Audiences are only interested in the beginnings and endings of relationships, not all the tedious good times in the middle.
In fiction, "love" means conflict. If a work has a "love story", that story usually cares only for extremes: falling in love, and falling out of it in short order.
So your favorite Official Couple
(or Beta Couple
) finally answered Will They or Won't They?
: They Do
. Our couple has fallen madly in love, carted off to their honeymoon and are probably getting started with that whole "Babies Ever After
" thing. A happy, feel-good time is had by all, right? Nope.
In the next season
, it turns out that married life isn't what they thought it was
. He lost his job and became The Alcoholic
? She started having an affair
with the handsome postman?
They drifted apart after that disastrous (but convenient) miscarriage?
She divorced him and remarried four years ago!?
can only happen if things... you know... end.
This is the reason the finish line in a love story is at the start
of the relationship. Romance Arcs
only deal with couples getting together in the first place
, and in happy stories, it ends there. If it doesn't, the majority of screen time will be about watching the relationship self-destruct, introducing the possibility of an affair (or having an actual one), breaking up, or struggling with the aftermath of such a breakup. Alternatively, it'll skip straight to a Distant Finale
, never showing any of their married life but some distant milestone like a second honeymoon or death in old age.
Because otherwise, conventional wisdom holds, there would be little personal conflict, and as we said, Romance Plot = Conflict. So, if you want to enjoy your happy ending, you'd better stop reading/watching/playing right after it happens.
While a couple will do almost whatever it takes to get together
, they rarely conquer their problems
In one tragic way, this is Truth in Television
. The greatest highs and lows of a relationship are at the beginning and end; the parts in-between tend to become mundane because it's just everyday life. Love is easier when you're high off of emotion
and the excitement of something new and forbidden. But, once you've got it, you're forced to ask Now What?
Romantic relationships need to be worked at, and sometimes people get bored or burned out with their status quo and argue about petty things.
On the other hand, where this trope comes into play is that the there's rarely any sign of these mundane good times. Instead, fiction skips straight to the good stuff.
This trope is often used to prevent or reverse Shipping Bed Death
, and as justifcation for never resolving Will They or Won't They?
, or as justification for turning the couple's Romance Arc
into a Yo Yo Plot Point
by having them do the on-again-off-again thing. If it happens offscreen between sequels/episodes, it's a Downtime Downgrade
. If the characters (and their fans
) are "lucky", the Divorce Is Temporary
. If not, the next best thing is to hope to be Amicably Divorced
This is most likely to apply to a Super Couple
Related to Victory Is Boring
and Failure Is the Only Option
, which cover plot conflicts not
associated with romance. Disposable Woman
and Death by Origin Story
are cases where this is done preemptively, before the story proper even begins. See also Relationship Ceiling
. May be Played for Laughs
in an Awful Wedded Life
NOTE: To qualify for this trope, the couple must go through three phases:
- A difficult or long-running courtship
- Followed by very little narrative focus on their happy relationship/married lifenote
- Followed by death/breakup/divorce/separation/infidelity/unhappy relationship.
Alternatively, in-universe or out-of-universe lampshading
of the phenomenon is also acceptable.
Please remove any examples that do not qualify.
For a less depressing view, many of the couples on Happily Married
are aversions of this trope.
- Joe Quesada has actually stated that certain characters (particularly Ant-Man, Spider-Man, and Cyclops) are "more interesting" without their wives. You might want to check out the One More Day page for more information on how one was done. Even before One More Day, writers and editors tried to break up, kill off, or otherwise end Peter and MJ's relationship time and time again. Also one of the reasons Gwen Stacy was killed. Nobody at Marvel was ready for a married Spider-Man yet.
- Hawkeye and Mockingbird. Not long after they were married "died", but that turned out to be Actually A Skrull. Since then, the couple has been reunited . . . and then promptly divorced.
- Like Spidey above, Superman had his marriage Retconned away after the 2011 reboot. In the New 52, the new Official Couple is Wonder Woman, who has been his ideal match in the fandom for decades.
- Nova and Namorita. When they were on the New Warriors, they became mutually attracted to each other and eventually began to date. They broke after she turned blue and he couldn't deal with the new look. Then she died, and he later brought her back. Now he's dead.
- Like their fellow New Warriors, Justice and Firestar also count. According to the writer who put them together in the first place, Fabian Nicieza, he had always intended for them to break up anyway. However, he left the book before that happened, and subsequent writers eventually married them just before they joined The Avengers as a Battle Couple. Kurt Busiek, in particular, tried his best to avert this trope. He liked to write them as an introspective of what it's like to be superhero newlyweds in the Marvel Universe. However, Nicieza later ended up writing the two again, and the first thing he promptly did was break them up. In fact, the story that finally sank their ship for good is a time-traveling story in which the newly-married Justice and Firestar are downright terrified of how cold they've become to each other in the future.
- Mostly averted with Sue and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four (but NOT the Ultimate versions of them). Their marriage may be saved thanks to the Grandfather Clause: they were wedded in a Stan Lee-penned story not long after their original creation. They've split apart numerous times, but it's hard to be "Marvel's First Family" if they're not, y'know . . . a family.
- In the Bronze Age, Batman and Catwoman were written as partners in crimefighting and as lovers. After a couple of years, they broke up and she went a little batty, attacking him and Vicki Vale before making peace with him. Post-Crisis the two have shown Belligerent Sexual Tension but haven't gotten together, although she is still at least 75% good.
- Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon. Chuck Dixon's run on Nightwing made them an Official Couple. The Ship Sinking started during Devin Grayson's run and continued up to and beyond Infinite Crisis. Unlike most other examples, this actually had quite a bit of build up. This also became an Enforced Trope by way of Executive Meddling: Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson became engaged in order to create drama for Dick's impending death. Dick Grayson wasn't supposed to survive Infinite Crisis, but since he did (the writers ''refused'' to kill him), the editors wanted him to be a swinging bachelor and free to do his solo thing.
- Generally averted in ElfQuest, probably due to it being written by a happily married couple.
- The Hulk once averted this trope for the same reason as above. (Peter David's wife said Betty Ross Banner was her favorite character, and he swore never to break them up or kill her off.) After a very messy divorce between the Real Life couple, guess what he did. He later regretted that decision. Furthermore, Betty has subsequently come Back from the Dead and become an Evil/Distaff for Hulk and She-Hulk. Their reunion is still ironing out some wrinkles.
- There is also the matter of The Hulk's other wives and love interests. Caiera, Jarela, Kate Waynesboro, etc. Kate Waynesboro is the only one that hasn't died at least.
- In the Batman Beyond sequel comic, a Time Skip showcases that Terry McGinnis and his girlfriend Dana, who had spent the entire series in a relationship, had broken up. Word of God flat out states that this was to introduce more mystery and tension into the book.
- Guardians of the Galaxy plays this painfully straight with Phyla-Vell and Moondragon. The series starts with Moondragon dead. Phyla revives her, only to then spend a few issues barely interacting with her before seemingly dying. Then, even when Phyla turns out to be alive, she can only send a few psychic warnings to Moondragon before dying herself. Moondragon even laments specifically that the two never seem to be alive and in the same place for very long at a time.
- John McClane and Holly of Die Hard. Through the first three films, their breakups are a Running Gag with the two coming closer together at the end of their devastating experience. However, this trope is played morosely straight in the fourth film, where they're finally divorced.
- The reason Ripley was the only survivor at the beginning of the third movie in the Alien series. Newt, Hicks and Bishop were all killed off in part 3 because it was feared the story would be boring otherwise.
Live Action TV
- In Wizard and Glass, when he tells the story of his first love, Roland says the name of the trope, explaining that "once the tale of encounter and discovery is told, kisses quickly grow stale and caresses tiresome" — except of course for the ones who exchange in them. Indeed, the focus of the story he's telling and thus the whole novel is a tricky courtship between Star-Crossed Lovers, and the happy part is rather glossed over.
- In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Happy Endings Bernice Summerfield, as the title suggests, goes off to live Happily Ever After with her husband Jason. When it became apparent that Virgin Publishing weren't going to get the licence to continue making Doctor Who novels, Eternity Weeps splits them up, so that Benny will be single as a main character.
- In the season 1 finale of Rhoda she & Joe get married. This was one of the highest rated entertainment shows ever. But then they got divorced. Now it's considered to have been a bad idea to have them get married, purely from a business standpoint.
- Desperate Housewives
- Mike and Susan finally married in season 3 ending. They were divorced at the beginning of season 5. And back together in season 6.
- There's also the possibility that Tom and Lynette will divorce in the new season.
- Happened in CSI with Gil Grissom and Sarah Sidle - after several seasons of UST they finally got together, only for Sarah to eventually leave both Grissom, the department and Las Vegas and then for Grissom to go (she eventually returned without him).
- Cheers: After five years of on-again/off-again UST they're about to get married, then Diane leaves Sam at the altar, only to come back 6 years later for the Grand Finale to almost marry him again.
- It has Fred and Gunn as a couple. Joss then gives a nod to the shippers by letting Wes date Fred for all of a day before killing Fred off and changing her into another character because the love thing was boring.
- Angel and Buffy in true love for a single day. He decides to turn back time to avoid keeping her because he wants to keep fighting evil, adding on later "so I won't risk hurting you" to let Buffy down softly.
- Infamously, the Roseanne series finale. Turns out, the series was a fictional story written by the eponymous star, after her husband died years ago. Things get worse from there.
- Dialed Up to Eleven in Xena: Warrior Princess: over Seasons 1-2, Xena and Gabrielle get closer and closer until ... Seasons 3-4 wrench them apart, they get back together, wrenched apart, rinse, wash, repeat. In seasons 5-6, Xena and Gabrielle are always apart and Xena shags the Girl of the Week to emphasize the point.
- Averted in Chuck. After running a Will They or Won't They? for about 3 years, Chuck and Sarah finally get together, become a Badass Battle Couple they remained together with little to no jealousy or other relationship problems.
- Actually, played straight in those first three seasons, mainly by the protagonist and his sidekick, then completely inverted after Chuck and Sarah's engagement. Possibly because the show had at least three Series Fauxnales that completed the character arcs that were this trope.
- Averted, Subverted, Inverted, and played straight in One Tree Hill. Averted with Nathan and Hailey, who have been a constant couple throughout the series, though twice have came close to a divorce due to a non-existant but assumed affair, both times (one from her, one from him), but the two never stopped loving each other. Subverted by Lucas and Brooke, as she originally started off as a Romantic False Lead, became popular with fans and writers, the two got back together when the two actors got married, then their real life counterparts got divorced and they broke up in-universe shortly thereafter. Inverted by Brooke and Jullian, who started off as a slowly developing Beta Couple, then after the second Time Skip are happily together and soon to be married. They break up for a little while, but mostly live happily. Played Straight by Lucas and Peton, who after four seasons of going back and fourth between love interests, Lucas and Peyton finally decide to get together forever...only to be broken up bitterly by the first timeskip, with Lucas now engaged to his editor. They get back together and marry by two seasons, only for their actors to leave soon after. At least they ended up happy, sorta.
- In the Accel spin-off movie of Kamen Rider Double, Ryu Terui is forced to go on the run with a female thief, leaving his new wife Akiko to think that he has left her for another woman and threaten him with divorce. The trope is ultimately averted when Ryu and Akiko do stay together, but the writers clearly felt that conflict needed to be introduced into the relationship.
- Friends: Played straight with Ross and Rachel. They have the classic Unrequited Love Switcheroo courtship but few storylines when they do get together. Then they break up over Ross's so-called "cheating" and spend the rest of the series arguing about it. They almost get back together several times, but only succeed in the final episode
- Averted with the unwaveringly stable Monica and Chandler. Early seasons hint of attraction but they're portrayed as best friends who comfortably accept each other, averting the Will They or Won't They? drama. They Out have a one night stand, start a relationship and eventually get married with little drama. A lot of focus is given to their day to day problems, but they're ridiculously happy together and don't break up once while still managing interesting storylines.
- Particular aversion as their relationship benefited the show hugely and opened up a ton of storylines. Them moving in together forever changed the living dynamics of the gang, their engagement gave a whole seasons worth of wedding story lines and the relationship helped their Character Development as well.
- Flirted with but ultimately subverted in Doctor Who, when the first episode of a new series showed Rory and Amy about to get divorced. At first it appeared that Amy couldn't settle down to normal life after travelling in the TARDIS for so long, but eventually the breakup turned out to be down to a communication breakdown: since Amy can't have more children after the events of Demons Run she was nobly sacrificing the relationship because she knew that was important to Rory. It was, but not as important as she was.
- Love Never Dies, set ten years after the events of The Phantom of the Opera, reveals that Christine and Raoul are now in an unhappy marriage thanks to the latter's gambling and drinking problems, which have turned him into an insensitive jerk towards both her and their son Gustave. All this is to set up the possibility of Christine and the Phantom getting together.
- Played straight in Dragon Age, to varying degrees.
- The Warden/Hero of Fereldan and Hawke both have a large number of romantic options, depending on choices and gender, but at best, future games reveal that they've been physically separated from their lover upon taking different paths in life. They are, however, still very much in love and long to be together again.
- Furthermore, Cassandra (if romanced by the Inquisitor) will break up with him/her if she becomes the new Divine for the Chantry.
- Hawke or Alistair (another possible love interest of the Warden) can potentially die in the third game.
- Galyan, Deuteragonist and love interest to Cassandra in Dawn of the Seeker, dies in the explosion at the beginning of the third game.
- And to top all that, there is no possibility of a happy ending for the Inquisitor/Solas romance in the third game. They are barely shown in the relationship, and the breakup hits hard.
- Meanwhile, Mass Effect by the same developer has its fair share of this trope as well.
- Ashley/Kaidan will break up with Shepard in the second game, although it's possible to make up with them eventually.
- In Mass Effect 3, Thane dies no matter what, while Jacob is revealed to have cheated on Shepard. Andn th
- Total Drama, definitely. The first season ended happily, which included six couples having formed. In season two, however: Leshawna breaks up with Harold, and then becomes a Designated Villain so that he helps vote her off. Trent and Gwen break up when he suddenly develops an OCD obsession with the number nine. Geoff gets Acquired Situational Narcissism all season, straining his relationship with Bridgette. Courtney Takes A Level In Jerkass and begins abusing Duncan. Then, in season three, Bridgette cheats on Geoff (they reconcile), Duncan cheats on Courtney with Gwen (they break up), and Izzy breaks up with Owen. Of course, Izzy is a few shades of special, so it's slightly ambiguous how "together" they were to start with.
- Young Justice plays with this with its two Official Couples. The first season had Conner and M'gann together after the first ten episodes and Wally and Artemis get together at the end after a season of UST. Post five-year Time Skip, Wally and Artemis are still a couple, but Conner and M'gann broke up (and it was not pretty). At the very end, Conner and M'gann are implied to reconcile, and Wally and Artemis' relationship got shot to hell when he was disintegrated helping to save the world.
- The Legend of Korra concluded its first season with Korra and Mako getting together. Five episodes into the second season, they broke up. By the season finale they make it clear they still love each other, but that their relationship doesn't work and decide to remain apart.
- Similar to the Comic Book counterpart, Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon broke up during the two year Time Skip between Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures. Mostly Batman's fault, as a flashback episode shows. Dick and Bruce had a falling out that led to him quitting as Robin and returning as Nightwing. Barbara chose to stay with Bruce in Gotham.
- Later in Batman Beyond we find out that after Dick returned as Nightwing he tried a few times to work things out with Barbara, but after finding out that she had also been romantically involved with Bruce during his absence he put an end to his personal and crime fighting partnership with both of them.