Today, in honor of Valentine's Day, I wanted to talk about OCD and romance.
*Contains mentions of sexual harassment/assault and suicide*
Unfortunately, that means that my OCD likes to get all up in my business there. See, OCD doesn't make you care about anything; it latches onto the things you already care about most, the things that are at the core of your identity, and turns them into a disaster. When you look at who I am and what I care about most in life, it's easy to see why certain forms of OCD have caused me the most trouble. My OCD primarily takes the form of moral scrupulosity/religious OCD. But like most people with OCD, I've had intermittent episodes of almost all the different OCD forms, as well as a few other anxiety disorders. Because my primary obsession is with moral scrupulosity, these other issues tend to relate back to morality in some way, but each on their own could be categorized differently. My second biggest obsession is with body image (which is diagnosed as BDD rather than OCD). I've often seen this as a "substitute" virtue, where beauty can help make up for my perceived lacking in other areas. My third biggest obsession is what's known as relationship OCD--basically, an obsession with love and romance where sufferers are plagued with thoughts like "What if I don't really love him? What if he doesn't really love me? What if there's something wrong with this relationship?" This intertwines with my morality obsession in a lot of interesting ways, as you'll soon see.
The first episode of OCD I remember having was related to sex, or more specifically, rape. I talked about this more in my original post about OCD, but in basis, moral scrupulosity and relationship OCD combined caused me to develop a nagging fear of sex that, for most of my life, I solved by avoidance: repressing all thoughts or feelings related to sexuality. Though my OCD is defined by morality, even from the beginning, the relationship aspect was there. However, it didn't play into my actual love life until a few years after it first developed.
When I was little, my "crushes" were cute and silly, things that I chose rather than fell into. I didn't understand why anyone would be embarrassed about their crushes or want to hide them. I was very open about my feelings. This started in kindergarten, with a boy named Jonathan Light. I don't remember much about him, but I do remember his name--I chose him to be my crush because my first name means "sunlight," and I wanted my last name to be Light, too. At the time, "dating" was a very casual affair, and so Jonathan agreed to become my boyfriend. He also had another girlfriend, Sarah, and the three of us used to play Lions during recess all the time. Usually, Jonathan and Sarah were the parents, and I was the baby. One time, Jonathan took us both into the closet and kissed us on the cheek, which made me very happy. It didn't really register with me that Sarah was also Jonathan's girlfriend, because I was just so sure that we were meant to be. But then, one day towards the end of kindergarten, Sarah and Jonathan refused to play Lions with me, and they started running away every time I went to play with them. It took me a long time to understand that they were rejecting me.
I moved schools after that, and my new crush was a boy named Tyler. I told him about my crush on him, and he stopped talking to me. His sister, Sarah, also decided she hated me, and went on to bully me for the next three years (I did not have a good track record with Sarahs). After Tyler was a boy named Evan. He was a really sweet guy, but by now I was a little more cautious. I knew about rejection. So instead of telling him outright, I wrote him a letter declaring my love. Evan was a lot nicer than the other guys, and he stayed friends with me even though my crush seemed to make him feel a little awkward. I had a lot of hopes for him--and then he moved, so it was on to my next crush, Nico. I decided to take a different track with Nico, and write him anonymous love letters this time, so that I could better gauge his reaction (also, I thought it was romantic). This went on for a while, and finally our teacher told me that I needed to tell Nico who it was that had a crush on him. I told him it was me and my stuffed seal toy Snowy, because obviously the fact that my toy had a crush on him too would make things less awkward. Yeah, no. Nico stopped talking to me too.
Yet things were about to change. I was about to develop my first real crush--the first one that I didn't choose. Delightfully enough, it was on the brother of the boy who I had chosen. I wrote more love letters, some of which I still have, and in my games with my friends, I insisted upon including him as a character. They still didn't have crushes yet, and they didn't really get what was up with me, but they went along with it. Some of our games made it into my diaries, and others turned into my first novels. All of it was pretty cringeworthy.
Unfortunately, because this crush was the actual real deal, my OCD decided to get involved. I now had to deal with an increasing obsession with the idea that, if this boy loved me, that would make me finally "worthy". Because of this I used to listen at the door whenever my parents talked, terrified they would decide to move again and take me away from my "destiny."
I kept my crush a secret from the boy in question up until the end of sixth grade, at which point a local writing friend and I were working on a novel together. I told her about my crush, and she decided it would be a great idea to call him and see if he liked me too. Part of me was very not okay with that idea, but part of me was incredibly curious. I had his number memorized, so my friend dialed it and went into the bathroom to talk to him. He didn't have a crush on me. He didn't have a crush on anyone yet, but that wasn't any consolation. This was my first real heartbreak, more than just the rejections and losses of friendships I'd had before. I cried for two days straight, and our friendship was never the same after that. I felt so awkward and embarrassed and ashamed for ever thinking that he might like me.
Now, it's very uncommon for obsessions to clash, because human values on the whole are so similar. It was really only in the rare situation I found myself in--a Mormon too young to date suffering from moral scrupulosity and relationship OCD--that such a thing could occur. Hopefully, very few other people will have to deal with this experience. For more details, you can read my original post about my OCD. This was the moment my OCD was at its worst, and it was the first time I became suicidal.
Eventually I recovered, and around tenth grade, I fell for another boy, a good friend who, at the time, was making some questionable decisions. My OCD told me, once again, my only chance at salvation was to save him, and that I should therefore sacrifice all my happiness in order to make him happy. I let him treat me worse than I should have, and I spent way too many tears and way too much energy over him. In the end, when I graduated from high school, I wrote him a 56 page letter in which I talked all about our friendship, and my secret crush, and my concerns. I didn't expect him to ever talk to me again--but he did, which really threw me off. Now that I knew he was still in my life, I was totally ashamed of that letter, which I'd had good reasons for writing, but also, many reasons I didn't then understand. Once I was diagnosed, I came to realize that my OCD had played a large part in that letter--once again my relationship OCD and moral scrupulosity combined, this time triggering my confession compulsion.
As you guys know, I was diagnosed with OCD in my second year of college. This came after two sexual harassment incidents that occurred within the space of six months, turning my smoldering fear of sex/rape into a raging fire of terror about men and sexism. This, too, might be considered relationship OCD, although on its own it likely qualifies as a phobia. However you want to label it, I sank into another episode of emotional instability, where I burst into tears at any hint of sexism and, for a few weeks, was so afraid of men that I couldn't leave the house. At the urging of a friend, and because of my worries both about being trapped in the house and about my worsening trichotillomania/dermatillomania, I sought out help. With the new diagnosis, for the first time in a long time, I decided to put myself first and stop focusing on my crushes. This was very hard and very weird for me, but necessary. I needed time to recover and to learn how to control my OCD.
Today, I'm much more stable, and, I hope, in a place where I can finally have an actual, healthy relationship. I know now that I don't need to save anyone else in order to be worth something. I know that in future relationships, I'll have to deal with the OCD and the obsessions it throws at me, and I know a lot better how to do that. I've also (mostly) overcome my fear of sex.
But I've not had the chance to test this out yet. Almost as soon as I got my OCD under control, all my chronic physical illnesses started getting out of control, and between those two events, I haven't been on a date in five years. I also have only had very fleeting, minor crushes since that last big one. So I don't know what it'll be like when I fall in love again. I don't know how hard it'll be for me, or exactly what I'll face, or how well I'll be able to cope with it. But I do know I'm in a much better place to deal with it now than I was when I was younger. And I hope that someday soon, I'll get the chance to prove it. <3
Images via healthysenseofself.com, amazon.com, and crosswalk.com.