How do relationships work when one person has limited time and the other has ADHD?
April 11, 2012 5:58 AM   Subscribe

My availability is minimal, and my absolutely wonderful boyfriend is a fairly bad planner (due to ADHD) do we go about making sure that we see each other without me feeling like I'm controlling and him trying to see somewhat into the future to make a plan?

We're both in our early 30s, have been together for about 9 months, and live about 45 minutes from each other. We love spending time together and have a blast, but my childless time is at a minimum, so I do need to plan ahead when I want to see people without kids around.

When it comes to spending time with my boyfriend, I feel like I'm doing most of the planning, initiating the conversation to make the plan ("Do you want to go out on Wednesday?"), etc. Sometimes he forgets that we have made tentative plans and I end up feeling let down.

When I don't initiate, we end up trying to get together at the last minute, and it doesn't always work out. I end up feeling like a convenience more than someone he would go out of his way to see. But I know that this is not true, he does want to see me, he cares about me, etc. I am hesitant to propose any kind of schedule; I personally don't like the idea of locking in anyone's time or feeling obligations on either end.

When we talk about it, he feels that he is initiating and that I am just not picking up on it. He does admit that he has a hard time making plans. I feel like the lack of time we have together is having a direct effect on our relationship developing further (if we really don't see each other regularly, we aren't connecting as often face to face).

I love this guy. I think about him all the time. He makes me happy and I would love to see him more often. So!

How do you recommend we change this pattern? Or, is this how it is going to work given the factors I've mentioned? OR, perhaps I am overthinking this and should just let things be?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't sound like you're overthinking - it's always good to want to spend time with your beloved. My guy and I share google calendars - could you share your schedule with your boyfriend that way? Maybe if he could better see when you're free, he'd have a better sense for when to initiate or not?

If there's any way to have a standing date - Wednesday movie night or something - that can also help to feel like the relationship is prioritized.
posted by ldthomps at 6:08 AM on April 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have said this in AskMes before, but I will repeat it: the only way I have found to make spending time together in the face of complex scheduling work is, well, a schedule. Years ago, I was in grad school, my partner was in grad school, we both worked ~30 hours/week, and the only way we could be sure that we would see each other in a given week was to hold a certain night for each other (in our case, Saturdays). We would sometimes see each other during the week, which was a bit more spontaneous, and the Saturday "date" sometimes involved running errands, doing the laundry, and other not terribly date-like issues, but having that day always set aside made it much easier to deal with the constant frustration of very full lives.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:18 AM on April 11, 2012 [11 favorites]

Hi, I'm a guy who dislikes schedules and is bad at scheduling due to attention issues.

I think some additional details are needed. Who usually travels when you get together? What do you guys usually do when you spend time together? What are your guy's hobbies? Do you participate in your guy's hobbies / interests when you two get together? Does he participate in your hobbies / interests when you get together? Maybe you can give some of those details and get the mods to post them?

The activities that you do are not necessarily the issue - but speaking as a guy who has trouble sticking to a schedule, they are a potential issue. For example, I don't spend much time watching TV, my SO does. I spend my mindless time reading MetaFilter. When we get together for mindless time, we always watch TV. Does this lead to me reading just a little more MetaFilter before I pack up and go see her? It's not a conscious decision, but I'm pretty sure that's exactly what it leads to, so now we're in a situation where it's my attention issues vs my SO - not a good conflict to have. On the other hand, if we're going camping on the weekend because I wanted to, you bet I can put away the MetaFilter and get in the car because OMG CAMPING! It's not that we can just turn off our attention issues at will, but if I really desire something then my attention is going to naturally go to that thing, attention issues aside.

So if I were you, I'd consider whether your boyfriend gets to do what he wants to do when you two hang out. Because being together should mostly be "awesome person I want to spend time with + activity I like." If it's frequently "awesome person I want to spend time with VS activity I like," then the ADHD might win out and I might show up late / forget what I'm doing that night. It's not that he doesn't want to spend time with you, it's that there's a conflict, and with his attention issues that conflict results in flakiness.

(Just realized that this sounds like I'm blaming you. I am not - I don't think this is the most likely explanation. I'm just suggesting something that you might consider as a possible cause. If he can't be bothered to show up for you + his favorite activity, that's a whole different problem.)
posted by Tehhund at 6:35 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't be hesitant to propose a schedule! He should want to see you. I'm sure he does want to see you. Has he said that he feels like you're controlling? Have you talked about that aspect of it (as opposed to the aspect of him initiating more)? You're probably just projecting.

Bottom line, you do need to make plans in order to see each other. Even if he's not a planner, given your situation, that's just something that needs to be done, so tough shit if he wants to be more spontaneous.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:42 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another vote for having a Google calendar. Since you're more busy than not, block out your FREE time, and edit it to reflect the realities as often as possible. He can be spontaneous, and you can be available. Maybe do this on a weekly basis?
posted by smirkette at 6:51 AM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Google calendar is key. Definitely do this. Knowing when you SO is free is great for when your friends (I presume you see each other's friends now and then) ask to hang out with you guys.
posted by vkxmai at 7:06 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

i looked at this thread because it seemed like you were describing my own relationship -- except i'm the one with the ADHD, and my beloved is 4000 miles away, so planning is something of a necessity. But I totally understand. My time horizon is about 3 weeks out, after that anything i plan feels like i'm trying to make an appointment for the next century.

Some things that might help:
  • Regular dates, where neither party has to feel like they're initiating (e.g., we have a phone call every night just before she goes to bed, and we always make plans for certain holidays)
  • A good calendar/tickler/reminder system for him.
  • Being explicit about when plans are solid vs tentative, and that some plans are more tentative than others.
Beyond that, I think you probably are over-thinking it. It sounds like he wants to make things work just as much as you do.
posted by ubiquity at 7:23 AM on April 11, 2012

It feels very utilitarian to talk about scheduling. It's not "romantic" to declare a regular Thursday evening date night. It's not spontaneous and could be "less fun" to schedule a dinner a week in advance.
BUT communication is really really key. Increase the amount of casual information you share about what you're doing. If sitting down to compare schedules and see that you're both free Sunday afternoon feels like you're setting up a business meeting, relax a bit. Don't try to spend 5 minutes comparing schedules, spend the whole evening talking about your lives. It's not about when you're busy or free, just talk about what you're doing. Talk about your study group, who's there, why they're annoying, when you're meeting, what you're doing for dinner beforehand, and he'll know that you're busy on Thursday. The more sense he has of all the things you're doing, and the more you understand all the ways he spends his time, the easier it'll be to fit everything together. The more you each talk about your individual plans in a context that isn't stressful or not-fun scheduling, the more easily conversation will flow into making plans together, without feeling like it's a chore to pull out the calendars.
Google calendar is a means of checking - if someone says "hey let's do this thing on May 12" it's nice to pull up the shared calendar and see whether I'm definitely on my own, he's definitely free to join me, or we've been separately busy so long that we'd rather do something just the two of us... but google is just the tool that enables communications. It's the conversation that's key.
posted by aimedwander at 7:34 AM on April 11, 2012

I tried to set up a shared Google calendar with my boyfriend, but it didn't work because he doesn't check it regularly. I have ADHD and I am addicted to my calendars because I wouldn't know what I am doing without them. My boyfriend, who does not have ADHD, has a sparsely-used work calendar only. When we set up the calendars, I started to assume he was checking it, but he wasn't, and that led to some frustration for me. However, we had a schedule in place. It would have made me crazy not to know, ever, when I could expect to see him.

I think it's nice that you want to protect his spontaneous side, but you have kids, right? And he doesn't. You have responsibilities and maybe he does, too, but it doesn't sound like they are much as yours. At some point he needs to be fair to you. If you arrange childcare and he flakes on your date, that's really really unreasonable of him and he better be making that up to you. That's not cool.

He says he is initiating plans to get together with you and you don't pick up on that. What's up with that piece? Do you know what he's talking about? I would pursue that comment further, and figure out where the communication failure is happening when he is doing something you want him to do (planning) but he thinks you aren't picking up on it. That sounds like a place to start.

As a wise MeFite once said, "The 'one' isn't a person, it's a relationship." You may love this guy, but this relationship might not be working. It's not an ADHD thing, either. You must protect yourself more than you need to protect his need to be spontaneous.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:36 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

My partner and I are both in our 30's. We work and live together, and we have custody of his son 50% of the time. Most of our evenings are spent making supper, cleaning up after supper, and then doing chores before collapsing in to bed. You'd think that because we both work and live together that we'd be suffocating in each other's presence, but the reality is that we were so busy doing our own things and keeping our life going that we were forgetting the intimacy. Don't get me wrong, we're one of those gross huggy, hand holding, googoo eyes, kissy face couples so we actually give each other lots of affection. But that is different from focused romance and date night. We had trouble remembering to do "couple" outings and maintaining a level of romance and intimacy that we wanted until (like everyone is saying) we scheduled it.

For example, every second tuesday we have what we call "Schmoopy Night" and it is scheduled in to both of our calendars. We decline almost all social invitations to other things on that night because EVERY SECOND TUESDAY IS SCHMOOPY NIGHT, end of story. Sometimes it is a proper date night out on the town, nice clothes and all, but usually it is just a relaxed date night evening in. We both come straight home after work (no going to the gym that day) and we make a nicer-than-usual supper together, eat it in a slow leisurely way, and ignore all the dishes and chores and cleaning that "should" be done and instead spend the rest of the evening focused on each other (often taking the form of boardgames).

We also schedule a "Schmoopy Weekend" once a month (if we can). Schmoopy Weekend becomes especially important when we have gone a stretch without a weekend free in a while due to visitors and social engagements and custody of his son and whatnot. We LOVE his son to death, I frankly couldn't love that kid more if it were my own genetic legacy, but the times that we have custody of him we are very consciously and deliberately focusing on him. So, once a month we do the schmoopy weekend where we spend it together, just the two of us, and we focus on each other for a change. No major distractions or interruptions. In the summer we usually take day trips to go hiking or exploring. In the winter we often would have epic board game competitions. We focus on each other and just feel very in love and loved.

In a shorter term way, sometimes during the day one of us just feels a bit affection starved (or they're just having a bad day) so they ask the other to schedule in "Cuds" (aka. cuddles) that night. granted, this is usually my request, but whatever. But yeah, I will tell him "We need to schedule some cuds tonight" and then we do and that night I get my cuds. Usually it is just laying in bed, fully clothed, spooned together and talking quietly about nice things. I love scheduled cuds.

Does scheduling take the romance out of it? Absolutely not! Both of us actually feel that it is great that we schedule it because it means it is important to us, that having the romance and the cuddly schmoopy times is an important part of our life together.

Schedule focused date time. Have it be a reoccuring even in your calendars. Make the time and make it happen.
posted by gwenlister at 9:15 AM on April 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

I love this guy. I think about him all the time. He makes me happy and I would love to see him more often.

Just throwing this out there: do you view him as a project to be fixed?
posted by rhizome at 10:13 AM on April 11, 2012

I have an ADD boyfriend and I am a hyperscheduler. This actually works mostly okay since it's a LDR and so we get to be totally together when we're together and pretty much on our own the rest of the time. For things like how often we're in contact we've sort of gotten to the point where it's routinized. It may not be particularly romantic, but I sort of let him know "Hey let me know how you're doing at or before 2 or let me know that you're swamped at work" We also check in toether for some "How was your day" talk and/or scrabble at a set time every night. He may have to set his phone alarm to remember to be there, but the important thing is that once we set a plan [and we'll sometimes be like "This is a plan plan, not a plan to make a plan"] then it's on him to work with his own brain to make this happen however he needs to.

I guess I'd ask a follow-up question: can he get to a job, make his flights on time, prioritize other things? Because if he can schedule some stuff but not other stuff then yeah I'd try to get him to make me more of a priority. If this is just how his life works, then you have to find ways that work for both of you.

I personally don't like the idea of locking in anyone's time or feeling obligations on either end.

At some level a relationship, even one you love and want to be in, is an obligation at some level. I understand that you want him to sort of freely choose to be with you and sometimes get frustrated when that seems to not happen, but that just may not work with this guy's mental make-up. I know with my guy I'd often be like "Waaah it seems like he isn't remembering me" and then I'd remember that he often doesn't even remember or prioritize himself (eating, sleeping, food shopping, whatever), that's just how his mind works and he has an adult life that works decently for him and I can sort of choose, knowing that, if there's a way to work within it. We have our share of back and forth discussions about this, obviously, but he's pretty assertive about his own desires as well as shortcomings and I try to be the same for myself [not everyone enjoys hyperscheduling nor should they, there is nothing inherently correct about my way of doing things] and do a lot of "You may not mean this but when you do THIS I feel THAT" sort of talks so we can figure out where the sticking points are.

We also do a lot of incidental "thinking of you" nonsense in the short term [texts] and long term [postcards] just to fill in the blanks when we can't be together. At a real level, I chose this and some of the things that make my guy not perfectly align with me in terms of scheduling also, i think, come hand in hand with some of the wonderful things about him [he is one of the kindest and gentlest people I've known] and that's all him.

So, yeah,like gwenlister outlines, scheduling some "together time" that isn't a particular thing might help you feel like you've got a plan but not make him have to lock down an event/activity too early. But at some level there are ways that even bad planners can show that they're prioritizing people and it's sort of important that the parts of this that are his responsibility [i.e. "we have a date at five, he consistently is fifteen minutes late to"] are things he learns ways to manage or you decide if they're dealbreakers or not.
posted by jessamyn at 10:46 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

reading your question, (i fear) it's like i'm peering inside the head of my new guy. only, multiply the distance by a few 1000 giraffe necks and relocate your children to the classroom (we're both instructors).

now, i have been treated for ADD more than half my life, and when i have a handle on work place stress--when i have control of my own schedule enough to maintain a daily routine--finding time for the SO is so much more doable. but unfortunately for new guy, he has only ever known me during one of the most erratically busy times of my life (hello, grad school). although he faces similar stress and erratic time constraints, he seems to be Much Much better with planning. he'll often try and schedule time to talk, and at the last minute i will have to cancel.

part of the problem is that i'm a bit night owl and he's a bit early bird. when i can talk--when i am likely most not to cancel--he is often winding down for bed. even if we do adopt some kind of elaborate google calendar system (which i bet i could commit to for a total of two, three days max), that Will Not change our conflicting bio-rhythms, right? at least, not immediately.

So! i wonder. is your guy a night owl? (most ADDers i know seem to be.) are YOU an early bird? if so, is there a night of the week you think you can remain awake? like be alert enough to talk when the moon is very high?

i know if you take me up on my suggestion it makes it seem like you're making the compromise, but what you have to understand is people with legit ADD are hardwired to be at odds with how much of life, at least in the US, is structured. a lot of us take medicine trying to fit into that structure. in a way, we're compromising all the time, or, at least trying to. when my guy sets a time to talk at like 10 (which i realize he thinks is pretty late), and i agree to that time then flake (or seem to), that is a compromise that i really wanted to make because i like him so much, but a compromise, i ultimately (repeatedly) find really difficult to keep. it's a rhythm thing. it's a developing relationship. we'll get better at syncing up over time, at forming a compromised routine that works for both of us in the future, you know?

So! i wonder...

how new is this relationship of yours? is it a problem with rhythm, and just needing to sync up more? i find that i am so much better at understanding, or Wanting to understand something if it's talked about in artful abstractions. but once google calendars or day planners get thrown into the mix, i am taking a step back... i am looking out the window. maybe your guy is similar...
posted by chyeahokay at 11:11 PM on April 11, 2012

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