Friendships

Feeling Antisocial? Alone? Both? 3 Common ADHD Friendship Challenges

“Going out to dinner sounds great when I’m setting it up, but I don’t feel the same way in five days.” How to find friends, keep commitments, and build lasting relationships.

ADHD woman alone on swings
ADHD woman alone on swings

Maintaining friendships is hard work for most adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It means making commitments and following through, neither of which are big strengths of ours. If we wind up canceling or, worse, forgetting about a coffee date or movie night altogether, we feel guilty, frustrated, and worse than if we hadn’t agreed to meet.

Then there’s the fact that those with ADHD need more time alone than others do, to give their busy brains a rest, which can come across as feeling antisocial. Sometimes I think that Attention Deficit Disorder should be called Attention Surplus Disorder. After a stimulating day at work, sorting through to-do lists and reminding ourselves to stay on task, deciding whether to see a friend or indulge in some personal time is tough. Some clients tell me that they often force themselves to go out with friends, but at a cost: They wind up feeling resentful and exhausted, because they sacrificed the quiet time that they need.

One way to make socializing more enjoyable is to forge friendships with those who share common interests and are OK with making tentative plans or doing something on the spur of the moment. Having friends is key to living a happy life, but what works for most people may not work well for someone with ADHD. Three ADDitude readers told us about their friendship challenges, and I devised strategies to meet them:

Friendship Problem: “I Worry I Don’t Have Enough Friends”

I stopped making plans with friends, because I hate having to break dates. Going out to dinner sounds great when I’m setting it up, but I don’t feel the same way in five minutes, not to mention after five days. Besides, my best friends are my husband and next-door neighbor, whom I talk with over the fence. I don’t have to make plans to see them. The same goes for my coworkers. We get along great at the office. How many friends do I need?

The quality of our friendships is more important than their quantity. Acceptance and understanding are what make friendships strong and valuable.

Not everyone is spontaneous enough to go out on the spur of the moment or understands our hesitancy to commit to social engagements. One close friend who accepts us without harboring resentment, because we don’t like to plan things in advance, is worth more than a dozen who don’t.

Friendship Problem: “I Don’t Have Time to Keep in Touch”

I get angry voicemails from my family and friends because I can’t stand to answer my cell phone. I prefer to talk face-to-face or to text. I usually unplug my house phone when I’m busy, because I hate being bothered when I’m organizing my things or making a to-do list. I want to be more outgoing, but I don’t have the time or the energy for it. I have two best friends, whom I’ve known since third and fourth grade, who accept me as I am.

Tell friends and family about your preferences for communicating, and explain the reasons for them. They might be able to make a quick call and get right back to work, but you can’t. The interruption takes you off task. When you are working, it is OK to turn off your phone. Let friends know that you unplug it when you are busy, and that you will text them when you take a break or have lunch. In your outgoing message, ask people to text you instead.

If you want to be more outgoing but don’t have time for it, try partnering with someone for an activity that you are already planning to do, like going to the gym. If you plan to take your kids to the zoo, invite another mother and her child to come along.

Friendship Problem: “I Feel Antisocial”

I feel antisocial. A group of women at my job get together for “chick night” once a month. I prefer to sit home. I like them, and they like me, but I prefer getting lost in my own thoughts. I am happy spending time with my husband and daughter at home. A T-shirt I bought says it all: “I’m in my own little world, but it’s OK. They know me here.”

Getting lost in your own thoughts has its benefits. It allows you to tap into your creative side and process emotions you may not otherwise have time for. There is a downside to too much alone time, though: You can overthink things and start worrying when you don’t have input from friends. Seeing friends gets us out of our own heads.

Since some of our challenges may be family-related, it is good to have a close friend or two outside the family to socialize with. Remember that sharing our troubles can cut them in half, and sharing our joys can double them.

Friendships don’t require spending a lot of time together. Trust, respect, and love make a friendship grow and last. That is something that we all have to give, even if our socializing skills are not as good as we would like them to be.

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