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Navigating the world of dating as a woman with ADHD is not easy, here’s why

PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAN KNOTT

WORDS BY Laura Woods

Being ‘too much’ is both a curse and a blessing.

Being ‘too much’ is problematic in today’s dating game. As outlined by sexuality doula Ev’Yan Whitney, it’s all-encompassing in its criteria: “Oh, that ‘too much’ woman… too loud, too vibrant, too honest, too emotional, too smart, too intense, too pretty, too difficult, too sensitive, too wild, too intimidating, too successful, too fat, too strong, too political, too joyous, too needy – too much.”

As someone with ADHD, I’m constantly branded as ‘too much’ or ‘full-on’, a descriptor almost exclusively used by male romantic partners. ADHD-ers are programmed to experience the world intensely. A slight inconvenience triggers a flight or fight response.

Every emotion is amplified. Happiness becomes ecstasy, sadness becomes despair, irritation becomes fury. Acquaintances become best friends, soul mates. Crushes become obsessions. Hobbies become passions.

ADHD is, for the most part, a blessing in disguise. But in the casual dating game where being cool, calm and collected is the ultimate accolade, we fall behind. 

Emotional commotion

ADHD is most commonly associated with inattentiveness and, for women especially, ditziness. We’re often described as chaotic or written off as airheads which – in the grand scheme of remarks I’ve received – is water off a duck’s back. 

What’s often glossed over in discourse, however, is the emotional commotion that ADHD creates. Emotional dysregulation and rejection sensitive dysphoria are common, which in play create the ultimate storm in a teacup.  

I’m constantly teetering on the edge, one outburst away from being cemented as the ‘crazy’ or ‘unhinged’ one, by unsuspecting partners. Prior to being diagnosed and medicated, this inability to regulate emotions ran riot, creating a path of reputational damage I’m still working to repair.

My outbursts fluctuated in ferocity; ranging from unwarranted drunk soliloquies to public displays of aggression (PDA, but make it ADHD). When I discovered a text exchange between an ex-flame and a friend mentioning he was ‘going to go meet the psycho’, I erupted in a drink-throwing showdown.  

Fighting ADHD-induced emotional flooding is challenging. I liken it to hearing fingernails drag down a blackboard, with no choice but to sit there, unflinching, listening to the sound on loop. 

Rightfully so, this level of emotional excess – no matter how warranted – can agitate even the most patient of potential prospects. 

I am perpetually in fear of being discovered as the ‘crazy woman’, forever enduring an Ernest Hemingway-esque ‘man versus self’ internal battle. I find solace in texts like Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Bitch: In Praise Of Difficult Women

The cool, calm and collected curse

In dating culture, we’re told a well-curated digital and physical presence is often key to a smooth situationship to relationship transition.

Waiting four hours to respond to a text is ideal. Making grandiose plans of a shotgun wedding à la True Romance – whether serious or not – is best reserved to the film’s director, Tony Scott. Heavy conversations should be avoided. We try to scramble over one another, in an attempt to appear the most chill, the most calm, the most unlike that ‘crazy ex’. 

But for the dopamine-deficient ADHD brain, patience is not our strong suit. We’re prone to act on impulse, craving that sweet release of pleasure-producing neurotransmitters. This non-successful initiation into the cult of chill has granted me countless tales of romantic dead ends. 

ADHD shares similar traits with OCD, another branch on the neurodivergent family tree. We can be obsessive, consumed with hyperfixation. I once agreed to move in with someone after one Tinder date. I booked a holiday away with a stranger I’d met in a Hungarian hostel bar. I once revealed the infidelity of an ex-flame to his current partner.

I’ve seriously considered getting married for an international visa despite just passing by the ‘seeing’ someone stage. Until recently, I’d never dated someone without texting them every single day. If 24 hours were to go by without a message, I’d delete their number in an impatient panic, followed by an ‘unfollow’ on Instagram. I’d cut my losses and move on. 

I used to be so ashamed of my history of impassioned, failed dating escapades, hating my messy scramble of a love life. I took every slow fade as a personal attack, promising myself that next time I’ll text back slower, talk less, mince my words. Calm down. 

In a cathartic form of #selfcare, I became a bit of a drunken non-linear storyteller, using my experiences to convince the crying girl in the club bathroom that her double text could’ve been a lot worse. I swapped tales of misfortune with my ghosted girlfriends, who were momentarily thankful if my rejection story surpassed theirs.  

Whilst ADHD can’t be ‘fixed’, it can easily be masked by mirroring those around us. The dominant personality traits we’ve become experts at rerouting are the same ones which have granted us great triumph.

The chaos and hyperactivity that may have extinguished countless would-be romances, propelled me to write a book at 12 years old, and take courses in trapeze, shibari, martial arts, pottery and musical theatre.

I’ve learnt both Russian and Mandarin. I moved cities four times by the age of 23. What for so long I thought was my downfall, I’ve come to accept as my greatest strength. I will no longer hold my breath waiting for the day when I can abide by the unspoken rules of modern-day courtship. 

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