March to the beat of your own drum.
I first started noticing it soon after we were married. It was important to Fred that the sponge always be placed in its "home spot" on the sink after use -- the exact same place every time. I thought he was just a neatnik or his training in the Navy made him super-organized. I discovered that putting the sponge in the wrong spot on the sink was a great way to get him flustered. It was fun, and he was really cute when he was flustered!
Through the years, other "habits" began to surface that I questioned. Every night before going to bed, he would check to make sure that the doors were locked. He did this by locking and unlocking each door several times. I learned that there was no point in my locking the doors at all before I went to bed because he'd be unlocking them anyway to check them later.
He sorted his socks by color in his sock drawer, and sorted his underwear by size and type in his underwear drawer. He couldn't just loosely place his belongings into his drawers like I did. Mine would start out organized, but not stay that way for long. He needed the two largest drawers in our chest of drawers so that he could separate his things, even though I was the woman and had more stuff! I gave in to him because it was the path of least resistance.
We were always late going places because his routines for getting ready took him so long, and he invariably lost track of time. I didn't realize that he just couldn't stop himself from following his routines religiously. If I tried to rush him, he always became flustered and upset with me. I eventually learned to keep my mouth shut and took up crocheting to help me relax while I was waiting.
His need for control became the most obvious one year when we took a trip with my sister and brother-in-law. We traveled in a van from Phoenix to a time-share cabin in the mountains. We stuck Fred in the back of the van since I tend to get carsick when I ride in the back. My sister also stuck her boxer back there. By the time we reached the cabin, Fred was absolutely freaked out from having to stare at the dog's butt for three hours.
A few days later, we traveled on to Las Vegas. My sister had made the hotel reservations for us and got us a great deal. At the reception desk, Fred realized that our room was going to be on the 16th floor. I had forgotten that he doesn't like to stay above the 7th floor because that is the highest the ladders on the fire trucks can reach. This was more serious than him not "liking" to stay above the 7th floor. He was actually afraid. We went up to our room and began to unpack but he kept looking out the window and fretting. Finally, he told me that he just couldn't do this anymore and wanted to fly home immediately.
I didn't know how to react. Why couldn't he just "man up" and get over it? Why was he making such a big deal about this? Luckily, we were able to move to a room on the 6th floor and enjoy our days in Vegas, exploring the amazing buildings of the casinos and eating until we burst.
After that trip, I thought about what had happened. He and I had taken many vacations together, and there were never any signs of anxiety attacks. Then it hit me -- he had always made all the arrangements. We always stayed in nice motels with no more than a couple of floors. He had always been in control on those trips!
Talk about control -- it even affects his eating habits. One of his favorite things to do is take a drive out in the country, sip on a Dr. Pepper and eat M&Ms. I joined him one day and, as we were driving along, the smell of his M&Ms wafted over to my side of the car and I asked for a couple. He hesitated at first and told me that it was going to mess up his system. System?! He explained that his Dr. Pepper and M&Ms had to come out even. His last M&M and last sip of Dr. Pepper had to end together. If I took some of his M&Ms, it would mess things up. It just seemed so silly that I had to laugh! Fortunately, he has been able to laugh at himself as well. Now I just tell him if I want some M&Ms before we get in the car. Of course, he needs to know the exact number. If you say "a handful" it messes with his mind.
Before leaving the house, Fred always packs his pockets with the exact same items in the exact same pockets. When we go on a walk around the block, we can't leave until he packs his pockets. His lack of spontaneity is frustrating to me, but packing his pockets is something that he has to do. One day, our youngest son fell outside and busted his chin open. Fred couldn't just grab his keys and wallet and run out the door to take our son to the emergency room. We had to wait for him to pack his pockets.
Now, Fred has his redeeming qualities. He is pure gold as a father and husband. No other dad could have spent more time with his children than Fred did. He was always ready to play with them and spend time with them, even when he was tired to the bone. The grandchildren love him to death and always run to him when they visit. He's been a loving, faithful husband who has always made family his first priority. I love him dearly, in spite of his quirks.
Yes, we have come to realize that he has obsessive-compulsive disorder. When we were first married, in the 1970s, nobody had heard of it. He has admitted to me that he cannot stop himself from going through his little routines and really wishes that he could. But now we know about it, and it's just a part of Fred. He wouldn't be as much fun without it! And what would the family tease him about? It's all good-natured, of course, and it has been easy for the family to learn to live with his habits because he is so lovable otherwise. We wouldn't do a thing to change him! And I've completed many beautiful afghans while waiting.
This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family © 2011 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.
Cover image via Ruslan Guzov I Shutterstock