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Oftentimes in TV shows, there’s a love story or two for fans to follow, but disaster can strike leading to some harrowing breakup storylines. And there are 32 iconic TV character break-ups that I still can’t get over. Buckle up and bring your tissues are we go down memory lane.
To clarify, not every TV break-up on this list lasted forever. Plenty of shows thrive on a will-they-won’t-they storyline where characters split up, only to be reunited before a series finale occurs. Still, the scenes themselves have stuck with me and remain truly iconic. Let’s break it all down. And yes, there will be massive spoilers for these shows coming.
Cristina and Burke, Grey’s Anatomy
This has got to be one of the most iconic episodes from Grey’s Anatomy. This heartbreaking break-up scene happens in the Season 3 finale “Didn’t We Almost Have It All?” and still gets me emotional today.
The episode takes place on Cristina and Burke’s wedding day, and follows as various hi-jinx occur along the way. But once Sandra Oh’s signature character has a moment of hesitation, Burke calls the whole thing off. Things go from sad to devastating when Cristina returns home to find he’d gone, in a perfectly acted monologue set to Ingrid Michaelson’s track “Keep Breathing.”
Willow and Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy the Vampire slayer is a cult classic show with a rabid fanbase. The show made history featuring a same-sex couple with Willow and Tara, but unfortunately, they fell into the trope of ill-fated queer characters.
Willow and Tara break up in Season 6, when the latter witch realizes that Alyson Hannigan’s character was using magic to make her forget their fights. It’s a heartbreaking sequence, one made all the more devastating knowing they’d only get back together briefly before Tara is accidentally killed by Warren after he shoots Buffy. The pair never really get to reconcile, and it’s truly devastating.
Sam and Diane, Cheers
This one was obviously going to be on this list from the jump. Cheers‘ Sam (Ted Danson) and Diane (Shelley Long) are one of the most iconic TV couples of all time, with audiences spending years hoping they’d finally end up together. And this would continue up until the Cheers series finale, which finally gave them a happy ending.
While Sam and Diane broke up and got back together various times in the show’s tenure in the air, the worst split was arguably in Season 3, Episode 22. The two hold each other and cried over their seemingly doomed love story, and it’s truly a moment in TV history.
Rory and Jess, Gilmore Girls
Gilmore Girls is a beloved TV series that’s annually re-watched by its generations of fans. Throughout the show’s seven seasons (plus Netflix’s A Year in the Life), we watch the titular girls go through plenty of datings up and downs — with more than one emotional break-up. But there’s always been one that stuck out to me as the most heartbreaking: Jess and Rory.
For many Gilmore Girls fans, there’s a debate about which of Rory’s three boyfriends were “right” for her. I’ve always been #TeamJess, which is why their break-up in Season 3 has always stuck with me. Rory is devastated but also happy at her Chilton Graduation, while Jess is too scared to even speak when he calls her. Luckily A Year in the Life showed they’re friends again, and I personally think he’s the mystery father of her baby.
Kat and Ethan, Euphoria
HBO’s Euphoria became a huge hit with Season 1, thanks to its daring visuals, outstanding cast (including Emmy winner Zendaya), and intense subject matter. Like many other teen-focused shows, there’s no shortage of break-ups throughout its episodes on the air. But I found Kat and Ethan’s split in Season 2 to be particularly upsetting.
Fans largely feel that Euphoria dropped the ball with Kat in Season 2, as she ended up becoming much less of a focus in the sophomore run and actress Barbie Ferreira departed the show. Her break-up with Ethan felt downright cruel, and she gaslit him and dismissed his feelings about their relationship.
Santana and Brittany, Glee
Glee was a sensation during its run on the air, and made household names out of its young cast of newcomers. The show also got praise for its diverse cast, a numerous queer characters. That includes Santana (Naya Rivera) and Brittany (Heather Morris), who quickly became fan favorites– especially after their characters began dating.
But like so many high school relationships, Brittana broke up during Season 4 of Glee. The pair had trouble with their long distance relationship, with Naya Rivera’s character singing a cover of Taylor Swift’s “Mine” to her girlfriend in the Glee Club room. Luckily they’d end up getting back together and even tying the knot later in the show.
Jess and Nick, New Girl
New Girl was a delightful comedy throughout its run on TV, and there were a number of truly beloved couples. But obviously the biggest will-they-won’t-they was Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson). The two made for a delightful odd couple, and the audience universally wanted them to be together.
But New Girl‘s long run on the air meant that they couldn’t live happily ever after on their first try as a romantic couple. No, they had to break-up and find each other again, resulting in Season 3, Episode 20. The scene was a real tear-jerker, thanks to a particularly strong performance by Deschanel. Don’t worry they got back together eventually and Nick and Jess even had a kid.
Alexis and Ted, Schitt’s Creek
While David and Patrick are arguably Schitt’s Creek‘s most epic love story, they weren’t the only couple we followed throughout the show’s tenure on the air. Another one that we were rooting for but didn’t get a full marriage story was fan favorites Alexis and Ted.
Alexis and Ted were another couple on this list who suffered once they tried to go long distance. When Ted eventually returned to the titular town, the pair decided to split up due to their different career paths. Schitt’s Creek‘s ending was ultimately a happy one, but it just didn’t include this particular pair ending up together.
Rachel and Ross, Friends
Much like Cheers’ Sam and Diane, Rachel and Ross from Friends were a fictional couple that audiences spent years watching and hoping they would somehow make things work. The debate as to whether Ross and Rachel were on a break rages on to this day, showing just how popular the long running sitcom continues to be.
Rachel and Ross end up majorly clashing in Season 3 of Friends, and eventually decide to take some space from each other. But when Ross jumps into the bed of another woman they go from break to break-up. And it remains one of the show’s most memorable plot points of its ten-season run.
Olivia and Fitz, Scandal
Scandal had a long and wildly successful run on TV, with Kerry Washington perfectly playing Olivia Pope during that time. Some of the show’s most steamy scenes and biggest twists centered around her forbidden romance with President Fitzgerald Grant, played by Tony Goldwyn.
Fitz and Olivia break up during Season 5 of Scandal, in a truly emotional episode. Their relationship-ending confrontation is all the more devastating as it’s almost right after Washington’s character has an abortion.
Eric and Donna, That ’70s Show
That ’70s Show is another show that had a long run on the air, making household names out of its young cast members like Mila Kunis. The stoner comedy followed a group of teens who dated and broke up, although the primary couple is arguably Eric (Topher Grace) and Donna (Laura Prepon).
While Donna and Eric made a great couple, they had a heartbreaking break-up scene back in Season 3. While Eric tries to give her a promise ring meant to signify being together forever, it doesn’t really go well. And in the end, tears are shed as they head to splitsville, with Eric seemingly giving her an ultimatum before breaking things off himself.
Ted and Michelle, Ted Lasso
Ted Lasso is one of the most popular shows available with an Apple TV+ subscription, essentially cornering the market on “feel good” TV. But while the tone of the Emmy winning series was universally positive, there were some scenes that got fans misty eyed. And that includes Ted’s break-up conversation with Michelle back in Season 1.
While they’re estranged at the start of Ted Lasso, Jason Sudeikis‘ title character is hopeful that things will work out. But when Michelle and their son visit him in “Tan Lines”, the two parents end up talking it all out and officially leaving their relationship behind. The rain falling really helps to highlight Ted’s pain, although things are ultimately amicable between the two.
Kevin and Winnie, The Wonder Years
The Wonder Years is a beloved sitcom that perfectly captured what it’s like to be a kid, especially during the the late ’60s and early ’70s. The series was universally acclaimed, with the original fans loving Kevin’s love story with Winnie aka the girl next door.
Unfortunately, their relationship ends up hitting a bumpy patch during Season 4. When the pair take a class trip, jealousy arises and Winnie confesses that she met someone else. And the show was truly never the same after this plot twist occurred.
Michael and Holly, The Office
While it was originally a slow burn, the American version of The Office ended up being a big fat hit. What’s more, the show is constantly being discovered by new fans thanks to it being available to stream with a Peacock subscription. While Jim and Pam are the Office‘s primary love story, Michael and Holly are a very close second.
But like all relationships in The Office, it wasn’t easy. It took a long time for Michael to finally find his match, only to have it stripped away from Holly is transferred to Nashua. It’s terrible seeing Michael’s happiness stripped away, although they do eventually get back together once she returns to Scranton.
Lily and Marshall, How I Met Your Mother
Picking which break-up from How I Met Your Mother was the most heartbreaking was somewhat difficult, as there were a number of notable splits during its long run on CBS. But I actually think the saddest occurred back in Season 1, when Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel) call it off.
There was no doubt in HIMYM fans’ minds that Lily and Marshall were meant to be together. That’s what made their split so heartbreaking. As is the way we found out: by Marshall sitting in the rain with an engagement ring in his hand. While How I Met Your Mother‘s finale was somewhat controversial, this break-up episode shows just how great the show was during its early years.
Carrie and Aidan, Sex and the City
Sex and the City was a cultural reset, and continues to make headlines thanks to the spinoff And Just Like That. The love life of Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw was full of ups and downs, including some wild breakups. I mean, who can forget her getting dumped via post-it?
But Carrie and Aidan’s second breakup might be the most brutal. Carrie ultimately decides she can’t marry him. And SATC fans were treated to a continuation of the storyline when Aidan appeared on And Just Like That.
Hannah and Adam, Girls
Lena Dunham’s Girls was a star-making moment for its cast, especially Adam Driver. He was the unconventional leading man of the series, playing a somewhat bizarre character of the same name. And his relationship with Dunham’s protagonist Hannah was one of the biggest plot lines of the show.
Adam and Hannah weren’t together in the final season of Girls, with Driver’s character actually dating Jessa. But when he finds out that Hannah’s pregnant, the two spend a day together and plan on being parents together. But their plans come to a screeching halt when they realize it really won’t work, and that they are truly and permanently split. It’s a beautiful scene, and one that’s also the source of that Adam Driver “Good Soup” meme.
Cory and Topanga, Boy Meets World
Cory and Topanga are a TV couple that had split and got back together seemingly countless times during Boy Meets World. While no one ever doubted they’d end up growing up and getting married, some of the breakups are seared into the minds of ’90s kids.
The worst one happens in Season 5, when Cory meets another girl and entertains the idea of dating her instead. Topanga breaks things off after this incident, which is definitely one of the most emotional moments from Boy Meets World.
Darlene and David, Roseanne
Roseanne was a wildly successful series during its original run, and its characters have a special place in the hearts of many TV fans. One of the biggest couples is Darlene and David, played by Sara Gilbert and John Galecki respectively.
This fictional relationship bled into Roseanne’s reboot, which revealed what happened between Darlene and David in the episode “Darlene V. David”. They reunite on screen, and go through their history before breaking up and once and for all. And it’s all a huge bummer.
Ilana and Lincoln, Broad City
While Broad City is an over-the-top comedy (and one of my favorite shows of all time), it also had a few tender moments to note. This was especially true during the final season, which wrapped up a few plot lines for Abbie and Ilana. And the latter character’s breakup with Lincoln was definitely a memorable scene.
During the episode “Artsy Fartsy” Lincoln and Ilana have their anniversary dinner, where they eat tons of pasta and negotiate the terms of their relationship. But they eventually decide they can’t move forward because Lincoln wants to move out of the city and start a family, while Ilana wants to stay and continue being polyamorous. And just like that, the longest running couple in the show was kaputz.
DJ and Steve, Full House
Full House was a beloved and long-running series throughout the ’90s, which eventually returned with the Netflix reboot Fuller House. Plenty of kids grew up with the show, which is why they had such strong feelings about DJ (Candace Cameron Bure) and her boyfriend Steve (Scott Weinger).
While Steve and DJ were adorable for years, they eventually started to drift apart. Things came to a boiling point in Season 7’s episode “Love on the Rocks.” Who can forget the two of them literally taking separate paths in the episode’s final moments?
Bojack and Wanda, Bojack Horseman
Bojack Horseman was one of Netflix’s earliest success stories, and was nominated for a number of Emmy awards. Despite being a cartoon, it’s a decidedly adult series that follows a washed up alcoholic actor… who just happens to be a horse.
Bojack is voiced to perfection by Will Arnett, who eventually gets a girlfriend with Lisa Kudrow’s Wanda. The two date throughout Season 2, and for a while it looks like Bojack might be (slowly) heading to a healthy place. But he eventually shows his darkness to Wanda, and insults her and her career. They split up because of this fight, and it’s a serious bummer.
Amy and Sheldon, The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory aired for a whopping twelve seasons on CBS, and also inspired a spinoff. One of the biggest couples on the show was Amy and Sheldon, played by Mayim Bialik and Jim Parsons. But their relationship had some lows, including their breakup in Season 8.
During the episode “The Commitment Determination,” Amy decides to break up with Sheldon because their relationship wasn’t moving forward after five years together. Luckily this wouldn’t be the end of the couple, who eventually tied the knot– to the joy of fans.
Lindsay and Nick, Freaks and Geeks
Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks was cancelled after one season, but it has grown into a cult classic in the years since its run. The cast is outstanding, and would end up being stars in their own right, including Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogen, Busy Phillips, James Franco, and Jason Segel.
Cardellini’s Lindsay Weir is the protagonist of the series, and we watch as she befriends a group of of rough and tumble teens. She eventually starts a relationship with Segel’s Nick, but it soon becomes clear that they don’t have chemistry. Their split was a sad one, filled with insecurity about her place in the friend group.
Issa and Lawrence, Insecure
HBO’s Insecure helped make Issa Rae a star, with the series earning 14 Emmy nominations and winning one. Throughout the series we followed protagonist Issa as she navigated her romantic and personal life, usually to hilarious results.
Things got emotional during the Season 5 premiere of Insecure, which is when Issa and her boyfriend Lawrence break up. The sequence itself is gorgeous and wordless, as we watch the two characters decide to ultimately go their separate ways.
Pacey and Joey, Dawson’s Creek
Dawson’s Creek had a true chokehold on teens in the ’90s, and remains an iconic part of pop culture history to this day. We followed a few notable teen romances throughout its years on the air, including that of Pacey and Joey.
While we follow their relationship for years, they eventually split up during Season 4’s episode “Promicide”. Pacey ends up lashing out on Joey and breaking things off, thanks to his feelings of inadequacy in their relationship. And it’s a scene Dawson’s Creek fans haven’t forgotten.
Jessica and Hoyt, True Blood
While True Blood‘s biggest couple was obviously Sookie and Bill, there are plenty of other love stories that occurred throughout its seven seasons on HBO. Jessica and Hoyt were one couple many fans were rooting for, which is partly why their breakup is so devastating.
Jessica and Hoyt fall in love quickly, but the reality of being in a vampire/human relationship made things strained. He resented Jessica feeding on him, while she also wanted to explore other romantic and feeding relationships. They break up in an explosive fight, one with plenty of blood tears.
Brenda and Nate, Six Feet Under
Six Feet Under is widely known for having one of the best series finales of all time, something that so few shows manage to do. There are a few major couples that we follow throughout the season, including Brenda and Nate, played by Rachel Griffiths and Peter Krause.
The pair end up becoming romantically involved and move in together during Season 2, but Brenda also begins to habitually cheat on him, using the experiences for fodder to write about. Nate figures it all out, and they have a long, grueling fight. They eventually do get back together, but even their happy ending is complicated.
Ian and Mickey, Shameless
Shameless had a super long run on Showtime, and followed the motley crew of Gallaghers as they fought for survival and love on the South Side of Chicago. And one of the most popular couples is definitely Ian and Mickey.
Mickey and Ian have a number of breakups and reconciliations throughout the show’s run, including some stints in prison. But their split in Season 5 was a real tear jerker, with Ian letting his bipolar disorder come between the couple. Good thing it wasn’t the end of their story.
Mindy and Danny, The Mindy Project
The Mindy Project was the show that could, and was one of the series that jumped from network to streaming when Hulu saved it from cancellation. The Office alum Mindy Kaling finally got to take center stage, and eventually got to take part in a devastating breakup scene of her very own.
Despite being a couple fans rooted for, Danny dumped Mindy during Season 2, episode 17. This comes after he asks her to keep their relationship a secret, which is definitely a red flag. This couple would continue making headlines throughout the rest of the show’s run.
Veronica and Logan, Veronica Mars
Veronica Mars was a star-making moment for Kristen Bell, who played the title character throughout the show’s original run, the movie, and the eventually reboot on Hulu. Veronica had an early love interest in Logan, although they eventually had their own breakup.
Veronica and Logan’s relationship was complicated throughout Veronica Mars‘ years on the air. Their breakup in Season 2 came after they dated over the summer, but failed to be a healthy couple once school started back up. Of course, that wouldn’t be the end of their story.
Liza and Josh, Younger
Younger ran on TV Land for six seasons, before eventually pivoting to streaming and becoming available with a Paramount+ subscription. In the very first episode protagonist Liza (Sutton Foster) meets an intriguing stranger who she has immediate chemistry with: Josh (Nico Tortorella). The first season follows their connection, as well as her lying about her age at work.
Since Josh and Liza’s chemistry was so essential to Younger‘s start, seeing them break up in Season 2 was a serious bummer. And as such, it remains an iconic part of the show’s long run.
If there’s one thing that TV shows are wont to do, it’s break the hearts of its fans. And as such, there’s going to be more heartbreaking breakups to add to this list as time goes. That’s why I keep a box of tissues nearby when watching my favorite show… even the comedies.