The exact number of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is unclear, but one estimate puts the prevalence of the condition at 4.4% of all American adults aged 18 to 49. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having ADHD, but symptoms such as inattention and hyperactivity can sometimes make dating a little more complicated.
“Having success socially requires some level of focus and attention on people and situations, as well as the ability to effectively read social cues, all of which people with ADHD can struggle with,” says Dr. Zishan Khan, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health. “Additionally, ADHD may decrease one’s ability to properly regulate one’s emotions and how they react to others. Therefore, they may come on too strongly towards someone they are interested in, or on the flip side may have impulsive outbursts.”
However, it is entirely possible to successfully date as a person with ADHD and find the right partner for you (spoiler: they’ll be understanding). In fact, so many aspects of it make you a fantastic date, from curiosity to creativity. It’s about figuring out what habits and techniques work best for you. With that in mind, we spoke with eight leading experts—from a neuroscientist to psychologists—to get their best advice for dating with ADHD.
Check in With Yourself and List What You Want in a Partner
Expert: Saba Harouni Lurie, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Take Root Therapy.
Are you taking any prescribed medication? Are you sleeping well and consistently? How have you been feeling since starting to date? These are all vital self-assessment questions to determine if you’ve been maintaining a good routine and how you feel. Lurie explains that a greater self-awareness can help you better see how ADHD symptoms interact with your dating life.
Another challenge for people diagnosed with ADHD is being internationally excited about a date. Lurie recommends writing down desired and disliked qualities in another person before dating. You can consult this list when determining if someone is engaging you or if you’ve lost interest in them.
Change Up What You Do on Dates
Expert: Dr. Julie Landry, a licensed and board-certified clinical psychologist specializing in relationships and adult ADHD.
Dinner and a movie may be a comfortable go-to option for dates, but the repetitive nature of this routine date after date can leave you checked out. Instead, mix up what you do on each date. Landry recommends a range of stimulating options, explaining that they will “help you stay engaged and allow things to flow naturally.” This could be anything from a music festival to an adventurous activity (cliff jumping, anyone?) which will release your energy and can reduce ADHD-induced anxiety. Similarly, try a physical activity like a hike or bike ride.
Be Proactive on Your Date
Expert: Rebecca Lavine, MTS, MSW, LICSW, a solution-focused therapist and coach.
If you find yourself easily distracted by a game on the television or people walking by outside, there’s no reason to have to fight it all date long. Lavine recommends telling your date something like, “Hey, I love going out to eat, but I know if we do, I’ll get distracted by the game on the TV,” or “Let me switch seats with you, so I’m not distracted by the game.”
After the date—as long as the person wasn’t awful—highlight things you like about them and your time together. This immediate action means your memory will likely be more precise, and it creates a positive moment for you, whether or not you choose to see them again.
Slow Things Down and Be Honest
Expert: Dr. Monica Vermani, a clinical psychologist and author of A Deeper Wellness: Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety and Traumas.
Do you often dive quickly into a relationship but soon lose interest? Or do you find going on dates with multiple people leaves you struggling to keep track of your commitments? Vermani cautions against moving too fast and, instead, slowing down. “Allow yourself to move at a healthy pace rather than the one your emotions dictate. For many people with ADHD, relationships start intensely and passionately, escalate quickly, and just as quickly fizzle out or crash and burn,” says Vermani. Be honest about having ADHD and your symptoms once you feel comfortable with someone. The right match for you will understand and not hold judgment, expresses Vermani.
Make Notes of Things Important to Your Partner and Bond Over Similar Interests
Have you personally experienced jumping all in excitedly, only to become quickly disinterested in the idea of dating? This is all well and good if you’ve lost interest in the person, but if it’s the relationship’s novelty, try keeping the flow going by planning activities that combine your and your partner’s interests.
“Opposites attract? Well, sure, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t benefit you to find a partner that shares similar interests as you. When you find something that you and your partner both love to do, it can help strengthen the bond and prevent any one individual in the relationship from feeling neglected,” says Khan. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or that causes stress. It can be as simple as playing a game you both like. It may even be introducing them to one you love and want to share with them. As Khan says: “A couple that games together, stays together.”
Another way to show your partner you care? Write the important things down. It’s natural to forget or lose track of dates and facts, but you can “prevent major mishaps or embarrassing moments of absentmindedness simply by setting reminders for yourself,” says Khan. Taking this extra step shows you’re invested and takes the pressure off you to remember it all.
Pay Attention to Your Body Language and Ask Questions with Short Answers
Expert: Dr. Hayley Nelson, a neuroscientist, tenured psychology professor, international speaker, and founder of The Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience.
While you don’t want to spend too much time focusing on how you’re coming off instead of paying attention to the other person, it can be helpful to think about your body language. “Try to focus on making eye contact and keeping your body turned in towards the other person,” says Nelson. “Other people love to feel listened to or heard, so be intentional about trying to listen to them, and if you’re finding it challenging, be honest with the other person.”
If you’re struggling to focus, Nelson suggests “steering the conversation to something that you are inherently interested in and ask them questions that can elicit shorter answers.” These questions could be anything from who is your favorite musician to what’s the best trip you’ve taken.
Monitor Your Urge to Be Impulsive
Expert: Marta Heinrich, MA, MSW, RSW, a mental health counselor and psychotherapist specializing in women with ADHD.
A common characteristic of ADHD is impulsivity, which can profoundly affect your dating life. “Sometimes, in an attempt to make a connection quickly, folks with ADHD make decisions that aren’t fully thought through,” says Heinrich. “This can be exciting and bring a wonderful rush to a person but also obviously have a negative side.” Be conscious of if your choices lead to foregoing a potentially great match or certain responsibilities.