Dare to Ask: Is it OK to date someone mentally disabled?

By Phillip Milano

The Florida Times-Union

Question

I was at work when a hot chick walked in with her parents. She was outgoing, positive, a beam of sunshine, and obviously mentally handicapped. I wonder: would it be ethical to date the mentally challenged?

Guy, 45, Boise, Idaho

Replies

Are you serious? Why would any man not developmentally disabled want to date a woman who is? People who seek others with a disadvantage (financial, mental, etc.) often have unresolved issues. It is unhealthy and dysfunctional.

S.D., 38, female, Tampa

Thanks for your response. When I was younger, I ... was dating a girl with a degree, issues and an awful attitude. So I think it fair to ask: a happy, well-adjusted person but not intelligent, or a neurotic, unhappy person with a Ph.D. and boatload of issues? I think the answer is clear. Do you automatically see dating any handicapped person as inherently unethical or sick? Isn't it possible these people have something to offer?

Guy, 45, Boise, Idaho

If you're a 45-year-old asking this question, you're probably neither smart nor happy. I wonder how she would cope with it.

Celeron, 19, male, Maplewood, N.J.

What if she was hot and had a great personality? Look at Jessica Simpson, she obviously needs adult supervision to make it through a day.

Guy, 45, Boise, Idaho

Expert says

Is it ever OK to date the mentally disabled? Jonathan Mooney says the answer is a "big, fat yes."

"Individuals with these differences should be treated as any other human being," said Mooney, who despite severe learning disabilities graduated with honors from Brown University and wrote "The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal."

"They have a right to enter even dysfunctional relationships, and the right to the continuum of human experiences that aren't always positive."

There are parameters, of course, as with any relationship, he said. Those entering such a relationship should have an authentic motivation, and if there's a significant mental functioning difference, should not take advantage of the mentally disabled person. If caretakers are involved, they should see whether the relationship involves two consenting adults, and whether any abuse of power is occurring.

"But that shouldn't be extrapolated to everyone," he said. "Some people with Down syndrome can enter into a consensual relationship, but there are 25-year-olds with the mental age of a 5-year-old."

Don't forget, too, that there are many "intelligences" in human beings, he said, including emotion, humor, kindness, empathy and the capacity for joy in one's life.

"IQ is just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "Immediacy, a lack of mind-games, a beautiful simplicity ... one could argue there's a capacity to have a more authentic relationship with someone who doesn't have a traditional set of intelligences.

"We shouldn't view the disabled through a lens of pity and infantilize them."

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Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee), moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general column comments to phillip.milano@jacksonville.com. You can also hear his podcasts or watch his TV spots.