Life after divorce is kind of like being in a foreign country where you only somewhat speak the language, and you end up interacting with people using broken sentences and hand gestures to fill the gaps where speech fails you. People kind of understand what you’re trying to say, but most of the time they’re just as confused as you are.
That’s kind of the way every day of my life goes, though — I’m not only newly single, I also have ADHD. And if we’re sticking with the language metaphor, having ADHD is like speaking a language even you don’t understand.
Relationships are a particular challenge for people with ADHD because many of our symptoms and quirks don’t always lend themselves well to the nuanced politics of dating. For example, we can be impatient, easily annoyed or irritated, and quick to interrupt. Impulsive behavior means we sometimes make rash decisions or say things we don’t mean. Our partners don’t necessarily understand or appreciate those qualities, and it can lead to hard feelings and miscommunications within a relationship.
At least they did in mine.
Filling out divorce papers leaves you with a lot of time to reflect on the relationship and where it went wrong. In my marriage, there were so many fights over things like household chores (why wouldn’t I just do the dishes?), punctuality (why wasn’t I ever there on time?) and my “attitude” (why was I always so snippy?). On top of that, sensory overload meant I was easily overwhelmed and sometimes had a short temper. Over time, I guess, the frustration over these seemingly simple things added up.
To make things even more complicated, my ex also had ADHD. Now, you might think that our shared experience with symptoms might make things a bit easier. After all, we were both fighting some of the same battles, right? But that wasn’t the case in our marriage.
Two adults struggling with ADHD meant flaring tempers, impatience, and messiness.
There was the time when we were attempting to co-parent his children from a previous relationship. They lived in a different county, which meant a lot of travel time when it was our turn to have the kids. We spent more time traveling than we did at home. For a person with ADHD who needs structure and organization in order to function, this setup was impossible to maintain.
Did I mention the messiness?
Being an ADHDer married to another ADHDer meant that there was always a mess to clean up. He did laundry obsessively, but never folded it, leaving a trail of clothing all around the house. Being surrounded by piles of unfolded clothes overwhelmed me, and that feeling just shuts my brain down — it always has. When I shut down or got depressed, my ex got frustrated. Why couldn’t I keep up with him?
Conversely, his constant need to be in motion but never accomplish anything annoyed me bitterly. We argued constantly.
I could think of dozens of other instances just like these — mundane, everyday disagreements that exploded into something much bigger. Sometimes it’s the simple things that can really undo you. Eventually the relationship turned abusive, and I had to leave in order to keep myself safe.
I was able to get out and rescue a bit of my sanity, but the healing process is a long, hard journey.
Sometimes ADHD symptoms can make you feel difficult to love, and you never feel more difficult to love than when you’re walking away from a person who swore to love you forever — for better or worse.
Even before I was married, relationships were complicated for me. It wasn’t until I got my ADHD diagnosis at age 25 that I began to realize why dating had been so difficult.
Dating after divorce and heartache is hard enough, but it can be even more intimidating to have to also explain my ADHD to every potential new partner. But I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge! I’ve learned that being open about my condition and accepting myself for who I am saves lot of time and frustration in all areas of my life — including my love life.
Since I’ve been back in the game, I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about how my condition relates to my relationships, and how I might be able to avoid the patterns of the past.
If you’re like me and trying to navigate the dating scene as an adult with ADHD, try these tips next time you swipe right:
Talk less, listen more
We ADHDers can talk… a lot. Oversharing is a common issue for lots of people, but especially for people living with ADHD.
As a relationship deepens, you’ll want your partner to understand the realities of your ADHD, but this is not first date material. Give yourself time to get to know someone and build trust with them before baring your soul. Oversharing is a common issue for people with ADHD, especially when impulsivity makes us chatter. Keep it simple, and save intimate details for a later date.
I once made the mistake of telling a man on our first date all about my life up to that point. In retrospect, I should have known better. Nobody wants to hear about an abusive husband, a lifetime with a disorder you never knew you had, the medications you’re on, and how you have a difficult time keeping it all together after only having met you for an hour. It’s a lot to take in.
Don’t jump right in
Impulsive behavior goes hand in hand with ADHD, and that combined with a trusting nature can be dangerous. This is where it’s critical for you to know yourself really well. If you know that you get close to people too quickly, put safeguards in place to help you make good decisions. That might mean talking to a trusted friend or a counselor with great insight before taking your relationship to the next level.
Don’t be apologetic about who you are
You’re a rare breed, and not everyone is prepared to deal with your earnestness, your passion, and your drive. It can be difficult for us to deal with rejection, but I promise you that there is someone — many someones! — who will love you because of, not in spite of, your “quirks.”
Case in point: A man I dated off and on once said something to me that I’ll never forget: “You inspire me,” he said, as I sat stunned on the other end of the phone. “If you can get through everything you get through in a day and do it with no complaints, it makes me feel like I’m able to accomplish things too.”
That’s the magic of ADHD.
Don’t overthink it
Dating causes a lot of anxiety already. Dating with ADHD puts that anxiety on steroids. Are they going to like me? Am I going to like them? What if I do something awkward? Stressing over these worries can get in the way of an amazing date. Try some mindfulness practices beforehand, like meditation or deep breathing, to ease your mind.
I like to repeat a few affirmations as well. Before you step out, look in the mirror and tell yourself something positive. I like these: “I’m kindhearted and fun to be with,” or “Tonight is going to go well because I am open to having a fantastic time.”
Opening up again after a breakup or divorce can be challenging whether or not you have ADHD. There will be good dates and bad dates. There will probably even be really bad dates. Some will turn into something more long term, and some may never make it past that first drink. There will be surprises and disappointments, and yes, even love! So be gentle with yourself and take it one step at a time, and you’ll be just fine out there in dating land.
René Brooks has been a typical ADHDer since as far back as she can remember. She loses keys, books, essays, homework, and her glasses when they are on her face. She was first diagnosed at the tender age of 11, but never received treatment until age 25. She created Black Girl Lost Keys to share her experiences of learning how to navigate the world as an adult with ADHD while being part of a demographic that is still largely skeptical of neurological disorders and mental illness. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.
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