Single people with ADHD describe what it’s like to date when your brain is wired differently

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  • For singles with ADHD, dating can be a difficult process.
  • Some people with ADHD can become easily distracted, forgetful, and impulsive.
  • Some also experience an extreme negative reaction to rejection. Therapy and medication can help.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Jenn Welch has her first-date routine down to a science.

She asks her date to meet at one of a handful of her local coffee shops. When she gets there, she chooses a seat where her back is against the wall. After 45 minutes to an hour of chatting, Welch ends the date.

Welch is a comedian and host of the podcast LadyHD, where she brings on fellow women with ADHD and they discuss their experiences with dating, friendships, and work.

For her, these first-date rituals allow her to focus more on the moment.

“If my back is facing the room, then I have auditory processing issues that make it super hard for me to hear what the person is saying. There’s a lot that I need to do to be comfortable in my skin in a situation like that,” Welch told Insider.

Focusing on the moment can be a challenge for people with ADHD

For Jacob Jones, a 24-year-old Californian in the restaurant industry, dating has always felt anxiety-provoking.

“I overthink the whole process. Like, when is this date and where do we need to go and how long do I need to be there for? Am I talking too much? Am I staying too long? Are we talking about one thing for too long or, am I hearing them and letting them talk?” Jones, who was diagnosed with ADHD at 7, told Insider.

People in eye-catching clothing and sudden noises can cause Jones to lose his attention mid-conversation, he said. When that happens, he explains to a date that he isn’t ignoring them on purpose.

“I’d probably let them know early on, ‘Hey, if I ask if can you repeat yourself, it’s not because I’m not listening. I just have ADHD and sometimes some things need to be repeated for me, but I am listening and I am present,'” said Jones.

Jones said he always arrives to dates early because of his anxiety. But he’s also forgotten plans completely because he forgot to write them down. Like others with ADHD, Jones describes plan-making as “in one ear and out the other,” unless he sets a reminder for himself.

Separating a true connection from ‘the chase’

In the past, Welch has had difficulty discerning whether she liked a date, or if she was reacting to the excitement of a novel situation.

“Maybe they’re just really boring or don’t have a sense of humor or they don’t think I’m funny, you know? If I’m just chasing that feeling, I can still go on five dates with them,” Welch, who was diagnosed with ADHD when she was 28, said.

Impulsive responses to novel experiences are common in people with ADHD, psychologist Ari Tuckman told Insider.

Some experience an extreme reaction to others’ rejections

Welch has spent the last few years learning how rejection sensitive dysphoria – a symptom of ADHD that causes a person to have an extreme emotional reaction to exclusion, judgment, or criticism – has impacted her dating life.

Mental health experts have just recently began to study rejection sensitive dysphoria, or RSD, though it’s not currently in the DSM-5, the psychology field’s Bible of conditions.

When a person with RSD experiences rejection, it can derail their entire day and cause physical pain and long-term shame, psychologist Andrea Bonior wrote on Psychology Today.

Experience, therapy, medication, and telling new lovers to set boundaries with her have helped Welch her cope with rejection.

“I can be like, ‘I’m a person who really needs compliments and a lot of them, and that’s OK. I’m a person who needs to be told boundaries. I’m a person who needs to take a step back,'” she said.