The Undiagnosed Boyfriend with ADHD

Community Member

It may be a particularly dangerous practice but I am sure I am not the only one who does this. Do you ever revisit past relationships and think about the people in your life who went undiagnosed with something? Now that I know about ADHD, I am pretty darn sure that my first boyfriend did have this disorder.

I met Mike (name changed to protect his identity) when I was 15 years old while standing on the stairs to my high school waiting for the bell to ring. He rushed up to me and began to recite dialogue from one of the shows popular back then in the 1970s, Mork and Mindy. Shy and reserved, I was taken aback by his in-your-face antics. He then put his jacket over me in an attempt to keep me warm on the chilly autumn day. This being our first meeting, I was simply not sure what to make of it. In asking some of my friends about him, they painted a picture of a boy who didn't do very well in school, was the class clown, and was already in the crowd who was using drugs. Despite my friends' warnings, I began to go out with Mike.

Everything my friends told me about him ended up being true and then some. But I chose to see the good things, such as the way he could make me laugh, his creativity, and his excitement over life in general. He was considered, for all intents-and-purposes to be a "bad boy" but he was fun. A "date" with Mike could mean anything from taking me shooting at the shooting range to sitting in the back of his friend's pick-up truck as we careened through the streets after dark.

I stayed with Mike through high school and beyond but, while I got good grades and had plans for college, Mike had no real plans for the future. For Mike, the best things were always happening right now. Although we had many fun and exciting times, my worry for Mike grew as we both got older.

My boyfriend's hyperactivity manifested in chronic restlessness or frenetic energy. He was always either in motion or engaged in non-stop talking. Mike reminded me of the comedian Robin Williams with his bursts of frantic verbiage. His high energy was often channeled into taking up every sport he could play at one time. In one year at high school he was playing volleyball, basketball, and taking martial arts.

I saw firsthand how his problems with paying attention prevented him from reading books, studying, or doing his homework. He had a problem with being chronically late everywhere he was supposed to be. In true comedic fashion, he would announce his late arrival to class by sliding his gym bag like a bowling ball down the aisle between the desks to where he sat. Disorganization ruled his life and he was seldom where he should be, doing what he was supposed to do, at the right time.

His symptom of impulsivity was probably the worst for others to deal with. As a child he was a daredevil and his mother described many trips to the emergency room. In one scenario he almost cut off his thumb. Mike's impulsive nature grew to include taking drugs by the time I met him. It was frightening for me to see his personality change depending upon what combination of drugs he was using at the time. There were car rides when I didn't know whether he was high or intoxicated and I feared for my life. Then there were the times when I feared that he might take his own life. He would sometimes sink into a deep depression, like the time he put a gun to his head and threatened to pull the trigger.

By the time I entered college, Mike and I were pulling apart. He had tried community college, but even there he could not pull it together to make passing grades. He always claimed he was bored and despite support from family, friends, and me, he quit going to college after just one semester. I always felt he was smart but he simply could not focus his attention on his studies. Mike decided to go into the family business and became a salesman. He had the charm and pizzazz to woo potential clients but even then he had difficulty with meeting deadlines and showing responsibility when it was needed. One time in particular, he was supposed to be meeting with a customer but was getting high in his bedroom instead.

I broke up with Mike when I was in graduate school; I simply couldn't do it anymore. His drug use, his impulsivity, and the lack of any real plans for the future were things I could no longer ignore. It is ironic that the year we ended our relationship was also the year that the revised DSM-III (DSM-III-R) included the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.   Had we known back then what he was dealing with, Mike could have gotten some real help.

It is my guess that there are a lot of people out there who may unknowingly be dating someone who has ADHD. My hope is that in this day and age, the signs and symptoms can be more readily identified and treated. Not everyone who has ADHD will be eager to be diagnosed and treated, but it is worth the effort to try to get your loved one some help.

Now it is your turn to share. Are you dating someone who has ADHD? What is the experience like for you? Are you someone who has married a person having ADHD? How has this disorder affected your relationship? Your story just might help someone who is going through the same thing.