ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder. This means that it is a condition that usually develops during one’s childhood years, and one that will probably be the person’s constant companion for a lifetime. If you are someone looking to date a person with ADHD, this is something that is simultaneously important to remember and hard to digest. ADHD and relationships can coexist, of course.
When you date a person with ADHD, it is important to know that while your boo has the condition, it does not define them. But it does affect their daily lives and behaviors. Dating a person with ADHD is, thus, a little different from dating a neurotypical person i.e. someone who does not have ADHD or autism and does not show signs of atypical neurological functioning. But, before I get into how ADHD and relationships work differently, let us first understand what it is and how it tends to work in adults.
ADHD is usually diagnosed in children who seem to struggle to focus on a task or sit still for extended periods of time. But, while attention deficit and hyperactivity are usually associated with the condition, ADHD is often characterized by a far wider range of quirks. In fact, not all neurodivergent folx who have ADHD may even show signs of hyperactivity.
This is especially true for women and queer folx. Since most ADHD-related research up until this point is focused on cis young boys, women and queer folx have historically gone undiagnosed — often well into their adulthoods.
This happens mostly because of what is called “masking.” Masking is an umbrella term for habits that neurodivergent people develop in order to mask or hide their quirks. And since women and queer people often go through societal conditioning that reminds them to be less emotional, sit stiller, be smaller, and quieter, they remain hidden in the background. Basically, masking usually comes naturally to them.
So, even as they struggle with the host of obstacles ADHD throws in their paths on a daily basis, they are able to “mask” those symptoms and pass off as a neurotypical person. Adult ADD (minus the hyperactivity part) is, thus, harder to diagnose, at least with the current scholarly and medical resources available to people.
To understand how this and other factors related to ADHD affect romantic relationships, I spoke to Psychotherapist Dr. Aman Bhonsle (PhD, PGDTA), who specializes in relationship counseling and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.
How Does ADHD Affect Relationships?
I was finally diagnosed with adult ADD toward the tail end of 2021. I was already in my late 20s by then. And I had felt the diagnosis in my bones for well over 2 years. I had done the research, I was done relating hard to ADHD memes, and I just knew I had it. After all, people around me didn’t seem to jump through 35 different kinds of hoops and do all kinds of mental gymnastics, just to convince their bodies to cooperate enough to make a cup of tea.
It still took 2 years, and exhausting trips to 4 different psychiatrists before I got the diagnosis. Of these 4 “doctors”, one told me to “just do it!”, while another spoke about the condition like one would speak about a unicorn — cute but a myth in the end.
An acute episode of executive dysfunction later — one that left me unable to get up from my bed to even go to the bathroom, let alone act like a functional member of society — l was diagnosed with adult ADD. And OCD. And clinical anxiety. Plus the BPD I was diagnosed with as a kid. Because, when ADHD arrives, it doesn’t like coming alone. It likes to bring its friends. Only one — just one of the conditions on this list — is usually enough to make every day, every simple activity seem at least 10x harder. Combine them all and you have ADHD.
It’s very similar to being forced to be at a party where you don’t know anyone. And every one of those strangers hates you. And you arrived late and forgot to bring party favors because your ADHD also makes you forgetful and messes up your sense of time. And the building the party is being held at is on fire. That is what it feels like. All the time. When you are eating. When you are in the bathroom. When you are watching Netflix and eating a packet of chips but not really concentrating on the show you are watching, because you needed to eat lunch two hours ago, but your body just refuses to cooperate.
Sounds exhausting, right? Yep, tell me about it.
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ADHD is, thus, an unstoppable force-meets-immovable object. The force needs you to constantly get things done. But your brain cannot make your body move the way it wants to. So, you get stuck in situations where you are doing things you don’t want to do, while internally screaming about the things you do have to do. To the outside world, it looks like you are eating chips and procrastinating. On the inside, though, you are waging a war — one that you don’t always win.
This, obviously, goes on to affect all aspects of our lives — personal or professional. So, of course, romantic relationships often turn into messy affairs. This is basically the root of all doubt regarding ADHD and romantic relationships that people often seem to have. Mental illnesses often affect sexual and romantic relationships and, while ADHD is less of an illness than a condition, it does take a toll on the connections we develop with people.
Dr. Bhonsle says, “When someone has ADHD, they will have trouble remembering things. Focusing on things at hand and on conversations also becomes a struggle for them. Their ADHD may lead them to behave erratically. They will be obsessed with one thing today and a completely different thing tomorrow. This can, of course, tire out spouses and prospective partners.”
ADHD And Relationships
The focus and passions of a person with ADHD are constantly on the move. Today, I am obsessed with crocheting and have been at it for the past 17 hours. Tomorrow, I may not want to look at the crocheting needle ever again. Our passions burn bright. But then, they fizzle out, and we move on to the next interesting thing.
How does this affect relationships?
The relationships that people with ADHD share with romantic partners are slightly different from neurotypical relationships. A person with ADHD will usually jump into a new relationship head-first. ADHD in relationships translates to passionate kisses, dances in the rain, an obsession with our partner’s every word, every movement. Our love burns bright and strong. But suddenly, one day, we go straight from 100 to 0.
This quirk makes living with someone with ADHD a tad difficult since it tends to leave our partners confused and feeling neglected in the relationship. But that’s not always true. Chasing the next bright, interesting thing is an ADHD trait, yes. It does not mean that we are looking to cheat or pursue a shiny, new relationship.
ADHD And Romantic Relationship Problems
ADHD and relationship problems often go hand in hand, especially when either or both partners aren’t prepared for the implications of having the condition. Studies have shown that a person with ADHD can actually be in long-term, loving relationships. But it requires immense love, empathy, and effort from both partners. If you are someone planning on dating a man with ADHD, you need to come armed with empathy. ADHD in relationships is like a third partner you need to take into account as you make plans and take decisions. You will need to understand that when they are late to appointments and forget dates, they are not doing it out of malice or lack of love. They just do not have the tools they need to manage time properly.
To us, sometimes 5 minutes and 4 hours seem to pass at the same speed. So, you would need to be patient and supportive. Communicate your feelings instead of going for the silent treatment. Remember, people with ADHD usually have issues with anxiety and self-image. So, giving them the silent treatment may confirm their worst fears — that they are horrible failures and that you do not love them anymore.
Dr. Aman Bhonsle says, “If you are dating someone with ADHD, it is extremely important for you to remember that their forgetfulness is not vindictive. Your partner will be late to dates. They will goof up a lot. You, as their partner, need to be patient, empathetic, and be understanding to their plight. You will have to remember that they are messing up not because they are not trying. They don’t do it out of malice. They have a condition, and these quirks are the results of that condition.”
But it is not just the partners who need to put in the work.
How to date when you have ADHD
Dr. Bhonsle says, “If you have ADHD and are in a loving relationship, you need to learn how to take the onus for your forgetfulness. Try to use tools to remember. There are post-its, calendars, and shared apps that can help you keep track of things.”
So, if you have ADHD and are in a relationship, you need to put a lot of effort into it too. A clinical diagnosis helps, though it’s not necessary or even possible to get for everyone. Medicines help too. Take the support of your partner to build measures and plans that help you counter certain effects.
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Research the latest studies with your partner and try to dig deeper into why you are acting the way you are acting. Once you know what’s happening and why learning how to deal with it should get easier.
Most importantly, communicate with each other. Tell them what you are struggling with. Let them tell you what they need from you. Can’t concentrate on the conversation for long? Write it down. Make notes. Use post-its. Even though noting it down and tracking things on calendars won’t always be of help, it will at least remind your partner that you are trying. And that you value their feelings and are in this together.
Our passion does fade as the novelty of a thing wears off. This is the case even with our romantic relationships. But, just because we are not holding a boombox under your window in the pouring rain anymore, it does not mean we stop loving you. So, when you are dating someone with ADHD, know that our love lies in the little efforts we put in to make you smile every day. In making you breakfast in bed and letting you have the first bite of our favorite ice cream. In a world where we are wired to chase after everything new and shiny, our love lies in wanting to grow old together every day.
Perks Of Dating Someone With ADHD
Sure, dating someone with ADHD may feel like a task. But do the “problems” of living with someone with ADHD really outweigh the perks?
While talking about ADHD and relationships, people will often just concentrate on the problems that come with it. And sometimes the solutions you can use to counter those effects. But, while dating a man with ADHD or anyone at all with ADHD can sometimes be tedious, it can also be a rather rewarding experience. Here’s how:
1. We remember the important details
When someone thinks of ADHD and relationships, they think about dealing with a life with a forgetful, somewhat absent partner. But while we may miss your birthday at times but we will remember that once, on a quiet April night, you fell in love with a dress you could not afford. And we will do everything in our power to get it for you — even if it is years later.
We will remember the stories behind each of your scars and how you cried so hard when you lost the book grandma gave you. People with ADHD — people like me, that is — we remember the important things. We may miss dates and appointments, but we get you the signed first edition of your favorite fairytale. We love making the people we love happy. And we tend to show it in the oddest, warmest ways.
2. We give you space
A person with ADHD knows what it is like to just need space. We know that sometimes the world gets too loud to handle, and nothing anyone says or does is going to make it stop. We understand. So, we will understand when you don’t want to talk or text. We understand that we need to let you lie silently in the darkness sometimes. And that, while you may not want us around, you will still want snacks.
3. We are empathetic
I am speaking from personal experience when I say that people with ADHD tend to be more empathetic. We may not be great listeners, but we try hard to hold on to every word the people we care about say. We try to understand and see the world from your shoes. I believe this is because of how “over-sensitive” we usually are. The world around us is often too loud, too crowded, too complicated for us to handle on a daily basis.
So, when someone we care about seems to be struggling, we will usually try to understand. Our over-thinking tendencies also come in handy here. We can imagine the situation vividly and almost really feel what someone is feeling — which allows us to empathize with and support our partners better. So, you are less likely to deal with a lack of empathy when you are dating someone with ADHD.
4. We are creative
Dating someone with ADHD may be hard. But it will at least never be boring. We are always learning new things and collecting weird facts. Our overthinking abilities and hyperactive imagination let us come up with creative solutions to problems.
So, if it is a partner-in-crime you need, definitely date someone with ADHD. They will plan the weirdest, the most epic romantic gestures, somehow convince your boss to give you a raise and a vacation, and then help you murder your enemies, hide their bodies, and erase their entire existence while at it.
5. We keep it interesting
If you are dating someone with ADHD, prepare to be assaulted with the cheesiest, the most romantic, and incredibly passionate shows of love. Our greatest fear is being bored. And when we find something interesting, we focus our entire existence around it.
This – when channeled well – could be the basis of the most adventurous, passionate relationships ever. ADHD and relationships are sometimes all about making out in public bathrooms, pretending to be strangers attempting to playfully seduce each other, emergency dance parties in the living room in your pajamas, running and laughing in the midnight rain, and tracing forgotten forest trails in the mountains together.
Effort and empathy are the keys to any relationship, but especially so when you are dating someone with ADHD. “Being in a relationship with someone with ADHD doesn’t just mean having to subscribe to a life of problems. ADHD also makes a person clever. It makes them creative and intelligent. People with ADHD tend to be more romantic. Also, there are several facets to everyone’s personality and ADHD will not be the only defining aspect of your partner’s identity”, says Dr. Bhonsle.
Dating someone with ADHD is hard. But which relationship in the world isn’t a bit hard to deal with sometimes? Does that mean we give up? Of course not. We work harder instead — not just on the relationship but on ourselves. And for each other.
Dating someone with ADHD has its perks and its problems. But, as long as both partners are willing to be empathetic and supportive of each other, dating someone with ADHD is as easy and as difficult as dating a neurotypical person.
Of course, you can. ADHD and relationships, even committed, long-term ones, can go hand in hand. But do get your priorities sorted first. People with ADHD deal with the world differently from neurotypicals. They tend to be forgetful. They miss appointments. They seem to always be late to places. Ask yourself if you are willing to deal with these issues in the long run. If you are, then you will have the most enriching, fulfilling, and wonderfully odd life with your partner. If you aren’t, it’s best to get out before you end up hurting them and yourself.
ADHD is characterized by burning passion. So, yes, a person with ADHD can fall in love. They fall in love every day — with new songs, the neighborhood cat, cooking, writing, the old man with crooked teeth who lives down the lane. You cannot stop a person with ADHD from falling in love with a burning passion.