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Superheroes Stay Single

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"Just a cool guy looking for cool ladies that won't leave me. Again."
Taiyang Xiao Long's dating profile, RWBY Chibi

It used to be thought that superheroes had to be single in order to be interesting protagonists. After all, a single superhero is a mobile superhero; it's easier to suddenly drop everything to go fly into space and have adventures with the Space Princess of Neptune when you don't have a wife and kids waiting at home. And besides that, everybody knows that comic book readers are lonely, single guys anyway. So why bother them with something they can't relate to, like a committed relationship?

As such, superheroes afflicted with this trope are never, under any circumstances, allowed to settle down with anyone. (At least, not in the main canon.) Unlike the Celibate Hero, they may actually date, but expect them to say "It's Not You, It's My Enemies," and other excuses of varying plausibility. If they actually do show signs of planning to settle down with someone, expect the Cartwright Curse to rear its ugly head, resulting in the love interest getting killed off, Put on a Bus or otherwise removed from the hero's life before story's end or somewhere further down the line. If both do survive and stay together long enough to marry or even have their own kids in the main timeline, the work may even go as far as to smash the Reset Button, Cosmic Retcon it into oblivion, make it All Just a Dream, or inflict some other form of Diabolus ex Machina to undo everything and appease the almighty Status Quo.

Compare Cartwright Curse, True Love Is Boring, and Shipping Bed Death, which may lead to this in more romance-focused works such as Lois & Clark.

Related to The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life and Loved I Not Honor More.


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    Comic Books 
  • The Silver Age Superman stories ran on this.
    • Eventually averted by the marriage of Lois Lane and Superman.
      • Zigzagged later: in New 52 universe reboot, because first, said reboot sent Superman back to unmarried status. Then, the situation came back to normal (married to Lois with a son as a bonus in Rebirth).
    • Averted in the Bronze Age by the marriage of the Earth-2 Superman and Lois Lane.
  • Superman's cousin Supergirl has never had a stable, long-lasting relationship. Her love interests usually are: cheaters; assholes; creeps; stalkers; manipulative bastards who are using her; or actual nice guys who break up with her and are put on a bus shortly after meeting her.
  • Spider-Man:
    • Before Peter and Mary Jane tied the knot, a marriage had been put off by killing off Gwen Stacy and by putting Mary Jane on the bus ca. 1980.
    • This was the mentality behind the destruction of Peter and Mary Jane's relationship in One More Day. We'll just say this is one of the most iconic and well-known examples in the entire genre.
    • Peter and MJ are still married in the daily comic strip, and the alternate universe of The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows.
  • The Incredible Hulk: The Hulk ran on this for decades. Even after he was married in the early 1980s, most of the time he was estranged/separated from his wife (and then she died). But now he's got a whole family of Hulks.
  • Fantastic Four: Averted. Barring the occasional character death, Reed and Sue have been more-or-less Happily Married for quite a long time.
    • Played straight with Johnny Storm and Alicia Masters, their marriage was undone (seven years later!) by having Alicia retconned to be a Skrull spy who pulled a Heel–Face Turn. This was likely due to backlash from fans who saw Alicia and Ben Grimm as the more canonical pairing (after all, after he became the Thing, she was the first person to see him - sorry - for what he truly is, not for what he looks like); the real Alicia was rescued from suspended animation shortly after.
  • Batman and family:
    • Bruce himself falls squarely into this trope in nearly all incarnations. He's usually depicted as being Married to the Job, and his two most famous romantic prospects are Catwoman (a professional sneak-thief) and Talia al Ghul (the daughter of one of his mortal enemies). In 2017, however, Bruce proposed to Selina, and she accepted. How this will work out long-term has yet to be seen.
      • Unfortunately, on July 4th, 2018, the 50th issue of Batman (2016) where Batman and Catwoman were supposed to get married has Catwoman leaving Batman at the alter fearing that by marrying him, it'll make him happy and therefore never be Batman, leaving Bruce heartbroken. The writer, Tom King, has said that this will be a 100 issue story so whether or not they get back together at the end is unknown as of now. Issue 100 should come out roughly June 2020.
    • Batman's proteges suffer from this trope as well. Dick Grayson and Starfire's marriage ceremony in a New Teen Titans issue was cut short by an invasion (led by an evil Raven, no less), and later on his engagement to Barbara Gordon fizzled out for no reason at all. In 2018 the relationship got rebuilt as far as another proposal, but then Dick got shot in the head, got brain damaged, and got enough Laser-Guided Amnesia that he decided to do a Screw This I Am Outta Here on everything that was Nightwing, relationship to Barbara included.
    • Tim Drake's long-term relationship with Stephanie Brown ended after she got brutally killed in War Games. She came back to life and they briefly restarted their relationship, but soon after she was sent back into limbo in the New 52 reboot.
    • Like Superman, averted by the wedding of Batman and Catwoman's Earth-2 counterparts.
    • Most attempts to give Cassandra Cain a love interest failed miserably, and usually resulted in said love interest being killed off. Given her bad luck (and some would argue bad taste) with men, it's no surprise that most Shipping involving her is centred around her female friends.
    • Batman Beyond, by contrast, completely averts it by introducing its protagonist in a serious dating relationship that he maintains throughout the series. "Epilogue" reveals that they will marry.
  • Green Arrow and Black Canary tried to avert this but the Mike Grell era signaled the end of their relationship. Their 2007 marriage proved to be unpopular and was quickly ended by the events of Justice League: Cry for Justice.
  • Cyclops:
    • He was first married to Madelyne Pryor, and their marriage went down the toilet as soon as Jean Grey came back from the dead (the first time) and later Madelyne revealed to be evil all along.
    • He then much later married Jean Grey at last. However, things would prove to go sour after he began cheating on her with Emma Frost and Jean would try the same with Wolverine. In the end, it would be actually death what did them apart as Jean was killed (again) by Magneto. By the time Jean came back from the dead (again), Cyclops had long been killed by the Inhuman terrigen mist.
  • Kitty Pryde:
    • The first time she was engaged was actually with a mutant from the Morlocks called Caliban. It was an arranged marriage in exchange of the morlocks helping Colossus survive his mortal wounds. Later Caliban would release her from her vow, wanting her to love him and marry him for real if the chance ever came.
    • Then during one adventure with her best friend Rachel Grey, Kitty was sent to 1936 where she met a boy named Alasdhair Kinross, the son of a Lord who eventually would become part of England's royalty. She fell in love with him quickly, at some point even entertaining the idea of staying with him on his time, however she ultimately decided it was best for her to go back ot her time. But before leaving, she agreed to become his fiancee and marry him if he was alive when she came back. Unfortunately for her (and maybe fortunately for the readers), Kinross had already died of old age in the present.
    • Much later, she said the 'yes' to none other than Peter Quill. After getting to know each other and falling in love together, they got engaged and spent 8 months together. Unfortunately, the destruction of the Universe torn them apart as Kitty died but Peter survived. After the Universe was restored, they resumed their relationship. Nevertheless, things finally fell apart after Civil War II when Kitty left the Guardians to live a normal life.
      • It is worth adding that, unlike most examples on this page, there was never an explanation, in panel, to why Kitty left Peter (the reason why the other Guardians left is quite clear, but that same reasoning doesn't work with Kitty because it's clearly established Peter never hid anything from her and, as a matter of fact, she was the only one to whom Peter told the information he hid from the Guardians).
    • Last, after re-joining the X-Men, she found herself, once again, working with her ex-boyfriend, Piotr Rasputin. At first, she found herself quite at peace with the fact they could only be friends. However, Piotr kept pushing her to give their relationship a new chance, until Kitty decided they needed to talk about this openly. Right there, Piotr confessed he also believed their relationship didn't make sense anymore unless they took it to the next level, proposing to her right there. Kitty asked for more time to think about it. However, after some more adventures, she accepted her feelings for him, and in turn asked him to marry her (he said 'yes'). All pointed out that this time Kitty would finally tie the knot as no shacking event designed to separated them occured until one day before the wedding. Nevertheless, the catastrophic event would occur in the form of Illyana Rasputin, best friend of Kitty and Piotr's brother, who, in a drunk rant, would tell Kitty about her doubts of her and Piotr being able to hold a happy marriage. These doubts then pushed Kitty to re-think again what she was doing, eventually leading her to leave Piotr on the altar. Much later she confessed they might never marry because the history between them was too messy and love wasn't enough. Piotr left after this, breaking their engagement and relationship for good.
  • Grant Morrison deconstructed this in Animal Man, killing the titular character's family for drama only to bring them back at the end of the story.
  • Donna Troy's husband and child were murdered in a car wreck, arguably for this trope to be justified.
  • Cartoonist Lee Falk defies this trope. The Phantom married Diana back in the '70s (granted, this was after one of those decades-long Newspaper Comics courtships), had two children, and the family is still together today. As for Mandrake the Magician, Falk got him and Narda married off in a huge storyline than ran shortly before Falk's own death (and heck, Mandrake and Narda's 60-odd year courtship makes the Phantom's look like a Vegas wedding by comparison!). Mandrake and Narda are still together in their comic.
  • Captain America has rarely had a long-lasting relationship since at least the Golden Age. In the 1980s he was with Bernie Rosenthal long enough to become officially engaged to her; however she was eventually put on a bus. In the film Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow it is revealed he married Black Widow and had a son. These days, most people talk about him and Agent 13 as the best bet, but unfortunately both of them are Married to the Job, so it hasn't really been played up in recent years - except for some serious drama, like Sharon stabbing herself in the stomach and killing the baby she had hidden from Steve, because she had been captured by the Red Skull, the Skull figured out that she was pregnant, and she was sure he was going to use it for evil.
  • Wonder Woman:
  • The Flash:
    • Barry Allen had his marriage to Iris West undone as part of the New 52 reboot, with the fact that it would open up more story possibilities cited as the main reason by DC. He is now with Patty Spivot. An unfortunate consequence is the removal of fan-favorite character Bart Allen in favor of his Darker and Edgier counterpart Bar Torr.
    • Wally West had his marriage undone by being removed from canon. Even when he returned, the Continuity Reboot meant that his wife doesn't recognize him.
  • DC wouldn't let Kate Kane marry Maggie Sawyer and not because of their sexual orientation, due to an editorial mandate that their characters cannot be married or have happy personal lives in their New 52 continuity (the reason Dan Didio personally said was that personal happiness should be sacrificed by the heroes for the sake of focusing on their "work"). It's one of the many issues Williams III and Blackman had that made them decide to leave their run on the comic (and in a twist of irony, DC had to make this mandate public knowledge to stave off accusations of homophobia).
  • DC Rebirth lampshades and deconstructs this, calling out the New 52 on the throwing out of old relationships and marriages. It begins steps towards mending this by having Aquaman propose to his pre-Flashpoint wife Mera, and bringing Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance back together. Also, the (married) Pre-Flashpoint Superman is now the main one. Wally West is still getting the short end of the stick, though, with a freaking Crisis Crossover revolving around his inability to let go of his missing-because-of-Ret-Gone family even when the rest of the universe is telling him to man up and forget about them, and the many deaths that this ends up causing.
  • All-Star Comics: Dr. Mid-Nite avoided a romantic relationship with his assistant and love interest Myra Mason despite her reciprocating his feelings out of fear that his hero activities would endanger her. Then when he tried to retire a supervillain who'd figured out his secret identity murdered her anyway, causing him to don the costume again to bring her killer to justice.

    Fan Works 
  • Elizabeth Carson of the Whateley Universe has been married three times: two divorces and one husband killed by a supervillain. One of the divorces was apparently caused when one of their kids got superpowers and died from a burnout. She's single now, but has at least one (living) child and at least one granddaughter. (She's over seventy at the start of the series).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Mask movie ends with Stanley seemingly having hooked up with Tina. The animated series ditched the character of Tina, and both Stanley and The Mask rarely have luck in love. (And that's not counting the original comic, where just the fact that Stanley is killed by his girlfriend shows no-one in their right minds would remain in a relationship with Big Head...)
  • The The Amazing Spider-Man Series took some serious heat for the fact I Let Gwen Stacy Die was played straight. Given the fact the relationship was one of the most popular things about the pairing and it was already on the rocks, many fans were angered and thus contributed to the series reboot. Mary-Jane (played by Shailene Woodley) was initially in the second movie as a cameo but got cut out at the last minute. She would have been used in the third movie that never got made.
  • The Highlander movies are notorious for killing all of Connor Macleod's love interests, including one love interest twice due to the soft reboots.
  • The only main hero in the MCU who's married is Hawkeye. Scott Lang is the only other one who is a parent. The In-Universe reason given for them not being in Avengers: Infinity War is as parents they took a deal to be on house arrest rather than go on the run like the rest of Team Cap after Captain America: Civil War. At least pre- Time Skip in Avengers: Endgame. Tony and Pepper got married and had a daughter in the interim and Cap ends the movie by going back in time and marrying Peggy.

  • Zig-zagged with The Supervillainy Saga as Gary Karkofsky a.k.a Merciless starts Happily Married with his wife Mandy, only to have severe strain on his marriage occur due to his new life as a supervillain. He also has a lot of tension reignited with his ex-fiance, Ultragoddess, and old girlfriend turned henchwoman, Cindy. Similarly, Mandy's own exes play a role in the book as well as villains attracted to her. Mandy ends up killed, raised as a vampire, and then Gary has a child with Cindy due to a one-night stand while grieving. Gary gets back together with Mandy after her soul is restored but their relationship is never the same.

    Live-Action TV 
  • During the original run of Doctor Who, this trope generally applied to the Doctor (and to most of the other characters too, as per The BBC's policy of "no hanky-panky in the TARDIS").
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel had a series of relationships throughout the show but as of the ending of the series, no one had a stable romantic relationship and quite a few characters had suffered the deaths of a partner.
  • Dexter in Dexter suffers this as his long-term love interest is killed off after five seasons, only for him to begin long term relationships with two other women that don't work out. This is a contrast to the books where Dexter is Happily Married despite being a Serial-Killer Killer.
  • The Incredible Hulk (1977): David Banner has a few love-interests-of-the-week, but the only time he's truly serious is in the Season 2 premiere where he meets a woman, falls in love, gets married, and becomes a widower (again)... all within a two-hour episode.
  • Wonder Woman: In Season 1, Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor are attracted to each other, but she returns to Paradise Island and he eventually has a son with another woman. In The '70s she meets up with Andros II in "Mind Stealers from Outer Space" for her most difficult parting. Pete Johnson in "Knockout" comes complete with a son, Ted, who seems exactly the kind of boy who needs a super powered stepmother. Bryce Candle, the titular man from "The Man Who Could Not Die" was even a fellow immortal Superhero but both the Spinoff and Season 4 were were not meant to be.

    Video Games 
  • The OVA and movie adaptations of the Fatal Fury series all end in the overly dramatic death of Terry Bogard's love interest after he just gets over the death of the previous one. This is notable because the video games have him in a happy stable relationship with Blue Mary with no sign of his dead lovers.

  • Hero by Night: Jack's girlfriend Roz just isn't happy being with a superhero. David's love life, from what we've seen of it, looks just as bad.
  • In Supermom, this is averted in Liza's happy marriage, but she's very unhappy to find out that the comic book based on her exploits has turned her single again in its pages.

    Western Animation 
  • The Fairly Oddparents: This trope is not only parodied in "Chindred Spirits", but also eventually becomes a main plot point. Timmy, fed up with his favorite comic book series now mostly consisting of the superhero Crimson Chin wallow in lonelyness-induced depression instead of the action he reads it for, wishes for a new character to be introduced and become Crimson Chin's love interest. This backfires when the comics now consist entirely of mushy romance between Crimson Chin and said love interest (a Wonder Woman Expy with blonde Prehensile Hair named Goldie Locks), leading Timmy to deliberately ruin Crimson Chin's happiest moment of his life by wishing for Goldie Locks to suddenly undergo a Face–Heel Turn, just so Crimson Chin can have another villain to fight.