therapy I got there was just so useful for learning how to handle emotions that I’d never learned how to handle and then make better decisions. And so that’s where I first learned that I could actually start to change stuff and handle the stuff in my head differently. It was where I realised that someone with OCD fall in love in a healthy non-manipulative way.
Therapy helped me realize that someone with OCD can fall in love in a healthy non-manipulative way.
Luckily, Mark had enough perspective to draw the connection between OCD and his personal habits around sex and dating. The strategies that he had honed to wrangle his other compulsive behaviors, he thought, might work when it came to dating with OCD too.
And so there were little exercises that I did at the start when I started dating. I remember I would go on a second date. Even if I didn’t like the person, and I didn’t think they liked me that much. If I thought, ‘Oh, this is never gonna work out,’ I would go. Because I was working on not listening to my brain. Listening to my brain had been terrible for everything in life. So, dating at first was very much about setting up little exercises like that. I remember getting really excited the first time somebody dumped me.
Because, I wasn’t the one to say, ‘Oh, this isn’t gonna work. I’m out of here.’ I stuck around and sat with it. And put myself into it. Gave the things I wanted to give as a person, not about trying to chase some right relationship.
The biggest benefit of all of this was learning how to not do that stuff in my head, and just be present with the other person. And be present with myself even, and what I’m feeling and just let that be there. Or what I’m not feeling and let that be there too. That just made relationships and intimacy so much more enjoyable.
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