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Truly, madly, obsessively

by Julia Kite

30th November 2005

I've been mulling over how to tackle this subject for quite some time. Relationships are personal, and I'm sure you are no more eager to know the details of mine than I am to spill them. But this is a mental health problem, not a gossip piece - so if you want to read the steamy details, turn back to your other favourite weekly magazine. This is about love, OCD-style. In a nutshell, it's about how the question "Have you ever had unprotected sex?" makes a terrible chat-up line.
One of my big OCD hang-ups is pathogens - all pathogens, from itty-bitty viruses to slightly less itty-bitty bacteria. The whole lot, in fact. I suppose being nervous about writing this article is a good sign - after all, it means I recognise that there's something weird about wanting to ask potential partners, before getting physical with them, if they've ever had unprotected sex and, if so, whether they have been tested for a range of diseases. Or maybe there isn't anything strange about this? After all, my generation is the first to grow up knowing full well what HIV is, and how it is - and isn't - transmitted.
A man and woman kissing
To me, all that education morphed into a fear of making even one mistake in the bodily fluids department. And the scary thing is, this could be the one case where my obsessive worries are fully warranted. Make no mistake about it, we live in a scary world, and I am terrified that all my worrying about disease might finally translate into being stuck with an infectious condition for life.

I'm baffled as to how we can put a man on the moon but not cure herpes simplex, and I hope that while I'm still young enough to enjoy myself science will have solved that problem. In the meantime, maybe I am a bit of a bitch if I shy away from kissing you, but I'd rather be a bitch than be ill. Overreaction or reasonable precaution? Answers on the back of a postcard to the usual address.

But even if you don't spend your time worrying about germs, OCD can throw more wrenches into the gears of the love machine. First of all, anti-depressants - the drug of choice for OCD treatment - can kill your libido. As far as side effects of medications go, I'm sure it's better to have a sex drive the size of the average dust mite than to deal with, say, seizures or weight gain. Back in high school, I will admit that this side effect didn't bother me too much, as I was too busy reading books and writing stories to pay more than a smidgeon of attention to boys. But yes, once in a while you step back and think - why is there something else wrong with me? After all, happy pills are supposed to get you raring for it, right? And stress is supposed to make people lose interest in relationships, so wouldn't anti-depressants clear away all the worry that keeps people miserable and single? I wish I knew.

Fortunately, the libido-deadening side effect is temporary, and I soon discovered that, hey, relationships are fun. Usually. One boyfriend would soothingly cite my 'condition' as the reason why I didn't want to go to certain physical lengths in our relationship. No doubt he had good intentions, but give me a break - and give me some autonomy! Maybe I've grown up reaping the benefits of modern feminism, but I always thought that I didn't have to give a reason for saying no. Like any other girl, when I say no, I mean it, and whether it's due to a fear of pathogens or because I simply don't feel comfortable, it's no one's business why! "I understand, it's your condition that gets you worried like this," the ex would say. But I refuse to be guilt-tripped into something I don't want to do. Yeah, this is my 'condition', and it isn't going away - so get used to it!

But then again, there is a certain something about being in love that I like to call 'the OCD paradox'. A strong relationship is curative - the closer someone gets to being an extension of myself, the less I bother worrying about what his saliva might contain. It's comforting to think that I can put my problems on hold and just enjoy being in the company of someone. Like any other friend, your significant other can joke about your problem and not get a slap in the face for it, and in return you get that incredible feeling of emotional protection.
A kissing couple
That brings up the question - to tell or not to tell? Of course, there can never be a simple answer, and it depends on the other person. In my opinion, if you can't trust someone to not judge you when you reveal you have OCD, then you can't trust them with your heart. No, I'm not recommending making OCD your new chat-up line, but I am suggesting that you shouldn't be ashamed of it. What I have found is that if you tell a secret, you get someone else's secret in return. Voila! - just add water, stir clockwise exactly ten times while holding your breath, and it's instant trust!

And what if that love interest dumps you, thinking you're crazy? Look at it this way: You know you're stronger than him, girl, because he couldn't handle what you deal with every day.

In last year's film Dirty Filthy Love - which I highly recommend - an obsessive-compulsive architect quickly loses his job, his wife, and his sense of reality, all due to his illness, but falls in love with a woman from his self-help group. The pair play off each other's problems as a form of therapy and - after a few desperate and unsuccessful moves to win back his ex-wife - Mark and his new love, Charlotte, walk off together into the sunset. Brilliant! However, it did leave me thinking: do us nutcases belong together? Do two obsessions cancel each other out, allowing colourful non-toxic confetti to suddenly fly everywhere and let the happy couple be joined together in eternal obsessive-compulsive romance? Well, I doubt it. If things were that easy, everyone in the world would want to be just like us; everyone would be lining up to hear our secrets to achieving mental turmoil. Sorry, pal, you'll just have to sit back and try to hide your envy.
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