8 Romantic TV Relationships That Are Actually Really Toxic

Relationships can be toxic for all kinds of reasons. These TV couples exhibit the different ways romance can be toxic.
8 Romantic TV Relationships That Are Actually Really Toxic

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Television has a habit of romanticizing the worst of relationships, whether those be friendships or marriages.

Daily proposals, renewed vows, and sacrificing your own pursuits for your true love is certainly romantic. But is it healthy? Can it go too far? At what point does romantic behavior become destructive and harmful?

To be fair, most of the TV relationships I'm about to explore aren't as bad as, say, Cassie and Nate in Euphoria. Then again, some are even worse.

Here are some of the most toxic couples on television and why their relationships may not be as romantic as they first seem.

8. Connell and Marianne (Normal People)

Okay, I know what you're thinking: "Normal People? Really?! I love Connell and Marianne!" But hear me out. When you really think about it, this shy pair of British gems aren't all they're cracked up to be.

Connell (Paul Mescal) is an emotionally distant mama's boy and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is a moody outcast who practically hates everyone. This isn't a point against them; in fact, it's always refreshing to see a TV show with flawed human beings like this.

Indeed, the realism of Connell and Marianne is likely what made Normal People so popular during lockdown. But that doesn't mean their relationship isn't toxic.

While conflict and drama are necessary to make compelling television, that's no license to idealize this pair. The uber-white, uber-traditional couple lack the emotional awareness, intelligence, and open-mindedness to work. It's probably best they went their separate ways.

7. Carrie and Mr. Big (Sex and the City)

Carrie and Mr. Big's relationship throughout Sex and the City is basically one big game—and not the fun kind.

John Preston (called "Mr. Big") is an entrepreneur and business tycoon, so he's no stranger to mind games. He spends most of the show dangling Carrie on a string, forgetting to call back and then suddenly breezing in like nothing happened.

Carrie isn't perfect, either. She's selfish, demanding, and judgemental. She always expects Mr. Big to read her mind and shower her with everything she wants. She fails to communicate and think beyond herself.

Both Carrie and Mr. Big are deeply afraid of commitment, and their insecurities bring out the worst in each other. And did I mention they're both cheaters? Not exactly an ideal trait for either of them.

All of this adds up to one simple truth: neither Carrie nor Mr. Big are mature adults ready for a healthy relationship. Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth star as the on-and-off New York couple, who do eventually learn to communicate by the end of the show.

6. Michelle and Tony (Skins)

It'd be surprising if any character in Skins had a healthy relationship, given how unhealthy their attitudes are—both toward themselves and toward their toxic environments.

This comedy-drama documents the messy, turbulent, angsty lives of teenagers in Bristol, where drugs, sex, and mental illness run rife. Most of the kids in Skins don't have good role models to base their lives on, with most raised by dysfunctional parents (if they have parents at all).

Even so, it's Tony (Nicholas Hoult) and Michelle (April Pearson) who comprise one of the most toxic examples of young "love" in the show.

Tony is pretty much the root of the problem. Before his car accident, he's an arrogant, rude, selfish boy who somehow remains popular despite treating his friends and family like dirt. He often mocks Michelle's appearance and he cheats on her constantly.

Meanwhile, Michelle neglects her friends when she's with him, and then refuses to be with Tony after his accident because of his sexual incapacity. They're a train wreck couple.

To be fair, most of Skins is a train wreck—that's the point—but it's not a train we want to be a passenger on in real life.

5. Ross and Rachel (Friends)

Ah, yes, the most iconic romantic relationship in Friends. Audiences breathed a sigh of relief when Rachel got off the plane in the series finale, but younger generations don't think it was very feminist of her.

The infamous sitcom is all about young adults navigating the world of dating, work, and friendship. Indeed, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) spends the entirety of Friends advancing her career in the fashion industry.

And most of the Friends crew end up with the life they desire, whether atop their career ladders or happily married. Except for Rachel.

When Rachel is offered her dream job in Paris, we're saddened to think that she won't be getting back together with Ross, the father of her child.

There was always the vague hope they would reunite once and for all, ending their on-again-off-again journey. But once they're in different countries, that deal was no longer on the table. Or so we thought.

Except Ross runs to get her from the airport. As romantic as the whole gesture seems, Rachel is now stuck in a small apartment with the man she's been in conflict with since season one.

Ross is deeply insecure and jealous, while Rachel is always sabotaging his relationships. Sure, they might make great co-parents, but the toxic lies and endless friction are too vast to ignore.

4. Rory and Dean (Gilmore Girls)

The WB flagship series Gilmore Girls is a witty exploration of womanhood, viewed through the lens of different generations.

Rory is the genius daughter of an ambitious single mother, but even attending Harvard doesn't make her smart enough to ditch Dean. Indeed, Dean is the main issue here in Gilmore Girls.

Rory and Dean meet in the very first episode and initially they seem cute together... until Dean dumps her for not reciprocating his "I love you."

Later, in season two, Rory loses her virginity to Dean, except by this point he's already married despite being only 19 years old. That's pretty young to be an established cheater and impulsive decision-maker.

As Rory and Dean grow close again, Dean's hot-headed nature rears its head. He often screams at her in public—over stupid things, like her having homework to do—and acts out of jealous rage most of the time.

The sad thing is, Rory is a privileged perfectionist who doesn't even like Dean half the time. I'm squinting to see an upside here, and the only relief is that they don't end up married in the end.

3. Aria and Ezra (Pretty Little Liars)

Half the plot of Pretty Little Liars is built on lies, hence the title. One such lie is the fact that high school teacher Ezra (Ian Harding) knew who Aria was when he "accidently" entered a student/teacher relationship with her—when she was only 15 years old.

Ezra and Aria's storyline is the most controversial plotline in the show's overall run. It's not the only series to feature a student/teacher couple, but Pretty Little Liars made no effort to see the disturbing side of it.

In fact, fans were overjoyed at the "happy" ending when they finally get married in season seven and plan to adopt a child. Yikes.

Not only is Ezra a criminal for dating a minor, but he repeatedly stalks, spies on, and secretly photographs her (and other teenage girls). Yet, despite being a flat-out creep, other characters rarely call out Ezra for his actions—and when they do, they forgive him immediately.

The normalization of this plot is especially dangerous for the show's impressionable audience demographic. Doubly toxic.

2. Chuck and Blair (Gossip Girl)

Gossip Girl is one of the biggest teen dramas on TV, following a group of rich, snobby socialites at private school.

Chuck (Ed Westwick) and Blair (Leighton Meester) are one of the show's main duos, and some critics dislike their message towards young viewers—that manipulative, will-they-won't-they love is normal.

Chuck regularly abuses Blair by telling her she's worthless and pinning her down, punching glass walls and treating her like his possession. He traded her for a hotel and slept with her enemy.

Meanwhile, Blair was the one who forced him into the relationship, only to play around with his best friend Nate (Chace Crawford).

Toxic relationships are so common because they're powerfully manipulative—a passionate chokehold from the one you love, all while being addicted to the thrill and chaos of it all. Life is never boring with a toxic partner! But that excitement is rarely good or healthy.

1. Joe and Love (You)

Netflix's You recently raised concerns about society's current obsession with murder mysteries—whether real or fake—and how murder mysteries have become so romanticized. (Netflix's serial killer biopic Dahmer was their third most-watched series of 2022!)

In You, Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) starts the series off by spying on his new crush, going to extreme measures just to wiggle his way into her life. Joe is willing to kill anyone who gets in the way of what he wants, even if it's over the slightest inconvenience.

That said, You isn't just about one toxic relationship; all of them are toxic to some degree. But Joe is arguably the worst, an obsessive sociopath who's killed 11 people by the time we land in season four.

The fact that Joe is presented as a seductive, intelligent, and captivating character has led some viewers to debate whether it's right to like him or not. What's worse, some fans even wish they had their own co-dependent boyfriend who would kill for them! Talk about toxic.