It is a truth universally acknowledged that breakups suck. They’re painful in real life, and they’re almost as hard to stomach on TV. In a real relationship, one or two parties involved in the relationship make the decision to split. With TV break-ups, there’s a third (or fourth or fifth) party calling the shots: the writer. While the brains behind my favorite TV shows are true geniuses, I haven’t always agreed with their relationship decisions—emotionally speaking. Thankfully, TV breakups—especially between two main characters—don’t usually last. They’re bound by fate and ratings. But that doesn’t make their temporary split any less traumatizing to watch. The following is a list of TV breakups (both temporary and permanent) that may or may not have had me sitting on my couch in sweats eating ice cream for a week.
1. Ted and Robin, HIMYM
Breakups are hard, having to feign happiness after a breakup is even harder. It’s exactly what happens to Ted and Robin when they break up just a few weeks before Lily and Marshall’s wedding and don’t want to drag everyone down with their news. Even more heart wrenching, I think, is that Ted and Robin aren’t two people who are fundamentally wrong for each other, they’re too people who loved each other a lot and just wanted slightly different things. To me, this is one of the hardest breakups of all; no one’s the ‘villain,’ and there’s nothing to do but be a little sad about the way life works out. But wait, life or rather, TV works in mysterious ways. Whether you loved it or hated it, the series finale brought Ted and Robin back together and that was a relief.
2. Ben and Leslie, Parks and Recreation
If there’s anything that gets me, it’s when a perfectly good couple breaks up for legitimate life-goal-related reason. Case in point: when Leslie and Ben break up so that she can run for city council. To watch Leslie become so distraught over knowing she has to break up with Ben, only to find out he’d already been planning for it when he hands her a “Knope 2012″ button is just so sad. And this all comes before the post-breakup episodes when both are just beside themselves. Thankfully, we’re all way past that rough patch now, but that was a hard one.
3. Mindy and Danny, The Mindy Project
For me, watching this breakup was like watching a car crash in slow motion. You could see it coming, couldn’t do anything to stop it, and just had to cringe the entire time. I had fears from the first Mindy and Danny kiss that they’d gotten together too soon and a breakup was in the works, but that didn’t make it any easier to watch. Having Danny pull the “I don’t want to ruin the friendship” card in a rare, legitimate way didn’t lessen the sting for Mindy, or for those of us watching. What did lessen the sting was the season finale. Not going to spoil it for those still catching up, but let’s just say these TV breakups don’t seem so hard and fast.
4. Spencer and Toby, Pretty Little Liars
Spencer Hastings is one of my favorite TV characters because nothing ruffles her. Nothing, except finding out her boyfriend has been working with the evil mastermind terrorizing her and her friends. Yes, Spencer has literally been sleeping with the enemy. Watching the most composed character on television have a breakdown is rough (even if it turns out Toby was just a double agent).
5. Abby and David, Scandal
As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one couple on Scandal worth rooting for, and it’s Abby and David. They had chemistry and the beginnings of a promising relationship, until Olivia decided that she didn’t want them together and schemed to break them up. It’s one thing when life gets in the way of a relationship, it’s another thing when your boss and friend deliberately breaks you up to serve her own interests.
6. Marissa and Ryan, The O.C.
I often complain that TV couples stay together when they shouldn’t, but secretly I think it’s nice that there’s a certain dependability to the central relationships of any given series. You know that any given on-again, off-again couple will be on forever by the series finale, unless you’re talking about Ryan and Marissa. Their relationship was the iconic one of the show, and you wanted to believe that the good-hearted guy from the wrong side of town could save the troubled rich girl. Ryan certainly tried, but Marisa couldn’t seem to escape her demons, and then had to go and die before they could ever get back together, leaving Ryan stuck with boring Taylor Townsend as a love interest for the rest of the series.
7. Cristina and Burke, Grey’s Anatomy
On a show full of traumatic breakups, I’ve picked this one as it was one of the main reasons I stopped watching Grey’s (well, this, and the George-Izzie hookup). Cristina and Burke just seemed so good together. Knowing their breakup was inevitable after Isaiah Washington was dismissed from the cast of Grey’s didn’t make it any easier to watch the ever stoic Cristina break down after getting left at the altar.
8. Veronica and Duncan, Veronica Mars
Yes, I know the debates are Veronica and Logan vs. Veronica and Piz, but everyone forgets about Duncan. He was Veronica’s first love, and their relationship was a sweet one, until Duncan’s mom forced them to break it off. From there, it was a roller-coaster ride of Duncan getting together with Meg, Meg getting pregnant, Duncan getting back together with Veronica, Meg’s untimely death and Duncan fleeing the country with his baby. Veronica is the architect of the whole plan, knowing it’s the right thing to do, but also knowing it means she’ll probably never see Duncan again. The episode ends with Veronica holding a fortune cookie fortune that states “True love stories never have endings.” I dare you to watch this episode without crying.
9. Jess and Nick, The New Girl
Even after spending a season watching them try to figure out their relationship, after seriously worrying if they should ever be in a relationship, and then hints that the relationship was not exactly meant to be, their breakup still seemed like something that might happen but never something that would happen. When Nick and Jess actually did break up, over a day, while hung over, it was a SHOCK. Especially because they admitted they still loved each other (and we all loved them together!) but, like in many in-real-life relationships, finding out that you want different things for your future (and future kids) is just too much to overcome. Who are we to quash their individual dreams?
10. Ross and Rachel, Friends
Was there anything worse than watching Ross and Rachel break up on Friends? No, no there was not. Seriously, we could cry just looking at the GIFs above. The on-offs in their decade-long on-off relationship were hilarious (Ross screaming “We Were On A Break!”) and emotional and heart-felt and even through all their foibles and fumbles, we were still always (secretly) routing for them. Come on, Rachel couldn’t wind up with Joey!