Every writer and showrunner knows that a “will they/won’t they” dynamic between two actors with the right chemistry can provide the kind of the ongoing storyline that can keep a TV show charged for years. Hopefully, this leaves viewers with a happy ending when the two characters go off into the sunset together after years of flirtation and frustration. Sometimes, due to forces on-screen or off, the match either never happens or simply wasn’t made to last. Here are 15 examples of “will they/won’t they” situations on television that ended in “won’t they,” laid out chronologically by series premiere date.
Sam and Diane are so revered as a duo that they are the rare TV couple to get their very own combined Wikipedia page. They had everything a “will they/won’t they” couple could ask for: they fought, they flirted, they got together, and they drifted apart, multiple times. They got engaged only to cancel the wedding when Diane left the bar to become a writer. Diane showed up once more in the finale, where they again got engaged, only to break up, ending for good one of the most epic relationships in sitcom history. Cheers was extremely influential in paving the way for beloved TV couples to not end up in each other arms after all.
In the flash-forward final episode of The Wonder Years, viewers were saddened to find that present day Kevin Arnold was no longer with his teenage sweetheart Winnie Cooper. The two have their back-and-forths and on-and-offs before finally pledging to always stay together. Promises made by teenagers don’t always carry a lot of weight, however, and while Winnie and Kevin keep in close contact, eight years after the events of the show, Kevin is married to someone else and has a son.
This short-lived mid-90s classic has been remembered (despite its limited run) for its honest depiction of high school life. One of the engines that made it run was the relationship between protagonist Angela and bad boy Jordan. At the start, Angela crushed on Jordan from afar, and they share their first kiss after Jordan sells Angela a fake ID. They bond again when Angela helps Jordan overcome his reading difficulties and they eventually begin to date. Things go awry, Jordan has sex with Angela’s best friend, and the series never lasted long enough for them to patch things up. They end up on good enough terms for the most optimistic fans to imagine a future for the young lovebirds, but Angela may never be ready to forgive Jordan.
The sexual tension between Angel and Buffy was more powerful than any other on this list: this is the only relationship that ended because sex quite literally transformed one of them into a destructive creature of pure evil. Buffy is slowly entranced by the mysterious and broody Angel, a vampire cursed with a soul, who starts showing up in Sunnydale to help fight demons time and again. The two end up hooking up, form a deep connection, and have that tragic sexual encounter in the middle of Season Two. Buffy then manages to stop Dark Angel and helps turn him back to good, but not before he does some serious damage. They rekindle their romance, but Angel shuts it down and moves to LA, apprehensive about the whole “turning evil” aspect. Buffy and later vampire paramour Spike would also be eligible for this list.
Dawson and Joey’s relationship expanded into a love quadrangle with Jen and Pacey, but at its heart it boiled down to these two childhood friends, the earnest movie-obsessed Dawson and tomboy-next-door Joey. They aren’t engaged romantically at the start, as Jen, the new girl in town, temporarily intrigues Dawson, and Joey has a moment with Dawson’s badder best friend, Pacey. Dawson and Joey finally got together to end Dawson Creek’s first season. Dawson and Joey date, break up, date and break up in the second season. They date others, and Joey gets with Pacey, but in Season Four Dawson declares his love for Joey, and it’s on again. They have one more one-night stand in Season Six, before ending the show in a flash-forward to 2008 as merely platonic best friends. Series creator Kevin Williamson planned on having them together at the end, but believed they worked better in practice as friends.
Unlike most of the couples on this list, Benson and Stabler never shared so much as a kiss. That didn’t stop the rampant “will they/won’t they” speculation fueled by sexually-charged glances and meaningful conversations between the two over a decade as partners. The relationship felt like the most important one in both of their lives and always seemed stronger than Stabler’s often rocky marriage. While any hopes of them hooking up will have to be relegated to fan fiction with Stabler off the show, maybe that’s a good thing: some claim what they have is simply so powerful a sexual relationship would only diminish it.
Any development in Clark and Lana’s relationship is initially stunted by Clark’s desire to keep his abilities a secret, but in Season Two they begin to date until Clark runs away in that season’s finale. After a couple of seasons as friends, they declare their love for each other at the end of Season Four, and date for some time in the fifth before breaking up. After Lana married and then left Lex Luthor, Clark and Lana once again made a go of it, before Lana leaves Clark at the end of Season Seven, letting him know that though she loved him then and forever, they were not to be.
Some “will they/won’t they” relationships end because the characters leave the show, and some end because the shows end before the creators even get to decide whether they want them to get together in the first place. Inara is a companion, a highly revered courtesan, which makes the possibility of a relationship with Serenity captain Mal unlikely, but their feelings for one another come through regardless. The attraction is clearly mutual, and when Mal sleeps with a friend of Inara’s, Inara tells him it’s no big deal, but sobs in private. Inara then decides to leave the ship, and the implication is that she finds it too painful to have to spend time with a man she clearly cares deeply for without being able to act on her feelings.
The passion felt by fans for their potential coupling is shown with the ultimate compliment, the conferring of a nickname combining their names, in this case, “Tiva.” Tiva really began in Season Three episode “Under Covers” where the two go undercover as a married couple, and display a heretofore-unseen spark. They go through lots of crazy plot twists, and eventually share a room together in Paris, leading to fan speculation, though both characters insist nothing happened. Fans continue to hope for the eventual consummation of Tiva, but as of Season Ten, Ziva is no longer a series regular, and the flame appears to be all but extinguished. Tony and Ziva get so close right before the end, sharing a passionate kiss just before Ziva opts to leave NCIS for good.
Starbuck and Lee’s relationship had rocky pre-show beginnings, as they almost had sex while Starbuck’s fiancé, Lee’s younger brother Zak, was asleep. Things were frosty between the two after Zak died in a combat mission, as Lee held Starbuck responsible for his death. They made up after the Cylon destruction of Caprica. After a period of simmering tensions for the first couple of seasons, the two finally sleep together in the form of a love-confessing drunken one-night stand on New Caprica, only for Starbuck to react in panic by marrying Anders immediately afterwards. They engage in an affair while both are married, but Starbuck refuses to get divorced, and Lee eventually refuses to continue cheating on his wife. The tension remains, but romance doesn’t reappear, and eventually Starbuck just, well, disappears into thin air on planet Earth.
Like in Dawson’s Creek, Jack and Kate are actually part of a greater love quadrangle with Sawyer and Juliet, but they remain the core. One a brilliant surgeon and the other a wanted criminal, Jack and Kate engage in a flirtatious relationship throughout the first season, figuring out if they can trust one another. They first kiss in Season Two. In Season Three, Jack is heartbroken when he watches the captured Sawyer and Kate sleeping together in their cage. (Yes, explaining anything about Lost’s plot out of context makes it sound as nonsensical as it is.) In the flash-forwards in Season Four, Jack and Kate are living together, and Kate accepts Jack’s proposal leading to their temporary engagement. They come back to the island together, a bunch of even crazier stuff happens to them, and eventually they kiss, knowing their love is doomed when Jack decides to stick around and become the new keeper of the island and later sacrifices himself. And no, that flash-sideways purgatory hand-holding does not count as ending up together.
House and Cuddy had the hate part of a love-hate relationship down pat from the get-go, gaining fans with their electric and sometimes venomous banter. They’re nothing but talk until they finally appear to sleep together in fifth season episode “Under My Skin,” after Cuddy helps House detox from Vicodin, but that’s teasingly revealed to be a hallucination of House’s. They share a kiss in the Season Six finale, and date through most of Season Seven, until Cuddy learns some hard truths about House when she goes in for cancer surgery and then breaks up with him. House crashing his car into Cuddy’s home in the Season Seven finale pretty much puts the kibosh on any rekindling of the romance, and Cuddy left the show after the season.
It was a long road for Barney and Robin. The tension didn’t really start in earnest until Robin and Ted’s crushing break-up at the end of Season Two. Ted and Robin were the dominant “will they/ won’t they” to that point, even though Barney and Robin always had a lot more in common than Robin and Ted. Barney realized, unbeknownst to anyone but Lily, that he was in love with Robin, but couldn’t bring himself to act, and he missed out on an opportunity at Ted and Stella’s aborted wedding. They date, and break up, believing themselves to both be bad for each other, only to come back together and decide after some serious thought to get married. The work of the last season, leading up to their wedding, was undone in the 40-minute finale when it turns out Barney and Robin started to get on each other’s nerves all over again and get divorced just a couple of years after their triumphant wedding ceremony.
Sometimes the decision to end as “won’t they” is made for creative reasons, and sometimes it’s made for reasons outside of the writers’ hands. Finn and Rachel were at the center of Glee from day one, she the Broadway wannabe school outcast with the inner diva, and he the ultra-popular high school quarterback and grounded (if occasionally slow-witted) nice guy. While she develops feelings for him first, the sentiment is soon mutual, and they dance around a relationship until Finn tells Rachel that he loves her at the end of Season One. In Season Two, they break up and later get back together. They get engaged in Season Three, but break up again when Rachel moves to New York. In Season Four, they sleep together but remain apart. Glee creator Ryan Murphy has stated that they would have ended up together, but unfortunately, due to Cory Monteith’s untimely death, that happy ending can never be.
The sexual tension began in the pilot when Alicia went back to work for the law firm run by her old law school chum, Will, after her unfaithful husband was embroiled in an unsavory political sex scandal. Bad timing and miscommunication, hallmarks of unsuccessful “will they/won’t they” romance, rear their ugly heads time and again in The Good Wife. Will and Alicia share a kiss in the first season, only for Alicia to rebuff a clearly smitten Will. Later, Will leaves a pair of voicemails, one romantic and one not, only for the second, romantic message to be erased. They do finally get together, but their relationship is short, as life simply seems to conspire against them. They feel strongly about one another but don’t take it any further until Will’s shocking death this season ended any possibility of a relationship in the future.