Top 17 Most Devastating Breakups in Lesbian Television History

by riese & heather

Big news, everybody: the second issue of our collaborative ‘zine project with Everyone is Gay is on sale now at the Autostraddle Store, and it’s all about breakups! It’s called “I Broke Up Like This” and features the work of your favorite EIG advice-givers, your favorite Autostraddle writers, a playlist from Julia Nunes, original illustrations by Amanda Matthews and so much more! Plus you could get an OMG I’M GAY & I BROKE UP LIKE THIS VALUE PACK for only $20 at the Autostraddle store. All proceeds support the work we do here and the work they do there. It’s magic!

You know when your friend just had her heart ripped out of her chest and you don’t know what to do to help her? That is the exact situation we had in mind when we made this zine. Get this for that friend. It has really good advice in it. It’s a nice mix of wallowing and re-building and also being light about darkness.

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Don’t you want one of these for your very own?

In honor of this important occasion, we’ve decided to look back on all the times television kindly informed us that Love is a Lie. For more information on why Love is a Lie, check out my LOVE IS A LIE collage in I Broke Up Like This, a thing we made that you can buy!

We did not include queer couples who broke up because one of them died, as so often happens — such as Pepa and Silvia on Los Hombres De Paco and Tara and Pam on True Blood — because that’s like, a whole ‘nother level of tragic.


17 Heartbreaking Queer TV Breakups, In No Particular Order

1. Naomi and Emily, Skins

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After Naomi was brave enough to want Emily back but before they rode off into the sunset for their Happily Ever After (because Skins Fire never happened; so say we all), Naomi and Emily had the saddest breakup in British TV history. In the wild, carefree, sexy days of finally just being together, Naomi panicked and cheated on Emily with some random girl on a train. Emily found out about it, of course. It was hard not to find out about it when the train girl got so obsessed with Naomi that she hurled herself off the ledge of a club right in front of them when she realized Naomi had just used her for cheaterpants sex. And so Emily also climbed to the ledge of a building and yelled and cried and told Naomi how special they were and how fragile everything in life is, while Naomi cried and yelled back about how sorry she was. Emily hopped down to the roof and looked at Naomi with saddest sad eyes ever. “You’re always sorry,” she said. And she left her up on that roof all by herself.

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2. Shane & Carmen, The L Word

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Pro tip: don’t leave a girl at the altar. Really, just don’t do it. It’s super-expensive, for starters, all that fuss and no ceremony? Plus, it’s embarrassing for her, and she’s wearing really nice makeup and her hair looks really fantastic and you’re gonna go and make her cry? This is especially devastating when you were all set up to marry THE HOTTEST GIRL TO EVER EXIST IN ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY and then you um, don’t show up? Show some respect, brah.

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3. Bo and Lauren, Lost Girl

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It’s hard out here for a human doctor in a fae world, especially when the love of your life is a magical succubus who insists on saving the world from imminent destruction every week. It makes you tired. That’s what Lauren told Bo when she was explaining that she needed a break. And Bo said okay. She said they could take a break and of course Lauren was tired and they could focus on her for a little while and Bo wasn’t going anywhere and they’d just work on giving Lauren what she needed and they could take one tiny little moment apart and that was all and they loved each other and everything was going to be okay because it was just one small, insignificant, barely-there step back. “It is just a break, right?” Bo said, when she was getting ready to go, but they were both crying their beautiful eyeballs out because they knew it was more than just a break. And the whole time Adaline was crooning “Say Goodbye” in the background and everything was awful and a million angels cried!

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4. Marissa and Alex, The O.C.

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These two had only just begun when they were ripped mercilessly apart because Alex didn’t see a place for herself in Marissa’s life — but neither did Ryan, once, so why couldn’t this work? Well, This was back in Ye Olde Dark Ages. We knew this would be Marissa Cooper’s one and only dalliance into girl-on-girl culture for the duration of the show, ’cause those were the rules of television.

Alex let herself have feelings for Marissa and Marissa seemed to have genuine feelings for Alex but they didn’t last long because, you know, Ryan Atwood. And despite what Julie Cooper told Alex when she was telling Alex about how Marissa was just using her, Ryan Atwood does not look nearly as cute in a white tank top as Alex does. Not nearly!

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5. Helen and Nikki, Bad Girls

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Bad Girls is basically Orange Is the New Black, but it aired on British network TV in the 1990s. The first three seasons revolve around Helen Stewart, the Governing Governor of the G-Wing of Larkhall Prison. She was fierce and idealistic and unwilling to compromise her black-and-white morals, until she fell in love with an inmate named Nikki Wade who was in the clink for murdering a man who tried to rape her girlfriend. Their love story was tender and tentative and sweeter than just about anything you’ve ever seen on TV. It was also full of starts and stops, because Helen had real qualms about being Nikki’s lover and her jailor. One night, Nikki broke out of prison — dressed in a blonde wig, looking for all the world like Dusty Springfield! — and showed up at Helen’s house. Helen yelled. She threatened to call the cops. And then she made sweet lesbian love with Nikki right on her couch. She did take Nikki back to prison, though. She sneaked her right back in the front gates. And that’s when broke up with her, because the way they loved each other was making them do foolish, dangerous things. (They got back together, though! In the series three finale! When Nikki finally got out of jail!)

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6. Alice & Dana, The L Word

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We waited for a solid half of Season Two for these two to finally get together, and when they did it was glorious! Well… mostly. I mean, after they got past the “omg we’re finally together!” bliss, it was pretty clear that Alice was the one who cared more, you know? She was the one ready to say I love you and ready to move in first, she was the one made uneasy by the re-appearance of Lara. Anybody who’s ever been the one less in love knows what an anxious, slippery place that is to be. Then we returned for Season Three to discover that they’d broken up and Alice had gone off the rails. Then Dana gets cancer and dies. So.

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7. Emily and Paige, Pretty Little Liars

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The first time they broke up, it was only kind of sad. Emily couldn’t be with someone who wouldn’t come out, after all. The second time they broke up, it was much sadder. Emily was furious at Paige for telling the police that Emily’s ex-girlfriend/Paige’s ex-bully had been buried alive and pulled from the grave by a psychic witch and was now in hiding. The third time they broke up, it was the worst. Paige’s parents insisted that she leave Rosewood to go to Stanford for her swimming scholarship before her senior year was over, because her parents caught onto the fact that no teenage girls survive in Rosewood, PA. Emily tried everything to get Paige’s parents to let her stay, but in the end Paige confessed that she wanted to go. She was tired of fighting. This was the beginning of life and if she spent everything she had just trying to stay alive, what would she have left for living? They kissed and hugged and kissed and cried, and Paige got on a plane and flew away.

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8. Tara and Naomi, True Blood

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This wasn’t just Tara breaking up with Naomi, this was Tara realizing that she probably couldn’t ever date anyone, ever, not if she wanted to live. “Everyone who’s ever been with me has ended up dead,” Tara tells the girlfriend who tracked her down and cracked her open. “It’s not a long list, but it’s a bad one to be on.” Naomi tells Tara she is going to regret this and Tara says that she already does. We didn’t know yet that Tara would become a vampire and then find vampire-love (before getting killed, obviously), so this felt like it. That moment when you realize your life is too toxic and dangerous for you to find a space in it for something so precious as love. That rare circumstance when you know the best way to love a person is to ask them to leave you, forever, alone and fighting for your own life. The camera pans out to reveal Tara in front of Merlotte’s, wailing and sobbing and struggling to remain standing, alone.

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9. Rachel and Lisa, House of Cards

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Rachel and Lisa’s timid friendship-turned-romance was one of the most surprising things to happen on House of Cards. It’s a show about horrible people doing horrible things to each other to get more power to control more horrible people in horrible ways. So the fact that these two young, broken women who had been used and abused by the system found comfort and love with each other was shockingly sweet. And they only had each other, that’s it! Then Doug Stamper, Frank’s Chief of Staff/main henchman, decided they couldn’t even have that because he was obsessed with Rachel and he didn’t like her loving anyone who wasn’t him. (She never loved him.) He forced Rachel to break up with Lisa, with no explanation, and that’s exactly what she did. Lisa wailed and threw things and begged Rachel to stay, sobbed about how she didn’t understand what had happened or was happening, but Rachel walked away anyway, because she did love Lisa, and it was the only way to keep her safe.

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10. Bette & Tina, The L Word

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Bless us all — but especially the loyal Tibetters — that these two were happily reunited by the end of the show, because their break-ups were brutal. The first breakup was the most painful, and it happened after Tina saw Bette and the carpenter in a departing hand-hold-release that betrayed a thousand other stolen moments. This lead to one of the best and most intense sex scenes in television history — that raw, angry, hate-sex scene that closed out The L Word‘s first season. They both understood the road that had led them there but had higher hopes for each other. Bette can’t swallow the idea of Tina ever leaving her and Tina is so angry about being so hurt and so blindsided. Sometimes you hate how much you love a person and the only thing to do besides kill them is fuck them.

It wasn’t even their only breakup! They broke up again! And it was terrible that time, too, although not QUITE as terrible, it was still terrible.

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11. Cosima and Delphine, Orphan Black

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Cosima told Delphine she just wanted to make crazy science with her, and she probably thought that was true. But she was in love and that’s so much more than science. So when she found out Delphine had been working for Dr. Leaky all along, she got on a bus and ran away. And when she got where she was going, heart shattered into one zillion pieces, she also realized she was dying from Clone Lung Failure! Cosima and Delphine finally made up and tag-teamed to take over the world of genetics (and to save Cosima’s life), but Cosima finding out Delphine was her handler was one of the most heartbreaking things to happen in two whole seasons on Orphan Black, and that’s saying something since the main plot of season one was the systematic murder of a whole family of sister-clones.

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12. Sophie & Sian, Coronation Street

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When this went down I wished Sian had just run into traffic instead of running away from the wedding because what went down broke my heart into a million little pieces. Sophie and Sian’s story had been tender and realistic and complicated and, well, long, like, very long, like many years long. They were friends and then they were more than friends and they worked through every Lesbian Relationship Trope in the book, all the way to the chapel. There they were in the front of the church in their big poofy wedding dresses with their pretty hairdos and Sophie’s reading her vows and then her doofus Dad is like, “Hey maybe don’t!” Sian finds out that Sophie kissed another girl and runs out of the church, and Sophie runs after her, and then they make up and decide to get married after all but then Sian — oh fuck, I can’t. I can’t even get into what happens next or I’ll cry and throw up all over again. It’s torture. It’s absolute torture, the whole goshdarn thing.

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13. Brittany and Santana, Glee

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Oh, Santana! One does not simply break up with a magical math genius unicorn dancing queen simply because one has an “energy exchange” with some random lesbo in the library! Which is what Brittany tried to tell you! But oh-ho, no! You wouldn’t listen! You broke our hearts and you broke her heart and dumbest of all, Santana Lopez, you broke your own damn heart! You knew she was your lobster! Luckily y’all are married now and honeymooning on Paradise Island with Wonder Woman and her sisters, but we’re never going to hear “The Scientist” without breaking down into wracking sobs because of what you almost destroyed.

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14. Shane & Cherie, The L Word

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Shane’s entire life people told her that she would become a psychopath if she didn’t know how to feel. Her entire life! And she would like to know what’s so great about feeling, Cherie. Because she finally let herself feel — she let herself feel things FOR YOU — and she feels like her heart has been completely ripped out. DO YOU HEAR THAT CHERIE? COMPLETELY RIPPED OUT! She had this insane idea that you and her could be together! Because it felt real! I know, Cherie, I know: it wouldn’t make a difference, right? What difference would it make if you did feel the same way about her? What if that were true? Would you still be able to leave your husband, your child, your houses in Bel-Air and East Hampton and your trips to paris? Your black-tie galas? To run to some rank little love nest with a 25-year-old assistant hairdresser who barely has her foot in the door? Well apparently not, Cherie. Because in this fucking ugly world, that kind of love does not exist.

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15. Willow & Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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It’s nearly impossible to write about Willow and Tara breaking up because it makes you think about Willow and Tara getting back together, which makes you think about Tara getting shot in the literal heart and dying in Willow’s arms, which was the worst thing to ever happen, period. Tara didn’t even want to break up with Willow! They were thinking about taking Dawn from Sunnydale and moving away to start their own family! They were in love forever! But dang Willow got too addicted to magic, and when Tara called her out on it, Willow tried TWO DIFFERENT TIMES to magic Tara’s brain into forgetting they’d talked about it. So Tara had to step back and move out of the Summers’ house where she and Willow had been raising Dawn. They finally did get back together because they loved each other too much to stay apart (and Willow dialed back the magic), and one second it was, “Can you just be kissing me now?” And the next second, Tara was dead. And I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

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16. Callie and Arizona, Grey’s Anatomy

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Callie and Arizona’s breakup was almost unbearable to watch because it was way too true to life. That thing where you know a relationship is over and that both of you will be so much better off in the long run if you’ll just walk away, but you love the other person too much to ever walk away. So you spend months (or even years) bleeding all over the place and wounding each other more and more and patching up flesh wounds with Band-Aids, even though you’re a literal surgeon and you know better. And then the moment when one person summons the courage to say, “I can’t imagine my life without you, but I will be miserable forever if I keep trying to live my life with you.” GOD. It’s like a knife in the face of your soul watching Callie and Arizona rip each other up and finally say goodbye.

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17. Emily and Maya, Pretty Little Liars

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Maya St. Germain was Emily’s first love. Well, her first love who loved her back. Okay, her first love who loved her back, openly. Maya gave Emily the courage to come out of the closet loudly and proudly. She helped Emily relax. She made Emily really, truly happy (when Emily wasn’t being tortured by her omnipotent cyber stalker/terrorist). But Pam Fields couldn’t handle the fact that her daughter was gay, so she rifled through Maya’s backpack and found a couple of joints stashed in an Altoids can and had Maya shipped away to drug camp. The night Maya left, she and Emily shared a romantic, heart-wrenching, candlelit goodbye. In retrospect, it’s even sadder because it’s at drug camp where Maya would meet her fake cousin who would end up murdering her and burying her in Alison’s grave in Spencer’s backyard.

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Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2674 articles for us.

60 Comments

  1. Uhhh, I’ve never watched Grey’s Anatomy (except for that one season finale where some guy is threatening all the main characters with a gun and being intense and whatnot) but that breakup description deeply resonated

    Also, my heart hurts from reading about Tara & Willow. I probably should’ve just skimmed that part. But I couldn’t.

  2. I wish I had one of those stick pen things that zap part of your memory so I can erase Skins Fire from my brain, and all the bad things that happened to Naomily tbh.

  3. NUMBER 2! NUMBER 2! I remember watching that and thinking, “That’s not a real thing – no one would ACTUALLY do that, right?!?!?! You would have to be the stupidest person in the entire world to do that – run out on a wedding (that you didn’t pay a cent for) to a gorgeous perfect woman – THIS IS NOT REAL.”

    But then again…the same people also killed off Dana. So.

  4. I see that picture of Willow and Michelle Branch’s “Goodbye to Youuu” starts blaring in my mind.
    I might have even downloaded that song and wrestled tears back down every time my playlist skipped to it.
    Ah, youth.
    Every scene of that Willow/Tara break up was heartbraking, Tara having a milkshake with Dawn, catching Willow still having magic supplies in the house, being disappointed in her…*sigh* They still loved each other so much…
    I’d also like to throw ER’s Kim Legaspi/Kerri Weaver and ST:DS 9’s,Dax and Lenara into the mix, because of my poor,puppy gay heart back when.
    Thank you VERY much for not including the separations by Death, I wouldn’t have cared to be spending my weekend sobbing over that Pepa/Silvia “El Momentazo” clip, which makes me cry, but is so beautiful, still.

    • I thought Shane left Carmen because she thought she was going to be doomed to be a cheating jerk like her dad as he said something like that after being caught with another lady at the motel? My memory is fuzzy but i really thought it was shane thinking she wasnt good enough or couldnt be exclusive and just didn’t rock up.

  5. I should have grabbed the tissues before reading this…

    I am quite proud of myself I have heard of all of these pairings, even if I don’t watch the shows themselves (PLL, Grey’s Atamony and the OC)

    You added Sophie and Sian!!! I don’t watch Corrie anymore, so I don’t know what Sophie’s current relationship is like but Sophie and Sian’s break up killed me!

    Willow and Tara’s break up though will always be the worst. Even ignoring Tara’s death, Goodbye To You montage of Tara packing up, Willow crying hunched down in the bathroom, Dawn crying AND NOW IM CRYING!!!

    Whenever someone asks me about LWord I always say “Then Dana gets cancer and dies. So.” Everytime. That said Shane and Carmen’s break up was the most devastating to me, mainly because CARMEN LEAVES AND NEVER RETURNS????????? I was convinced she would come back and they would try again but nOPE!!! Still mad!

  6. – Stahma & Kenya: When societal expectations force you to murder the person that you love, and despite all of your strength, you’re just not strong enough to stand up.
    – Bo & Tamsin: Maybe Bo wasn’t in love with Tamsin, but that didn’t stop Tamsin’s heart (or mine) from breaking. Tamsin had finally found the love she’d been looking for all of her lives, but it wasn’t real.

  7. Such an interesting photo choice for Grey’s Anatomy. At first glance, I thought Arizona was wearing black pants and that was the billowing empty pant leg tossed over the couch leg. Tell me someone else saw that, too.

    • Yes, I saw that! And then spent 10 minutes staring at the photo trying to work out where Arizona’s leg actually is. To be honest, I still haven’t worked it out

  8. Bette and Tina’s break ups made me feel like I needed an anti depressant. I’m really happy the writers let them have a happily ever after, cause no couple was ever more perfect for each other on TV.

    That and my college friends always called me a Bette, try not take that as an insult, so I need hope for the future.

  9. Oh Palex.

    So happy to see some love for Bad Girls!

    Also super glad to see Shane/Cherie included here – I know the world is in love with Carmen, but she and Shane didn’t really do it for me and I could never regret Shane cheating when it gifted us with the #1 sex scene ever (imho, Shane/Cherie pool sex is where it’s at). Rosanna Arquette and Kate Moennig had some great chemistry.

  10. Callie and Arizona broke up the same week my partner at the time and I broke up and like I could’ve SWORN the whole world was gonna fall apart because what the ever loving fuck.

    It also helped, you guys. It helped so much to see two amazing humans break up and be sad on the tv because then maybe I wasn’t the only one with a broken heart then, you know?

    TV really validates my feelings, sorry not sorry.

    • I feel you on this hardcore. I was going through “are we going to breakup” feelings when this episode aired and I couldn’t watch it until weeks later and when I did it was so real and so heartbreaking and so validating.

  11. Unpopular opinion:

    Not that I wasn’t SUPER UPSET when Willow and Tara broke up (I WAS!!!) but I watched the entirety of that show, like all seven effing seasons, more than once, and read a bunch of meta and fic, and talked about it incessantly, so….I ended up having a lot of unpopular opinions, actually, and one of them was: I’m proud of Tara for leaving Willow. Willow was gaslighting & controlling & taking Tara for granted & it was awful to watch. “Under Your Spell” and its reprise in “Once More, With Feeling” are just. Heartbreaking.

    But the thing that broke my heart the most, maybe even more than Tara dying, I don’t know, that was pretty terrible, that was traumatic, that was the worst, but jeez, Tara coming back, and not even having a real conversation with Willow about the reasons she left, just saying “Can we just skip to the kissing part?” I mean. It’s so real. But I wanted better for Tara. And then she dies. Oh, it’s all awful.

  12. Ugh, that breakup scene with Bo & Lauren is sooo painful. So many secrets, so little actual talking b/c Bo is always at the center of a sh!t storm and Lauren was always so willing to take the back seat until too much was too much. What’s worse? 1.5 seasons later and they are (finally!) back together (though still no on-screen talk and only after Bo trampled all over poor Tamsin’s heart) but now I’m afraid the writers have also seen what happened with will Willow and Tara (curse you, Joss, curse you!) and my Doccubus happy heart is going to be crushed. *sigh* Oh, Bo, Lauren is human and you have wasted so much time (and with no explanation as to why Bo is wearing the necklace at the beginning of s5 but they aren’t together).

  13. Michelle Branch’s “Goodbye to you” still makes my heart break because of Willow and Tara.

    Also I am currently in a breakup that feels an awful lot like what was described for Callie and Arizona and I don’t want it to be over. I want to just live in happy denial. Is that too much to ask?

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