Dating with ADHD
October 18, 2012 7:23 PM   Subscribe

How to handle disclosing ADHD when dating? How would most people react?

I was diagnosed with ADHD-inattentive type about a year ago, as an adult. Since treatment my life has changed a LOT - I can actually do things now! (Note: not interested in discussion about the validity of ADHD diagnosis unless it's related to the questions I have.)

I'm going to start looking to date (likely via online dating, at least in part) soon. I'm wondering how to handle disclosing both my ADHD, and my past. When should I mention I have ADHD (and how it's treated?)

Regarding my past, I present somewhat differently now. I'm organised, with a 4.0 GPA in a STEM course, responsible, semi-tidy, intelligent, laid-back, independent... My past pre-diagnosis was a few years of failed college with a GPA that was probably about 1.0, with a million unfinished projects, and a room that was an absolute mess, little social life and way too many video games. How can I avoid mentioning this part of my life until I know someone will be more than a casual aquaintance - without lies or saying 'I don't want to talk about it' ? How is a potential partner likely to handle this kind of history? (Note: no real health problems, drug problems, criminal history, debt, STD's, etc. - just failure.)

If it matters, the symptoms I still have are minor, such as occasionally being unable to watch a tv show through late at night once the meds have worn off. And talking a lot, including detours onto very random topics.

- ADHD is less accepted here (Australia) than US, and also less known
- I take dexamphetamine to treat it. I'm also against recreational drug use (even alcohol, excluding a drink or two socially.) I don't consider my prescription medication to be in this category, but I don't know how to explain this to someone. Particularly with the stigma attached to stimulants.

How do I disclose? When should I disclose? What problems/reactions am I likely to face?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I really don't think it's a big deal. It's something I would bring up on the second date, first if I feel comfortable and the conversation flows in that direction. I wouldn't bring it up as in omg serious business, I would mention it like people would mention being diabetic, or asthmatic.
posted by Tarumba at 7:26 PM on October 18, 2012

I liken ADHD to GERD: if you forget to take your pill, things may get wacky and you may have some 'splainin' to do, but otherwise, it is no one's business. I have a very similar history to yours and I don't think I've ever been or felt judged. I had a rough time in school, I left, I came back and did well. The ADHD doesn't even need to come up until you're genuinely ready.
posted by griphus at 7:28 PM on October 18, 2012 [9 favorites]

(However, if you get judge-y about recreational/self-medicating drug use, I would expect some funny looks if you tell people you're also taking an amphetamine analog.)
posted by griphus at 7:30 PM on October 18, 2012 [9 favorites]

Lots of people have a rough time the first few years of college. Lots of people go back and turn it around after growing up a little more. It's not a terrible secret. In fact I think you'll find more people had messy rooms, got bad grades, and played too many video games than not. You can admit you had a hard time, if it comes up, without mentioning your condition or your meds if you don't want to.
posted by bleep at 7:36 PM on October 18, 2012

Oh, hon, this is so much less of a big deal than you think it is. I have Tourette Syndrome (which has got to be at least as misunderstood in the US as ADHD is in Australia) and an anxiety disorder, with a past that includes a long stint in residential treatment, and it's not something that I've ever even considered to be a big deal to disclose to someone I'm dating.

I think the important part is to not make it a big conversation, just bring it up naturally when it comes up; the reason it might not be a first date topic isn't because it's some big secret. It's not a a first date topic because it is actually not a big deal at all.

"And that's actually why leaves change color in the fall...wait, was I just going on a tangent there? Sorry, I have ADHD, if I don't watch myself my conversations tend to wander."

"Yeah, I can understand not wanting to enroll in college immediately; I struggled with my coursework for a long time under I got treatment for my ADHD, and now that I have my shit together everything's so much easier."

The only way this would weird me out is if you acted like ADHD defined you, or if you brought it up multiple times in a date; it's not that anything is wrong with ADHD, it's that you're self absorbed in your own specialness to a point that it's eclipsing parts of your personality that might actually be interesting.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:38 PM on October 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

I wouldn't even sweat it. Talk about it whenever it comes up naturally. This isn't something that really warrants "disclosure" in a major sense. I feel like that is reserved for conditions that will put a burden on your partner or create significant challenges to being in a relationship. Not to minimize your struggles with it, but I don't believe that managed ADHD is that type of condition.
posted by the jam at 7:40 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm 22 and have been diagnosed with ADD for the past year or so. I would agree with the people who say that ADD isn't something that warrants disclosure in any sort of serious sense. A lot of people have first rounds of university that end with them dropping out or failing out, regardless of whether they have ADD. If it comes up and is relevant, mention it. If it doesn't, then there's not an immediate pressing need.

Besides, in most relationships that go past the first few dates, there tends to be a sort of disclosure period anyways where people talk about various "complicated" aspects of their lives -- diagnoses, family problems, whatever.
posted by naturalog at 7:46 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

You don't have to disclose any of this until you've been with somebody long enough to know you want to stick it out for a while. I consider this sort of thing not a first date or even third or fourth date topic. If you're still together after a couple months, then you can make your way around to personal issues. In the meantime, just decline to have more than your standard two drinks and if your dates aren't socially smart enough to pick up on the pace of the evening, move on to the next one.
posted by deathpanels at 8:31 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is your personal medical information, and you need not disclose it until and unless you feel very close to someone, like you are thinking of intertwining your lives together. I would never ever think of disclosing something like this on the second date (as someone above wrote), any more than I would disclose any other personal medical information so soon.

As I've learned from hard experience (I don't have ADHD but have another issue that can be a deal-breaker for some people): Disclosing things like this too soon can give the other person a reason to rule you out, when in fact if they gave you a chance they'd find you to be compatible. A lot of people are flighty in the beginning of a relationship, and like to see "red flags" everywhere, for the most minor human foibles (many of these people are also posting on metafilter; they are the DTMFA crowd). If you let someone get to know you, they are more likely to accept the ADHD as part of who you are. If you tell too soon, they are more likely to let it define you in their eyes.

I'd urge you to rethink your categorical anti-recreational-drug-use stance. Being against recreational drug use for yourself is fine, but being hard-line intolerant, period, of any drug use, ever, for anyone reeks of exactly the type of judgement YOU don't want to experience for yourself.
posted by parrot_person at 8:43 PM on October 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've not found my (now managed) ADHD to be any kind of barrier whatsoever to dating. You have no need to disclose this to your partner at any time and you certainly don't need to tell them your history if you don't want to. Seriously, it's not that big of a deal in North America at least.
posted by buteo at 8:49 PM on October 18, 2012

I'm Australian and a member of my social circle has just been diagnosed with Adult ADD. I can honestly say that it's no big deal and the general response varies from: "Ahhhh that sucks, but good for you for getting it sorted" to "Ahhhh that's no biggie... all of us kids had it".

To explain further: I'm in my early 30s and for people of my age and younger in Australia there is huge awareness of ADD/ ADHD in children and I think that extends to sympathy (in the true and non-patronising sense of the word) for adults with ADD/ ADHD. SOOOOO many people of our age and younger were diagnosed and medicated during childhood with ADD that I don't think anyone in Australia would see it as a dealbreaker. If anything, they might need more information on the serious side of it because I suspect most Australians would think along the lines of "ADD? Yeah that ain't no big deal".
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 9:15 PM on October 18, 2012

I can't even remember when my partner told me he had ADHD, it was such a non-issue. It was somewhat early on in our relationship, I think. He was also diagnosed as an adult. FWIW, I live in the U.S., so I don't know what it's like in Australia, but I would personally think it was really strange if someone saw managed ADHD as a deal breaker.
posted by dysh at 9:39 PM on October 18, 2012

ADHD would be a dealbreaker for me, so I'd suggest at least causally mentioning it at some point. I don't think less of people who have it; just can't partner with them.

I'm unusual though, and I don't expect you'll run into many people who care. Don't be ashamed or worried. It's a very, very normal condition in the modern world.
posted by ead at 9:58 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'll confess I'm American and maybe opinions are super different in Australia, but to me someone who even made an issue of having ADHD in a dating context would strike me as almost unbearably snowflakey...kind of like if you made a big deal of your MBTI type or your SAT score or something. I'd think, "Well, this is a person who puts way more stock in labels and categories than I have the time or energy for." Don't even bother to mention it unless you're actively taking a pill and someone asks about it. It's just not a big deal. I understand that the dx has been a lifechanger for you, but others probably just aren't that interested. Ultimately ADHD isn't catching and if you're managing it with effective medications it shouldn't really affect your life at all.

I know a whole lot of people who've taken your medication and others like it without a prescription at one time or another, for all kinds of reasons. You need to get off your high horse about recreational drug use. There are people out there who regard any use of the drug you're on, whether prescribed or not, as essentially performance-enhancing rather than medically necessary. You're lucky enough to have a doctor who agrees with you that you need it to function. Others are not so lucky. The lines here are pretty fine - so fine that you yourself are having a hard time justifying how your prescription stimulants are morally superior to the same stimulants purchased on the street by someone else.
posted by town of cats at 10:31 PM on October 18, 2012 [9 favorites]

Anecdata from an Australian: I had 6 dates with a guy who had ADD. I actually can't remember on which date he first mentioned it so obviously neither of us saw it as a big omg moment, and we stopped seeing eachother for unrelated reasons
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet at 2:35 AM on October 19, 2012

ADHD isn't Ebola. ADHD isn't schizophrenia and it isn't HIV. I think you are way over thinking this. You can mention it when they ask about the pills in your cabinet.

also, tons and tons of people pull themselves together after rough starts. I'm pretty sure you can just say "oh, my early twenties? ssshhhheeeeet. Video games and dirty dorms. I'm so glad to have grown up." If your date ever asks about the details of how you pulled out of it, I guess you can mention ADHD then.
posted by Blisterlips at 3:23 AM on October 19, 2012

I'm in the US, but: I would think it was a bit weird if a date made it a big deal, either by actively hiding it or announcing it. If a date mentioned it casually, I wouldn't think anything of it at all.

I personally don't see any conflict or weirdness with taking a prescribed medication and not using recreational drugs.
posted by insectosaurus at 5:39 AM on October 19, 2012

I wouldn't even mention it, and I don't know why people would think to mention it. There is no disclosure here, there is the way you are. Or, that's how I see it.

Would you feel the need to disclose that you're an introvert, or that you can't stand karaoke? I'm not trying to minimize ADHD, and I'm glad your life has changed so radically since treatment, but what you're talking about here is something that will either come out in your personality, or won't, and the time to discuss it is when (if) it's noticed as something worth discussing.

The comment that ADHD might be a deal breaker in dating is extremely strange. ADHD symptoms are aspects of normal behavior. Everyone has these behaviors, they exist on a continuum, and some people with more extreme versions of these behaviors are diagnosed with ADHD. On the other hand, some people who have extreme versions of these behaviors ARE NOT diagnosed with ADHD, and some people who have versions of these behaviors that are essentially normal ARE diagnosed with ADHD. Making the diagnosis itself, rather than the behaviors associated with it, a "dealbreaker" betrays a pretty big misunderstanding of what the diagnosis is. Which is precisely why this is something that will either come out of someone getting to know you, or it won't, but it isn't something that needs "disclosing."
posted by OmieWise at 5:43 AM on October 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree with others that you probably don't want to make a big deal announcement out of it, but also be careful mentioning it too off-the-cuff. While genuine ADHD wouldn't be a dealbreaker for me, I really dislike the kind of person who casually throws out "Tee hee, I'm so ADD" in the same way that people throw out "depressed" and "OCD" without any particular care for what those conditions are actually liked. Using the word "Diagnosed" to explain your ADHD would make it clear that this is a Real Thing.
posted by Rallon at 6:04 AM on October 19, 2012

Here is the states, almost everyone's diagnosed with some kinda mental problem, or they have family problems / personal problems / financial problems / drug problems / etc. What I'm tryin to say is everyone's got a bit of baggage, and having ADHD (especially if you're treated and can function fine) is super minor. I wouldn't even bring it up, until you do something to p*ss her off that can only be explained because you forgot your meds or something.
posted by el_yucateco at 6:31 AM on October 19, 2012

I don't see why you'd mention it until you get to the disclosing-awkward-personal-backstories part of the relationship, which is typically a few dates in. Bringing it up on the first date would be pretty odd, and risks making the ADD part of how the other person defines you, or believes that you define yourself. As long as your medication regimen is good enough for you to "pass" socially (i.e. you aren't doing the inattentive thing) I can't think of a reason to make it an issue.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:39 AM on October 19, 2012

Unless it's a communicable disease, let your dates like you for who you are first. Don't let an ADHD diagnosis affect your confidence..because giving the full disclosure up front about it is kind of like making an excuse or disclaimer for your behavior where it may or may not have been an issue. If it naturally flows into a conversation however, then follow that of course...there's no reason to feel ashamed....just try not to force it out there unsolicited. My view is, we all have personality quirks, just some have labels and treatments attached to them.
posted by samsara at 6:59 AM on October 19, 2012

Anecdote: I literally just did this yesterday. I was chatting online with a guy I've been out with twice. I basically made a joke about being a little scattered because I have ADD. His response: "OH MY GOD, I HAVE ADD TOO!" And then we chatted for a bit about how it has affected our lives and bonded over our mutual ability to half watch TV and half read at the same time.

I suppose it's not too terribly likely that your beaux will also happen to share your diagnosis. However, it just goes to show that the reactions you get will be pretty varied, and you never know how people will respond to things you're nervous about.
posted by decathecting at 6:15 AM on October 21, 2012

I think it definitely needs to be mentioned if you were to get serious with one of the people you are dating.

A simple google search of 'relationships and ADHD' will give you so many hits on issues that it may make your head spin.

Personal anecdote:
I recently ended a 2.5 year on-and-off relationship with a man with ADHD. At first, thought like everyone else, no big deal, right? Especially since at first his ability to focus landed intently on me. Wow, that felt good.
Then, we had an accidental child together and because just keeping it together on a daily basis was a big deal to him, the pressures and responsibilities of a child were just too much for him to handle.
He was always bored easily... so he decided taking meds was boring and decided to abuse them instead and developed an addiction. He quit his counselling 3 times and then refused to go back.
He was out when I was in labor and was angry that my labor had interrupted his 'state of mind'.
He couldn't keep a job to pay rent, he wasn't able to help out with household chores or tasks. The baby irritated the heck out of him.
He was too distracted for any type of intimacy in our relationship. He had a high need for stimulation and no impulse control, so there was constant cheating.
He had no concept of personal boundaries and embarrassed myself and himself on a regular basis.
He forgot every birthday, holiday, and things like telling me he had never been std tested. He couldn't keep a conversation straight, so our disagreements went nowhere and nothing was ever resolved.
He was emotionally volatile and would have massive angry outbursts when he felt he was being controlled or when I had interrupted something he was focusing on.
He was unable to keep his word or keep promises.

Ultimately, I was reduced to taking a parental role in the relationship while he ran around acting like a defiant bratty teen.
These are NOT uncommon issues in relationships with adults with ADHD, and their divorce rate is twice as high as the national average.

So yes, it can be a deal breaker for some and it absolutely needs to be disclosed.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 8:41 AM on November 2, 2012

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