No, I’m not a Negative Nancy who thinks it’s impossible to find “the one.” I’m just a girl with OCD, who’s learned the hard way that it's impossible to know that you’ve found the one.
We have not yet (to my knowledge) invented time travel, which means we cannot see into the future.
Brace yourself for what I’m about to say next: We will never know for sure if the person we are currently with will be our “forever person.” Anxious yet? Good, It means we have some work to do.
Anyone who's been to CBT therapy knows that sitting with this anxiety is actually a good thing. It allows us to grow stronger because we can practice tolerating the discomfort that uncertainty brings. This is especially important when it comes to dating and relationships.
As someone who has Relationship OCD, I can tell you that accepting this fact is no walk in the park. “What’s Relationship OCD,” you ask? It is a subset of OCD where the obsessions are focused on themes surrounding relationships and dating. So, when a thought pops into our head about the future, OCD wants this answer now. Right now. Like, can’t-focus-on-anything-else-until-this-worry-thought-goes-away now. OCD has given us the instructions and it’s time to complete this mission. For me (before I went to therapy and was diagnosed with OCD) I’d blindly give into these relationship anxieties.
I’d check my feelings every time I’d look at the person in question. “Do I have butterflies now? What do butterflies even feel like? What if I mistake butterflies for feelings of anxiety. Why don’t I have butterflies? Does this mean they're not right for me?”
I’d be extra vigilant when out at night with friends. “What if I think a new person (who is not my significant other) was attractive? What does this mean? Does this mean I’m not into my current partner? Does this mean I want to cheat? Does this mean they're not right for me?”
I’d replay memories of early moments in the relationship. “When we first got together I had tons of butterflies. Do I feel the same kinds of things now? Do we actually still do fun things together? Do I have fun when I’m with them? Am I having fun right now? Why am I doubting this relationship? Does this mean they're not right for me?”
Analyzing everyday mundane situations. “Why didn’t they just open the door for me? Does this mean they have bad manners? Are they not thinking about me? Does this mean if we get married, in the future, we won’t be happy because I won’t be put first? Does this mean they're not right for me?”
All of these worries lead to the same question “Does this mean they're not right for me?” The answer? Maybe, maybe not. Checking our feelings every time we are with our partner won’t give us the answer. Analyzing what we feel when we’re not with our partner won’t give us the answer. And trying to remember how we felt when we first started dating our partner won’t give us the answer.
Therapy –– cognitive behavioral therapy, more specifically –– has taught me a lot. It’s been a real life saver (and a relationship saver). Inaccurate thoughts or cognitive distortions contribute to emotional distress, which leads to unhelpful behaviors (ex: all of those behaviors I listed above).
CBT teaches us to challenge ourselves and to change the way we react to our own thoughts. It teaches us how to avoid jumping to conclusions, setting healthy and realistic standards for ourselves and our partner, and to practice sitting with the discomfort.
So, when the thought “what if this person is not the right one for me” pops up, I would challenge that by saying “This person might be the right one for me, or he might not, but I’m not going to spend my time trying to find evidence of one or the other. All I know for sure is that I am happy in this moment and I will act based on what I know.”
So, do we declare mission impossible? Will we never find someone to be happy with? No.
This just means that we only know what we feel and what we think in the present moment. And checking your own thoughts and feelings doesn’t count as the present moment. If we spend all of our time in our head, who’s spending time in the relationship? We have to step away from our mind and just be. Be in the relationship.
The OCD just wants to be fed, we have to let it starve.
Enjoy each other’s company without analyzing every word of the conversation. Go out to eat without wondering what picking up the check actually means. Sit with the uncertainty no matter how uncomfortable it might be. Breathe into the uneasiness that comes with walking into the future with no answers. With time, that discomfort will move along and you’ll find the clarity to act true to yourself in the present moment.
Regardless of OCD, relationships are scary. They require relinquishing control and being brave enough to put your trust into someone other than yourself. Everyone has had doubts and fears that they are with the “wrong” person. It’s a natural part of dating to wonder where this relationship will go in the future.
And just because someone has the occasional doubt about a relationship does not mean that relationship is doomed. It just means that you have fears that something will go wrong. And just because you fear something does not mean it will turn out to be true. But, it also doesn’t mean it won’t turn out to be true. That’s the beauty of uncertainty. Confused yet? There’s no need to be. When we embrace uncertainty, we learn to make choices in the present that will pave our path for the future.