By Allison Raskin
Allison Raskin is a New York Times bestselling author, actress, director and co-creator of the YouTube comedy channel and podcast, Just Between Us. Gaby Dunn and Allison’s I Hate Everyone But You was the first debut novel published under Wednesday Books’ inaugural list, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, quickly becoming a bestseller. The sequel, Please Send Help… was published on July 16th, 2019 quickly earning a position on a list of The 20 Best LGBTQ Books of 2019 by Harper’s Bazaar. Allison teamed up with Midroll on GOSSIP, a 12-part narrative fiction podcast, which premiered on June 14th, 2018, immediately hitting the worldwide top charts. Allison grew up in Scarsdale, NY and holds a BFA in screenwriting from USC.
When I moved in with my boyfriend a few weeks ago, I expected a few congratulations and maybe even a couple “That was fast!” What I didn’t expect was people asking me in hushed voices, “How is that going?” I quickly realized they weren’t referring to the character of my boyfriend, who is an absolute delight. They were wondering how my OCD was handling living with someone else. To be fair, this is valid question. I’ve been battling OCD in some form since I was four. Now, at 30, the most obvious part of my ailment is cleanliness-based. Despite being medicated and in therapy, I still harbor a deep fear of contamination. How could I coexist in the same space with someone who didn’t share the same obsession?
The answer has been surprisingly easy. I love him and I want to make it work. Part of being able to make it work is all the solo work I’ve been doing to get myself ready for this. I do not want to be a prisoner to my OCD. I don’t want to give it a voice. But I also realize it is a part of me. So instead of giving in to all of its desires, I negotiate. What can I handle and what is too much? I then take these terms to my boyfriend and he kindly accommodates to make me comfortable. So far those accommodations include:
- No shoes in the house. Duh! But when he forgets or wants to wear his sneakers in the second bedroom to work out, I take a few breaths and let it happen.
- He is not allowed to touch my bath towels. For all the progress I’ve made, I’m deeply uncomfortable with the idea of the first thing that touches my clean body being contaminated. He still bumps into these towels on occasion since they hang off the back of the bathroom door, but instead of freaking out or immediately changing them for clean ones, I try (and succeed) to look the other way.
- A new sponge once a week. My boyfriend likes to clean the dishes by hand. I’m a dishwasher girl. Regardless of how effective they actually are, I don’t think something is adequately clean unless it’s been through the dishwasher. This has a lot to do with how disgusting I find sponges to be. I quickly realized it would be impossible to ask him to stop hand washing, so I devised a compromise. As long as we swap out the sponge once I week, I don’t feel as uncomfortable when he uses it.
- I do all of the laundry. Partly because I work from home and it’s easy for me. Partly because I don’t trust him to touch my clean clothes.
- Everything has to be cleaned immediately after being on an airplane including the people on the airplane. Airplanes are a huge trigger for me and it’s something I’m unable (at this point) to compromise about. My boyfriend understands this and has learned that when he returns home for a trip he needs to put all his clothes in the wash, take a shower, and wipe down anything that’s been on the plane (cellphone, kindle, wallet).
While some of the above may seem extreme (especially the airplane ritual), the reality is it’s all extremely doable stuff. I’m not asking him to guess why I’m upset or figure this stuff out on his own so as not to set me off. I’m communicating with him openly and he is choosing to compromise, because that’s what good partners do, regardless of whether or not one of you suffers from mental illness.
And on my end, I’m not vocalizing every little complaint or worry that comes into my head. I don’t expect him to just make accommodations while I do no further work on myself. Instead, I’m continuing to actively work on my symptoms and hope that one day I’ll be able to let him do the laundry. (He’s much better at folding if you have to know.)
For now, though, I do what I can. I let his backpack in our apartment even though it’s been on MANY planes and has never been washed. I don’t grill him about how often he washes his pants (IMHO, not enough). I focus on the good. On how much his presence calms me and makes me feel cared for. It also helps that he’s maybe the most fastidious person I’ve ever met. I’ve started to do the dishes faster to accommodate him. After a party, we now clean up that night instead of waiting until the morning like I did when I was the solo host. We’ve eaten in more as a couple in the last eight months than I ever did in the 29 years before I met him because he loves to cook.
Everyone has their habits and preferences. Some just happen to be fueled by OCD. What’s important when building a life with someone is not just compromise but compassion. Finding someone who doesn’t dismiss your “stuff” or begrudgingly observes the house rules with snarky comments. I could not live happily with anyone. But I am able to live joyfully with the right person. And both my head and my heart are extremely thankful. Even if I do wish he’d throw out that damn backpack.