Divergent: Part Two

As I mentioned in my last post, the term “neurodivergent” is one that resonates with me, and that I identify with. I wrote about my thoughts on neurodiversity, and how I experience it in my own life. For me, ADHD is a label I have embraced as a way of better understanding myself and the way my brain works. 

Before I get into it, I want to reemphasize that I am not diagnosed with ADHD. I have no interest in being diagnosed, and I have no interest in seeking treatment. I also don’t have the classic presentation of ADHD that many people think of, which includes difficulty with focus and attention, and hyperactivity. Those traits are in the name (ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder); but personally, I don’t see those things in myself as clearly as they usually are in people diagnosed with ADHD. Instead, I have many other traits that have been identified as common symptoms of ADHD. 

I can identify at least 21 specific ways that ADHD affects me, and there are probably more that I haven’t learned about or recognized yet. I see these differences as more of strengths than weaknesses, or at the very least they’re things I would consider quirks and part of my personality, rather than detriments. 

The more I learn about it, the more I realize that so many of my life choices have been affected by my brain working in a different way. Realizing this has given me a more positive view of myself and my life choices, both of which have been misunderstood by others more than a few times. Even if people around me don’t always understand my choices, that doesn’t mean that they’re wrong. Thinking and seeing the world and life differently isn’t inherently bad. Being different isn’t bad—that’s the spirit of the term neurodivergent, after all. 

I work hard to be a person who makes the world better, not worse; someone who is competent, caring, and considerate. So even if I choose paths in life that seem foolish or crazy or strange to others, I know that I am smart and sane and kind, and that I’m making the best choices I can– for reasons that make sense to me and my life— and that’s all that matters.

So, with that out of the way, I can now get into the details of what ADHD looks like in my life, and how it affects me.      

First off, ADHD is most likely the reason I tend to be a quitter. I have a history of quitting things when they start to feel too hard or scary, or I lose interest– even if I know that those feelings are likely temporary, and that there are benefits to continuing the thing that I want to quit. 

This quitting tendency includes hobbies or activities that I briefly participated in, like dance club, martial arts, or cheerleading. It includes volunteering opportunities that I was excited about for a while, but then decided to stop. It includes jobs I have had, the shortest being for only a few months and the longest for just over a year. It includes career paths I’ve tried to follow and businesses I’ve tried to start. It includes relationships, such as friendships that become too difficult or are giving me anxiety. It even includes pets– but more about that later. 

Basically, if I don’t like doing something, I quit it. There are pros and cons to that characteristic, in my opinion. I think it’s a good thing that I feel free to follow my instincts and focus on doing things I enjoy in life. But, it also means that I sometimes give up on things before I really should, and then I end up wishing I hadn’t. 

Socially, ADHD causes additional challenges for me. I have a high level of rejection sensitivity, and a tendency to over-analyze and dwell on negative or awkward social interactions. I kid you not– I am still haunted by that one time 12 years ago when I excitedly told my pastor he had the same Tupperware as me, and he looked at me with patronizing disinterest. (Why am I so weird?) I also have difficulty making and maintaining friendships, in part because of that rejection sensitivity, and in part because of social anxiety and being an introvert. I am also extremely sensitive in general. My feelings can get hurt quite easily, and I tend to be very hard on myself when I make mistakes or do something wrong. 

ADHD can cause people to have a low frustration tolerance, which is one thing I can very much relate to. I get overly upset when frustrated by things that others may feel are minor setbacks. A big example is when I can’t find something that I need; I tend to get way more upset than seems reasonable, and I can’t seem to control it. And while I do feel that I have a lot of patience usually (which becomes very necessary when you have five kids), I can also have a short fuse when overstimulated, overwhelmed, stressed, or frustrated. Sensory overload is something I experience very frequently, especially with noise and messes/clutter. These stimuli often cause emotional dysregulation for me, usually manifesting in anger explosions or shutting down and withdrawing from others. 

I am aware that I have anger issues, and I have known this about myself for a long time; but only recently have I realized that these problems likely stem from ADHD. They are a result of my brain working differently, rather than just me being a bad person. That means I can find tools and techniques to adapt, which gives me hope! 

There are so many things I can do to improve my emotional regulation challenges that come with ADHD. I can plan ahead for potentially frustrating situations and make changes to set myself up for success. I can designate easy-to-remember places for things and be strict about putting them where they belong, so that they don’t get lost. I can use noise-dampening ear plugs when things are getting too loud. I can build small chunks of time to decompress into my daily routines. I can set aside time to tidy up the house before bed (but keep it reasonable, so I don’t end up staying up too late and missing more sleep). I can also actively remind myself that the goal is never perfection, but improvement. 

Focus and attention are the more well-known problems that people with ADHD struggle with, and on the surface it never seemed to me as if this described me. But I have learned that there are many ways that ADHD can affect a person’s focus, and they aren’t all as obvious as being easily distractible. For example, I find it very difficult to switch tasks before I’m finished with whatever I’m currently working on, and I often feel an unproportional level of frustration or anger when I’m forced to do so. 

Conversely, I’ll often find that I’ve moved on to a new task before finishing the current one, which can happen for a variety of reasons; either I did the main bulk of the task and subconsciously considered it done before actually finishing the final parts, or I got caught in a chain reaction. As an example, I could be going to do the laundry but the washer is full, and the dryer is also full, and the basket is also full, so I need to fold the clean laundry first. But as I’m working on that, I will notice that the linen closet needs to be organized before I can put the clean laundry away, and then I end up organizing and tidying up the surrounding area as well. Before I know it, I’m being called away to do an entirely different task by one of my family members, and the laundry remains unfinished. 

Another subtle way that difficulty focusing can show up for me is being prone to clumsiness or accidentally injuring myself. I have realized that this happens because my brain is already moving on to the next task before I’ve physically finished the previous one, which leads to rushing or not paying attention to what my body is doing. (Just for laughs, I will share that the day I started writing this post, I got a cardboard paper cut underneath my fingernail, and later while eating a hamburger I was able to somehow flick a crumb into my eye– which didn’t hurt, per se, but it also didn’t feel good.)

People with ADHD can often struggle with mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. The reasons for this aren’t completely understood, but the result can be someone like me who oscillates between having too much mental energy, and having too little. These two ends of the spectrum are essentially my very boiled-down descriptions of anxiety and depression. When I’m feeling anxious, I’m like a shark who needs to keep moving so I don’t die. When I’m feeling depressed, I’m like a sad panda who is just trying to get through the day. Both stages tend to come and go fairly rapidly for me, lasting anywhere between a few hours to a few months. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, and it’s quite possible that ADHD is what fuels the ride. 

Insomnia is a symptom of ADHD, anxiety, and depression, so it should come as no surprise that I struggle with it. Sometimes I just can’t fall asleep until 3 AM, even though I’m tired, because my brain won’t rest or it simply decides to malfunction and forget how to sleep. Other times I’m in the midst of a bout of depression, and staying up late into the night gives me some level of feeling in control and at peace, or at least time to ruminate on all of my swirling emotions. Fortunately, (I guess?) years of sleep deprivation as a mom have conditioned me well to function on little or poor sleep. 

The biggest way that ADHD affects me is my need for novelty in life. This is thought to be a dopamine-seeking behavior common in people with ADHD. It’s also tied into other characteristics like hyperfixations, boredom, and impulsivity. What it looks like in my life is a very strong drive for making changes—often, the bigger the better. Combine that with my proclivity for quitting, and my anxiety and depression, and what you get is quite a concoction. 

I have a history of moving fairly often. I love rearranging, buying new things, and starting new systems or habits. I love taking things that are messy and making them clean, neat, and organized; that kind of change is so evident and satisfying! I enjoy redefining and refreshing my perspectives in life. I loved when I had a polyamorous lifestyle, because it meant there was always something shiny and new in my life. New flirtations, crushes, first dates, first kisses—talk about an abundant source for those dopamine hits I crave so much!

It’s also quite possible that I love having babies so much because of the constant change that they bring. There’s always a new stage to move on to, a new milestone, or a new parenting challenge to defeat. Plus, the very act of caregiving can be dopamine-boosting.  

But, the most visible and obvious manifestation of my ADHD-fueled need for change is something that’s caused me to build quite a reputation… as a crazy pet person. The number of pets that have come and gone in my life, even just as an adult, is astounding. Not including family/childhood pets, I’ve had eleven dogs (three currently), ten cats not including the three foster kittens I didn’t adopt, (I have seven cats currently), seven guinea pigs (none currently), five bunnies (none currently), seven rodents (four currently), six birds (two currently), three horses (one currently), and countless fish (none currently or hopefully ever again). That’s over 40 pets in the past 13 years! 

Now, I do have 17 pets as of this post, but you may be wondering what happened to the other 23+ animals that were at some point in my care over the past decade. Well, all of the fish died despite my best efforts, and 12 of the other animals passed away from old age (one dog, three rodents), illness (two dogs, one cat, one guinea pig), or accident (three guinea pigs); my dog Macy had to be put to sleep for severe and unpredictable aggression issues. The remaining 12 pets I had were rehomed, for a variety of reasons. 

Personally, I don’t believe that rehoming pets is wrong, or a negative thing when done right. I’ve always ensured that my rehomed pets went to new owners who would meet or exceed the level of care I gave them—which was always very high. I’ve never had a pet who seemed traumatized by being rehomed; that is to say, the pets I rehomed didn’t seem to suffer emotionally from transitioning to new owners, and they all ended up arguably happier in their new homes. I’ve always checked in on them afterwards to ensure they transitioned well, and I’ve always told the new owners that I would take the animal back if they ever needed to rehome them again. Basically, all of that to say that I have taken rehoming seriously and done it responsibly and with care. To me, the possibility of needing or wanting to rehome an animal in the future doesn’t make me afraid of adopting new pets, because I know there’s a net positive even when that happens. 

And yet, the constant change in my pet-life has been, at times, problematic. It caused a great deal of conflict with my ex-husband, and his lack of understanding and support for my choices when it came to pets was actually one of the “last straw” reasons for ending our marriage, as crazy as that sounds. I began to feel like a child who had to convince my “parent” that I was responsible enough for a new pet. I wanted to feel like an adult, who can be trusted to make my own life choices, for better or for worse. Not to mention that I wanted to feel like an equal partner, whose feelings and desires mattered just as much as my husband’s mattered to me. 

With my husband now, it has also caused conflict on numerous occasions. My pet obsession has been something that RJ, for the most post, understands, supports, and to some degree even shares with me. But, his biggest form of neurodivergence is arguably anxiety (although ADHD is a very close second, in my opinion). So at times, the idea of adding another pet or rehoming one has triggered an extremely unpleasant reaction in him, and caused some emotionally traumatic fights for us. Some of our fights about pets have left me feeling as if I have ended up in the same dynamic that I was in with my ex– the main thing I was trying to escape! Which of course, has been disheartening. Fortunately, we are actively working on these issues and have made great progress.

Even aside from the pet thing, I’ve observed that with both Cory and RJ, my need for novelty and my struggle with depression and anxiety has at times been misinterpreted as dissatisfaction with my life, or with my partner. 

I’ve been accused of “always wanting more” and “never being satisfied.” I’ve been told that I should work on myself to learn how to be content. I’ve been accused of steamrolling and manipulating my partner into decisions they don’t want. I’ve been told that I’m not “compatible” with my partner because I want things that they don’t. I’ve been told that nothing is ever enough for me. These are words that have wounded me deeply, and will take years to heal from. 

But, the truth that I often have to remind myself of is that I am not broken. I am not too much. I add far more positive things to the lives of my loved ones than negative ones. I am a good partner. I’m thoughtful and loving and empathetic—and imperfect. And that’s okay. 

So, yes. ADHD may have negative effects in my life. But I also recognize that many of the struggles I have are only struggles because society says they’re bad. Being a “quitter” is seen as a bad thing, but it also could be reframed as being adept at letting go of things that no longer serve me. Being someone who constantly seeks novelty and change could be seen as being impulsive and careless–or, it could be reframed as being adventurous and adaptable. 

Aside from the differences I’ve already described, ADHD also gives me more obvious strengths and advantages. I can hyper-focus on tasks, getting a ton done in relatively little time without running out of steam. When I procrastinate, I almost always do it productively; in other words, I may not always do the tasks I need to as soon as I should (hello, mountain of laundry), but at least I will be doing something productive (like reorganizing the pantry). 

My food fixations (common with ADHD) make things simple when it comes to meal-planning. As long as I have my 3-4 staple foods (whatever they may be at the time), I’m good to go. Variety isn’t really necessary for me, in the food department, so I’m easy to feed.   

One interesting aspect of ADHD is that it can cause caffeine to affect people differently. So, rather than wiring me, coffee actually helps me feel calm and improves my ability to sleep at night. This means I can drink a delicious latte every night before bed, if I so choose! Fortunately, coffee still gives me a much-needed energy boost in the morning, which means I also get to start my day with a routine that I look forward to. 

Another interesting and benign effect of ADHD is that I am prone to (harmless) binges and obsessions; this has given me a wide variety of specific knowledge, but also it’s just fun. If I can find great joy in baking ten dozen cookies in a day, then why not? It’s the simple things in life.

As with many people who have ADHD, I’m level-headed in crisis. I tend to be more calm and confident when I’m thrown into chaos, which is a great advantage when you have five kids and 17 pets. 

While having insomnia is a challenge, and I’d really like to be able to sleep when I need to, the other side of that coin is that I’m naturally a night owl (like many other people with ADHD). I like staying up late, and I can get so much done after everyone else is in bed. Often, the time I have at night is the only time I have to get chores done without constant interruptions, and if I’m lucky sometimes even a little bit of time to do things I enjoy, like writing. 

Last but not least, my need for novelty means that I’m good with change—in fact, I crave it! This can be seen as an advantage considering that life is full of changes. Most people fear them, but not me! It also means that life with me is never dull.

Ultimately, whether ADHD is considered a negative or a positive largely depends on one’s perspective. I feel that these things are all just part of who I am, and while some of them can be challenging at times, overall I do believe that they aren’t problems that need to be fixed. The world is not built for neurodivergent people, but that doesn’t mean that we need fixing. I think we can all agree that the world is very much in need of fixing.

And so, I’m going to keep being me–the gloriously chaotic, go-with-the-flow, productive, interesting, ever-changing phoenix that I am. 

Divergent: Part One

Sometimes, being different is a good thing. Differences are what make people and life so interesting, and allow us to learn and grow.

It was a couple of years ago that I first heard the term “neurodivergent.” My introduction to the term was through reading a trilogy of books called The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect, and The Rosie Result, which feature an autistic main character. The story explores the topic of neurodivergence with a humorous and heartfelt approach. After I read those books, I started hearing the word “neurodivergent” in popular culture more and more. If you didn’t already know, this is a thing now. (In all fairness, neurodivergence had actually been a thing presumably since humans came into existence, and the term was coined decades ago, but the awareness of it is now becoming more mainstream).

A great summary of what this term is all about is the following excerpt from the Verywell Mind article, “What Does It Mean to Be Neurodivergent?”

Neurodivergence is the term for when someone’s brain processes, learns, and/or behaves differently from what is considered ‘typical.’

Formerly considered a problem or abnormal, scientists now understand that neurodivergence isn’t inherently an issue for the individual and that it has a large societal benefit. Not all presentations of neurodivergence are a disability, like synesthesia, but all are a difference in how the brain works.

With this shift, practitioners are no longer treating neurodivergence as inherently an illness. They are instead viewing them as different methods of learning and processing information, some of which become disabilities in an inaccessible and ableist society.


“Neurodivergent,” in a nutshell, describes anyone whose mind works differently than what is considered “normal.” Of course, what is considered normal can vary across cultures and change with time. Like most labels, “neurodivergent” is a term that can be used in many different ways and for many different types of people. 

Most narrowly and originally, “neurodivergent” was used as an alternative or complementary term for people with autism. But more commonly and in recent years, the term has been used to describe people not only with autism spectrum disorder, but also people with ADHD, dyslexia, Down syndrome, Tourette’s, OCD, bipolar disorder, and many more mental conditions. 

Whether one has an official diagnosis or not has also become less important when using this term. Remember, neurodivergence is not a medical term or a legally protected term–it’s a social term, and its use has changed and expanded over time. 

An article from the Child Mind Institute explains:

“The term used to be used to describe people who either had a clinical diagnosis or were borderline, with symptoms that are near the clinical threshold for a diagnosis,” she explains. “More recently, what I’ve seen is broadening to include anybody who identifies with it. People who feel that they think or process outside of the box.”


Even with a diagnosis for something like autism or ADHD, every neurodivergent individual experiences life and the world uniquely. No two neurodivergent people are exactly the same–just as no two neurotypical people are exactly the same! We are all different in ways both big and small. 

As an article from BetterUp says:

The number of different ways a human brain can be wired is almost infinite. Diagnoses simply provide us with a kind of verbal shorthand. It’s a convenient way to refer to a specific set of symptoms or experiences that commonly occur together. Even within a diagnosis, two people’s experiences can range widely.


Considering that no two minds work exactly alike, using the term neurodivergent is becoming more and more a personal choice. For example, most loosely, neurodivergence can also encompass many other mental differences and conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, sensory processing disorders, and learning differences. 

And, while it has been used most often as an umbrella term for disorders, a mental difference doesn’t have to be a disorder to be considered neurodivergent. Things like non-heterosexuality, having a non-cisgender identity, synesthesia, being an empath, introversion, and possibly many more differences that could describe the mental workings of an individual, could all be considered neurodivergent. 

While mental illnesses and the non-disorder differences I listed may not be generally or popularly accepted forms of neurodiversity, I personally would advocate for this wider and more inclusive use of the term. Because ultimately, claiming that label for oneself is a personal choice. I know that not everyone likes labels, but for me, they add clarity and can be empowering! That is why I am proud to call myself neurodivergent.  

I believe that increasing awareness and reducing stigmatism of both neurodiversity and mental illness go hand in hand. The more we can understand ourselves and how our brains work, the better lives we can live. And the more we can understand others and how their brains work in ways that are both similar to and different than ours, the better we can make our world for everyone. Mental disorders can be a part of one’s identity, and that doesn’t have to be a negative thing. They can add strengths, as well as weaknesses, to one’s life.

That being said, it is important not to use the term to downplay the struggles of those with mental disorders. Some types of neurodivergency are not just differences, but disabilities. Those disabilities may be partially a result of living in an ableist society which is not designed for those who are different; but, they also can be innate, and debilitating in and of themselves. Seeking diagnosis and treatment can have great value for many, many people. I am not advocating for simply accepting the struggles that come with being different! I am only advocating for recognizing that being different isn’t always bad, and can in fact be a good thing in many cases, or at least in some ways.

So, with all of that explaining out of the way, I wanted to share a bit about my personal differences, or neurodiversity. 

I am neurodivergent in six ways that I know of right now. For me, these differences add both strengths and weaknesses to my day-to-day life. I use this label to encompass my ADHD, anxiety, and depression–the golden trifecta, as I jokingly think of it. I’m also an introvert and an empath, and I’m pansexual and polyamorous by nature. All of these labels are ones that I embrace because they are part of who I am, and they are ways that my mind works uniquely. They each come with drawbacks as well as advantages.

At first thought, I struggled to see a way that depression could add anything positive to a person’s life or to the world. But then I realized that empathy is a strength I can attribute, at least partially, to my depression-susceptible mind. My experiences with depression have allowed me to develop deeper empathy for the suffering of others, and an ability to think more profoundly about life. It’s even possible that my struggle with depression caused me to develop my empathic nature.

Depression shows up in my life as feeling down, sad, unmotivated, and just “over” life. It also brings feelings of guilt and inadequacy–especially mom-guilt. It makes me feel that I’m not enough, and that no matter what I do it will be wrong. It makes me lose interest in things I used to enjoy. It gives me insomnia. It makes me want to isolate myself socially (although that is also just part of being an introvert, and having social anxiety). And of course, the worst part of depression for me is suicidal ideation. It can take very little for me to spiral into not wanting to be alive anymore. So, those are the not-so-fun things to deal with. 

Depression is the label that I have used the longest. I have known that I struggle with depression since I was a teenager, although it wasn’t until further into my adulthood that I consciously accepted it. I would say depression is my second biggest form of neurodivergence. It is a disorder that I, personally, have chosen to seek treatment for. 

Although I also have anxiety, I struggle with it the least. For me, it shows up as restlessness, insomnia, feelings of dread, feeling the need to escape situations, excessive worrying about everyday things, muscle tension and headaches, and repetitive/racing thoughts. I also have a touch of social anxiety, but that’s pretty tangled up with introversion, depression, and ADHD. On a side note, I also have migraines, and it can be hard to distinguish my tension headaches from migraines, unless I have an aura or nausea, which indicate a migraine.

The ”positive” side of anxiety for me is that, in a strange way, it energizes me. The feeling of restlessness shows up as needing to be doing something productive, helping someone, or taking care of others. I get hits of dopamine through these activities, which seems to counteract my anxiety somewhat.

Another aspect of my neurodivergence is being an introvert. As I said earlier, some people count it and others don’t–but it doesn’t really matter what other people think. For me, I feel that it’s something that makes me different than what is considered “normal,” so it fits. My introversion shows up in a few different ways, some of which are similar to mild autism spectrum disorder. 

I have difficulty making eye contact and difficulty initiating or maintaining conversations. I have a very small social circle. I’m almost always happier at home (or in my home-away-from-home, aka Eleanor, my travel trailer). I don’t like meeting new people or being in crowds. I am a quiet person, in general, although when I’m comfortable with people I come out of my shell. Personally, I don’t see introversion as a weakness at all. It’s something that I like about myself. I’m never too busy talking to be a good listener, and that goes really well with my empathic nature. I have learned to be confident and comfortable in my own skin without needing to be loud about it. 

Being an empath is hands-down my favorite area of neurodivergence. What it means is that I am very highly attuned to the emotions of others, especially those I’m close to. It allows me to show compassion for others beyond what is probably considered common. I can tell when something is off with someone, and I have a powerful intuition. This makes me an excellent care-taker, partner, mother, and friend. It also means that I have a tendency to absorb the emotional energy of the people around me, which can be a big challenge. This is something that I have to be aware of and consciously reframe my thinking around all of the time. Taking responsibility for other people’s emotional states is not healthy, and can happen very easily–so I have to be careful and cognizant. 

Being pansexual and polyamorous wouldn’t be considered neurodivergent by most people (based on my research), but I believe that sexuality and gender identity are part of the way a person’s mind works. I believe they are ingrained, present at birth, and originating in the brain–and being non-cisgender and/or non-heterosexual is, by definition, “different” than the norm. (It’s called heteronormative, after all). Thus, I include it. My sexual identity is basically irrelevant to my daily life, because I am in a monogamous heterosexual relationship that I’m committed to for life. Nevertheless, I feel that it’s an important part of my identity. 

Out of all of my neurodivergent “labels,” ADHD resonates the most. I have many behaviors that can be associated with ADHD, including anxiety and depression themselves. It is not uncommon for all three to go together, with ADHD as the underlying root cause.

ADHD is a label that I only very recently embraced. I am not diagnosed, and I have no interest in seeking a diagnosis or treatment for it. This is my personal choice. I never felt that I had ADHD until I learned more about it over the past year. I learned about ways that ADHD shows up in people’s lives and behaviors, beyond the basic definition of having difficulty paying attention and hyperactivity. Realizing that there is a huge range of ADHD far beyond that small-box definition allowed me to see just how much I am affected by it. 

It’s such a big topic for me that I decided to write a whole separate post about it! That will be coming soon, so stay tuned. 


What Does It Mean to Be Neurodivergent? By Ariane Resnick, CNC


What Is Neurodiversity? By Caroline Miller


Types of Neurodiversity: Understanding How People See The World, By Allaya Cooks-Campbell


Like a Magnet Do

When I was younger and more idealistic, I believed that true beauty was on the inside. More so, I believed that everyone was beautiful because God made them. More importantly, I believed that a person’s character was far more important than physical beauty, especially by worldly standards, so much so that I felt appearances didn’t matter at all. In the search for a life partner, physical appearance meant little to nothing to me—or at least, that’s what I told myself. I never wanted to be vain or superficial. I wanted to be kind and encouraging. To make physical attraction important in my quest for love would make me the kind of person that I did not want to be, someone shallow and foolish. That is what I believed. 

I was raised to be a good Christian girl who cared about what people were like on the inside, rather than the outside. Seeking inner beauty for my romantic partner was godly. Of course, boys and men weren’t told to seek character above beauty, but is that really any surprise? No, the lesson was always for girls to operate on the higher moral ground. Boys will be boys, after all. But I digress. 

In romantic relationships, part of the purity culture I grew up with told me that I really shouldn’t even be a sexual being—until I was married, that is. Upon saying my vows, I was taught that I should immediately become interested in sex, so as to keep my husband satisfied. But before that point, and especially when it came to dating, I learned that lusting was sinful. And so, I suppressed my sexuality as much as I could, but that only led to it bursting out in moments when I inevitably lost my self-control. Those events were always followed by guilt, shame, and disgust. 

But I digress, again! My point is that physical and sexual attraction weren’t things I was taught were important or valuable. If anything, they were sinful. A G-rated comment about the attractiveness of someone whom you intended to pursue a romantic relationship with was pretty much the most that was considered morally acceptable. When in a romantic relationship before marriage, it was important to honor your partner by remaining pure. Impure thoughts led to impure actions! So, it was easier to keep things “pure” by not even thinking about physical attraction in the first place.

All of that to say that when I fell in love with my high school sweetheart, who would later become my husband and the father to three of my children, I didn’t really think much about attraction. I fell in love with who he was on the inside, and I found things about him that I could see as attractive. 

To be fair, I do still believe that character is more important than beauty. But, I also know now that attraction in a romantic and/or sexual relationship is actually quite important! At least for me, it is. I can’t speak for everyone, of course. 

Throughout my first marriage, I struggled with sexual dysfunction. I felt ambivalent about sex, at the best of times. At the worst of times, I felt skeeved out, icky, and wrong. Sex became something I felt obligated to do, and it wasn’t something I initiated more than a few times throughout our ten years of marriage. I just didn’t want to have sex. 

Don’t get me wrong—we did, obviously, have sex. We have three biological children together, after all! But our sex life was never exciting for me, and at times it became a source of great emotional turmoil. Don’t read what I’m not writing here—my ex-husband had all of the skills necessary to get the job done right! He was attentive, caring, and capable. It really wasn’t him, and I felt terrible that I couldn’t make myself feel what I was supposed to feel with and for my husband. 

Near the end, it got to the point that I began to think I was asexual. But shortly after that, we opened our marriage and became polyamorous, and it became very clear, very quickly, that I was in fact a highly sexual person. I just didn’t have a sexual attraction for him. And as it turns out, having sex with someone who I don’t feel attracted to makes me feel pretty icky.

Looking back on our relationship, I can see so many signs that he just didn’t do it for me. There were times when I found him attractive, and I don’t think that he’s an unattractive person whatsoever. He just didn’t give me that tickle in my belly, you know? And I should have known. Because he told me every single day how beautiful and hot he thought I was. I was never in doubt about his attraction to me. And every single time I was happy to hear it, but I also didn’t know what to say because I couldn’t in all honesty tell him that I felt the same way about him. I almost never complimented his appearance, because doing so would have felt forced and awkward. Instead, I told him that I loved him and appreciated him and focused on the things that I believed mattered more. 

Becoming poly introduced me to a whole new side of myself. I felt things I had never felt before. For once, I embraced those feelings of lust and desire and used them to make the world a more—ahem—loving place. In short, I came alive. Once I realized what I had been missing, I knew that I could never go back. 

For a short time, my ex-husband and I tried to maintain our sexual and romantic relationship. But it started to become harder and harder for me to force myself through the motions (god help me with these innuendos; I promise they aren’t intentional!) It didn’t take long for me to decide that I couldn’t be with him in that way anymore. We shifted into a platonic relationship and were planning to stay married. But, in the end, I wanted to pursue other relationships more than he was comfortable with, and it felt like it was time to call it instead of trying to keep something alive that was already dead.   

The story of my first marriage and subsequent divorce is one that I go over in my head a lot. There are so many facets of it to reflect on. There are so many what-ifs that I will never know the endings to. There are regrets and uncertainty and there is sadness and grief. But, the longer I’m with my new husband, the more clear it becomes to me that attraction for my partner is something I cannot just sweep under the rug. It matters to me. It adds so much to our relationship, and to my life.

RJ is, ironically, not someone who I was initially attracted to at first glance. From his online dating profile, I surmised that he was a sweet, smart, and interesting guy. But I also thought he was kind of goofy looking. (Sorry babe! You know that now I think you’re the hottest thing to walk the earth, but at first I wasn’t so sure.)

That all changed the moment we met in person. We spent a lot of time chatting beforehand and our banter was excellent. The chemistry was there, over text, but I had concerns about whether I would feel the spark in real life. Those concerns were obliterated on our first date. 

You see, attraction isn’t the same as vanity at all. Vanity is having beauty standards that are superficial and usually set by society and culture. Vanity is saying that you won’t date a fat person, or someone with scars, or someone with a certain skin tone. Vanity is not giving someone a chance solely because of their appearance. Vanity is when someone tells their partner that they aren’t attracted to them anymore because they’ve aged or gained weight or changed in some physical way. And all of that is bullshit assholery, by the way. 

But attraction is different. Attraction is a feeling you get when you have chemistry with someone—and it extends across the realms of the emotional, physical, and intellectual. Of course, there is also a more basic definition of attraction, which is simply appreciating someone’s physical appearance. And yes, that something that I still feel and can even enjoy feeling towards people who aren’t my husband, because it means nothing! I can appreciate a good-looking guy, gal, or non-binary individual as much as the next person. RJ has the same freedom, and it’s not something we have to hide. Oftentimes we can appreciate them together, in fact! A hot person is a hot person; we’re married, not dead as they say.

Being attracted to someone in a deeper way still has that physical aspect. It often starts there, but that isn’t where it stops. Deep attraction is like a magnet. That person draws you in, without even trying. Their very existence and the most mundane things that they do can get you going, because it’s them. You want them, in all of the ways. You crave their touch, and you feel no shame or inhibition when you’re intimate together because it feels right. Being physically close with them is how you were made to be. You’ve found your magnetic match, and whether they are someone who turns head wherever they go by their sheer hotness, or… not so much; it doesn’t matter because the way you feel for them pulls you in. That is deep attraction, and in a romantic relationship, it is important. For those of us who want partnership, we all deserve to find that person who lights us on fire (in a good way). 

I still believe in the “friends to lovers” path to romance, when it’s right. If you have the hots for your bestie, and they feel the same way, then hooray! Friendship can be a wonderful foundation for an amazing love story. But, if you don’t feel butterflies when they walk into the room, then pursuing something more with them is probably not going to end the way you hope it will.

Love can be powerful and deep and strong, even when it’s platonic. And you can fall in love with someone who you aren’t attracted to. You can also develop attraction over time with someone whom you love.

But for me, falling in love with someone who really does it for me has been an experience I wouldn’t trade away. We have a fire that just keeps on burning, and it is a powerful force of connection in our relationship. My attraction for my husband, my lover and eternal flame, is something I never take for granted.

I’m in love with the shape of you
We push and pull like a magnet do
Although my heart is falling too
I’m in love with your body

Every day discovering something brand new
I’m in love with the shape of you

“Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran