While romance carries with it the stigma that comes with anything made for and by women, the genre is alive and well on TV and has been for awhile. There’s just something about the traditionally long-form medium that makes a good home for romance, most especially the kind of will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic that ruled TV sitcoms for decades. That being said, the evolution of TV has brought with it a greater diversity of TV coupledoms, which means we can be a bit pickier about our small screen romance, as well as more critical of the toxic TV couples who have come before. In honor of the Day of Love, we’re discussing the TV couples—of yesteryear and today—we… wish would break up.
Amy & Sheldon – The Big Bang Theory
When The Big Bang Theory started back in 2007, the idea of a comedy about three clever but awkward ‘nerds’ trying to ‘get’ pretty girls, often through nefarious means somehow didn’t seem as gross. But even back then, Sheldon was a dick. His dickishness is the joke. He’s rude, superior, selfish, lacking in empathy and deeply controlling. He is no doubt neurologically atypical but that doesn’t stop him from being a dick. Amy is set up as a natural match, an equally awkward and equally intelligent opposite, who should have made the perfect partner for Sheldon. Indeed, when they meet, it’s Amy who insists there’s no physical contact and who is only there to appease her mother. A mutual respect begins.
But as the show progresses the relationship becomes increasingly uneven. Amy has to bribe and coerce Sheldon into date nights. Sheldon ruins countless outings and trips including the time when she took him on a classic train ride (he likes trains) and despite her thoughtfulness he spends the whole date chatting to a fellow train nerd. When he kisses her it’s to win a point. Hardly romantic. Amy loves Sheldon, but is that because she hasn’t been shown love by a man who actually likes and respects her and considers her needs as important as his? Because that sure ain’t Sheldon.
Amy is a very smart woman, yet rather than that empowering her, she’s ‘made safe’ by never being allowed to wear anything flattering and yet despite this, being giddy over bridesmaids dresses and tiaras. Of course Sheldon loves Amy (in his own way) – she bends over backwards to put up with his nonsense and he grows as a person because of her. She, on the other hand, is crushed by a man who thinks he’s smarter than her, better than her, more important than her and who frankly doesn’t deserve her. Amy is a catch. She could do much better. – Rosie Fletcher
Roger & Bree – Outlander
Things start out well enough for Outlander’s secondary couple. They meet in 1960s Scotland when Brianna is still actively grieving from Frank’s death but has no idea about Claire’s timey-wimey past. Though Bree may not be in the mood for romance, the two characters find common ground and friendship in the respective mourning of their recently-deceased fathers, and eventually in the search for clues about what happened to Jamie.
Post-Season 2, things get rockier. Roger displays some probably period-”appropriate” misogyny when Bree turns down his proposal, but expresses that she doesn’t want to wait until marriage to have sex. Rather than try to meet Bree where she’s at, Roger memorably yells at the woman he supposedly loves: “You don’t want to marry me, but you’ll f**k me? If all I wanted was to have my way with you, I would’ve had you on your back a dozen times last summer.” A real charmer.
Later, after Roger has followed Bree through the stones and into the past, the two get married and consummate their relationship, only to immediately get into another fight when Bree realizes Roger withheld telling her that he had found her parents’ obituary. Rather than admitting he is wrong, Roger tells Bree she is immature and, as his wife, she should be obedient to him. When Bree won’t agree to these terms, Roger storms. Later, when he finds out she was raped by Bonnet and the child she’s pregnant with may not be his, he considers dumping Bree. Roger has grown up a bit since this Season 4 low point, but I still maintain Bree could do a hell of a lot better. – Kayti Burt
Ted & Robin – How I Met Your Mother
Let’s say, hypothetically, you wanted to tell your kids how you met their mother. Would you: A. Briefly recall how you met her during your friends’ wedding? Or B. Uncork a years-spanning saga that is mostly about how bad you wanted to bang their hot aunt Robin. If you’re noted douchebag Ted Mosby, the only answer is somehow “B.” His curious parenting tactics aside, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor), is actually a decent character on CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Robin Scherbotsky (Cobie Smulders) is also quite cool. Separately, the duo seem like they would be fun to hang out with. Together, however, they just absolutely don’t work. We know that because Ted tells us as much when he reveals how their attempt at a romantic relationship failed in the lead up to him finding the true love of his life. Still, even after his beloved wife dies, Ted somehow thinks taking another run at Robin makes sense. Sure, they’re older now and people change. But we see no evidence over the decades of Ted’s storytelling to suggest there’s any future for this pair. – Alec Bojalad
Ross & Rachel – Friends
This relationship is probably the most “will they/won’t they” in TV history, and the show ultimately settled on the wrong option. A lot of problems with Ross and Rachel’s relationship stem from Ross’s immature and insecure personality. For the longest time, Ross pines after Rachel, and then when he finally gets her attention, he quickly blows it with a pros-and-cons list he makes to compare her to Julie. The “just a waitress” point on that list should have given enough insight into what Ross really thinks of Rachel. Ross is always downplaying her achievements, even when she finally gets her dream job. He gets frustrated with her long hours and makes her feel guilty for not giving him time, while she is just adjusting to her new job. He constantly feels insecure in the relationship, even when Rachel time and time again reassures him she is committed to making it work. He even goes to the point of embarrassing her at work to try to “mark his territory,” making it very clear that he looks at Rachel as an object, as something he owns. And after all of that, he sleeps with someone else and then goes out of his way to try and hide it from her.
Friends ran for 10 seasons, with the characters mostly growing and becoming more likable in the process. But with Ross, it was the exact opposite. Until the very end, he continues to be unapologetic, never accepting responsibility for ruining his relationship with Rachel by using the famous “we were on a break” as an excuse. When they get married under influence in Vegas, he refuses to divorce her and hides it from her, which is not only disturbing but also illegal. After having their daughter, Emma, Rachel finally gets to go out again with Phoebe, meeting a guy she gives her number to. He leaves her a message with his number that Ross ends up listening to and never passes on. And worst of all, when Rachel finally gets a lifetime opportunity to move to Paris and further her career, he tries to meddle and sabotage it.
Ross is so toxic and unlikable as a significant other that the show works overtime to give him some positive character development. Sadly, it doesn’t work and neither do Ross and Rachel. – Maznah Shehzad
Agnes & Rios – Star Trek: Picard
This argument may be a bit premature as these two Star Trek: Picard characters are not so much a couple as slept together once and shared a few *moments* following, but I am officially putting in my vote for this show to keep these two platonic in the upcoming Season 2. It’s not that I don’t like these two as characters (OK, I mostly just like Rios) or even their dynamic, as it were, but their sexual rendezvous in Season 1 was both completely out of left field and super creepy—which, yes, are often elements of real-life love connections, but is this show really interested in spending time exploring that kind of dynamic?
The moment in question takes place in Episode 6, which sees Agnes struggling to keep the secret of ex-lover Bruce Maddox’s death (she killed him). Agnes is quite obviously losing it throughout this entire episode, but when she approaches Rios for sex, he goes with it even though she is obviously not OK for anyone with eyes. We’ll see what happens with these two in Season 2, but their Season 1 connection was both unnecessary and frustrating from a character perspective. If Star Trek: Picard wants to pretend it never happened, I am cool with that. – KB
Aria & Ezra – Pretty Little Liars
As has been discussed recently in TV and Film Twitter, there can very much be a difference between depiction and endorsement. Just because a TV show depicts a problematic behavior doesn’t mean the show is glorifying it; it all depends on context. But Pretty Little Liars very much glorified the sexual relationship between high school English teacher Ezra and his teenage student Aria—which (checks notes), yes, is statutory rape. The series, targeted towards teen girls and young women, always treated the relationship like a star-crossed love affair: dramatic, intense, and oh-so-romantic. This relationship was made even creepier (not that it needed to get creepier to be not OK) by the eventual reveal that Ezra knew Aria’s age when he first hooked up with her. Aria was never my favorite of the Liars, but she deserved so much better than this creep. The viewers of this show deserved better too. – KB
Ross & Demelza – Poldark
This one’s all about context. Compared to the future that the 18th century had in store for Demelza Carne – the wildcat teenage daughter of a penniless, abusive drunk – her marriage to Ross Poldark was a lifesaver. Without it, Demelza might never have emerged from underneath that layer of grime, lice and lash-out temper to become the woman she does over five seasons of Poldark – one with self-possession, actual possessions, and her own teeth.
For viewers watching in the 21st century, though? Melz, he’s so not worth it. Yes, Ross Poldark is a legit sex panther, with brooding eyes, wet abs and all that noblesse oblige hawtness, but as a husband? You’d get better companionship and support from Garrick the dog, and Demelza routinely does. The man is simply never home, preferring to get locked up in France or warm his bum on a House of Commons bench while she’s stuck at Nampara, kneading bread with one hand while running his mining business and raising his kids with the other.
Speaking of kids, there’s also the small matter of Valentine Warleggan – Elizabeth’s son with the suspiciously Poldarkian curls, whose origin can be traced back to the night a married Ross burst in upon his former squeeze and impregnated her without asking. Granted, Demelza eventually got her own back by fumbling a blind poet in the sand dunes, but really, that’s no way to go about a marriage. – Louisa Mellor
Damon & Elena – The Vampire Diaries
While there is a big debate amongst The Vampire Diaries’ fans concerning who is the better Salvatore brother, there shouldn’t be one about the worst partner for Elena Gilbert. The bad-boy-meets-good-girl-and-changes-for-her trope is overused at this point but in the show, the bad boy changes the good girl for the worst and continues to have the most unhealthy relationship with her. Damon’s love for Elena isn’t love at all, it is an obsession. When it comes to her, he would do anything, kill anyone.
With Stefan, Elena could make her own decisions and be her own person no matter what the consequences. Damon continuously takes that choice away from her, puts other people’s lives in danger, and doesn’t care about collateral damage as long as she is alive in the end. On more than one occasion, he hurts those closest to Elena. He mind controls Caroline to be his sex slave and personal blood bag, kills Elena’s brother, Jeremy, without knowing if he is wearing the Gilbert ring that can bring him back to life, he bites Bonnie in anger, turns Bonnie’s mom into a vampire, turns Vicki into a vampire that eventually gets her killed, threatens and hurts Matt numerous times, and makes Stefan’s life miserable.
There is no point in the entire show where he redeems himself for all that he has done. Elena’s moral compass seems to be the only thing changing in the show as she accepts Damon and forgives him for all that he has done to her. Her friends rightfully warn her when she feels this “undeniable connection” towards Damon, but she doesn’t listen!
The show even acknowledges their toxic relationship in this famous dialogue where Elena confronts Damon after he goes on a killing rampage when he thinks she broke up with him, “You put me in a position where I have to defend you, again. Where I have to bend my morals, again. Where I have to go against every single thing that I believe in, again, ’cause I love you!”
While the show concentrates on turning Damon’s evil image into that of a hero, there is just so much chaos he has caused for him to be forgiven like that. He doesn’t deserve Elena and he knows it, but continues to be with her. The only thing keeping Damon from turning into a cold-blooded murderer is Elena being in his life, you take her out and he goes off on a killing spree. It is the most lethal co-dependent relationship, even by vampire standards. – MS
Jim & Pam – The Office: An American Workplace
Jim and Pam as in Jim and Pam from The Office? The couple whose love is the golden thread that glitters throughout the show’s nine seasons, and who regularly top lists of Best TV Couples with the Top Ten Most Adorable Moments and The Most Romantic TV Marriage Proposals of All Time?
Yep. Those guys. Romantic teapot, gas station in the rain, looks-to-camera Jim and Pam. Why should they break up? Not for the reasons you’re thinking – because Jim’s a douche who takes on enormous financial commitments like buying a house or investing in a company without consulting his wife, and probably knocked on Cathy’s Florida hotel room door the second that those cameras stopped rolling. Not even because Pam’s creativity is decaying in her marriage, she dropped her art school dream like a hotdog at a county fair, and that sound guy with the hots for her would clearly have rocked her world if only she’d have let him.
No, for none of those reasons. Jim and Pam from The Office should break up simply because they’ll have no other choice when they both go to prison for life for all the cruel pranks they played on the hero of the show: Dwight K. Schrute. (Custody of Cece and Philip goes to Kevin, obviously.) – LM
Lucas & Peyton – One Tree Hill
Lucas and Peyton were portrayed as star-crossed lovers, as one of those stories in which, no matter what happens, these two will always find each other. Unlike many couple on this list, there isn’t toxicity in their relationship—they both make mistakes, but eventually, learn and move on from them. But this relationship gets tiring, and that is ultimately why Lucas and Peyton as a couple become unappealing. The show exaggerates the whole “right person, wrong time” so many times with these two characters, that their chemistry seems to die down and you end up rooting for any new stable relationship they have with other people.
The core of this relationship is “saving Peyton.” For anyone who has seen the show, they know Peyton has been through hell and back. She lost her adoptive mom, then her birth mom, had a violent stalker, got shot during a school shooting, had bad luck in relationships, and spent a lot of her time by herself. Lucas seems to always be around whenever she is in trouble, which makes the relationship seem very conditional. At times it felt like the show deliberately put Peyton in harm’s way and used it to drive the Leyton romance forward. Peyton even told Lucas in one of the episodes when she gets shot and he is there to protect her: “You’re always saving me.”
I watched One Tree Hill back when I was a teenager and so were many of my friends who watched it. Looking back at it now, I realize how damaging the whole “saving the girl” trope is. It sends a message to young girls that they need a man in their life to help them in times of need and that they can’t do this alone.
Beyond the savior/damsel-in-distress roles, there isn’t much in this relationship. They both had healthier relationships with different people during the show. It is sad that the show never took their relationship beyond that because as individual characters, they were pretty interesting. – MS
Do you have a TV couple you think should break up? Let us know in the comments below.