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“5 Things I Learned from First Dates”

A recent string of first dates has revealed inescapable truths about my trickiest ADHD symptoms, and my desire to find a partner who loves me despite (or maybe even because of) them.

Cute couple wearing protective medical masks sitting at table, drinking tea or coffee and talking. New cafe visiting regulations during coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. Quarantine and social distancing concept.  Flat cartoon vector illustration.
Cute couple wearing protective medical masks sitting at table, drinking tea or coffee and talking. New cafe visiting regulations during coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. Quarantine and social distancing concept.  Flat cartoon vector illustration.

First dates are an absolute minefield for everyone, but as a man with combined ADHD who is fresh to the scene in my 30s, they are a bloody nightmare.

I’ve been on a few dates lately, dipping my toe in the water and often coming out feeling like I’d just swam 100 miles. Don’t get me wrong. The women I’ve met were all lovely and it’s nice to meet new people, but as you grow older people’s expectations change. Dates start to feel more like job interviews than I swear they used to.

As we have all learned the hard way, ADHD traits like impulsivity, over-sharing, and interest-driven instincts make for both exciting and sometimes frustrating dates and relationships. Here’s what my first dates have revealed about some of my trickiest ADHD symptoms:

1. Speaking too fast and jumping in

Following a recent breakup, I went out with a Brazilian psychiatrist who was beautiful and kind. But after 5 hours of being told to slow down my speech, it became exhausting to communicate. She said she understood only half of what I was saying and then we had coffee.

The impulse to finish people’s sentences is really hard to control sometimes, especially when it kicks in as I connect and get more into what they’re saying. Here is what it sounds like: “Oh! Me, too! Here’s my story to interrupt that empathizes with yours! Let me tell it to you so fast you don’t realize you’d finished your sentence!…Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off there.”

For the record, I would also like to mention that she was a practicing psychiatrist who didn’t see that I had ADHD and who shared that she recently told off her dad for what she believed were ADHD traits that were “not good at all,” so that was awkward!

2. Maintaining concentration

I literally got a headache from the effort of keeping eye contact for longer than 2 hours in a busy restaurant, which makes me look stressed, uncomfortable, and/or bored (and I often am at least 2 out of those 3). I’ve been huffed at countless times for “checking out” other people as they walk past the table. Why is it they always notice when my attention flits toward the hot waitress, and not the other 34 people and two dogs and 23 bar mats and one slightly wonky picture and one really skinny man who’s been drinking soda from his straw non stop for 3 straight minutes?! After 5 hours, I sat on the train home and just died.

3. Resisting the urge to fill the silences

It’s a social nightmare when the other person’s got nothing more to share than “went to work and watched TV,” but then you remember you’re in a pandemic and that’s pretty much all you’ve done, too. So the conversation lags and that makes my ADHD spin. Also I just broke up with an amazing person, so all my stories for the past two years are about her and our adventures together. Rather than awkwardly share those, my brain decides to power up – show time! But when the other person doesn’t laugh at any of your jokes or just gives one-word answers, it ends up feeling like I’m trying to weasel out of a parking fine while eating overpriced chicken in a posh restaurant.

Also one awkward joke or poorly pitched story from me, and it’s game over. Why are the bad stories the only ones that spring to mind in these situations?! I literally saved a man from choking to death on a Snickers bar last year at a beach, but there’s me unable to stop talking about how I once went ballistic at a student for misbehaving (whom I loved to pieces – 6 years on and I still call them “my kids” collectively).

4. The RSD after a crappy date

Just because someone likes your profile picture and they seem nice doesn’t make them “the one.” Online dating is a numbers game. Statistically, I might match with 1 in 10 of the people I find attractive. If you’re looking for that 1 in a million, you can see how much of a miracle it is to actually find that person with whom you click perfectly and reciprocally. Adults with ADHD are an intense bunch, so factor that in too.

Though I know all of this, it doesn’t mean I don’t still feel crappy and get a bit low when I get that courtesy hug and a “Thaaanks, I had a super fun time!” Hell, I shaved for this, I brushed my teeth before I went out, and I got my hopes up because your texting game was strong. Then clearly you were not impressed. So, what’s not to like about me?

The answer is simple: People with ADHD are delicious steak sandwiches, but not everyone loves steak sandwiches (there are heathens and vegans among us).

It’s not just us; it’s them, too. People are complicated and, for all you know, they’re still in love with someone else, or they just don’t think you’re the one, or they just don’t love the way you blink, and that’s OK. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure or a bad blinker, it just means they’re not 100% for you and it would never work. By saying they’re not interested they’ve saved you money and time because there’s nothing more awkward than a weird second date when you could be spending it with someone new, or laughing with a friend about this experience.

5. Bringing up my ADHD

I’m neither proud nor ashamed of having ADHD. It’s just a part of who I am, like how I’m right handed, or broad shouldered, or 5’10 and three quarter inches tall. It’s not going on my dating profile (the ¾ part doesn’t work on most apps, so I put 5’11 and disappoint the ones with weirdly specific height fetishes), but it’s not something to hide if they are bold enough to ask about it either.

Like all of those other things, it’s something I’ve grown up with and into. Basically, it’s something I think you should talk about as an experience when you’re comfortable with sharing that part of you, because finding out about it and living through it is an experience and nothing more or less. Just don’t throw a pity party when you describe your ADHD; remember, we’re not defined by the condition or it’s negatives. You’re there to have fun and you’re likely interest driven, so that makes dating more interesting than staying at home watching TV regardless. Plus your date probably got all dressed up to impress you, too. Maybe they even did “the big shave,” or chose a dress specially, and that takes hours. Don’t be upset that it just didn’t work out.

But when you find someone who giggles at your quirks and understands (or even better shares) your experience — someone you feel you can trust enough to eventually open up to, and who opens up to you, then you can share your challenges knowing they will be there for you. That’s really all that any of us wants: someone who thinks we’re great even when we screw up, someone who’s trusting and trustworthy but also brave and confident enough to give us second chances without holding our mistakes over us; someone who just wants to spend their spare time hanging out with us and who wants a hug from us in particular (I’d go into more detail but my mum reads this) just because they can.

That’s not much to ask, but it’s hard to find.

First Dates with ADHD: Next Steps

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