Love the One You're With

Krista and Nathaniel kiss as Rachelle tries to interact with Nathaniel during a dance party at the ranch where they reside in Santa Clarita, California.

Outside of Los Angeles, at the foot of the Saugus Mountains, is the Los Angeles Residential Community (LARC) Ranch of adjacent group homes for developmentally disabled adults. Debbie, age 51; Barry, age 59; Krysta, age 24; and Nathanial, age 28 live in private rooms in communal homes. During the day, Debbie, Barry, Krysta and Nathaniel work together doing manual tasks designed to keep them mentally engaged. Many times a week, the staff takes Debbie, Barry, Krysta and Nathaniel to restaurants, stores and parks. Out of 100 participants, some have formed relationships and sit with their partner every day. A few are married couples, while others are in long-term commitments like Debbie and Barry. Some have lost love. Some struggle with accepting that a relationship is over and wait, hoping for reconciliation, while others find new partners.

Debbie and Barry are sometimes in conflict over misunderstandings and distractions. Barry expresses feeling powerless when Debbie becomes emotional and he is unable to fix the situation. He describes, “I want to do something for her when she’s upset, but I can’t.” Sometimes when one might want to be alone, the other wishes for closeness. Nevertheless, regardless of the circumstance, the day ends with Debbie tapping Barry on the arm and saying, “I love you,” and Barry confirming that Debbie is “the only one for me.” Debbie and Barry formed their relationship thirty-one years ago at a daycare program for developmentally disabled adults in the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles. In hindsight, Debbie describes, “I had nobody. He had nobody.” Twenty-one years later, when Barry’s mother decided to place him at LARC Ranch, Debbie asked her family to let her live there in order to be with Barry.

Krysta and Nathaniel met when they moved to LARC Ranch. They met at a workshop and fell in love, and Nathaniel proposed to Krysta and hoped that, with her family’s permission, they would marry. After three years, the relationship ended and they are now friends. These relationships question the nature of romantic ideals as social construct and raise the question of how these individuals form their ideas about love and attachment. I am drawn to document intimate relationships within marginal communities. I was in search of subjects who readily showed vulnerability and embraced their emotions. Debbie, Barry, Krysta and Nathaniel hold no artifice. I wanted to observe what it looks like for people who display authentic selves to interact romantically. Romance is tainted with both personal desire and altruism; I endeavored to see if these couples mastered the balance or if this balance is a struggle.

LARC Ranch, a community for 100 developmentally disabled adults in Santa Clarita, California.

Krista looks at Nathaniel during an outside gathering at the ranch.

Krista's grips Nathaniel's back

Krista sets the table for dinner inside the group home she resides in at the ranch.

Krista rests her head on Nathaniel's chest.

Nathaniel plays with a puzzle as Krista wheels herself around the living room.

Krista and Nathaniel dance during the Halloween party at the ranch.

Krista sits in her room at the ranch.

Krista argues with Nathaniel, accusing him of flirting with another woman.

Krista shows off her engagement ring, which Nathaniel bought with his step-mother.

Krista and Nathaniel interact while having a snack in the afternoon at the ranch.

Krista helps Nathaniel with his socks during an outing to the beach.

Krista cries after a breakup with Nathaniel.

Krista sits in the daily workshop where residents perform manual tasks, complete jobs, use the computer and do arts and crafts.

Nathaniel walks with his new girlfriend, Ruthie.

Krista dances with a new love interest at a house party for Valentine's Day.

Debbie, age 58, and Barry, age 60, walk through the ranch where they reside.

A photo of Debbie, age 22, and Barry, age 30, when they first met at a workshop for disabled adults.

A certificate from the ranch, indicating Debbie and Barry as the longest standing couple.

Debbie's hand on Barry's leg.

Debbie looks at Barry.

Barry looks at Debbie as she reaches out to him.

Barry stands beside Debbie as she puts her clothes away in her room.

Debbie sits on the bus with other residents.

Debbie sits with Barry on her bed.