At the beginning of our relationship, my now-wife “Charlotte” came over to my place for the first time and my room was immaculate. The pens and pencils on my desk were organized in straight lines. You could have bounced a quarter off my bed. Even the photos and posters on the wall were a study in flawless geometric alignment.
Charlotte just thought I was a “neat freak” at first, which, honestly, isn’t such a bad characteristic when you start seeing someone. But as time passed, she realized that my neat and clean ways went much deeper than just about being organized. After we moved in together, Charlotte started noticing some odd behaviors. For example, if something isn’t arranged just the way I like it on the desk, my breathing becomes heavy and I have a mini panic attack until the disorganized piles became organized piles. The first time she witnessed this, she thought I was overreacting and told me to “calm down — it’s just a little bit messy.” Yet my mind couldn’t think of anything else but the books that weren’t perfectly aligned, the pile of paper that wasn’t neatly stacked, the odd objects — a pen, a lighter, and some sunglasses — that were strewn about without any care about their placement in relationship to all of the other objects. I couldn’t continue on with my day without organizing that desk. So I sat down and organized it as Charlotte looked on with consternation.
She suddenly knew that she was in a relationship with someone who has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
I’ve never been formally diagnosed with OCD by a psychiatrist and I have my reasons for not visiting one. However, I have spoken about my behaviors with a psychologist friend and he characterizes my OCD as mild. I still perform well at my job and participate in plenty of activities without my anxieties interfering with them. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for many OCD sufferers (think: Hannah Horvath in that infamous Q-tip episode of “Girls”).
When it comes to a relationship, however that’s another story: she sees my obsessive-compulsive behaviors up close. Another one of my rituals happens after Charlotte and I have dinner. After we’ve finished eating, we usually like to hang out on the sofa and watch a show on Netflix. But before that can happen, I need to wipe down the table with a paper towel and disinfectant cleaner. Even if there aren’t any lingering crumbs from out meal. Even if nothing was spilled. The table must be wiped, no matter what. Charlotte’s gotten used to this, but I think that it gets to her from time to time. She’d just like to cuddle with me on the sofa, but I unfailingly get up, fetch the paper towel and cleaning spray, and wipe down the table.
She has accepted that these things are a part of me, but there have been some difficult moments in our relationship. Take, for instance, the time when I had a full-blown anxiety attack because our bed wasn’t completely aligned with the wall. Charlotte and I were getting ready to go to sleep and she pushed our bed ever-so-slightly away from its spot directly against the bedroom wall. She wanted to plug her phone in, and the plug was right where edge of the bed was. A simple request — but not for me. I began begging her not to do it, telling her how I couldn’t sleep if the bed wasn’t placed exactly against the wall. She told me I was being ridiculous, and I was, but she just wasn’t understanding how deeply this would affect me. The bed had to be aligned with the wall. No exceptions. I began crying and I started hyperventilating. She looked at me completely dumbfounded. In the end, we unplugged her phone and pushed the bed back to its normal spot. Then I could fall asleep.
I display a handful of other OCD-like behaviors: I can’t change my morning ritual, obsessively write down everything I have to do every day, and have some irrational fears of epidemic diseases and the New York City subway. But I don’t feel like these behaviors adversely impact my life in any way and I’m able to cope with them. Charlotte has the patience and understanding to accept this aspect of me. No, she can’t understand what it’s like to freak out over a pillow not placed just right, or a blanket not folded correctly. But she understands that I feel better after fixing them and she loves me for it. Despite my neuroses and annoying habits, I know that she loves me regardless.
In a relationship, you learn to accept those things about your partner that might bother you from time to time. At least in the case of my marriage, Charlotte and I have grown to somewhat enjoy each other’s quirks — she does, after all, live in a very clean house. And in the end, what’s most important is that we’re in love. Perhaps love does conquer all—even a mild case of OCD.
Victorine Lamothe is an editor, writer, and translator based in New York.
[Image of a woman cleaning via Shutterstock]