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The Masochism Tango
Fracture my spine,
And swear that you're mine,
As we dance to The Masochism Tango!

In fictional relationships, there's a gray area between a Destructive Romance, a Friendly War and Romanticized Abuse. Sometimes the writers make it hard for the audience to figure out if the relationship is even supposed to be a good thing or not. Sometimes the writers don't even know the answer themselves, and sometimes this question isn't even meant to have an answer - the characters are there for the audience to laugh at, and that's all there is to it.

Two characters are supposed to be deeply in love — despite being blatantly unsuited for each other. They are constantly screaming at each other or worse, and yet the characters insist they like each other. Very often, the only indicator of the characters' affections for each other will be their jealousy when the other shows an interest (real or imagined) in a character outside of their tango.

Basically, there are two ways this trope can be played: either the writers really don't get that the pairing isn't working out, or the writers are fully aware and it's the characters who insist that their relationship is just great. In either case, the audience tends to quickly catch on, and you can bet that the shippers are already thinking up alternatives.

This is not the same as an Odd Friendship or Odd Couple, where everybody knows the relationship is strange and the characters very grudgingly learn to respect each other. In The Masochism Tango, the entire relationship hinges on the mutual hatred between the two lovebirds... for better or for worse.

The partners dancing to this particular beat have already resolved the Will They or Won't They? issue (they did, and won't deny they're a couple) — it's just the wisdom of their hook-up that's in question. This is what happens when a Belligerent Sexual Tension couple gets together without actually solving the belligerence.

For the platonic version, see With Friends Like These... or Vitriolic Best Buds.note  For a milder version, see Slap-Slap-Kiss, Belligerent Sexual Tension, and No Accounting for Taste. If the characters aren't at each other's throats, but their relationship feels contrived and artificial nonetheless, they've been Strangled by the Red String. Compare All Take and No Give. If the sadism and the masochism part in the coupling is off balance, also compare Love Martyr. Played for Drama, it can easily become Destructive Romance. If the characters are married, is also falls under Awful Wedded Life.

This trope is named for a song by Tom Lehrer, quoted above. As he explains it, a certain genre of love song is "the passionate or fiery variety, usually in tango tempo, in which the singer exhorts his partner to haunt him and taunt him and, if at all possible, to consume him with a kiss of fire." In his version, the singer asks for whippings, broken bones, cigarette burns...

Note that this is actually Truth in Television for many people. Probably including many tropers.

If you are still confused, let Worf explain.

Do Not Confuse With Real Life masochism. Or, for that matter, real tango. Or a combinations of the two. Then again, some works don't really make a distinction between masochism and being a victim of abuse...


Examples

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     Anime and Manga 
  • Yubel in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX sees this as the only true expression of love; it cannot distinguish between joy/pleasure and pain/sorrow, and convinces itself that every single bit of suffering it causes its obsession Judai - and every bit reciprocated from him in kind - are simply their way of sharing each other's love.
  • Yoh and Anna from Shaman King. Though at least Anna shows her love regularly by running at heel to Yoh's help.
    • Eventually subverted. They become decidedly more openly relaxed with each other during the American half of the tournament, regularly spending time together, saving each other and even hints of affection when no one but Amidamaru was around (who of course respectfully looked away, blushing). Yoh seems less frightened of Anna, implying that she was particularly strict before to prepare him for the tournament, which is probably a huge reason for his survival. The reveal that Yoh fell in love first and earned Anna's love by accepting her as she was, and the implication that they slept together before Yoh left Japan first probably helps. Either way, as their relationship is expanded upon, we see that this isn't really the case.
  • In Paradise Kiss, Yukari and George get together almost immediately, but their romance is unhinged from the get-go. He is sometimes genuinely sweet and gentlemanly with her, but it's hard to notice amidst all the icy contempt and plain insults he throws at her. To make things worse, it's heavily implied his conflicted emotions towards her stem for her similarity to his mother. Naturally, it just couldn't end well for them... yet still ended up better than other examples: they break up out of their own accord and in somewhat amiable terms, George leaves the country to pursue his goals and Yukari decides to live her own life and build her own career. In the Distant Finale, she actually marries her Victorious Childhood Friend Hiro.
  • Hiei and his boss, Mukuro from YuYu Hakusho. Here's a quote, "Perhaps that's why I feel you understood me...after all, we're both only capable of expressing ourselves through our violence." This isn't just Domestic Abuse played for laughs—he says this to her while they're in the middle of a DEATHMATCH. Against each other.
    • His birthday present to her? Her evil, sexually abusive dad, bonded to a tree that keeps him from ever moving and repairs any of his wounds instantly, so that she can torture him at her leisure.
  • Shinji and Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Both are not exactly mentally sound, yet share a mutual attraction. The relationship they share is far from healthy, though: Asuka is a fiercely competitive young woman who teases and belittles Shinji in what she considers flirting, while Shinji is a reclusive, socially inept introvert who doesn't respond well to her flirtations, leading Asuka to be even more abusive.
  • City Hunter: Kaori + 100 Ton Hammer = Poor, poor Ryo Saeba.
  • In the Hellsing TV series, although not a couple (but Studio Gonzo did hint they have feelings for each other), Alucard and Integra act like this until she almost dies because of his bad judgment in sneaking out to fight his Worthy Opponent. Afterwards, their dynamic softens considerably. In the manga, their relationship is completely different and more of a Bodyguard Crush dynamic.
  • Sango and Miroku from Inuyasha have elements of this. Even after they get engaged, Miroku keeps hitting on every single girl he encounters and gropes Sango whenever he can and Sango punishes him for this.
  • Celty and Shinra from Durarara!! have a bit of this going on. They have established a relationship, but Shinra's more annoying habits (like making ill-timed comments about their sex-life) result in Celty beating him up or wrapping him up in her shadows, but Shinra actually enjoys it. The funny thing is that their relationship is probably the healthiest in the series.
  • This is the nature of the relationship of Iason and Riki in Ai no Kusabi due to Opposites Attract and the fact Iason has forcibly made Riki his slave. Although Iason occasionally shows Riki affection despite how much he oppresses Riki in order to control him.
  • An interpretation of Chiaki and Hatori's relationship in Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi given that every single episode/chapter concerning them starts with them having a nasty fight due to either Chiaki being insensitive or Hatori being possessive. At the end of each episode, while they do end up reconciling, it doesn't change the fact there is a lot of yelling involved before they come to a compromise...and this relationship ends up hurting the third wheel Yanase given he's pulled into their fights every single time. It gets to the point where Yanase finally breaks down crying for Chiaki pulling on his heart strings. And let's not mention the novel where the interpretation of their relationship crosses between this and Domestic Abuse.
  • Zagi and Karim of Jyu Oh Sei. They have both expressed pretty genuine feelings for each other, but you'd never guess from the way he treats her 90% of the time.
  • Kouji Nanjo and Takuto Izumi from Zetsuai1989 and Bronze. Their Masochism Tango is more like a full-length ballet, and it seems to run in Izumi's family, since his mother killed his father for cheating on him while she's in her Yandere phrase, then killed herself twelve years later.
  • Louise and Saito from Zero no Tsukaima.
  • Jeremy and Ian from A Cruel God Reigns do this constantly. Sometimes it is really hard to tell if Jeremy actually consents to having sex with Ian, in addition to Ian sometimes striking Jeremy out of anger. And Jeremy, while eventually admits to liking Ian and realizing he loves him, is almost alway cold and callous towards Ian, telling him often outright that he hates him.

    Comic Books 
  • In comics, pretty much anyone. Gambit and Rogue in particular, due to the fact that Rogue's powers make having a relationship with ANYONE impossible combined with Gambit's very much flexible idea of right and wrong often causing Rogue to go into a tirade about how she can't trust Gambit, who refuses to give up on Rogue or even cross the line by bringing up Rogue's own dark history of Moral Event Horizon crossing when it came to Ms Marvel, whenever Rogue uses Gambit's past against him. It's invoked on Gambit's side, as he's said his actual motivation for dating Rogue was to punish himself for his (rather small and inconsequential and blameless) role in the Morlock Massacre.
  • The relationship between The Joker and his "girlfriend" and gun moll Harley Quinn. It's an interesting study in dependent and abusive relationships, whereby Dr Harleen Quinzel, the Joker's psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, finds herself falling for the psychopathic supervillain as he mentally manipulates her into taking his side. It's a variation of the Stockholm Syndrome; here the Joker didn't kidnap Harley, and Harley imagines that she came to love the Joker of her own accord (or if she acknowledges his manipulation playing a part, he clearly did it because he was in love with her).
  • Apparently quite standard for the titular protagonist's race on Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire, as seen here. Of course, being Heavyworlders, they do seem to be rather durable, too. And high explosives are very romantic.
  • Matt and Kayleigh from Dork Tower. They remain in an On-Again, Off-Again Relationship, even though she belittles all of his interests and friends, and he is torn between staying with her and dropping her for Gilly the Perky Goth. Screaming matches and Slap-Slap-Kiss often occur.
  • Goldie and Scrooge in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. Carl Barks wrote 'em that way, Don Rosa made 'em awesome at it.
  • Ball and Chain, everybody! This is a case where it isn't remotely intentional on either side. Edgar and Mallory have been married for three years, and every day is a struggle for both of them. "It's like some crazy dance that we can't learn... and we can't stop. Marriage. The Dance of a Thousand Cuts." They spend most of the series on the brink of divorce, going through several degrees of separation before ultimately realizing that they absolutely need each other.
  • The Drama Twins from Dark Horse's The Freshmen, a painfully dysfunctional, on-again-off-again couple whose telekinetic powers are inextricably linked.

    Film - Animation 
  • Taken very literally in Ice Age 3: Age of Dinosaurs, where the squirrel couple fight over the acorn while tango plays in the background.
  • In the The Land Before Time films, many fans have expressed favouritism for a pairing between Littlefoot and Cera. You'd think the species difference would be enough of a put off, but in addition, the two do argue a lot (in three films, resulting in all out fights). However, Cera has been known to be jealous when Littlefoot makes new friends.

    Film - Live Action 

    Literature 
  • It's actually the societal norm for romance to be The Masochism Tango in Saldaea in The Wheel of Time, much to the bafflement of Perrin when he marries fan-unfavorite Faile. As The Parody puts it:
    Bashere: Perrin, I must train you in Saldaean ways. You must yell at your wife like this: DEIRA!!! PUNCH!!! NOW!!!
    Deira: Yes, dear.
    Bashere: But only when she wants you to. Sometimes she wants you to be soft and gentle, like this: I love you, my cuddly little honey-bunny.
    Deira: Yes, dear.
    Bashere: And sometimes she wants to yell at you, like this:
    Deira: DAVRAM!!! MASSAGE MY BACK!!! NOW!!
    Bashere: Yes, dear. And sometimes she wants to be soft and gentle with you, like this:
    Deira: I will perch on your shoulder, my big, strong rock of a husband.
    Bashere: So you see, it's not that hard. Do you know anything about babbling women who don't know what they want?
    Perrin: Well, I grew up in the Two Rivers.
    Bashere: Oh, you'll be fine. But if you do get anything wrong, I will kill you.
    • Another example would be a story Thom Merrilin tells Mat. When Thom was young, he encountered a blacksmith's wife whose husband would control who she talked to and beat her up if she so much as looked at other men. Thom gallantly offers to rescue her - and is forced to hastily leave the village when she immediately runs and tells her husband! Thom later finds out that she would control the money, and beat her husband up if he as much as had a single beer at the inn. The moral of the story is to not judge before you have heard both sides.
  • Subverted in Kafka's short story "A Little Woman"; the narrator worries about people suspecting him and the titular character of having an affair solely due to her irrational dislike of him—obviously, this isn't the case.
  • Phèdre nó Delaunay and Joscelin Verreuil embody this trope for the first two books of the Kushiel's Legacy series. The former is a masochistic prostitute who frequently sleeps with people as a method of solving problems, and the latter is her celibate combat butler-bodyguard.
  • In the Narnia book The Horse and His Boy, Shasta aka Prince Cor and Aravis spend most of the book arguing and making up. At the end of the story, it's mentioned that they get married so they can argue and make up more efficiently.
  • In Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series, Gen has a rather unbelievable but somehow endearing version of this with the Queen of Attolia, who imprisoned him and cut his hand off, and whom he must blackmail into marrying him.
  • In the original novel The Princess Bride, Buttercup's parents were described as having this type of relationship, to the point that when her father died and her mother almost immediately followed, it was believed to be the sudden lack of opposition that killed her.
  • 1984.
    Under the spreading chestnut tree
    I sold you
    You sold me
  • Valmont and Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons live to one-up each other with tales of sexual deviance and mindfuckery, yet every time one of them talks about having any sort of genuine emotional connection with somebody else, the other one seems to explode with jealousy. This is very definitely a Destructive Romance (if indeed "romance" is even vaguely the right word,) and it ends up with her getting Valmont killed (which leaves her heartbroken,) and her publicly destroyed thanks to Valmont setting her up to be exposed with his dying breath.
  • Margaret Weis’s The Star of the Guardians is all built around The Masochism Tango between two of the three main characters.
  • Played with in Wuthering Heights, in that most of the characters think Heathcliff and Cathy are a terrible match, even though most readers will agree that their trademark brand of selfishness, vindictiveness, contempt for others, and mutual obsession means they really are perfect for each other. While their relationship may well have turned out to be a Destructive Romance even if they had been together from the start, it would probably not have gotten to quite the level of vengeful spite it did when they tried to live apart.
  • In Francine Rivers’s Redeeming Love, Michael and Angel’s marriage suffers through a period of this. She’s a Broken Bird former prostitute who doesn’t realize how Love Hungry she actually is; he’s a Love Martyr with no relationship experience and a divine mandate to love his wife unconditionally. It’s a very weird relationship since all Angel has enough self-confidence to do is try to seduce Michael, which he keeps refusing because he knows she won’t make an emotional connection with sex. They don’t even fight that much; she runs away, he goes after her, she cheats on him, he refuses to rise to the bait and fumes in silence, she goes to ridiculous lengths to try to make up for her failures.…It all works out eventually since, as the title implies, it is ultimately a story about how Unconditional Love Redeems.

    Live Action TV 
  • Basil and Sybil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers are a classic, if rather more complex, example of this trope switching between this and No Accounting for Taste. Casually insulting one another, both face to face and behind their backs, Sybil does seem to appreciate even these acerbic exchanges. And Basil does occasionally try to do something vaguely nice, such as remembering their wedding anniversary (but of course, gets a dangerous kick out of making her believe he has forgotten until the last moment:)
    Polly: Well aren't you going to tell her?
    Basil: Sooner or later, but let's let her have a bit of a good old STEW, shall we?
    Polly: Wouldn't it be simpler to boil her in oil ?
    Basil: Yes, but not as economical.
  • Xander and Cordelia's romance on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Later, Xander began dating Anya, an ex-demon whose idea of a romantic evening (at first) was to brag about all the men she'd tortured and killed over the centuries, though they actually developed a nice rapport later on.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine played this for laughs in a Story Arc about Klingon romances — the Klingon concept of foreplay involves wrestling bitchslapping and broken bones, and the cowardly Ferengi Quark winds up having to participate (and insisting while getting patched up in sickbay that it was Worth It.)
    • You can see Worf's dating advice here.
    "Men do not roar. Women roar. And hurl heavy objects. And claw at you."
    "What does the man do?"
    "He reads love poems. (Beat) He ducks a lot."
    • Dax manages to hold her own with Worf in that episode (both come in to sickbay, supporting each other, with various bruises and fractures at the end); apparently she was used to it enough as Curzon to manage.
    • Cardassians have a similar custom of snapping at each other during their courtship period. A female Cardassian engineer argued the toss extensively with O'Brien, only to reveal later that she found him attractive, bluntly declaring, "I assure you that I am quite fertile." She took the news that O'Brien was already married surprisingly well, saying at the end that Keiko was a lucky woman.
  • iCarly and its Sam/Freddie pairing is this. Once they get together, the next episode is about them constantly fighting, to the point where Carly tells them they need to sort out their problems or they should break up. The next episode says they only fought three times that day, and that Sam still hits Freddie, just not in the face. They then get into a massive almost break up moment when Sam is revealed to have sabotaged an admission paper that could have helped him get into any college he wanted. They still stay together through both episodes.
  • Ricky and Adrian in The Secret Life of the American Teenager. They mostly ether just argued and or had sex. They never went on dates and Ricky never wanted to be seen in public with her. Their relationship consisted mostly of them cheating on each other and claiming each sexual conquest as retaliation. When her father asked her what she liked about Ricky, beside looks, Adrian couldn't answer. They mostly seemed to show genuine affection through jealousy towards those they viewed as threats to their relationship. Their relationship later ended when Adrian had sex with their mutual friend, Ben.
  • A list of all the times the various Degrassi series did this would be a Wiki in itself. Some of the more notable cases:
    • Joey and Caitlin on Degrassi High were supposed to be Star-Crossed Lovers — even though Joey was a classic Small Name, Big Ego with self-esteem problems and Caitlin was a stern, moralistic social activist. They broke up and got together again too many times to count.
    • The same thing happened in the fourth season of Degrassi The Next Generation, which paired J.T. who is goofy, irresponsible, and tactless with Liberty who is humorless, workaholic, and a world-class Control Freak. They insist that they're in love, but all we see is them arguing. At one point, J.T. brags about their sex life in public, and Liberty pours cold soda down his pants.
    • Emma, the resident idealistic goody-two-shoes on Degrassi The Next Generation, has had several boyfriends — all of them extremely bad boys. First, she dated a Troubled, but Cute boy whom she broke up with twice. Then she dated an amateur DJ whom she felt eternally awkward around. Then she began performing oral sex on the same boy whom she had tried to get expelled one season earlier. She wound up catching gonorrhea from him. Then Emma began dating Peter, whom she first met when he was blackmailing her best friend. And when she broke up with him, she went back to the very same Troubled, but Cute boy she started with (for a while, anyway).
  • The Amazing Race:
    • And Tara & Wil from Season 2 were the series' Ur Example, with their behavior towards each other making fans wonder how they EVER agreed to marry each other. As TWOP recapper Miss Alli commented during a rare moment of Tara laughing at one of Wil's jokes and Wil visibly beaming at his success: "This is so weird. If he likes her this much, then why is he so mean to her?"
    • Jonathan & Victoria from The Amazing Race 6 were possibly an even better (worse?) example.
    • In season 9 Lake & Michelle (mostly Lake) swap insults, rants, and epithets for nearly the entirety of every episode after the first. When finally eliminated from the Race, they declare their love for each other in such a way that you begin to wonder what chunk of their lives was left on the cutting room floor.
  • Battlestar Galactica
    • Lee Adama and Kara Thrace on had their epic "I hate you, I love you, I hate you" outlasted three seasons, several space battles, two drunken sex accidents, two whirlwind marriages (to other people), one inexplicable weight gain (and more inexplicable loss), one case of Stockholm Syndrome, one apparent death, and many fans' patience, and was only resolved when Starbuck was revealed to have been Dead for Real and up and vanished. It's been suggested recently that these two actually work well as a deconstruction of this trope and that RDM was trying to show just how dysfunctional this type of pairing would be if portrayed realistically.
    • Saul and Ellen have been dancing theirs for a long time. Several thousands of years, in fact.
      • Although it's hard to tell how much of it is really them and how much of it is the fact that they've had their heads seriously messed with by someone with a seriously messed up head.
  • Sean and Julia McNamera on Nip/Tuck are so ungodly ill-suited for each other from the moment they appear onscreen that any other two people in the universe would have come to their senses and cut ties years ago: they tend to split up and recombine a minimum of once per season, swearing every time they do either one that this time, it's going to stick. It never does, and one wonders if even the writers can put up with their whining for much longer.
  • Dr. Cox and Jordan in Scrubs. These two are stunning, simply because even when they are openly together and obviously planning on spending the rest of their lives together, they continue to insult, demean and torment each other, even when they're happy. Both also undergo significant Character Development and gradually show softer sides to their characters and let their defenses down, but this part of their relationship never changes. It also seems like their relationship actually thrives on the fighting, and that their shared hatred actually brings them together. This was showcased best in one episode where Jordan no longer wants to fight because of Jack. So Dr. Cox tries to initiate fights with other people, to which Carla says that she won't fight with him. They eventually patch things up after Cox tells Jordan she's just like her mother, and they agree not to fight in front of Jack... but can do it all they want when he's not around.
  • Blair and Chuck on Gossip Girl. Blair actually explicitly says "Only a masochist could love such a narcissist." Frequently leans more towards Love Martyr with Blair, because although she's manipulated and insulted him too, Chuck's actions are generally more damaging.
  • Kyle and Maxine from Living Single.
  • Hyde and Jackie on That '70s Show. Before they got together, their interactions consisted entirely of slinging barbs and insults at each other. And after, their relationship was... pretty much the same, only now they had sex.
    • Jackie refused to notice this. Hyde knew it but tried not to care.
  • Proudly coarse Carla Tortelli and snooty John Allen Hill from Cheers. Hurling insults were their favorite foreplay.
  • Frasier: A one-sided example came with Niles and Maris (starting about late S2 and finishing in S6). She manipulated him, dominated him, you could very well say that she was emotionally abusive and she put him through torment during their divorce. What's interesting is that Niles seems to go for or even cause these types (due to his submissiveness when it comes to women); His emaciated pet was Maris in dog form, Mel might have treated him better but was still dominating and even Daphne became shriller and bitchier after they got together.
    • In the episode "The Focus Group", Niles actually intentionally attempts to instigate one of these between he and Daphne after they got into their first argument and he...enjoyed it so much. This, mind you, is before they got together, so it fails pretty miserably. Daphne's just too polite to take the bait and only argued with him in the first place because she was already at her wits end.
  • One of the earliest television examples, Fred and Ethel Mertz from I Love Lucy. To give an idea of how much they bicker and seem to dislike each other, when asked what he knew about rice, Fred remarked, "I had it thrown at me on one of the darkest days of my life." If divorce had been as common in the first half of the 20th century as it is now, they probably would have split up twenty years before the series began.
    • Reality Subtext: Actors William Frawley and Vivian Vance openly despised each other, and flatly turned down a spin-off series starring the two of them.
  • Steve and Karen McDonald from Coronation Street fit this trope. Despite marrying for a bet, the two quickly realized that they really did love one another after all. However, much to the amusement of fans of the show, their subsequent storylines focused on how Karen completely browbeat her husband. Eventually the couple split after both had affairs (including one scene where Karen had sex with her lover despite knowing that Steve could hear everything), but got back together and then divorced (Karen forced Steve to do this so she could have a proper wedding). Unfortunately their second wedding was ruined by Tracy Barlow, who had slept with Steve (when he was separated from Karen) and had his baby. Despite the fact that Karen chose to re-marry Steve many more arguments followed, but the final straw came when Karen suffered a nervous breakdown following a miscarriage and abducted Steve's daughter by Tracy. Steve decided to put an end to The Masochism Tango for good.
  • While Word of God says that House and Stacy were meant to be deeply in love, onscreen it was more like this. She's deeply self-righteous about the whole "cutting up his leg without his consent" thing and hasn't seemed to learn her lesson when it comes to her ill husband either, doesn't believe that he has any human feelings whatsoever (even when he shows her and us his adorable, romantic/cheesy side by giving her a prescription for her "heart problem") and seems to act like she wants to kill him in his sleep. For his part, he can't decide whether he wants her to be with him or if he wants her to suffer and at one point, breaks into her therapy file so he can act like the nice guy. He ended it in Need To Know but it really, really doesn't make him any happier.
  • A literal version in Burn Notice, with Michael and Fiona, as at one point they come to blows about it. They eventually resolve things and are back to a semi-dysfunctional couple, with the occasional outburst by Fiona, such as her slapping him when he was planning a trip to Cuba, "to remind [him] to be careful," just after giving him a kiss for luck.
  • John and Aeryn in Farscape. From their very first meeting they're beating on each other (usually Aeryn is smacking John around but not always) and it becomes a common theme in the series.
  • You would think this trope would be named Married... with Children: Al and Peg pretty much treat each other like mortal enemies, and even take glee in ruining things that the other would enjoy, however each becomes insanely depressed/violent/jealous on those occasions where it looks as though the other has found someone else.
  • Lana and Clark. All the time they were together he was more emo than Batman. They even lampshaded this in a season 8 episode, when Lana returns to the show.
    • And literally when she has kryptonite inside her, causing him ACTUAL pain.
  • Sam and Casey of Life With Derek suffered through an extremely fragile on-again, off-again relationship for several episodes before finally calling it quits for real.
  • One wonders if Hannah Montana's Lilly and Oliver's (previously Platonic Life Partners) Relationship Upgrade was, in fact, an upgrade. They seem to alternate between being Sickeningly Sweethearts and being at each other's throats.
  • Saturday Night Live had a pair of recurring characters circa 2005 called The Needlers: The Couple That Should Be Divorced that basically epitomized this trope:
    Sally Needler: Well, that's because someone got mad at the grill and pushed it into the swimming pool.
    Dan Needler: That was probably because someone kept complaining that their steak tasted too steak-y.
    Sally Needler: You know, you ruin every Fourth of July.
    Dan Needler: YOU RUIN THE FOURTH OF EVERYTHING!!!
    • Sometimes, an Only Sane Man in the sketch will tactfully suggest they seek couples counseling. The Needlers will act like this suggestion has come out of nowhere and declare that their marriage is just fine, before going right back to bitching at each other.
  • Cody and Bailey of The Suite Life on Deck started out as a sweet, endearing couple who were well-matched intellectually and tolerant and forgiving of one another's faults. As the second season progressed, they constantly fought for dominance in the relationship, and everything became a competition between them. By the time they broke up at the end of season two, they weren't so much ending their relationship as putting it out of its misery.
  • Niles and C.C Babcock in The Nanny. Throughout the first five seasons, they'd shoot insults back and forth out of the wind. Then, Niles realized he was in love with her, and proceeded to get rejected. 3 times. (It didn't help that the first time he said anything of this to her it was a marriage proposal. And then another. And another.) Eventually, they got got married and were expecting when the show went off.
  • Ross and Rachel often fell into this trope in their worst moments, crossing over with Slap-Slap-Kiss.
  • There is a sketch on The Kids in the Hall where a couple is being very loud in a restaurant with their arguing. Mark's character complains to them and he gets punched in the face by the guy, only to get up and see that the couple has forgotten about him and begun making-out passionately.
  • A contestant on America's Got Talent performed an act to the song of the same name in which he danced a Tango in between having her smash cinder blocks on his stomach while on a bed of nails among other things.
  • Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy have been the Official Couple of The Muppets for a quarter century, however in that time there have been a fair bit more instances of them bickering than getting along. Piggy's affections towards Kermit usually go unreturned, and they can both be quite abusive towards each other (Kermit verbally, Piggy physically).
  • JR and Sue Ellen Ewing of Dallas, to the nth. He cheats, she drinks and cheats, he cheats and has her committed... and on the dance goes. Most of the horrible things Sue Ellen does are fairly reasonable reactions to JR's misdeeds, but many argue that he was only slightly overreacting to her being a right old bitch in the first place. The more heinous infractions include: JR using Sue Ellen's alcoholism as his go-to blackmail or attempting to push her off the wagon for the same reason, Sue Ellen's use of their son as a pawn knowing it's JR's only weak spot, JR cheating on and conspiring against Sue Ellen with her own sister, believing Sue Ellen shot him and allowing her to rot in jail when her crazy sister was the actual culprit, and Sue Ellen actually shooting him a few years later. Somewhere in there they get a divorce, RE-MARRY (because of all the love), then re-divorce. The two are so massively screwed up they make a certain sense together, but even at the best of times he makes it clear that she will always be second to Ewing Oil. Bummer.
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor and River Song. In between constantly snarking at each other, constantly lying to each other in order to prevent paradox and her punching/slapping him in the face a few times over, she also repeatedly tries to kill him because she was raised to be his assassin. And then, when she has to kill him because it's a fixed point it time and not doing so would rip the universe apart, she adamantly refuses because she thinks she loves him too much. He hastily and quite angrily marries her on the spot out of sheer frustration, makes her kill him after all, and their relationship only gets more complicated from that point on.
  • There's definitely a few in Six Feet Under, but none are more obvious than Nate and Lisa. Nate clearly doesn't care for Lisa at all when they're together ("I am so proud of us for making this thing work," he says, then cringes a few seconds later when Lisa says "Oh Nate, I love you so much sometimes it terrifies me.") Lisa, on the other hand, holds ridiculously high standards for Nate and snipes away at him when he can't meet them. Both of them spend a season being ridiculously passive-aggressive towards each other, but when Lisa dies, the guilt of his awful behavior starts to devour Nate.
  • A Running Gag on Father Ted was that the couple who run the local shop are always having a screaming row or in the process of attempting to kill each other until the moment the priest walks in, at which point they immediately become a pair of outwardly-cheerful Stepford Smilers.
  • Ted and Zoey in season 6 of How I Met Your Mother.
  • Tony and Ziva from NCIS, though the writers claim that sincere romance has never been intended, nor does it exist on screen.

    Music 
  • Recurring Mountain Goats characters the 'Alpha couple' are locked in a mutually self-destructive spiral of alcoholism and substance abuse, veering between declarations of love, expressions of total hopelessness and outright Kung-Shui.
  • Baths 'Lovely Bloodflow' is about a guy singing to his girlfriend about how they deliberately upset each other in order to make themselves feel more alive, hence the 'Lovely Bloodflow'.
  • "I Love the Way You Lie" by Eminem and Rihanna is this pure and simple.
  • Florence + the Machine's "Kiss With A Fist".
    I hit you once, you hit me back
    You gave a kick, I gave a slap
    You smashed a plate over my head
    Then I set fire to our bed
  • The Bill Withers song "Use Me" is about a man in this sort of relationship, and how people keep trying to warn him about how he's being used, not realizing that he likes it.
  • Voltaire feat. Amanda Palmer's Stuck With You. It reaches the heights of bodily harm and murder.
  • The Offspring's "Self Esteem" (it's about not having any).
  • "The Ballad Of Tom Jones", Space's duet with Cerys Matthews, veers between this and Slap-Slap-Kiss. The couple in the song are constantly at each other's throats, to the point where the woman tries to kill the man by driving him off a cliff. The only thing that stops the couple killing each other is - you've guessed it - the sound of the music of Tom Jones.
  • The Trope Namer is Lehrer's "Masochism Tango"
  • A recurring theme in P!nk's music, reflecting her real life relationship with her husband, especially "True Love":
    I know life would suck without you
    At the same time, I wanna hug you
    I wanna wrap my hands around your neck
    You’re an asshole but I love you
    And you make me so mad
  • "Trust" and basically every other song by Bitter Ruin.
  • The Pogues' Anti Christmas Song "Fairytale of New York" seems to involve a relationship of this sort.
  • Passion Pit's video for single "Carried Away" depicts a couple that seem to be this, constantly fighting then forgiving each other.
  • There are hints to this relationship in Pink Floyd's Rock Opera The Wall between Pink and his wife, at least until she cheats on him and leaves him.
    Pink: How could you go? / You know I need you / to beat to a pulp on a Saturday night.
  • The Bravery song Hatefuck.
    There will be no tenderness, no tenderness
    I will show no mercy for you,
    you had no mercy for me
    The only thing that I ask, love me mercilessly
  • Savage Garden's Break Me, Shake Me.
    So won't you break me shake me hate me take me over
    When the madness stops then you will be alone.

    Theater 
  • Apparent in The Comedy of Errors.
  • As far as Shakespearan examples of this trope go, the most polarizing has to be The Taming of the Shrew. With interpretations ranging from "historically accurate portrayal of spousal cruelty with Petruchio as heartless abuser and Kate as brainwashed victim" to "unconventional comedic love story with Kate as pre-feminist spitfire and Petruchio as her intellectual equal", no one seems to agree on what exactly the main couple's relationship entails. ("What? with my tongue in your tail? Nay, come again, good Kate, I am a gentleman." (Slap))
  • In Rent, there is a song called 'Tango: Maureen', all about how Maureen torments her boyfriends/girlfriends with compulsive flirting: "When you're dancing her dance, you don't stand a chance, her grip on romance makes you fall. So you think 'might as well dance a tango to hell'...at least I'll have tangoed at all."
  • The entire point of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
  • Nathan and Richard in Thrill Me have this sort of relationship—at first glance it looks one-sided, with Richard stringing Nathan along and dropping him on a whim, but we have a few moments where Richard's mask slips and we can see he feels basically the same way about Nathan. Not that that's actually any healthier.

    Video Games 
  • Parodied in Super Smash Bros. Brawl: playing as Wolf in a certain Star Fox-based arena will trigger a com chat involving Leon gushing over the viciousness of Wolf's smackdown of the opponent, and Panther questioning who the lizard is more envious of - Wolf, or his victim.
  • Huge Schoolgirl Natsu and The Napoleon Shouma from Rival Schools are the incarnation of this trope.
  • Erk and Serra from Fire Emblem 7, if you get their A support.
  • This might not actually count, but for the Echani in Knights of the Old Republic II, repeated duels constitute both a courtship and foreplay.
    • When asked HK-47 says to the exile "Definition: 'Love' is making a shot to the knees of a target 120 kilometers away using an Aratech sniper rifle with a tri-light scope... Love is knowing your target, putting them in your targeting reticule, and together, achieving a singular purpose against statistically long odds."
  • Touhou Fanon and Kaguya/Mokou Shippers often display Kaguya and Mokou in The Masochism Tango since Kaguya and Mokou have been trying to constantly kill each other for years and years. It doesn't work because of their Immortality. This Fan comic displays this interpretation rather well (Warning: Ads are NSFW)

    Visual Novels 
  • Umineko no Naku Koro ni contains a very creepy example of this: Lambdadelta and Bernkastel fight each other in a game whenever they come across each other in the ocean of the kakera. The penalties for the looser are very severe cases of a Fate Worse than Death. And yet they always assure how much they "love" each other. However, as we learn later in the story, this may be justified as theirs means to escape the boredom that can literally kill them. By fighting each other, they relieve that boredom in order to survive and spend time with each other. And in the very end, they get their Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other-moment.

    Web Animation 
  • The flash animation Eres Veneno ++ by Vinnie Veritas is a serious contender for the greatest example of The Masochism Tango. As was once commented, "there's love, and then there's bitchy love."
  • Church and Tex in Red vs. Blue are this.
    Church: Alright O'Malley, this is it. From now on, if anybody makes my girlfriend cranky and psychotic; it's gonna be me.
    Tex: Aww, that's sweet.
    Church: Shut up, bitch!
    Tex: Asshole!
    • Also, Grif and Simmons.

    Webcomics 
  • Parodied in the webcomic Girl Genius: the Jagermonster Andre is convinced that the construct Von Pinn loves him. His "proof"? She mauls him on a regular basis without ever quite killing him. Considering she apparently has an already horrific reputation for violence, the fact that she simply takes so long mutilating and dismembering Andre is seen as validation by everyone else on the dirigible. It's reached the point where everyone dismisses the sounds of screaming and roars with "That would be Andre".
    • On top of that, Jagers are kind of like that to begin with.
    • You could say all the Sparks are this way, too. Gil and Tarvek are never more attracted to Agatha than when she's being crazy, beating them/other people up, and wanting to experiment on people. Agatha's the same for them.
  • In The Order of the Stick, they rescue an old man at his wife's request. Then the couple meet again, and they wonder how much of a good deed it was.[1]
  • Dominic Deegan and Luna have turned bitter fighting over each other's habits into foreplay. They like each other's ability to stand up for themselves.
  • xkcd has Black Hat Guy and his love interest. Subverts the "blatantly unsuited for each other" part though: They're both horrible people. Demonstrated here.
    • In this case, it's the Sadism Tango.
  • One of the perks of the Exterminatus Now forum is watching Lothar, one of the comic writers, and his girlfriend Raye get into their regular multi-post arguments and insult exhanges.
  • Something Positive: Jason and Aubrey are proof that this trope is what happens when Vitriolic Best Buds get married.
  • This is apparently a regular part of Troll relationships in Homestuck, and even has its own name, "kismesissitude" - a relationship based on mutual, erotic note  hatred between two parties. It's just as important to troll society and reproduction as "matespritship," which is based on mutual pity and is more like a traditional romance. Many individuals will sometimes flip back and forth between the two sorts of relationships, which makes it even more complicated.
    • A good - and exceptionally twisted - example of this would be Vriska's feelings for Tavros. Vriska torments Tavros every chance she gets, even going so far as to mind-control him into jumping off a cliff and then constantly insults him afterwards for being a pathetic cripple. And yet she promptly starts making out with him as soon as they meet up in the Medium. For the most part, Tavros doesn't seem to share her romantic feelings of either stripe, and is generally afraid of her. He does still spend time with her, though, sometimes mediated by one of their friends, although he does run away in tears when Vriska is nearly beaten to death by another person she's hurt, and asks Tavros to kill her. Then, when she comes back, he decides he needs to stop her from doing something dangerous, and she kills him when he tries.
      • The main interpretation of Vriska killing Tavros is that she did it not because he was trying to fight her, but because she was angry that it took him so damn long to try. He's one of the few people she actually feels guilty about killing. Kismeses are not supposed to murder each other, because that would end the relationship- and the entire point of kismesssitude is that it's a relationship between two evenly matched enemies.
    • Boy, Troll romance sure is confusing!
    • In terms of reciprocated examples, Jack Noir and Snowman illustrate it best, Vriska and Eridan used to be in one but broke up before the start of the series, Eridan seemed to briefly feel this way for Sollux but was rejected, and Karkat likewise felt this way for John but ran afoul of the fact that humans don't have these types of relationships and that John isn't into guys anyway.
    • Kismesissitude is also the only quadrant that cherubs experience, as all evil cherubs are destructive, evil tyrants that attempt to rip universes apart, while good cherubs are kind, shy protectors who naturally hunt them in order to stop their destruction by mating with them. These attitudes begin development in childhood, when each cherub body consists of a "good" half and a "bad" half that each vie for "predomination" of the body; predomination is supposed to be completed at the beginning of adulthood, and the good half usually spend a long time in isolation in order to come to understand the need to procreate, while the bad halves, fueled by the earlier conflict with their sibling, begin destroying planets and life. When they are ready, each cherub couple usually mates around a black hole, and though the ritual itself is of such extreme violence that one or both mates die, the "victor" gains territory, however briefly, while the "loser" is forced to bear the offspring. So if the loser is male...

    Web Original 
  • Riley and Zaboo's relationship in The Guild is more a sadomasochism tango with Riley as the top and Zaboo as the bottom. He later grows a spine and breaks up with her.
  • Like Dr. Cox and Jordan, The Nostalgia Critic and The Nostalgia Chick have much more fun this way. They've chloroformed each other, both got a bit "BAD TOUCH!" when the other is unconscious, she's tried to kill him and he's locked her in his basement, but he's in love and is one of the very few people she cares about.

    Western Animation 
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man has Sally Avril dating Randy Robertson, and even Randy seems unable to understand why he sticks around with such an obnoxious harpy.
  • Terkel In Trouble contains the sappy love song "Piss off and die!"
  • Duncan and Courtney in the Total Drama series.
    • Heather and Alejandro in World Tour. They even perform a literal masochism tango in the penultimate song, intentionally injuring each other while dancing together.
  • Family Guy: This might be part of the reason why Lois stayed with Peter more than a few months, let alone the two decades of marriage. The time travel episode has Peter ditch her repeatedly thanks to a Reset Button, and every time she seems annoyed but unsuprised.
  • Hey Arnold! gives us the April Fool's tango between Arnold and Helga... solely fueled BY REVENGE. She might love the guy, and he might think she's more than what she appears, but that moment is nothing but rage and spite (despite what most fans think). Of course the whole thing is a set up for Helga to fool Arnold, but Arnold finds out about it and decides to out-wit her.
  • Kevin Spencer's parents love tormenting each other (especially Percy).
    • Kevin and Shawna are occasionally this.
  • Musa and Riven in Winx Club. They constantly get on each other's nerves and nearly break up for good once, but they really do love each other.


Love Letter LunacyRomance Novel PlotsArranged Marriage
Living with the VillainFrenemy TropesNo Accounting for Taste
Make Up or Break UpRomance ArcYour Cheating Heart
Marry for LoveLove TropesThe Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life
Marry for LoveMarriage TropesThe Mistress
Like an Old Married CoupleDiscord TropesNo Accounting for Taste

alternative title(s): Masochism Tango
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