Folklore persists regarding the type of romantic partners attracted to adults with ADHD—and vice versa. Never mind that in the U.S. alone, adults with some degree of ADHD number from 10 to 30 million. In other words, they aren’t clones. Neither are their mates.
Nonetheless, at least two so-called truisms prevail:
- “Opposites Attract”: People with ADHD are attracted to “organized” and joyless workers bees who can keep the trains running for the both of them and who in turn are drawn to their free-spirited ADHD partner’s spontaneity and sense of fun.
- “Like Attracts Like”: People with ADHD are attracted to other people with ADHD because they inherently understand each other more than any “Muggle” could.
These two stereotypes are entirely contradictory. Yet, they echoed with equal certitude through the ADHD community while I was researching my first book—and still today. Sure, couples fitting both stereotypes turned up in my local and online discussion groups. Yet, between those two extremes lay the teeming variety of human individuals and their relationships.
As I like to say, “People with ADHD are just like all other humans, only more so.” And the same is true for relationships in which one or both partners have ADHD: They struggle with the same issues that challenge all couples, only more so.
Constructing the Question
How to test these stereotypes? Constructing a question proved tricky when designing my ADHD Partner Survey. I settled on a rather loose “fishing expedition.”
The main limitation: Survey respondents did not include the ADHD partners, only the partners of adults with ADHD (though some also had ADHD themselves). So, the respondents guessed or answered based on what they had gleaned from their ADHD partner.
Plus, the traits I listed were rather random. And, respondents weren’t distinguishing between traits that were present and traits that were attractive.
Still, original research must start somewhere. I settled on two questions, using the same list of traits for each question:
- Which of your ADHD Partner’s traits attracted you? (Check ALL that apply and/or add any that aren’t listed.)
- Which of your traits do you suspect attracted your ADHD partner to you? (Check ALL that apply and/or add any that aren’t listed.)
Let’s examine the two sets of responses, combined and sorted into two different charts, below.
Comparing the Traits
Please bear with me. It’s a little tricky to grasp at first. But by comparing the two sets of data side by side, we can see if a picture emerges. That is, are some collective “personality” traits more common to the ADHD partner (the adult with ADHD) or the other partner (the respondent)?
1. Which Traits Attracted You To Your ADHD Partner?
For this first chart, I sorted by this first question, sorted from highest to lowest: “Which of your ADHD Partner’s traits attracted you?”
Red represents the respondent’s ADHD Partner’s traits, the ones that the survey respondent found most attractive. It looks like the four big draws are:
- Spontaneous; fun to be with: this trait is represented almost doubly in ADHD partners as in respondents but still quite present in the respondents
- Humorous; cheerful: just a little more represented in ADHD partners
- Interesting; imaginative, “different”: about a third more represented in ADHD partners
- Attractive; sexy: about equal, with respondents rating themselves just a bit more attractive and sexy than their own ADHD partners (yes, bias could be an issue here…as I said…”fishing expedition”).
On the downside, the three low vote-getters:
- Good money manager: huge disparity there between respondents and ADHD partners
- Healthy lifestyle: another large disparity
- Responsible; mature; responsible; organized: a whopping disparity
Where is the biggest overall disparity? The ADHD Partners were far more likely to attract with “big dreams” and “big promises.”
2. Which of Your Traits Attracted Your ADHD Partner?
For this second chart, I sorted by this second question, sorted from highest to lowest: “Which of your traits do you suspect attracted your ADHD partner to you?”
Blue represents the respondent’s self-perceived traits. The four most-cited traits are:
- Loyal; truthful; sincere
- Warm; nurturing; unselfish
- Thoughtful; considerate
Almost all these traits are found in double the prevalence with the respondents as in the ADHD partners.
So, yes, perhaps there is some truth to this mating polarity: the “responsible” types going for the “spontaneous” types.
But how do you account for people ADHD who are socially phobic, dramatically non-spontaneous, not particularly fun and certainly not happy-go-lucky?
And what about the partners of adults with ADHD who are flexible, easy-going, the life of the party, and masters of efficiency?
People are complicated, ADHD or not. That’s why I’m a fan of viewing each person dealing with ADHD as individuals; each experience variable traits of a variable syndrome (not to mention the co-existing conditions, the rest of personality, socioecnomic background, etc.). Same for the partners.
Stereotypes also miss one big factor: the impact that untreated ADHD can have on both people in a relationship over time.
For example, to outside observers, some partners of adults with ADHD do seem rigid and controlling. But if you ask them, most say they didn’t start out that way. Rather, living with their ADHD partner’s untreated symptoms pretty much demanded they have enough control for the both of them! But that’s a topic for a future post.
Then there are the many adults with ADHD who’ve either never been part of a couple or haven’t been for long. This is a point of sadness and regret for many.
I hope you’ve found some food for thought here.
Coming soon, part 2 of this topic: Delving deeper into the details of this survey question.
Updated May 14, 2018