“I’m Mentally Challenged and My Family Is Hurting My Love Life”

I’m technically mentally challenged, and though I’m not fond of people, two years ago I met a guy, “Aaron,” and we developed a relationship. But now I have a family member who wants us to stay apart; this family has abused me my whole life, which is the big reason why I tend to stay away from people. But Aaron won my heart and he wants to try despite my low IQ and memory issues and horrible people skills (aside from kids — I adore them so much and love taking care of little ones). I have minor learning problems and some issues because of my past relationships, but he’s the first guy who has stayed despite my issues.

I want to be able to date and love him the way I want, which, yeah, means intimacy. We use protection until we decide to stay together and get married. I want kids but may not be able to bear any due to the abuse, mental issues, and the possibility of the baby not surviving. He wants kids too, but we’re both willing to accept that having bio kids may not be possible although adoption could be, so not all hope is lost in raising a child.

The problem is I don’t want him in trouble for dating me, and the family member threatened to get him locked up. I don’t want that — he means too much to me. Is there anything I can do? Please help us… Mostly me because even if it’s not him, there will be another guy/girl I date, and I’m tired of losing people I get close to because of my family. I want a normal life. Or as normal as possible. — Not Fond of Many People

I must admit, your issue is out of my realm of experience and expertise, though I can certainly sympathize with your wanting to have a normal life, with a happy and healthy relationship. I wonder if your family, even despite their past terrible treatment of you, might be concerned about Aaron exploiting you. When you say they have threatened to have him “locked up,” is there any merit to that? Are you under-age? If not, I’m not sure what recourse they could have, and I’m wondering if they are exploiting you with these threats.

I suggest reaching out to support groups who specialize in helping people with intellectual challenges. They would have the knowledge and appropriate advice for you. I’ll share some names and links below, but first I wanted to commend you on using birth control, to encourage you to continue using birth control not just until you decide to get married but until a doctor gives you the go-ahead to try to get pregnant. And should you never get pregnant and never adopt or become a parent, I want you to know that you can still have a well-rounded life, with time and energy to pursue hobbies and interests, and plenty of time to invest in nurturing a loving relationship with whomever you may choose to build a life with. I understand that you don’t like people, but you’ve found at least one you seem to like, and I think, with some counseling and maybe distancing yourself from those who have hurt you in the past, you may find additional people whom you can learn to trust and with whom you may build warm and caring friendships. To have such relationships is one of life’s greatest pleasures and gifts — as much or even more than becoming a parent, for some. I hope that you will consider opening yourself to that gift, with the guidance of experienced and trained support people.

Here are a few organizations to reach out to who can get you on the right track toward owning your own life and establishing the freedom of choice and independence you crave. I especially like the sound of this one:

The Arc
The Arc is the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. We encompass all ages and more than 100 different diagnoses including autism, Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, and various other developmental disabilities.

And here are a few other organizations to check out.

Finally, the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AIDD), is an organization that is “dedicated to ensuring that people with disabilities have opportunities to make their own choices, contribute to society, have supports to live independently, and live free of abuse, neglect, and exploitation.” You can find your state chapter here.

Good luck!


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.


  1. Bittergaymark says:

    This one is way out of my league.
    But… and please. Forgive me if this seems blunt — but exactly how mentally challenged are you? Your writing is anything but below the norm here… Honestly? You seem smarter than the last few LWS!! You even grasp the inportance of birthcontrol — which somehow eludes most LWS lately…
    Wendy has good advice here. Seek out professional help better versed in your situation.

    1. That was my first thought here, too – whatever challenges you face, you sound articulate and clearheaded. My small city has programs and support groups which help people with quite severe challenges (which I kind of think is not the case with you) to date safely, understand boundaries deal with intimacy and the emotional issues that go with it, and even parent effectively. The point of view of all this programming is that having relationships and raising families is a basic human experience, one that no one should be denied. I have to wonder what it would look like if you asserted boundaries and independence with your family: “Aaron is my boyfriend, he is good for me, and you have no business interfering.” You understand sex and intimacy and are giving your consent, so he is not harming you. You are being careful about conception until you choose to try for a baby, so you are being responsible. There is no problem except the one your family member is creating. It sounds like there is a history of control here and your family member wants it to continue. Start with counselling to get some perspective on this.

  2. Yeah, I was wondering if this was heavily edited, because you don’t sound mentally challenged. I wonder if your family is taking advantage by overplaying your disability. I do have some experience with mental challenges (a sibling), and I think your family sounds out of line here unless you’re underage. You sound much more highly functioning than my brother, and I know if he were to begin dating someone, my parents would support it, but absolutely want to make sure birth control was being used responsibly because he can’t financially support a kid. I might recommend the depo-provera shot or the arm implant to you.

    1. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

      I did not have to edit much in this letter. Indeed, it required far less editing than many letters I get…

      1. Bittergaymark says:

        Wow. Amazing! Good to know…

  3. artsygirl says:

    LW – If possible, I would also see if you can find a lawyer that specializes in cognitive disability advocacy. If you are under family guardianship due to your low IQ, it would be useful to know how to disentangle your life especially if you and Aaron are hoping to get married.

  4. Avatar photo Guy Friday says:

    I’ll respond in depth later, but just to clarify Wendy’s confusion: most states have laws criminalizing sexual contact or intercourse with someone with mental deficits. How deep the deficiencies have to be vary from state to state, but he could be charged and prosecuted even if he ultimately wins

    1. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

      Thank you for the clarification!

      1. shakeourtree says:

        In my state, it’s second-degree forcible rape to have intercourse with someone you know or have reason to know is mentally disabled. It’s a class C felony, carrying a sentence of 10-25 years in prison. The line between “mentally disabled” and not disabled is not typically very well defined. However, a few states, including mine define “mentally disabled” (or some other outdated terminology). I believe it’s an IQ of 70 or below in my state, though there is potentially some room for leeway.

      2. Ruby Thursday says:

        Shakeourtree, what state do you live in? I’m curious what the law says.

      3. Jesus. Five points higher they hit the maximum IQ to be a Paralympian.

        I couldn’t find much for Australia with regards to laws except in the sexual assault realm and caretakers.

    2. Avatar photo Guy Friday says:

      So, now that I finally have time to breathe, let me elaborate:

      Like shakeourtree, my state classifies felonies by letter, and it’s considered second-degree sexual assault and a Class C felony (meaning it’s punishable by up to $100,000 in fines, 20 years of prison, and 20 years of parole, along with mandatory registration of at least 25 years — if not for life — on the Sex Offender Registry) to have “sexual contact or sexual intercourse with a person who suffers from a mental illness or deficiency which renders that person temporarily or permanently incapable of appraising the person’s conduct, and the defendant knows of such condition. “. What constitutes “mental deficiency” is a matter I’ve actually litigated in court before, but the tricky part is that the statute allows for permanent or TEMPORARY incapacity. Put another way, the “victim” need not consistently lack lucidity to fall under this statute; a brief suspension — even of 30 seconds while the act begins — is all it takes to criminalize the conduct.

      Basically, the boyfriend is taking his life in his hands every single time he even so much as gets to second base with her. Forget for a moment whether or not she meets the legal standard of competence since I’ve met some unquestionably incompetent schizophrenics who can write beautiful prose (which is not a dig at you, LW; I just can’t conclude anything from your writing). Let’s talk about how this goes: the LW’s family reports him. Maybe the first couple of times the cops don’t do much, but then one time we get an overzealous cop who needs to make a collar, so they arrest him and refer charges under this kind of statute to the DA’s office, who — not knowing the LW — issues charges. Now he’s charged with a felony, forced to post what is likely thousands of dollars of bail to a bail bondsman (money he won’t get back) and fight this case while at the same time being prohibited contact with the LW based on bail conditions. Suppose it’s a foregone conclusion he’ll win the case (which it isn’t) after at least 3-4 months of litigating it, and probably more like at least a year the way the court system works, since if he’s out he can’t claim the right to a speedy trial. He’ll likely lose his job with an open rape case, and even if he wins people are going to see it on his background and not hire him (which is illegal, of course, but go ahead and pay the money and prove that was the reason why in court!) And aside from all of this the LW’s family is STILL going to hassle him.

      Is this going to happen to any guy the LW dates? Probably, and that really sucks. And kudos to your boyfriend for seeing past your disability for everything else that actually defines you. The truth is that I don’t have a great answer for you besides “Make sure you’ve got paperwork showing you’re unquestionably legally competent, and get it regularly updated.” But, yeah, anyone who dates you is going to run that risk, and they’re going to have to ask if it’s worth it.

      1. Interesting. Does that apply if the guy is also mentally challenged? Also, would it apply to a certain IQ level and below, in terms of assessing lucidity? Like if IQ is below 75, the person can’t be considered lucid enough to assess the situation and give consent?

      2. Avatar photo Guy Friday says:

        The guy being mentally challenged would create a scenario like two underage kids having sex: which do you charge, if either? They might charge someone who has only mild mental retardation if the other person had severe retardation, but then again they also have to think they could get a conviction against the guy, and if he’s got mental deficiencies you have a “Not Guilty By Reason of Mental Disease or Defect” cued up (which, as an aside, is how I litigated this issue).

        As for the IQ issue, I’d say IQ:mental deficiency::BAC:drunk driving. Having a .25 probably means that you are impaired, but having a .04 doesn’t mean you aren’t. Similarly, having a substantially low IQ is probably a good sign of lack of consent, but it doesn’t HAVE to mean that in every case.

  5. hurricanem says:

    Yes – I was wondering about the potential guardianship issues as well.
    Jonathan Martinis and the supported decision making blog might be a good resource – he is an attorney who specializes in these types of issues, including helping people with disabilities get inappropriate guardianships removed. http://www.supporteddecisionmaking.org/blogs/jonathan-martinis

  6. hurricanem says:

    Supported Decision Making also has a state by state guide so you can find out the applicable guardianship laws in your state.

  7. Ruby Thursday says:

    LW, assuming that you are over 18, the primary issue here involves your ability to consent. While I cannot speak to every state’s laws, laws that criminalize sexual activity with people with developmental disabilities are usually based around whether or not the person has the legal capacity to make decisions for herself. If you have a guardian or conservator, that person has the right to make decisions on your behalf. Even if you have a guardian, however, this particular family member cannot intervene unless he or she is the guardian.

    If you do not have a guardian, many states still have laws in place to protect people with developmental disabilities. I can only speak for California, but these laws are usually designed to protect people with physical or mental disabilities that keep the person from being able to care for themselves or make their own decisions. If you currently make your own decisions about where to live, work, or spend your money, you do not lack legal capacity.

    If you would like to speak someone in your state, please contact your state’s protection and advocacy system. The P&As are independent, federally funded non-profit agencies that provide assistance to people with disabilities at no cost. Even if they cannot advise you directly, they likely can refer you to resources that can. You can find your state’s organization through the National Disability Rights Network: http://www.ndrn.org/en/ndrn-member-agencies.html.

  8. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

    From the LW:

    Update: We’re currently trying to see what she can do legally
    But where do you suggest I go for the groups you mentioned that might help greatly, as far as being under age I’m an adult aside from IQ level, until we can have a chance to stand up to them we’re making sure we stay as safe as possible, which is giving us time to make sure we want to be together, we both want to get married to the right person and then rase a family in anyway that is best for us and we’re able to, currently trying to get doctors help to find birth control until we know it’s safe to go to the next step, and I agree making sure rasing kids is OK is a good future step for now we’re making sure we can develop a safe normal healthy relationship that makes that future possible
    Thanks for the fast response and I’d love any resource you can direct me to aside from therapists that I already have helping with me get past the past and distance myself from the family that’s hurting me as much as possible without it hurting the whole family but just enough they can’t do much to me
    Thanks for the advice I hope to hear back if possible

    1. AlwaysALurker says:

      This update makes it seem like the LW’s partner is writing the letter. One major issue I see here is that the LW says that her guardians are abusers. This indicates to me that they may have illegally managed to have guardianship over her through abuse and coercion. That is a legal way of the LW having more control. In that case, depending an where she is, organizations that provide legal advocacy for abuse victims might be a good start e.g.women’s crisis centers.

      1. Bittergaymark says:

        Yeah. That slip at the top is mighty interesting…

      2. Northern Star says:

        Wait. Wait. If the LW is NOT in fact writing in—and, say, it’s her boyfriend—that puts a different spin on this story altogether. She might be under guardianship for good reasons. Having sex with someone who cannot consent is rape. And it SHOULD be prosecuted.

      3. Ruby Thursday says:

        Northern Star, I definitely agree with your concerns. When I read the update, I read that as what the family member can do legally to the boyfriend or the LW. If I am incorrect, and she does have a guardian, that’s a whole different issue.

      4. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

        This update was not edited, but the letter was. They were written by the same person.

      5. I took the “she” in the first sentence as referring to the abuser/person trying to create issues.

    2. Ruby Thursday says:


      Hi LW, click on the above link for the National Disability Rights Network. I recommend using a computer, but the mobile site has a printable list. Find the agency for your state and contact them directly. Every state has a P&A that provides free legal advocacy to people with disabilities. If they cannot help you directly, they can provide you with information for other groups that can. I’ve worked for the Network and I work for a state P&A now, so I highly recommend you reach out to the one in your state.

      Your update doesn’t mention whether you have a guardian, but if you do, things could be more complicated. If you do have one or are not sure, please update us with more information.

  9. Bittergaymark says:

    Yeah. That SLIP at the top is mighty interesting…

  10. Not sure it’s a slip, could be a female family member causing problems. The original letter is unclear as to the gender of the litigious family member.

    1. Yeah, “she” could be the person who’s trying to make trouble.

  11. I work with individuals with disabilities and there’s a ton of info I would need before I’d be able to recommend what to do, such as where/with whom the LW lives, age, guardianship status, if she’s ever been evaluated for her capacity to provide consent…however, I will say, that it’s not uncommon at all for family members to underestimate the abilities of their disabled loved ones, usually out of care and concern. Having a third party advocate that can help is really crucial. They can help you understand your rights. There’s always a balance between the dignity of risk and keeping people safe, but often times we want to overprotect individuals with disabilities, which is a violation of their rights, and also keeps them from learning through trial and error as we all do. However, there are situations when an individual does need protection, and it’s hard to say if this is the case here or not. Good luck, LW!

  12. LisforLeslie says:

    I’m seeing the red flag and think that going to these groups is a good first step. I’m familiar with ARC but not the others. These organizations have a much better sense of scale when it comes to capabilities. Being mentally challenged shouldn’t prevent you from having a relationship, but one should get involved with someone who doesn’t leverage your disability to their advantage. Your family member may suspect that is the case. Your family member may be an ass. I don’t know. But these resources can help you define your needs, your capabilities and help make sure you understand the impact of decisions.

    1. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

      The LW told me what city she lives in and I found and sent her the the contact info for her local chapter of ARC. Hopefully, they will be able to help!

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