Love isn’t love without struggle, right? After all, this is the messaging and lessons we learn from film and television. If we trust the narratives we’re told on-screen, we inevitably learn to understand that romance and happy endings come at the cost of sacrifice and some kind of emotional loss. The “I have someone currently” but “now the one has arrived” is a formula that rom coms have been capitalizing on for much of pop culture history. These stories glorify affairs, friends.
So, let’s look at 11 on-screen couples who found love through cheating. Y’know, while sweet soundtracks and popcorn-selling kisses have tricked us into believing that this is how happy endings are achieved.
1 / 11
Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox, You’ve Got Mail
At first glance, You’ve Got Mail may seem like a love story about a small book shop owner and rep of a family who owns a chain of mega bookstores. Despite business drama, these two find soul mates in each other, right? Wrong. This rom com opens with Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in a relationship with a writer from a left-leaning paper and Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) in a domestic partnership with Patricia Eden (Parker Posey) — and with Kathleen and Joe engaging in an emotional affair online that only strengthens throughout the film. Of course, the audience will cheer for the cute romance blooming between our leads — and completely accept the cheating happening before us on screen.
Key messaging about love and cheating from the film:Promises in committed partnerships mean nothing if you accidentally meet the one in a chat room. Follow your heart and love may come at the cost of kicking your current partner to the curb.
2 / 11
Robbie Hart and Julia Sullivan, The Wedding Singer
This classic '90s film about getting married in the '80s is equal parts heavy on the rom and the com (though there are a few awkward jokes that haven’t aged super well). Broken-hearted wedding singer Robbie Hart (Adam Sandler) finds a friend in waitress Julia Sullivan (Drew Barrymore) — but this friendship, audiences come to understand very quickly, is just relationship foreplay. Julia is engaged to a garbage character called Glenn Gulia (Matthew Glave), and because the focus on him is that he cheats — it makes it delicious to swallow when we realize that Robbie and Julia are having an emotional affair and accept their happy ending will come at the cost of her trash fiance.
Key messaging about love and cheating from the film:Engagements are irrelevant when true love finds you weeks before your wedding. Cheating is OK if you found someone you want to grow old with.
3 / 11
Rachel and Luce, Imagine Me and You
The main theme in this seemingly light rom com is love at first sight. The love born at first glance in this film is between our two leading ladies Rachel (Piper Perabo) and Luce (Lena Headey) — and happens while Rachel is walking down the aisle to marry her longtime beau, Heck (Matthew Goode). Through dinner parties and random hangs, straight-girl Rachel starts to experience the gay (and all the feelings associated with that) when she’s near out-lesbian Luce. Audiences will spend the whole film hoping true love (the unstoppable force) will happen at the cost of Heck (the unmovable object).
Key messaging about love and cheating from the film:Wedding vows won’t hold water if you meet “the one” after making them. You can’t escape true love and someone’s heart may be broken on your journey to your happy ending.
See also: 10 lady-loving celeb couples.
4 / 11
Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd, Grey’s Anatomy
This one-night stand turned OTP (one true pairing) relationship of the long-running series is still considered the high point after countless seasons. Not only was there workplace faux pas at play — Derek (Patrick Dempsey) was an attending and head of neurosurgery at the hospital Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) was interning at — but Derek was married. This, of course, didn’t stop Dr. Shepherd from chasing after intern Grey’s lab coat and scrubs — until, of course, his wife arrives at Seattle Grace and he picks marriage for a while. We’re talking early Grey’s and if you’re a fan of the show, you know many horrible things happen to all the characters — and cheating is a thing they deal with as often as surgeries.
Key messaging about love and cheating from the television series:True love is almost never convenient, and good love comes with struggle and heartache.
5 / 11
Piper Chapman and Alex Vause, Orange is the New Black
The prison dramedy gave us decent representation and complex characters worthy of seven seasons. Though this show was based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, the showrunners were definitely into the fun they could have with fiction. Never forget, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) starts the series engaged to her fiance on the outside and tries to resist the lure of her fellow inmate ex-girlfriend Alex Vause (Laura Prepon). The pair earned the ship name ‘Vauseman’ and showed audiences how sexy adultery and a toxic relationship really could be.
Key messaging about love and cheating from the digital series:Heteronormativity is overrated and jumping back on an emotional roller coaster with your lesbian ex will lead to prison weddings and some sort of happily ever after — and we’ll cry anyway because who cares about morality when love looks and feels right on-screen.
You may also like: 21 celebrities who married their mistresses.
6 / 11
June Carter and Johnny Cash, Walk the Line
In this biopic film, we’re invited to watch love unfold between country legend Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and singer-songwriter June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). Spoiler alert: Cash is married to his wife and mother of his multiple children (Ginnifer Goodwin) and chases after his dream girl Carter anyway. Though Carter attempts to resist Cash’s smooth moves to woo her, reminding him he’s, y’know, married — he spirals and becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol. Inevitably, she ends up helping to "save him," and the two end the film (and real life) living happily ever after.
Key messaging about love and cheating from the film:Forbidden love will lead you into a “ring of fire” but if you can make it through the struggle, you’ll achieve true love and even die within months of your lover.
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7 / 11
Will Shuester and Emma Pillsbury, Glee
Though this show is mostly about the students, this television series also featured adults finding love and understanding of life through song, too. Never forget that Will Shuester (Matthew Morrison) was married to his high school sweetheart Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig) when we started to yearn for the love between him and the school’s guidance counselor, Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays). The early kiss that solidified the chemistry between the two educators happened in its first mid-season finale while Will was still very married to his wife.
Key messaging about love and cheating from the television series:Commitments to other people really don’t matter when you’re on a journey to “the one.” Heartsick lovers and disgruntled exes are just symptoms of true love.
Related: 11 signs a cheater will cheat again.
8 / 11
Dwight and Angela, The Office
This main couple from the popular US version of the sitcom start with a workplace affair as early as season two. Dwight and Angela were on an on-again-off-again relationship journey from the beginning of the series — dragging other people, lovers and even husbands into their tangled web — and end the show by marrying each other. In between? Affairs and cheating. Ha-ha/Sob. The worst part? Like their coworkers, audiences for sure shipped these two.
Key messaging about love and cheating from the television series:Connections are ever-evolving and what’s meant to be will always be — no engagement or marriage could stop it.
9 / 11
Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, Brokeback Mountain
In the queer Academy Award-winning film, we follow the story between Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) who are painfully in love with each other. They each beard up with pretty wives (Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway) and try to lead "normal" lives as they try to both deny the gay but still secretly indulge in it. Let’s be honest, this tragic romance is one where we can blame heteronormativity for being forced to cheat because of the consequences people used to face for same-sex desires.
Key messaging about love and cheating from the film:The world needs more queer representation so queer folkx aren’t forced to engage in forbidden love and cheating. You can run and hide behind a heteronormative facade, but you can’t escape the gay.
10 / 11
Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater, Titanic
The focus of this epic romance film is on Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) — and audiences are quick to forget about the cheating. Rose is 17 years old and engaged to Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) because her family understands that this union will retain their upper-class status. Enter Jack, a peasant artist who will draw her naked in the iconic scene — and the two have a time bouncing between first class and third. Eventually, these two lovesick teens consummate their love in an automobile that’s chilling in the cargo, nevermind her fiance. We all know how this story ends.
Key messaging about love and cheating from the film:It doesn’t feel like cheating when you’re cheating with someone you’re in love with, and your fiance is unlikeable.
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11 / 11
Olivia Pope and Fitz Grant, Scandal
Even if you tuned into Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal for the political drama, chances are you stayed for the on-again off-again tension between Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn). Despite being married and the President of the United States, Fitz can’t seem to leave his affair with Olivia in the past — and she can’t seem to quit him either (even in the face of seriously complicated political circumstances).
Key messaging about love and cheating from the television series:Even if it’s bad for you, you’ll never forget your true love.