David and Maria are in love

Davind and maria are in love

David Cauchi (23) and Maria Spiteri (21) are in love. They’re in my office can’t
fathom sitting more than a few centimeters away from each other.

A few minutes into our conversation, David’s inimitable smile transforms into
seriousness. “You need to be careful about what you eat,” he tells Maria. “Eating too
many sweets and peanuts is not good for you.”

“You’re the one who eats way too many peanuts,” says Maria, “and whenever I tell
you to have a rest before a bowling match, you never listen to me.”

Maria and David both have Downs Syndrome and I meet them at Inspire where
they’ve both attended specialized programmes to help them reach their full
potential. Maria is now following a course at ITS and David is hoping to follow suit
very soon.

The young couple met about two years ago when a hairdresser who had met them
both separately had the bright idea of setting them up on a blind date.

“David had been saying that he wanted a girlfriend for years,” explains Gina, David’s
mother. “He always wanted to be in a relationship and openly expressed his wish.
So when the hairdresser met Maria she thought that it would be a good idea to set
them up.”

“I knew David’s mother from the neighborhood,” says Connie, Maria’s mum, “so I
didn’t object to the idea of having them meet and maybe form a relationship.”

As soon as Maria and David laid their eyes on each other, it was love at first sight.
The asked their mothers to stay in the hairdressing salon and walked outside for a

“He was so handsome,” says Maria, “and she was pretty,” exclaims David. “On that
first day that we met, I asked her if she wanted to be my wife, if she wanted to buy a
house with me and, maybe in the future, even have babies.”

“I always wanted to get married,” jumps in Maria. “So I said yes when David asked,
and then we started dating, kissing on the lips, and holding hands in the street.”

The couple talk for hours on the phone, at least two or three times a day, “but they
don’t go out alone,” explains Gina, “sot we try to go out with Maria’s parents at least
once a week so they get to see each other. When we go to a restaurant, we let them
sit at a separate table, to give them some privacy.”

“But we also meet at Special Olympics training and at the community prayer
meeting,” clarifies Maria, “but it would be nice if we lived together,” says David with
his trademark naughty smile.
“That’s what he’s always saying,” says Maria, “look at him, he’s so naughty, but he’s
not going to fool me you know, I have my eyes on him all the time.”

Connie explains that her daughter can be very jealous of David, but David is mature
and knows how to handle it. “I trust him with my daughter because he comes from a
very good family and I know what type of upbringing he has had. I am generally very
careful about whom to allow Maria to spend time with but with David I don’t think
that I have anything to worry about.”

Maria has had her hand up for the past minute, trying to get a word in without
interrupting her mother. When she finally gets her chance, she exclaims, “I’m not
jealous for nothing you know, he’s very handsome and he once showed me a picture
of a girl on his mobile phone, so that’s why I worry. If he ever had to have another
girlfriend, I’d have to leave him and get another boyfriend.”

Clearly upset and offended, David defends himself by explaining that the picture was
just a joke, and that it all happened a long time ago, but Maria does not seem
convinced and David feels like he’s being given the cold shoulder. “Just stop eating
so much sweets,” he tells Maria again, “it’s not good for you; that stuff has lots of
cholesterol and makes you fat.”

Maria is now on the brink of crying, and David refuses to apologize. He reassures her
that he loves her just the ways she is, and that he will always be with her, but Maria
wants an apology, which David categorically refuses to give in front of me. “Can I
take Maria outside,” he asks, “I need to talk o her alone?”

Whilst the lovebirds are out of the room, their mothers tell me that they have never
spoken to their children about the birds and the bees and are convinced that Maria
and David do not know much about sexuality. “It’s not that we think it’s wrong,” says
Connie, “but I don’t want to put things in her head. For now I know that it doesn’t
even cross her mind, so I don’t want to be the one who accelerates the process. I
think they’re happy as they are, so there’s no need to rock the boat.”

A few minutes later, David and Maria are back. They’re smiling, cuddling and holding
hands once again. The mothers are talking loudly so David puts up his hand to get
my attention. When everyone is silent he very coherently and serenely explains his
feelings, his dreams, and his hopes for the future. “If I could, I would get married
tomorrow and spend the rest of my life with Maria,” he says. “We’d have a big house
and we’d have four children, two boys and two girls.”

“But there’s no way that I’m going to paint the walls if I have to go on a ladder,”
retorts Maria. “You know that I’m afraid of ladders David, so you’ll have to paint the
upper parts and I’ll paint the lower parts, and when the house is ready, we’ll have a
BBQ and we’ll invite all our families, and Nelly and Donatella from Inspire because
they are our friends.”
David nods in agreement, steals a quick kiss, and goes on to tell me that he’s
planning to get Maria a heart shaped flower for Valentine’s Day. Maria’s face lights
up, she looks at David with adoring eyes and moves closer to him for a big hug.
“We’ll always be together,” she tells me, “no matter what happens, even if we fight
because sometimes I prefer to watch TV rather than speak to David, we’ll always
forgive each other and always be together.”
On the side:

It is often assumed that people with physical or intellectual disabilities are not
capable or should not be allowed to enter romantic or sexual relationships, but
according to the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disability
(Art.23) people with a disability have a right to relationships, marriage, parenthood
and to family life on an equal basis with others.

According to Dr. Claire Lucille Azzopardi Lane, research carried out in Malta on the
topic of sexuality and young people with intellectual disability has shown that
parents are very worried about two issues; unplanned pregnancy and sexual
abuse. Wider research and practice has proved that teaching what is known as
Rights, Risks and Responsibilities through sex and relationship education to people
with intellectual disability, who aspire to be or are in a relationship empowers them
to make an informed decision when it comes to sexual encounters.

Inspire’s programmes aim at helping clients reach their full potential. This does not
necessarily mean strictly education in the academic sense of the word. Sometimes
this means teaching them how to become more sociable and have a better social
life. Sex education helps them recognize inappropriate actions from people who
might be trying to take advantage of them. It also helps them to stay out of trouble.

According to Malta’s Marriage Act (Cap 255 Art. 4) “a marriage contracted between
persons either of whom is incapable of contracting by reason of infirmity of mind,
whether interdicted or not, shall be void.” This means that it is ultimately up to the
Marriage Registrar to decide whether to proceed with the publication of the
marriage banns or not. If the Registrar decides not to, the couple may then appeal
the decision in a court of law.