Love Unlimited

A social worker acts as your matchmaker. Your parents can veto your beloved. Society wants you to stay chaste. That's dating life for people with developmental disabilities.

When I bring up the topic of the couple's sexual relationship, Karen blushes and falls silent. Bill admits that having sex would have been difficult in the group homes where they previously lived. And he says yes when I ask him if, once they finally got some privacy in their own apartment, they began to pursue a more intimate relationship. "If I got married again I would have waited," he adds.

When I ask why, he hesitates. "Because there are a lot of diseases out there."

"You know you're talking behind your hand again," Karen chides him. "Are you nervous?"

Michael Dvorak

As it turned out, getting to know each other before exchanging rings allowed the two to discover and cultivate their common interests (football, baseball, puzzles). After a few years, they were married on August 8, 1992. ("Bill's birthday," says Karen, adding with a laugh that this makes the anniversary easier to remember.)

Such success under these circumstances is somewhat rare. But at every step along the way, friends, reluctant family members, and a swath of service providers helped the couple cope with the stresses of their new independence. Arc employee Jodie Atkinson founded an informal "couples group" in the early Nineties, and today she and her husband are still friends with the Martinsons.

Arc also had a grant program that helped Bill and Karen make the down payment on their house. "I was working with a person from Arc because I needed to work on some things," says Bill. "And I told her one of my dreams won't never come true. And she said, 'What is that?' And I told her. And she said, 'Well, you never know, Bill, because maybe that will come true.'"

Leading me to the back window, he shows me the garden that Karen's brother helps them tend, though it's buried under the snow in the wide backyard.

When I ask to see the wedding album, Karen disappears into the basement and emerges with a yellowing book. Suddenly, she exclaims, "Look at the vows that we took! It was in the back of the photo album! I thought I lost it!"

She unfolds the piece of paper, which reads, in part, "I'll share my thoughts, my feelings, my life with you."

Karen remembers now that she and Bill forgot their lines. They needed prompting from those around them to remember the words. They wrote the vows, and they meant them--they just needed a little help.

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