Listen, dating can be tricky, but there’s a whole other layer that gets added to finding a match when you have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or you’re dating someone with ADHD.
ICYMI, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that has a few different presentations that make life different (and yes, sometimes more difficult) for people who have it. ADHD could impact roughly 5% of people, according to a 2012 meta-analysis of 97 studies on adults and children. So, it may be helpful to know what to expect when talking to the potential suitor(s) of your dreams (I’m manifesting, OK) who may be in that group.
Speaking from personal experience as an ADHDer (as people with ADHD are often affectionately called) and autistic advocate, dating with ADHD can be challenging. That’s not because we’re undateable, but because our behaviors are often misunderstood, our valid differences aren’t usually accommodated and our skills and talents aren’t always recognized or respected.
There are way too many stereotypes about ADHD to count, and when people hear the term ADHD, they often picture a child—not an adult. If they do picture an adult, some people picture us as Energizer bunnies sprinting laps around a room or always zoning out in a trance-like state. That’s a problem because, when these are the images that pop up in people’s minds, it can be hard for them to envision us ADHDers as complete humans and potential romantic partners. It’s a shame because we’re deserving of love and affection, and we have so much to give in return.
So to give you a crash course on what it’s really like to date with ADHD, I asked ADHDers to share what they wish everyone knew about how we approach dating and how you can be a stellar date or partner to an ADHDer. (Pro tip: It’s not a bad thing if we get a bit chatty and hyperfocus on you during our first date. We’re sparing you from the awkward silences—you’re welcome.)
1. We might be late…a lot.
No matter how much effort we put into time management, it’s still something that a lot of ADHDers can struggle with, as 2019 research on how ADHDers experience time suggests. That’s an issue when you have a date and are expected to arrive on time, Rain D. says. Our fraught relationship with timeliness can result in a lot of tension in relationships since being late is usually seen as rude or a sign that someone doesn’t respect your time. But when it comes to ADHDers, that’s usually not the case. “Me being late doesn’t mean I don’t care,” Sophie J. says. Honestly, the reason we’re late usually has more to do with us genuinely forgetting about our schedule and being completely wrapped up in another task, despite the dozens of reminder apps on our phone and sticky notes all over our homes.
2. Rejection feels way different for many of us.
Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is “when you experience severe emotional pain because of a failure or feeling rejected,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. Though it’s not an official diagnosis or medical term, this phenomenon is often discussed in reference to ADHD, and it came up repeatedly among the ADHDers I spoke to about their dating experiences. RSD is incredibly personal and different for each ADHDer, but it’s important to have open, judgment-free convos about what can trigger feelings of rejection and how to work through it in any relationship—especially if one of you has ADHD and may be more prone to these feelings.
3. Don’t mistake forgetfulness for indifference.
How much we remember about other people is often used as a benchmark for how much we care, so you can see how ADHD-related forgetfulness is often misperceived as a sign that we aren’t interested in someone or that we don’t value them. “Just because I happen to forget one thing doesn’t mean I don’t care,” one anonymous source says. If an ADHDer forgets something, it might be because they are overwhelmed or uncontrollably hyperfocusing on something else, for example.
4. Our eye contact game might look a little different.
For most, paying active attention means making consistent eye contact, but in several of my conversations with ADHDers, many of them say they find it easier to pay attention when they don’t make eye contact and instead look away and fidget. (This is often especially true for those of us who are autistic as well. Side note: Some research suggests that signs of autism are not uncommon in people with ADHD.) So not looking at a date isn’t necessarily a sign that we’re not interested, Carly G. says, adding that she wishes future dates wouldn’t make her lack of eye contact such a big deal and focus on what she’s saying instead. If you’re dating an ADHDer, keep in mind that you looking away from them might also help take the pressure off of them, Carly adds.
5. Conversation interruptions can happen.
Part of the ADHD experience, as many ADHDers tell me, is feeling like some of us might burst if we are highly enthusiastic about a topic and can’t speak about it right away. That might drive us to repeatedly interrupt you, which is super common among younger ADHDers, as a 2000 study on communication and children with ADHD suggests. These types of interruptions can also mean we’re just super nervous—not rude, says Rebecca N. “I can become very talkative and hyperfocus on one topic. It is my way of showing that I care,” says another anonymous ADHDer. So practicing more understanding and kindness when talking to an ADHDer can go a long way.
6. Inattentiveness doesn’t mean we don’t care.
Attention deficits are such a big part of ADHD that it’s in the name, yet some still take our inattentiveness personally, believing that it’s a choice and reflects a lack of interest. But, as Megan M. says, “We care even if we aren’t paying attention.” So if you’re dating an ADHDer, remember that a lack of attention doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of care.
7. We might “overshare.”
ADHD might make some of us occasionally impulsively open up and share too much too soon, Anna V. points out. We may share an exceedingly embarrassing story to make you laugh or voraciously dissect complex family drama before your very eyes because we need to get it off our chest. There are a few reasons why this can happen with some of us, as I’ve learned through speaking with tons of ADHDers in my advocacy. Sometimes it’s because we don’t know how much information you actually need, or we want to bond with you, or our impulsivity has taken over, or we need to fill the silence. So, if our stories are a bit TMI, we promise we are not trying to make you uncomfortable on purpose.
8. You might think we’re being inconsistent.
Some people with ADHD experience deficits in our executive function, AKA the brain processes that help us regulate our emotions, motivate us, and perform tasks and prioritize, suggests a 2010 study on adults with ADHD and a 2019 study on children with ADHD. So, when it comes to dating, “sometimes I genuinely can’t do stuff because of burnout. Many don’t understand this,” one anonymous contributor explains. But don’t get it twisted: This doesn’t mean we won’t ever be able to do things with you or pull our weight in the relationship. It just means that we might need to do things on our own timeline. “Sometimes I can’t clean anything for two weeks, but then I’ll deep clean the whole house,” Camille C. adds.
9. We love clear signals.
Honestly, who doesn’t? But, as multiple ADHDers shared with me, directness is something ADHDers often admire and sometimes depend upon when dating. When you’re not totally up-front with us, we might completely miss or misread signals when you try to flirt with us. That might be because we can get easily distracted by all the sensory stimuli surrounding us, we tend to take longer to process information, and we may be so hyperfocused on your words and their literal meaning that the context of the interaction and any other signals you are sending evade us. Even if we really like you, your flexing, leaning forward, or sending “good morning” texts might not register as flirting in our minds, and we might not show that the feelings are mutual. “I can’t read signals if my life depended on it. Tell me straight up,” says Michal G.
If a person you know or believe might have ADHD has caught your eye, directness can help you communicate more clearly—especially if they are autistic as well. Your subtle body language and playful flirtations might be lost on them, but inviting them on a date won’t be.
10. New relationships can excite and confuse us.
ADHD brains often crave novelty and get lost in the delicious excitement of new things, as a 2018 study affirms. When it comes to dating, we might mistake excitement for romantic feelings, as one anonymous ADHDer says. To help them figure out what it is they’re really feeling for somebody, this anonymous source emphasizes taking things slowly so they can tell if it’s love or hyperfixation. If you slow down a little, this extra time will give us (and maybe even you!) the flexibility to process our feelings and emotions before committing to a relationship.
11. Patience goes a long way.
Patience is key when talking to some ADHDers. We “don’t always have the energy to respond to messages quickly,” Elle W. mentions when talking about how online dating is different for ADHDers. And yeah, sure, we might get distracted sometimes. But on a more general level, many members of the community say they’d appreciate patience in all areas of the relationship. “Love and patience [give us] so much room to learn, adapt, and grow,” Christa B. adds.
12. ADHD is part of who we are.
A lot of people view ADHD as an experience that comes and goes, but it can be a huge part of an ADHDer’s life. “ADHD isn’t separate from who I am; it’s part of who I am as a person,” Lucy D. says. That means part of dating an ADHDer is accepting and honoring their differences, recognizing ADHD’s role in their life, and working with them to build a truly compatible and loving connection.
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