I dated a man with Down syndrome, but I didn't know why my parents disapproved

Tracey Folly

*this is a work of nonfiction based on actual events that I experienced firsthand

You don’t know someone is different unless someone else tells you.

When I was in my late teens, I met a young man with Down syndrome. He was fun and friendly, and I liked him.

He liked me, too.

Despite objections from my friends and family, we dated.

No one explained what their objections were, not that it would have mattered.

I was smitten.

Here’s the thing. I didn’t realize there was anything different about him.

He was just a nice guy who had a job and a car, who worked hard and listened to the same kind of music as me, who liked to eat at McDonald’s and take long walks in the park.

In short, he was perfect for me.

You might wonder why I never knew or realized this young man had Down syndrome. Well, no one told me, and I didn’t know what Down syndrome was. How could I suspect something if I never even knew it existed?

And once again, it didn’t matter. It shouldn’t have mattered anyhow.

We all have unique challenges and attributes. Some people are tall, some are short, or fat, or thin. They’re blond, brunette, or redheaded.

We’re all different. What I’m trying to say is this. We should all be allowed to choose our own partners without being judged or ridiculed by other people.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works in real life. Oftentimes, people are quick to judge others simply because they have disabilities. Or you might hear statements like “I don’t care what anyone thinks, but…” This statement becomes a negative lead-in for something discriminatory or insulting.

And while some of these statements are done purposely, some are said automatically without thinking about their consequences. It becomes part of our everyday language. It becomes “normal.”

One day soon, maybe we can change. Maybe.

Maybe we can start thinking twice before saying things that are discriminatory or might be hurtful to others.

Before you judge someone, try getting to know them. You’ll learn something new about yourself, too.

You just might find out the guy with Down syndrome is not so different after all. He just has an extra chromosome.

If nobody told me there was anything “different” about my boyfriend at first, how did I conclude he had Down syndrome without being told directly?

The answer is that I didn’t find out for many years. Or rather, I didn’t find out as much as figure it out.

I remembered someone telling me how he could stay home and collect disability income with his “condition,” but I did not know what they meant. It wasn’t until years later that I could put the pieces together and figure out that I’d dated a man with Down syndrome.

I didn’t know that it was something I should have been aware of, and at the time I wasn’t even sure what Down syndrome meant. In any case, I didn’t feel like there was anything wrong with him because he did not think or act any differently from anyone else.

There are many reasons why people might judge me for dating someone with Down syndrome, but he wasn’t any different from anyone else from my perspective. He had a job, a car, liked to do similar things to me in terms of entertainment and food, etcetera, which were all factors that encouraged me to start a romantic relationship with him.

If I met a man today with Down syndrome, would I date him?

That’s complicated. It would depend upon his personality and whether he has any other situations that might prevent me from dating him.

I can’t say I would date him automatically, knowing he has Down syndrome. I’d want to make my personal decision about him, whether it’s easy for others to understand why or not.

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Writing about relationships online since 2009.

Massachusetts State
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