Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Can I Find Love Even Though I Have OCD?

I’m 32, and have never had a boyfriend. I lead a somewhat structured life because I have mild to moderate OCD. If I clean the toilet, I have to shower for 15 minutes afterward. If I wash my clothes, I have to write in a notebook which items were washed. I sometimes keep diaries about important conversations I have with friends/people so I can refer back to. If I hold someone else’s baby, I sometimes feel compelled to wash my clothes. If a diaper is changed on furniture, I won’t sit there until it’s cleaned/washed. I prefer not to use public bathrooms unless I’m really desperate. The times I’ve had sex, I would shower for around 15 minutes afterward. When I leave my place, I check the doors by counting to five to make sure they’re locked. If I have a visitor in my home, I sometimes get anxious. I believe I can manage this disorder by exercising and keeping my anxiety levels down. I even think I can stop some of these rituals.

A few years ago, at my request, a psychiatrist prescribed some medication which I didn’t like. It had too many side effects. He said that my OCD is pretty mild and that I should “take more risks in life.”

Some guys have been interested in me but I subconsciously push them away so they won’t find out my secret. It’s depressing. How am I ever going to get married? I want to overcome this without medication. Should I be honest and tell a potential partner? I’m worried they’ll think I’m weird. I’m worried they’ll tell other people.

My parents love me for who I am so maybe someone else will? — Looking for Love with OCD

Instead of focusing on what and how to tell a potential boyfriend about your OCD, your focus would be better targeted at managing your condition in a way that makes your life more pleasant and higher-functioning. Sure, there’s an argument to be made for finding someone who loves you for exactly who and how you are, but your OCD is something you have, not something you are, and I believe there are ways it can be managed so that its traits are less severe and don’t interfere with your day-to-day life as much. A positive result of managing your OCD and hopefully reducing your symptoms could be a boost in your confidence and an easier time relating to and socializing with others (including potential love interests).

I don’t know much about OCD, but a cursory search on Google tells me that in addition to exercise and limiting stress, cognitive therapy is one of the best treatments for people with OCD. If you’re not already getting it, I would highly recommend finding a therapist to treat you (one who specializes in OCD, preferably). I would also suggest group therapy — another top treatment — which would bring the added benefit of talking with others who have OCD and finding out how they navigate dating and relationships and friendships and the ways they share their diagnosis with people in their lives.

The truth is, there may be people who think you’re “weird.” They’re not the people for you and you can weed them right out of your life (or, at least, out of your social circle). But there are also going to be people who will not be fazed by your behavior, as surprising or different as it may seem to them at first (particularly if they’ve never been close before to someone with OCD). Absolutely, you can find love and be loved. There’s no doubt about that. But in order to find a healthy, happy relationship, you will have to let your guard down, let someone in, and risk getting rejected and hurt. You may have a condition that’s atypical, but fear of getting hurt and rejected is as common as the sun rising in the east. We all have stuff about us we’re afraid will turn others off. And sometimes we’re right. But sometimes, people not only like us in spite of what’s unique about us, they’re drawn to us, in part, because of what makes us different.

Like all of us, you’re going to have to allow yourself to be vulnerable, and to let someone see all the parts of you — including the OCD, but also just more typical things — that you may not love the most about yourself or that you think make you “weird.” Weird can be really good. “Weird” can be the thing that may disarm others and help them feel less insecure about the things they’re worried won’t be accepted or appreciated by other people. “Weird” can be a calling card that attracts the right person and discourages the wrong ones. But you have to feel confident in yourself and what you have to offer. Therapy can help you get there. Talking with others in a similar boat can help you get there. Managing your OCD as best you can can help you get there. And so will remembering that OCD may be something you have, but it doesn’t have you.

***************

Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

18 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Lurker, First Time Poster April 3, 2017, 8:53 am

    My husband has OCD that has gotten worse over time. Your compulsions aren’t taking over your life like his are, but it can get worse if you don’t get CBT and you don’t learn exposure response prevention therapy. Honestly, you don’t need medication but exercise is just a band-aid. You need to do the ERP. I will say that the psychiatrist was an idiot for saying “you need to take more risks.” going skydiving or something isn’t going to do anything to help your OCD. Your obsessions and compulsions are not rooted in logic.

    You can totally find someone who loves you, but do NOT ask them to accommodate your rituals and do not prevent them from, say, sitting on the couch where the diaper was changed. Do not make them wash their clothes and stuff like that. It will make your condition worse because it’s enforcing those faulty pathways and obsessions in your brain, and will just erode your relationship.

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  • avatar

    Jane April 3, 2017, 9:49 am

    I’ve struggled with OCD, panic, and anxiety issues my whole life, but I’ve been able to reduce its impact on my daily life to a nearly negligible amount without medicine. I was on medicine for over ten years and was weaned of it under doctor supervision several years ago. It IS possible!
    .
    This kind of happened by accident, but I’ve found that if I live a very busy life, then I don’t have time for all of my neurotic rituals. Sure, I still check the stove 2-3 times even if I haven’t used it, or I’ll check to make sure my door is locked more than once, but these are really the only daily ways that my OCD manifests itself.
    .
    Do things that are outside of your comfort zone. Go on trips where a 15 -minute shower after a particular event or where immediately washing your clothes may not be possible. Or take smaller steps – opt for a 10-minute shower, then reduce to 5-minutes, then wait an hour to shower, then skip (unless you really are dirty).
    .
    Also, if you have idle time, occupy yourself with games or puzzles. Don’t let your mind go to all of the “what ifs”. Look at the people around you or people you admire who don’t do those rituals and who manage to thrive.
    .
    I’m not a medical professional, and I know the things that work for some people don’t necessarily work for others, but these are the things that have helped me. Best of luck to you!

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    • avatar

      Jane April 3, 2017, 9:55 am

      And as to the question about men and dating: I agree that there’s something to be said for someone accepting you and your OCD. It likely will never completely go away, so someone who can deal with minor things here and there and who won’t judge you for your past is a good catch.
      .
      However, I think this is causing you to have lower confidence than you should in yourself, and for that reason you should work to improve your OCD management. You’ll feel better about yourself, which is an attractive quality, but your quality of life will also improve!
      .
      And it will make things easier on a future partner, although they don’t have to know about all the details right away. You can easily gauge how compassionate a potential partner is towards mental health issues without bringing up your own story if you’re not yet comfortable.

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  • avatar

    csp April 3, 2017, 10:56 am

    LW, my husband has a mild form of OCD. I knew it pretty soon after dating and it is something I deal with. TBH, it isn’t my favorite part about him and the biggest challenge I have is getting out the door around what we call his “Quirks” It took me a while to realize that I needed to factor 10 minutes into planning times. For him, things got better as he got busier like Jane said. Once we had a child, he didn’t seem to focus as much. My point of this story is that I found him lovable.

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  • avatar

    Janelle April 3, 2017, 11:11 am

    Oh and the checking the stove thing, this is just a good idea. My stove in my old place, if you so much as bump the knobs when walking by, turn a bit. Numerous times we came home to the smell of gas. Now I do obsessively check my stove. Just saying, that one isn’t such a bad idea.

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  • avatar

    Telegrammar April 3, 2017, 11:41 am

    This makes me feel sad. I have mild OCD (as in only a few flare ups with compulsions occurring when I am especially stressed out or anxious) and I know it stresses out my boyfriend sometimes. He’s really good about it, but I know it’s not easy seeing me struggle through counting compulsions or anxiety ticks.

    What I can say is you can definitely find someone to love you! People deal with the flaws, quirks, conditions, illnesses, etc. of the person they love all the time. It’s par for the course, so don’t think your OCD is any different. If someone is incapable of loving you because of it, they’re not the right person for you.

    Continue getting help, and maybe (?) find a new doctor since he doesn’t seem to be taking it as seriously as he should, or is at least not considering the other ways this affects your life if he’s telling you to “take more risks” while you are concerned for your wellbeing. Maybe I’m in the wrong here, but if my doctor said that to me, I would be really bothered.

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  • avatar

    Telegrammar April 3, 2017, 11:45 am

    Also, find a counselor or therapist. I went to one in college who was basically in training (it was a lab) and she helped me develop ways to stop anxious thinking. It really helped me feel grounded and more in control during those stressful times. Sometimes just having someone detached from your life who you can talk your problems through to can really help, especially when you have questions regarding emotional availability, etc.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros April 3, 2017, 11:59 am

    I’d recommend finding a new therapist or psychiatrist. Just because one medication wasn’t good doesn’t mean others aren’t either. There are other things that can be done.

    I think that you can find someone (Wendy has good advice), but I think that it does help if you are putting effort into minimizing the effect on your life. Not just for them, put for you.

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  • avatar

    Fyodor April 3, 2017, 12:01 pm

    Please see a therapist. As noted many people have benefited from CBT and there may be drugs that suit your better. I used to suffer from anxiety and my life is much happier having been treated.

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  • Astronomer

    Astronomer April 3, 2017, 1:05 pm

    My husband also has OCD. Don’t be completely opposed to the idea of taking meds. He was for years, until he got to the point where the OCD was spilling over into everything–he couldn’t go out, he totally failed at a promotion and was sent back to his old job, sex–and medication made a world of difference. While meds aren’t a cure-all, they shaved enough of an edge off that he could make a phone call without preparing for three days first. He could ask a friend to do a thing with him. His rituals became less consuming and more quirk-like. You get the idea.

    It sounds like you’re at a crossroads in that you want your life to change, but you’re stuck in the same old routine and are loathe to give it up. From what I understand, OCD makes people resist treatment. But girl, you need to get help. You need to get yourself to a doctor, tell her what’s happening and why it’s keeping you from having the life you want, and come up with a treatment plan. Maybe that’s cognitive therapy, maybe that’s meds, or most likely, it’s going to be a combination of things. It won’t be easy. It might take months and months to find the right meds. Therapy takes time to get results. It’s on you to keep pushing, to find a doctor you like and doesn’t blow off your symptoms, to find a treatment plan you can stick with, and to take all these small steps to get you to where you need to be inside your own head so you can be ready to be with another human being.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark April 3, 2017, 2:20 pm

    Honestly? My guess is — No. OCD at YOUR level seems like a bit much for most to deal with…

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  • avatar

    anonwithocd April 3, 2017, 2:21 pm

    LW, yes, it is possible, but not without work.

    I suffer from primarily obsessional OCD which is very easy to hide from others. (My “checks” are mental, and don’t revolve around me checking a doorknob, washing, etc). That being said, they are just as painful and time-consuming.

    Wendy’s advice is spot on and compassionate (especially for someone who doesn’t suffer from a mental illness). You must be open with your partner. You don’t have to tell them every single thing that goes through your mind, but you need to be up front. “Hey, I have this condition, it makes me do xyz sometimes, and I’m doing xyz to help treat it. Do you have any questions about it?” I found that when I told my BF about it, he was really interested to know more. I sent him some links and directed him to some areas where partners of people with OCD can find resources. He now knows to not reassure me, and to help steer me to more healthy practices (i.e., encourages me to go exercise instead of ruminate on the internet in bed all night). He even helped me pick out a specialist!

    I had a REALLY hard time telling him about it at first, but when I did, it clicked for him. That being said, I think he would have a harder time with it if I wasn’t taking the necessary steps to help make our lives more manageable.

    TL;DR – be open, but also make sure you are taking steps to help yourself first.

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  • avatar

    carolann April 3, 2017, 3:28 pm

    I know you want to go without meds, but there are natural alternatives. Inositol (b8) is a good thing to try. Here is some info from webmd
    http://www.m.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-299/inositol
    I don’t have OCD, but I take it for some other issues. It helps me sleep and I don’t have any side effects from it.

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  • redessa

    redessa April 3, 2017, 7:33 pm

    While I have no reason to believe you can’t find someone who is accepting of your OCD, I think *you* will have a hard time being comfortable in an intimate relationship until you are able to better manage your condition.

    You mention wanting to get married someday, but have you really considered how you would deal with that kind of relationship? You said you get anxious when someone comes to visit – what would it be like to live with someone? Someone who shares all your personal space? If he does laundry, he’s not going to keep track of which specific items were washed together. He might even have family members with diaper-wearing babies that he wants to have over. And just in general he’ll have his own germs and dirt and whatnot that he’ll bring into the house. Is that something you can live with?

    I agree with everyone that you need to put more effort into getting your OCD under control before looking for love.

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  • avatar

    Another Jen April 3, 2017, 8:55 pm

    I think everyone has offered thoughtful advice about exploring CBT as a way to help you get a better handle on your symptoms. I’d add one more thing: A good therapist could also help you to feel less self-conscious about your OCD and have a more balanced, compassionate view of yourself. You said you’re afraid that if you trust someone enough to tell them about your OCD, they’d think you’re weird or tell other people. I think trusting people would feel a lot less scary if you could come around to idea there’s nothing weird or shameful about having a mental health condition. Most (nice) people can relate to that and many struggle with similar things themselves, whether it’s addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, or what have you. Imaging being able to be okay explaining that your OCD makes some things difficult for you and that you’re doing your best to work on the hardest bits. Just my $.02. Hope you find a way to trust people enough to find a loving partner…it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me at all.

    AJ

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  • avatar

    wobster109 April 4, 2017, 9:10 am

    Hey, to be honest, I don’t think “overcoming this without medication” is a useful goal here. OCD is real, and you know this better than anyone else. It’s not something that you buck up and get over with willpower. This is the same as saying “I want to overcome the flu without medication”.

    Not every medication will work for everyone, and some people do survive flu without medication, but it doesn’t mean they’re stronger or admirable or valiant. Meanwhile refusing medicine for flu makes people sicker and suffer needlessly.

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  • avatar

    CK April 4, 2017, 1:03 pm

    My ex husband had ocd and made me shower multiple times a day, wash everything, wouldn’t touch me, sprayed me down with lysol spray and then beat me when I wouldn’t conform. If you do not have your ocd under control do not get into a relationship with anyone. Please. Get yourself well first. I still have ptsd from 15 years of it.
    Medication can help. So can cognitive therapy.
    Good luck. Once you are healthy you will find someone to be with. I am sure of it.

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    • avatar

      CK April 4, 2017, 1:06 pm

      And please don’t rule out medication. If he’d stayed on his meds our marriage might have worked out.

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