Relationship OCD might be killing love.
For a long time, I thought I was crazy.
But, then one day a therapist informed me that I had a very mild form of OCD.
Or, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
When he first mentioned it, my eyes widened and I remember thinking…
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
I, like most people, viewed OCD as something only hyper-anal individuals struggled with.
I wasn’t flicking light-switches on and off a dozen times before leaving a room.
I wasn’t washing my hands for fifteen minutes before every meal.
I wasn’t sprinting for the vacuum at the sight of a speck of dirt.
However, my therapist quickly explained to me that OCD isn’t what most people think of when they think of the disorder…
He explained to me what OCD truly was. And, while I don’t remember what he said verbatim, I’ll give you my own definition mixed with what I remember from his…
OCD is unwanted thoughts that lead someone to do something in hopes to get rid of the thoughts and the discomfort that comes along with them.
If you are looking for a more buttoned-up definition, The American Psychiatric Association describes OCD as follows…
An anxiety disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).
He continued to put my mind at ease by explaining that a decent portion of the population struggles with OCD and that it can vary drastically on a scale between 0 and 40.
If you fall within 0 to 10 on the OCD spectrum, you might have a strange obsession to write with the same pen in all of your notebooks. And, you might feel wildly uncomfortable if you lose your pen and have to write with a different one.
(God forbid a different color).
30 to 40, on the other hand, is much more severe. If you fall on this end of the OCD spectrum, you might be having such deafening OCD that you literally have to be hospitalized because you can’t go about your normal day.
And, like most things, there is a grey space that exists between these two extremes… the 10 to 30 range.
This is precisely where my therapist told me I fell.
Folks like myself with moderate OCD have obtrusive thoughts that can be managed but require daily consistent work.
Yet, despite this manageability, OCD can still be extremely challenging.
I know because it’s a constant ongoing battle for me…
How OCD haunts me.
I’m having a lovely day, drinking coffee and writing away when I feel a weird bump on my index finger.
While most normal people might feel this bump and know it is a mosquito bite, I feel it and begin to wonder if it might be something more.
This wondering will eventually turn into obsessing.
I will obsess and obsess and obsess until I work myself into a full-blown anxiety attack.
From there, I will do what is called a “compulsion”.
While my compulsion isn’t flicking on a light-switch fifty times, it is Googling the symptom.
I will Google what the bump on my finger could be.
And, then from there, I will end up on WebMD.
If you’ve ever been on WebMD, you know it diagnoses everything from a throbbing headache to a sore thumb as possible cancer or HIV or early onset Alzheimer's.
Nothing (and I mean nothing) good comes from WebMD.
I know this.
You know this.
But, despite this, my OCD will get the better of me.
Despite every muscle in my body fighting my mind from grabbing my phone and researching the symptom… I’ll still grab my goddamn phone and research the fucking symptom.
I shit you not, before seeing a therapist for my OCD, I would have entire afternoons where I could get nothing done because I had convinced myself I had cancer or some other disease… all because of a mosquito bite on my finger.
That’s the reality of living with OCD.
I would eventually come to find that this particular form of OCD is called hypochondria.
But, there are many other types of OCD, too.
Some people’s OCD manifests when they’re driving.
Their looping thoughts will convince them that they’ve hit someone on the way to work.
Other people’s OCD might manifest while they’re at work –– they might convince themselves that they said a sexual remark to their boss when in reality they didn’t make so much as a peep.
OCD can get weird and funky and horrifying and it can take multiple forms.
My therapist has told me countless anonymous stories of OCD cases he has seen during his career –– many of which are so ridiculous they’re almost laughable.
He once told me a guy he was working with would regularly come into his office telling him that he thinks he might have taken a battery out of his mouse and swallowed it at work and that he very well might be dying.
Another story he shared was of a Fortune 500 CEO who had to stop flying on planes because he was terrified that he was going to fall asleep on the plane, sleep walk, open the emergency door and jump off the fucking airship 20,000 feet in the sky.
Yes, these might sound bat shit crazy to you and me.
But, to the CEO and the battery-eating guy, it is very much their reality.
Now, I say all of this not to throw a pity party nor make fun of the battery-eating guy but because I want to open up the discussion around another type of OCD I’ve noticed that seems to be plaguing just about everyone.
What the fuck is Relationship OCD?
As I’ve begun to educate myself more and more on OCD… I’ve stumbled upon some pretty interesting findings.
For one, I am in good company…
Leonard DiCaprio, Charles Dickens, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, David Beckham, Michelangelo and Beethoven are just a handful of the many brilliant minds who’ve been plagued by OCD.
But, in addition, I’ve begun to notice OCD tendencies in people I am around.
A big part of managing OCD is picking up on the obsession and then fighting the urge to do the compulsion.
In other words, if I begin obsessing about a headache I must force myself to resist the urge to check WebMD.
By resisting this urge, I am eliminating the compulsion which essentially breaks the OCD cycle.
Since I am constantly monitoring myself for OCD-like behaviors, naturally, I’ve begun to pick up on OCD-like quirks in others.
I’ve begun to see a ton of OCD behaviors in particular around social media, most starkly where it concerns relationships.
Due to social media, many people today are struggling with an entirely new form of OCD…
Tell me if this sounds familiar…
Susan is seeing Ben.
She notices one day that Ben likes a picture of a girl on Instagram.
While the girl is attractive, the picture Ben liked is of her and a few of her friends.
While to anyone outside of the situation, the liking of the picture appears harmless, to Susan it feels anything but.
Susan begins to wonder.
Who is this girl?
Why would he like that picture?
Eventually, this wondering turns into obsessing until finally Susan tells herself that Ben might have something with this girl…
So, she starts creeping through this bitch’s pictures.
She scrolls and scrolls and scrolls and to her complete horror notices that Ben has liked several of her pictures over the past few months.
Susan is now certain that Ben is fucking this girl.
Rather than talk to him about it face to face, she texts him…
“Ben, who the fuck is this?”
Susan is now left feeling like a crazy bitch
And, Ben is left feeling like his girlfriend doesn’t trust him.
This is a prime example of relationship OCD.
I see it happening constantly.
And, truth be told, it’s not our faults.
We are dating in a totally different landscape than we did a century ago.
Scratch that… a decade ago.
For the first time in history, our relationships sort of exist in two worlds.
They exist in the physical world as well as the digital world.
It’s a terrible situation that has created the perfect breeding ground for OCD to take root.
And, with it, it has caused both men and women alike to show OCD behaviors in regards to the people they’re supposed to be in love with… who they’re supposed to feel safest with.
That’s fucked up.
So fucked up that I think in many ways it’s making it impossible to have normal functioning relationships.
There have been times where I have blocked my significant others on social media.
In part because I’m crazy.
But, mostly because I don’t want to fall into the relationship OCD that runs rampant on social networks… the creeping, the scrolling, the investigating.
I don’t want to worry about what my girl is posting.
I don’t want to worry about whether or not she is liking other guy’s pictures.
I don’t want to worry if she and her ex still follow each other.
I just want to exist with her in the place where the screens don’t… the physical world that we can feel and touch.
And, while blocking most definitely isn’t the answer, I do think we collectively need to come up with some more thoughtful approach to bridging these two worlds we are dating in. We need to come up with a better way to exist and date and love both offline and online.
If we take simply an OCD treatment approach here, we would go about removing the anxiety by not giving into the compulsions of checking in on our significant others (socially) when we feel an uncomfortable thought.
But then one might argue… what’s the fucking point of following someone?
Not to mention, Instagram makes it nearly impossible between its notifications and search algorithms. It is literally designed to be addictive…
Which, for a bunch of people struggling with OCD, is the last thing we need.
At times, it feels like something that is all or nothing.
I suppose, like many things, I’m still trying to find the grey space between this all or nothing.
I’m still searching.
And, I’m trying like hell not to go mad.
But, that’s why I write.
By Cole Schafer.
I don’t want this to be our last conversation… let’s stay in touch, shall we?