I’m always intrigued when I encounter other ADHDers’ writing on life with ADHD, especially in blog form. But one recent post, in particular, captivated me and spurred me to write up something in response.
Penned by Terena Bell, the post in question bears the compelling headline “Dating with ADHD: When do I tell a new partner about my health condition?”.
To disclose, or not to disclose
Like everyone else with a diagnosis, I want the impossible: I don’t want to disclose my ADHD at all. I never tell men I’m funny; they just laugh at my jokes. I don’t tell them I’m smart; they just know. I don’t want attention deficit to outweigh or outrank the other parts of me.
Ah, if only it were that easy.
Confession time: I haven’t exactly had what you would call an active dating life. In fact, I’ve only had two bona fide relationships in my life. The first was a guy whose two best friends both had ADHD, so I felt comfortable sharing my ADHD status with him. And with the second guy, it came out by accident: We were texting back and forth, and my ADHD impulsivity reared its ugly head and caused me to let slip my graduate thesis was on women and ADHD. So much for keeping that one close to the chest.
But under different circumstances, would I have kept it to myself? Would I have refrained from spilling the beans about my neurological impairment and proceed as though I were just another young woman in a new relationship? I’ve given this a lot of thought, and have decided no, I would not — for several reasons.
The truth is, when your ADHD is severe enough, you pretty much have to disclose your ADHD to romantic partners; trust me, if you don’t, your behavior will speak for itself. With Bell, this manifests in an inability to filter out stimuli while out on dates. With me, it takes the form of (a) saying stupid things for no apparent reason and (b) being seemingly unable to comprehend even the simplest things my partner was saying — on a regular basis.The truth is, when your ADHD is severe enough, you pretty much have to disclose your ADHD to romantic partners; trust me, if you don't, your behavior will speak for itself. Click To Tweet
To get another perspective, I reached out to my friend Taylor. She was my roommate during my senior year of college and also happens to be a woman with ADHD herself. Here is what she had to say:
The only ADHD problem I can think of is the need to really focus on what my date is saying. I tend to get distracted with what’s happening around me. One time I went on a coffee date with this guy in college, and he spent the first 10 minutes telling me about his major and what he wanted to do after he graduated. I wasn’t really paying attention to what he was saying, as there was a lot happening around us at the Starbucks. Well, right after he finished explaining all that, I asked him what his major was. He looked at me like I was crazy and probably thought I was an idiot. Needless to say, we never hung out again.
As with so many other issues related to ADHD, sexual politics play a part in all of this. Consider: Traditional gender roles cast women as the nurturers, but ADHD often results in a lack of attentiveness. So in this sense, traditional womanhood and ADHD are naturally at odds. So it goes that women with ADHD may earn the disapproval of their loved ones for forgetting important dates or listening to heartfelt complaints about the highs and lows of daily life. Men, meanwhile, may get let off the hook for neglecting to pay attention to their loved ones because they have “more important things they have to think about,” which presumably, and really may or may not mean non-domestic work matters.
A tall order?
I understand the instinct to conceal one’s ADHD. At best, it’s unromantic; at worst, it can wreak havoc on one’s relationship — or your partner may expect it to. But at some point, we have to find it in ourselves to be brave enough to disclose our ADHD status. Otherwise, we condemn ourselves and future generations of ADHDers to a life of secrecy and fearing being found out. We’ll keep being marginalized, our ADHD lurking in the shadows, never named, and so never understood.
The right guy will realize my ADHD is a permanent and powerful presence in my life, impacting everything I say and do. But he will also be able to wrap his mind around the fact that as inexorable as ADHD is for me, it’s nonetheless separate from the person I am deep down inside. And he will learn to love that person, ADHD and all. That may seem like a lot to expect from a potential partner. But I know I deserve it.
And I have a sneaking suspicion most other women with ADHD do too.