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 or ADD). 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:

[Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Women]

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.

[You’re Not Shy or Stuck Up. You Have Social Anxiety Disorder.]

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.

[“How Can I Make New Friends?”]

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.

11 Related Links

  1. First of all: not wanting to socialize is not being anti-social! OMG, the amount of times I have to educate people about what it means…I’d be a millionaire! Look it up in the DSM-IV or V or whatever revision number we are on now. I’m ADHD, and I don’t have these problems. I’m not exhausted from a hard days work and cancelling on my friends because of that. Nor am I needing a break from everyone…that would be a introverts problem. No, I have people I really want to hang out with and could hang out with for what feels like forever, but because of external forces often out of my control, I have to say no. My wife needs attention and time with me so that takes up most of my time. Sometimes I work late and can’t get free to meet up, but if I don’t get off too late, I’m always glad to chill with a friend. I’m not a complete forgetful moron as some of these articles suggest us ADHD peops are. If I have plans to hang with someone, then I’m thinking about it constantly and anticipating the fun time I’ll have with that person–I DON’T FORGET! I don’t forget to pay bills cause every single debt collector sends an email (sometimes numerous emails) to remind me, I owe. I have certain things on priority in my mind and I don’t just space out like others with ADHD do. I have focus issues, but not forgetfulness issues. If I don’t care about something, then I’m fine with and typically going to forget it. If I’m not interested, I’m not interested. When it comes to friends, the problem is I know I’m potentially overly sensitive. When I text someone and they don’t respond within a reasonable amount of time, then I figure something is wrong; that I have offended them or they are for someone upset with me. When I inquire, they say they aren’t mad at me and why would they be, but when someone writes or calls me, I 99% of the time respond right away and pick up the phone. I only don’t when I am infront of my boss or at an event where I shouldn’t do that. Then I get worried that they will get mad. It would be silly to think like this, except for the fact that it has happened on a few occasions. Now-a-days people have relatively high-standards for friendships and very selfish motivations for maintenance of said friendships. As soon as you no longer give what the other person has come to expect from you, they are quick to write you off their list. If I can’t enjoy my friendships for being as they are, then what is the point in having any? I’m sick and tired of people telling me I “have to have friends”…people make me sick and people are often full of drama. That, in my opinion, is not living a happy life. I am patient with everyone and I don’t write off people–I try as best as I can to be there for them in every way. Sometimes I wonder if that is worth it. Guitars make me happy. Reading makes me happy. Doing what I love makes me happy. Duh. But people…it’s a mixed review. People make things complicated…way too complicated. Can’t just be simple existence. Oh, well.

    1. Bless you rcg1127 for saying exactly how I have been feeling! You said a mouthful when you said that people are way to complicated. Excellent comment!

    2. Hello, I was diagnosed late in life, I was 40ish, the very first day that I used the Meds I was a new and excited person and I was so happy that I had the ability to actually be productive like an actual person who is “neurotypical” as they say. I am now a 59 yr old woman who is very well versed in the means and ways of being an ADD Adult I have an issue with my time management as I have the hyper focused type of ADD and don’t maintain my personal life very well this includes my friend (I only have one) I have a huge problem of speaking with out thinking first and I have been known for coming off as a know it all and being down right insulting. I am not that person but I know that it is true. I have lost many people in my lifetime because of this illness but I am trying so hard to be a better person and friend because it has become a very difficult thing to do. I have isolated myself out of fear of saying something that I will offend or insult, especially in the climate politically at this time of the polarization and unrest. I too am a overly sensitive person but I have finally opened my eyes to the fact that its not about Me and my guilt is what I have felt like this was just one thing that is typical of people who have ADD we tend to have to look at life’s problems as always because we are the soul cause of what ever we think could be a perceived problem. The texting issue with the person who doesn’t respond in the way you believe is correct (right away) amount of time and you instantly think that you must have done or said something that was wrong and now the person is ignoring you. I totally understand what it feels like to be that person. I have been on the phone with my friend and suddenly the phone dropped the call and instantly I just knew I had done something wrong and she hung up on me. She has been known to do that because I did infact insult her or something else but in most cases it was just a dropped call. We are known to be overly sensitive and carry undeserved guilt because most of us have been led to believe that it was always something wrong was because we are too lazy to get our chores done or complete a homework assignment because we have our head in the clouds and we are not even trying to be the best and live up to our potential. First of all I was truly gifted and my IQ is 136 so I am far from stupid I just bore easily and I just don’t want to have to listen to someone drone on and on. I hate office meetings for the same reason I would be like ok I get it so let’s get going and do what we have to do and get it done and overwith. I would feel like I was talked to like I was a child but none of that was the truth and I was actually just a snobby know it all. I lost a lot of jobs because of this and people that were not going to be around me because they have felt that I looked down on them and thought I was always right and I would force myself down their throats. All true! Hey I have felt exactly the same as you do and with that may I just say that it seems to me that you are carrying around a lot of anger and fear of rejection because as you said yourself oversensitivity issues. I have been working on this for years since I got so bad steeped in underserved guilt and self hatred and became agoraphobic and did not leave my home for 6yrs this led to even more depression and suffering from panic attacks and even suicide attempts and that was after the ADD diagnosis and the medication. I have been made aware of this secret that seems to be a subject that is not being discussed and the fact is that it is something that is not addressed in any of the mental illness community even here I cannot recall anything about the subject of the fact that the meds are not the cure to any illness and that what meds are is the thing that controls the brain to the point that we can start to function correctly and are sble to allow a new way of thinking about how to do and think in a way that is more in line with the way it is supposed to be. However we have been creating our own personal ways to cope with the world to get through life. I found that my compensation routine was actually just not going to work because now my brain is not working the same way and it seems like it is telling me that it was a dumb way of dealing because the way I did it was just a workaround and I had to relearn everything that I did and ways to cope and understand that I am not going to be able to make my life better if I didn’t start to get a new mindset. It is a very difficult task to do especially if you are an older person like myself and women especially carry a ton of guilt about how we have been a scatterbrained mother ignored our family especially out husbands who in my case is known by my children as The Most Patient Man inthe World” and he was just that. But back to the anger I was speaking about. I have been through this for years and now it is still there but when I feel like I am being dissed as they say I have to stop and think about how silly it is and I have to realize I am not the only person in the world and that the world does not revolve around my needs and feelings. I as you do feel like I treat others as I want to have them to respect me for doing so but it is not the way it is because they have their own life and they have to deal with whatever they are doing so don’t feel like they have disrespected you because they don’t drop everything and text you back immediately and I assure you if you slow down and realize how it really is you won’t be upset with unresolved feelings of guilt and anger. This is what crippled me and I suffered greatly because of this illness and I am just trying to express how I dealt with it so perhaps you can hear the message and see if you can dig into your mind and find out if you are thinking what I have described and see if it applies to you and I pray that you may find a better way of thinking about how it truly is not a “you are always in the wrong and cause something to go differently than what you believe is the way it should because you think things should be exactly the way you do it ” You are very intelligent from the way your post is composed your use of your vocabulary is spot on and you conveyed your feelings clearly and distinctively. So much so that I can get a strong understanding and I have seen the same thing in my head so I am just a little bit more capable of perhaps giving you something to think about. I hope I have not said anything that you found hurful or negative that was not the intention I assure you. I have found that my feelings have been hurt because someone has pardon the term Bitch Slapped me into seeing myself for what I actually am and what it is doing and destroying my life. It’s hard for me because I think I should know better and I hate to admit that I am wrong because I have a overly emotional mind and hurt easier than most people. In closing I appreciate that you took the time to read this response and I hope that it helps to ease your mind and give you some hope. Best, Debbie and

    3. As one of those forgetful morons: ouch! Not that my family and friends aren’t important to me! They are. I still forget to answer texts etc. Respect the forgetful morons too 😉 We don’t mean to mess everything up for people we love.

  2. rcg1127 – Remember that there are 3-categories of ADD/ADHD and that there are many contributing factors that can be a cause or trigger to be in any of those categories. Some people fall into one category exclusively while others like myself have multiple symptoms from each. I think it’s great you don’t have any issues with forgetfulness which means either your medication has homed in or being forgetful is not one of your symptoms or it may be you have reminders set up so you don’t forget. I take exception at calling an ADD’er who’s forgetful a moron. Like you I only care about the things that interest me and remembering things I don’t particularly care about is harder. Again, like you, I set up reminders to not forget meetings, a doctor’s appointment, paying the bills on time or items my wife wants me to pick up on the way home. Being forgetful doesn’t mean I’m suffering from the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s decease. It simply means I can get distracted. I’m better with medication but it’s not a cure. It takes concentration on my part with the assistance with medication. Some of your comments definitely prove you have some symptoms from each of the three categories. I match virtually your whole response with a few exceptions. I didn’t take this article for anything more than an individual’s situation with what they believed to be a self-cure. Like anything else in ADDitude Magazine you can agree or disagree with what is written in any of their multiple articles or walk away with something to think about.

  3. I like the first solution to the Friendship Problem of “I Worry I Don’t Have Enough Friends.” I have a lot of acquaintences but only three good friends outside of my husband. Because I’m creative, and I guess, “eccentric”, I attract a lot of people that I’m not necessarily seeking out. In the past, I have caved to hanging out with many of these people and ended up either not having much in common with them or finding out the hard way that some of these people are unscrupulous.

    For example, I had a friend who is a caterer. I helped cater a wedding for her and worked really hard for a wedding thrown together at the last minute and a wedding in which over half the guests didn’t RSVP. I worked for over 12 hours, my feet hurt, my back hurt. This “friend” went on Facebook and thanked God for help in pulling the wedding together at the last minute. She also bragged about her quick thinking under pressure. The comment section under her post was filled with effusive compliments for her. This caterer didn’t say one thing about my help. She didn’t even thank my husband, my son, or her husband, or son who also helped her a great deal that day. That wedding needed a bigger staff than just the five of us.

    That’s my other issue, I have a tendency to attract needy people who use me and in turn, also end up using my husband. Perhaps, a great deal of people with ADHD/ADD do. When my husband gets roped in (his and my fault for not saying no), that’s particularly troubling to me. My husband is a nice, generous, skilled person. He also has ADHD and is good big-task, energetic, creative multi-tasker. People have taken advantage of him. Although, my husband is well-liked, he has sunburn from people taking advantage of his ADHD energy and hyper-focus. So while he is well-liked (he’s also an entertainer), he told me his only friend is me.

    Lastly, the other issue I notice is that because I don’t drink alcohol and most people I know do, unless they are devoutly religious or are recovering, that cuts my friendship choices way down. I also am frugal and most people in my community are big spenders. Meaning hanging out means spending a lot of money. I don’t mind going to a movie together sometimes or going out to eat occasionally with a friend. But my husband and I have children and we are on a budget. I can’t do go socializing (spending) every week like some of these mom cliques do, sometimes depending on our finances not every month – just a few times a year with friends. I refuse to take money away from my children to socialize.

    Sorry for the book. My two cents.

    1. I agree with you and thank you for addressing this issue with the comments that were made by the gentleman. However I cannot agreed that it is meant to be demeaning just a feeling of frustration that he has been experiencing. I especially love that you express the truth about the medication being a tool that allows change in your thinking and especially when it comes to your own personal behavior and reactions that are not always necessary or appropriate. I too have developed techniques to develop organizational skills and techniques for the brain hyper focuse issues becoming problematic and how to take steps to help myself to snap out of it.Thank you for allowing me to step in and put my humble opinion into your post and actually I am pleased with the fact that you validated my personal experience with the issue you brought up. It’s nice to see what others have done and realize that I am on the right road to get my life in order. Best Debbie

      1. I know this is off-topic (go figure), but @dcoy5050, could you share a couple oft techniques you use to snap out of hyper-focus? I find that if I begin my workday with an actual work-related task, I can often be super-productive. OTOH, if I veer off course to take care of the smallest personal item, I’m liable to waste hours down one rabbit hole or another. The impulsivity does not seem better even though I’ve started medication. I can focus better on the task at hand, but my impulsivity seems higher, so that I can’t always make myself “choose” what I’m going to focus on. Might be spreadsheets; might be YouTube exercise tutorials. Any help appreciated.

  4. Every now and then ADDitude Magazine has an article that is so helpful! I keep wondering why I have trouble following through on get togethers. I like people, and I also seem to attract them fairly easily, but I don’t care for being part of a group all that much. And, I will say “yes” to something because it does sound good at the moment, but as the date gets closer I find myself trying to come up with excuses for not going. I’m also much happier hanging out with my husband, spending time alone, or getting together with a friend I truly enjoy for lunch or even the occasional outing.

    Right now I’m struggling with a friendship I don’t think I want anymore. She’s a nice person, and I can have a lot of fun with her. But she is very outgoing and competitive. Along with that, she has a lot of drama in her life, and I finally reached a point where (after getting upset and trying to help her more than once) I was tired of it. She seems to enjoy the attention more than anything else.

    I just want to enjoy myself. We both have horses and, I swear, she has a need to turn everything into a training session. I love riding and working with my horse, but I prefer doing training on my own time. And, frankly, it starts to feel like she’s showing off and just trying to let me know how skilled she is. I’m also an artist, but I do it because it’s relaxing and I like learning. I might spend an afternoon painting while I listen to an audio book or a podcast. I’ve taken lessons and been interested in art all of my life. For some reason my friend started getting interested and I have to give her credit for having some talent. But, she’s obsessed and once again, it feels like a competition. She sends me photos of whatever she’s working on, looking for feedback.

    So, I finally told her I didn’t want to hear about her problems with her husband anymore. The last time she sent me a photo, I told her it was really good, but after that I stopped responding because I knew it was going to keep going. The only thing I feel bad about is my inability to set limits to begin with. I seem to attract these people (although I also have some very nice friends, too) and eventually I reach a point where I’m irritated, frustrated and done.

Leave a Reply