The most uncomfortable age gaps on television

We can't always control who we fall in love with, and age isn't always a factor when it comes to picking a partner. Even Scientific American says the idea of the perfect age difference in a couple varies by culture and changes over time. Even so, there are some relationships we see on our favorite TV shows that just make us cringe. Let's look at a few age gaps we definitely weren't digging.

Monica and Richard on Friends

Relationship ups and downs were always a central theme to Friends, and the second season saw Monica (Courteney Cox) hooking up with a much older man named Richard. Sure, it's Tom Selleck, but their age difference was the elephant in the room from the first date. When he starts showing her pictures of his grandchildren and comments that he's "a whole person who can drink older than you," they debate if the dynamic is nuts.

According to Vulture, the TV relationship was never supposed to last as long as it did. Executive producer Scott Silveri said, "With Courteney and Tom Selleck, if I'm not mistaken, there was no sense that this was going to become a relationship with a capital "R." They went into that, and it was going to be one episode, two tops. And then they had such good chemistry, the producers and the writers at the time decided to explore it a little more."

Paris and Asher on Gilmore Girls

When Asher (Michael York) and Paris (Liza Weil) first meet on Gilmore Girls, they're introduced by Rory's grandfather (because Asher was his classmate in school.) It's not surprising the age difference made this one more than a little uncomfortable to watch. When E! News ranked all of the relationships on Gilmore Girls, this one was awarded a simple, "Ick."

According to Weil, the unorthodox romance was a major turning point for her character. "I think it warmed her for sure. It was very well-handed as well," she told Cosmopolitan. "I'm a fan of that relationship, too." She also answered a long-standing fan question, saying that she likes to think Paris still has Asher's printing press in storage.

Puck and Shelby on Glee

Just when fans thought things weren't going to get any more complicated for the love-struck teens on Glee, Puck (Mark Salling) set his sights on teacher Shelby (Idina Menzel). The whole thing is made even more complicated when Shelby adopts the baby Puck had with Quinn (Dianna Agron.) 

Salling told The Hollywood Reporter in 2011 that he was well aware the script was crossing some red lines and explained why. "I think his feelings for Shelby right now are pretty intense and pretty overwhelming," Salling said. "The fact that she has his baby now is a pretty strong bond...Puck really thinks he can be in that baby's life and be Shelby's man. He could be in it for the long run; it could be the real deal."

But things are never that straightforward, and Shelby has her own baggage to deal with. Let's not forget that Puck initially teams up with baby mama Quinn to have the baby removed from Shelby's care, so there is no part of this love triangle that's a good idea.

Pacey and Tamara on Dawson's Creek

Dawson's Creek jumped right into the drama in its pilot episode. When Bustle re-watched the 1998 episode in 2015, it immediately noted how odd and out-of-place 15-year-old Pacey's (Joshua Jackson) observations on aging were, and that the whole thing just seemed to be a set-up for a make-out session with his 40-year-old teacher. 

It's a shocking way to start a series, and when experts weighed in with the Chicago Tribune, they weren't happy about it. Kevin Dwyer, the assistant executive director of the National Association of School Psychologists, had this to say: "Having this behavior on television is a grand mistake. You're talking about a freshman in high school. A teacher who responds sexually is committing sex abuse, in my opinion." 

Rosita and Abraham in The Walking Dead

We haven't figured out just how old Rosita (Christian Serratos) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) are in The Walking Dead. They're already a couple when they join, but in real life, these two were 24 and 50, respectively, when their storylines began. Their relationship was always a weird sort of "friends-with-benefits" situation, and when Cudlitz talked to The Hollywood Reporter about just what was going on between the two, he said, "I think he loves her, but it's also a relationship of convenience for both of them. It's wartime, and every day could be your last."

When Abraham finally breaks things off, their age difference is painfully clear. While it's straightforward for him, she demands a reason. He answers: "When I first met you, I thought you were the last woman on earth. You're not." Ouch.

Rhonda Volmer and Roman Grant in Big Love

Daveigh Chase was 16 when she started playing 14-year-old Rhonda on HBO's Big Love. Her love interest, Roman, was the patriarch of the polygamous compound, played by 80-year-old Harry Dean Stanton. Rhonda's relationship with the so-called prophet is equal parts fascinating and uncomfortable. As The New York Times put it"...the show reminds us that even though it has sought to normalize polygamy, it understand that it is really just child abuse."

Lady Edith and Sir Anthony Strallan in Downton Abbey

Love her or hate her, the demise of Lady Edith's (Laura Carmichael) May-December romance with the much older Sir Anthony (Robert Bathurst) was nothing short of heartbreaking. Fans of Downton Abbey know that the relationship ends at the altar, with uncertainty over the age gap prompting Anthony to flee the church. 

It was such a gut-wrenching scene that Carmichael admitted to Vanity Fair that she had given up hope that her character would ever find happiness. "I guess I sort of dreamt about alternatives," she said. "We would think about and talk about it on the set amongst the cast, but I don't think any of us predicted the sort of fairytale that he [writer Julian Fellowes] gave her."

Aria and Ezra in Pretty Little Liars

According to The Washington Post, it's not just Ezra's age that presents a problem here. It's his position too. Aria (Lucy Hale) is in the later years of high school, while Ezra (Ian Harding) has just graduated college and is getting ready to start a teaching job. That teaching job makes him her teacher, and that's a line that definitely shouldn't be crossed. Add in the fact that Ezra targeted Aria specifically because of her long-standing friendship with her missing friend Alison (Sasha Pieterse), and the creepy factor skyrockets. Not only is Ezra trying to write a book about her friend's disappearance and get some inside information, we learn he had a thing going with Alison, too. 

Numerous news outlets, including The Daily Beast and Refinery 29, weighed in on the situation, warning that the TV show was arguably romanticizing statutory rape.

Archie and Miss Grundy in Riverdale

The CW gave 1940s favorites Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica a 21st century update, and for some reason, that included writing in an illicit — and illegal — relationship between Archie (K.J. Apa) and teacher Miss Grundy (Sarah Habel.) The white-haired, spinster teacher of the comics is recast as a music coach that every teen boy has his eye on, but it's Archie that she's interested in.

Apa acknowledged (via Polygon), "I guess that's a really inappropriate kind of romance he has going on there." And it's a crime. 

When Screener asked Cole Sprouse, who plays Jughead, to weigh in on the storyline, he responded, "I think inherently because it's a controversial topic, a lot of people are saying, don't do it — which I also think is the wrong way to approach a controversial topic." 

Hayley and Rainer in Modern Family

When Nathan Fillion kicked off his guest appearances on Modern Family as Rainer, it didn't take long for his relationship with Hayley (Sarah Hyland) to venture into uncomfortable territory. It was more than just the decades between their ages that made us squirm. Rainer was also Hayley's father's friend and hero. Hapless dad Phil (Ty Burrell) is "shocked and horrified but the reality is he kind of set us up accidentally," Fillion told the New York Post. "He hates it, but it's also all his fault."

There's something uneasy about the dynamic of a child — even a legally adult child — dating a friend of their parents, and it seems Phil wasn't the only one that wasn't a fan of the idea. When the TV relationship went sideways after a rejected marriage proposal, fans rushed to Twitter to voice their relief.

Gloria and Jay in Modern Family

Though Modern Family has been credited with breaking new ground on television — it was the first show to portray a gay wedding between two main characters — the romance between Gloria (Sofia Vergara) and Jay (Ed O'Neill) has been accused of retreating behind familiar stereotypes. As The New Yorker points out, Jay's nasty treatment of his ex-wife serves as a bizarre backdrop to the supposedly deep connection he has with Gloria, who barely escapes the tired "trophy wife" caricature. 

During a talk at The Paley Center, O'Neill addressed the age divide. "I know when they first told me I was gonna be, you know [gestures towards Vergara], I said 'Well that makes perfect sense.'" Both actors also agreed that despite their real-life 27-year age gap, they actually have very similar personalities, which made it easy to portray lovers on the show. "He helps me a lot with the jokes, and with the pronunciation," Vergara said, adding, "Sometimes he confuses me more, but it's all fun. But I think we never have like a bad time on the set."

Carrie and Aleksandr Petrovsky in Sex and the City

The relationships portrayed on Sex and the City could hardly be considered traditional — remember Samantha's naked sushi rejection? —  but in terms of uncomfortable age gaps, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) takes the cake with her strange patriarchal attraction to Aleksandr Petrovsky (aka The Russian.) In Thought Catalog's breakdown of Carrie's famous flings, it asserted that Carrie's romance with The Russian was doomed from the start. From his apparent disregard for her lifestyle and career to his creepy, paternal affection, Petrovsky was never going to be the guy fans were rooting for Carrie to end up with.

And like all things Sex and the City, that relationship dynamic is heightened to uncomfortable levels, casting an "ugly and sad," yet realistic shadow on it, reported New York Magazine. Even actor Mikhail Baryshnikov, who played The Russian, knew he was wading into awkward waters. "I seem to have a tendency to do things people think I shouldn't do," he told The New York Times

Alan and Kandi in Two and a Half Men

The uncomfortable thing about Kandi and Alan hooking up on Two and a Half Men was more than just the usual awkwardness of any woman hooking up with the painfully miserable character played by Jon Cryer. Kandi (April Bowlby) was also Charlie's (Charlie Sheen) ex, which means the brothers got intimate with the same lady. 

The show addressed the creepy inter-family relations in its jocular way, with a conversation between Kandi and Charlie that only made things worse. "I never slept with brothers before. I mean, at different times, and one can't help but make comparisons," she says, before launching into nonsensical descriptions of both men's bedroom skills. According to her, sex with Charlie is like the Disney ride Space Mountain while Alan operates more like "a really smart kangaroo" in the sack. 

Det. Andy Sipowicz and Det. Connie McDowell in NYPD Blue

No matter the scenario, watching Detective Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) get it on with Detective McDowell (Charlotte Ross) was always going to be uncomfortable. Beyond the relationship's physical juxtaposition, the psychology behind it was also questionable. McDowell and Sipowicz bond over her struggle to reconnect with the daughter she was forced to give up. Mcdowell's maternal yearning attracts her to Sipowicz, a grieving widower and single dad to a young son. 

Even the showrunners knew it would be hard for audiences to swallow. Executive producer Bill Clark told the Los Angeles Times that making Sipowicz and McDowell hook up on the show was "like walking onto a minefield." He also said, "I can say I don't think in all of the years on the show any decision has had as much effort put into it as this one." 

Debra and Lundy in Dexter

The Debra and Lundy relationship on Dexter was actually pretty well-regarded by fans who, at that point in the series, were just ready for Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) to have any stable relationship. Yes, Lundy (Keith Carradine) was old enough to be her father, and yes, he was sort of a superior officer — though they worked for different law enforcement agencies — but at least he wasn't secretly gift-wrapping severed body parts and leaving them all over Miami. And unlike some of the other older gentleman and younger lady pairings on this list, the Deb and Lundy romance was written as one of "deep love," according to executive producer Clyde Phillips.

Lord Walder Frey and his many young wives in Game of Thrones

Of the many disgusting and lecherous old men in Game of Thrones, Lord Walder Frey (David Bradley) ranks as one of the most heinous. Not only was he the architect of the heart-wrenching "Red Wedding," but he also maintains a brood of young wives who are portrayed on the show as being a half-step away from sexual slavery. 

In one of his earliest appearances on the series, he introduces Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) to his newest wife, Joyeuse (Kelly Long), who stands meekly by his side, looking as miserable as any 15-year-old girl who was just wed to a 90-something-year-old man would be. "You see that? Fifteen, she is. A little flower, and the honey's all mine," Frey says of his new bride.

Hannah and Joshua in Girls

Often compared to its predecessor, Sex and the City, the HBO show Girls portrays a female protagonist named Hannah (Lena Dunham) who endures multiple failed relationships. While Hannah's hookups are generally age-appropriate, there is one episode that portrays her bizarre and unlikely two-day romance with an older man named Dr. Joshua (Patrick Wilson.) According to Esquire's breakdown of the episode, Hannah follows Joshua to his house after a random encounter, at which point they have sex within minutes of meeting one another, then proceed to engage in a series of deep talks (and more sex) until they agree to never see one another again, Hannah passes out, and then Joshua leaves.  

Of the approximately one million questions about this implausible scenario, Jezebel contributor Hugo Schwyzer has none, instead saying "the mutual attraction is both believable and instantly familiar." Schwyzer is of the opinion that most middle aged dudes are quietly fostering the fantasy that a woman in her early twenties will randomly show up at their houses for non-committal sex. Even if that's a fair assumption, it doesn't change the fact it's a fantasy for a reason. Not to mention, Hannah even confesses that she likely embarked on the tryst out of the desire to generate an experience to write about, which basically obliterates the notion of a spontaneous and genuine rendezvous. Plus, this all takes place in New York City, where no one welcomes random strangers into their homes. That's how Law & Order: SVU episodes start. 

Blanche and Dirk in The Golden Girls

Though she was the self-professed "man crazy" one out of all of the roommates on The Golden Girls, Blanche (Rue McClanahan) only had one romantic encounter with a notably younger man. The episode was even titled "Blanche and the Younger Man." In the episode, Blanche, who has never revealed her true age, gets asked to dinner by her Jazzercise instructor, Dirk (Charles Hill). 

The relationship fails to work out after Dirk reveals to Blanche that she reminds him of his mother, but nevertheless, the sitcom provides what we argue is the most uncomfortable moment out of all of the age gap moments on this list. When describing her decision to "go for it" with Dirk, Blanche tells roomies Dorothy (Bea Arthur) and Sophia (Estelle Getty), "I am about to succumb to the Vesuvius of passion that is about to erupt from me." That is as close to hearing a grandparent describe having sex as we ever want to get. And yes, we're aware that we're putting this ahead of Lord Walder Frey and his teenage bride, and we're totally cool with that.  

Bridget and Mr. Donellen in Ray Donovan

The relationship between Bridget and Mr. Donellen was never going to turn out well. There is rarely a happy ending for a student/teacher romance, let alone one in which the student's father happens to be perfectly capable of getting away with murder. Nevertheless, Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) and Donellen (Aaron Statoneventually consummate their forbidden love — in the driveway of the Donovan house of all places — even after Donellen suffers a brutal beatdown at the hands of Ray (Liev Schreiber.)

What makes the relationship even more uncomfortable is the fact that Bridget's manipulation of Donellen wasn't even so much about sex as it was about her filling the void left by Ray's absentee fatherhood. Showrunner David Hollander explained to TV Line, "More importantly, Bridget needed a smart person to learn from. She chose an interesting target in Donellen. But she needs an older person. And her father wasn't going to be that person. And Marvin onvciously [sic] couldn't be that person. She was trying to digest and learn and she got a little crazy. She had her own version of madness." 

So, she destroyed Donellen's life because she was mad at her dad? What a sweet gal.