I have a confession to make. I have ADHD inattentive type. This is why I have a really hard time keeping up with this blog, and why I always seem to have something else on my mind when you’re talking to me. This is why I burst into song at random times, but also why I burst into tears when I have to do my taxes.
My story with ADHD is pretty typical for a woman my age. I wasn’t diagnosed in my teens and as a result, grew more and more withdrawn from school, but then blossomed when I got to college. I didn’t finish college, however, until after I had taken some time off and then finally got that last unit finished. I coped for years with trouble starting tasks, or finishing projects. I was kicked out of my improv troupe, not for creative differences, but for the fact that I didn’t follow through with responsibilities. But I coped. I coped with alcohol, with cannabis. I smoked cannabis to stop hating myself. I drank alcohol to kill my perfectionism and anxiety. I quit self-medicating to try to fix myself. Then as a mother, the consequences of my symptoms, which never went away, which I had never “grown out of” became much more vivid. So I finally went to a doctor and got diagnosed with ADHD inattentive type.
One of the things I’ve always wondered, especially since I got my diagnosis, is whether my ADHD brain is drawn to polyamory because I crave stimulation so badly. There are different camps on whether or not this is true, with neurotypicals mostly of the side of “NO” and ADHD-ers mostly on the side of “SHUT UP, YOU DON’T KNOW ME.” (#notalladhders) Me, I think the question posed is the wrong one. It’s not should people with ADHD pursue polyamory, but whether/why someone with ADHD might be drawn to polyamory.
Here’s my take.
Warning: I am not a doctor. At all. But I do know a few things about how my ADHD brain works that the average neurotypical person might not know.
Why I think ADHD makes Polyamory good for me:
The AD brain is not a broken normal brain. It is a perfectly good brain and in fact often excels at things neurotypical people might not excel at. The AD brain has a dysfunction in norepinepherine levels and dopamine. Different types have different neurotransmitter dysfunctions, though it’s mostly these two involved. Limerence, NRE or whatever you like to call that first flush of love in a new relationship raises your levels of dopamine, something the AD brain craves. Our desire for dopamine is what drives many of us to overeat, or to become addicted to social media (who, me?).
I crave novelty and stimulation, and this means when those neurotransmitters level off, I can still love someone, but I start to get new crushes all the time. This is what led me to believe I had a sex addiction a decade ago. ADHDers also have intense emotion and intense focus (called hyper-focus) when we really like something. When you have our attention, you feel like the centre of the universe. And that can make for a rewarding and exciting relationship.
One of the symptoms I have is that I don’t do subtlety well. I like things to be up front and open. Passive aggression is deadly in polyamory and I have no tolerance for it. This means I can come off as blunt to some people, but I prefer people who are open and honest about how they feel. This requires emotional intelligence and resilience, which I have found polyamorous people to have in abundance.
Why I think ADHD makes Polyamory a minefield for me:
Another aspect of my perfectly wonderful and magical AD brain is executive function dysfunction. Executive functions are the brain’s secretary. They involve working memory, organisation, activation, sustaining focus, impulse control and the ability to prioritise tasks among other things. Not everyone with Executive Function Deficit has ADHD and vice versa. But for me, this is where my AD brain really lets me down, and what drives people to believe ADHDers make terrible poly partners.
The ability to plan and prioritise is essential in a poly relationship. You have to juggle a lot of balls, time-wise, and this can let you down. There is also the “out of sight, out of mind” problem with the AD brain, which can make some partners feel unloved or uncared for. If someone is untreated or undiagnosed, this can come off as “flaky” or even apathetic. However, once we learn what is expected, or even set up clear routines and reminders, we can overcome this problem. Sometimes, if someone is aware of their ADHD and has set up their organisation sufficiently, they may excel at it.
We sometimes don’t pick up on subtle signals, so communication sometimes takes more effort and need things to be spelled out very clearly, especially when it comes to expectations. We may be intuitive and sensitive, but we don’t always know what to do. We get overwhelmed easily by things and can give up or withdraw when things get too hard. For me, my emotions are so intense they take me time to process before I can talk about them. This makes emotional discussions with Husband difficult, especially if he initiates it. I just hear the emotion first, then it takes me a few minutes to process the actual words. It’s not easy, it is frustrating, but we manage.
What is the verdict?
It’s possible that someone with ADHD will find themselves drawn to non-monogamy or even polyamory, but whether or not they thrive depends on how well they can manage themselves, their partners’ expectations and how honest they are with themselves about how their brain works. ADHD or neurotypical, polyamorous or monogamous, everyone and every relationship has its blessings and challenges. It takes willingness to accept yourself and your partner(s), and willingness to work hard and grow as a person to make any relationship work. It’s a journey and not a destination, and anyone who thinks polyamory will solve all their problems only knows about half their problems.