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50 First (and Last) Dates

An ADHDer's Valentine's Day - 50 First (and Last) Dates
An ADHDer's Valentine's Day - 50 First (and Last) Dates

It’s Valentine’s Day. Congratulations to those of you who have a valentine.

For the rest of us, could it be that our dateless day is due to our inability to learn from past mistakes? According to researchers like Russell Barkley, this may very well be the case.

Take me for example. Sometimes, I feel like Drew Barrymore’s character Lucy in 50 First Dates.

The movie’s premise is that, every morning Lucy awakens, she can’t remember anything from the previous day. Or the previous weeks, months, or years.

Not unlike Barrymore’s character, a common difficulty for ADHDers is the inability to recall the consequences of past actions. Are we doomed to make the same mistakes over and over?

Being here now…

In trying to figure out how this operates in my life, today I had an Aha! moment. I realized that often, I’m see-sawing back and forth between two extreme states. In one, I’m totally caught up in the moment, forgetting all else in lieu of the present.  Here’s an example:

I go to a music jam at my local pub. Not being a night person, I decide that I’ll stay until 11:00 p.m. at the latest. When I arrive, my favorite musicians are there, maybe there’s even a new one I haven’t heard. And he’s great. The music is fantastic, everybody’s having a great time. I’m dancing, playing a drum, I’m in the zone.

Before I know it, it’s two o’clock in the morning. I’m one of the last to leave. Oops! I did it again …

The consequences

The next day I’m exhausted, not at my mental peak, and my whole day suffers. I don’t even have the energy to work on my pet project.

My alternate state is the opposite extreme: I dwell so much on the future that it turns into a worry-fest.

In a nanosecond, I’m overwhelmed by thoughts of unmet dreams, incomplete projects, uncontacted friends, unpaid bills… I can’t figure out why my life doesn’t look anything like I’d imagined.

Painting by Edvard Munch, Norwegian expressionist painter
Painting by Edvard Munch, Norwegian expressionist painter

I’m stuck  in a nightmarish vision of the future, the endpoint being I’m on my deathbed, alone, and full of regret over all my unrealized dreams and goals. Then I get depressed and my motivation evaporates.

Dr. Barkley gets it. He says in his latest ADHD book, Taking Charge of Adult ADHD,

“…self-blame can beat you right into the ground, and you might find it harder and harder to get back up.” [p. 156]

This inability to incorporate past life lessons into present actions is a hallmark of ADHD. According to Barkley, we ADHDers have the knowledge, but the way our brains are wired doesn’t allow us to act on it. We know what to do, he says, but we can’t do what we know.

I know I know, if only I could remember…

Complicating matters, we also have less powerful nonverbal working memories than those without ADHD.

“This makes it really challenging to activate your mental imagery related to hindsight and foresight before taking action,” says Barkley. [from Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, p. 156]

Like Lucy in 50 First Dates, Barkley says,

“You need a way to make sure that what you learned from the past stays accessible when you need it.”  [pp. 156-157]

What’s a Chick-ADD to do?

In the movie, Adam Sandler’s character follows love interest Lucy around with a video camera, to remind her tomorrow of what they did yesterday. Maybe 50 First Dates’ writer George Wing read Barkley’s book, because Barkley suggests a very similar technique for us ADHDers (no, Barkley doesn’t provide Sandler’s phone number or e-mail, sorry).

Barkley suggests we use an imaginary minicam, stopping the action and mentally reviewing a film of ourselves that might shed light on the situation at hand.

“See the past unfolding in all its colorful, detailed action, as if you’re filming it or replaying it right in the space you’re in,” says Barkley. [p. 158]

Barkley’s book offers other suggestions to help us ADHDers to deal with this phenomenon.

Spoof image created by fellow ADHDer Kelly Babcock & used with permission
Spoof image created by fellow ADHDer Kelly Babcock & used with permission

As for me, I think I’ll just buy a copy of 50 First Dates as a reminder that unless I start learning from past date disasters, all of my future dates will be first – and last.

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50 First (and Last) Dates

Zoë Kessler, BA, B.Ed.

Zoë Kessler is an award-winning author, journalist, and speaker specializing in women and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD / ADD).

A frequent contributor to ADDitude Magazine, Kessler has also created video, standup comedy, and guest blogs on ADHD and Marriage covering ADHD-related topics.

Zoë, an internationally recognized ADHD expert, has been interviewed on radio and featured in magazine articles, documentaries, and books on the topic of women and ADHD across North America.

Her newly-released memoir ADHD According to Zoë - The Real Deal on relationships, Finding Your Focus & Finding Your Keys (New Harbinger Publications, 2013) about life with ADHD is now available.

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APA Reference
Kessler, Z. (2011). 50 First (and Last) Dates. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Apr 2011
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