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The Most Disturbing Age Gaps In TV Kiss Scenes

As the years have gone by, TV has shifted away from portraying romances with disturbing age gaps. When it does happen, it usually comes with a critical tone, rather than open romanticization. Though there are definitely exceptions and outliers, as a whole, Hollywood is getting better at framing such relationships appropriately, or omitting them from shows altogether.

But before the narrative shifted, uncomfortable relationships between students and teachers, iffy workplace couples, and sundry other romances featuring problematic age gaps were pretty easy to find on the small screen. Exploitative power dynamics and unsettling circumstances were downright common in certain genres — and we're here to take a look back on the worst examples of that tendency. These are the TV kisses with the most disturbing age gaps, from Buffy and Angel to Puck and Shelby.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy Summers and Angel

Dalliances between mortal humans and ageless vampires tend to feel less taboo, because there isn't a visually obvious age gap. Take Angel and Buffy from the cult classic TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." At first glance, Angel looks like a college student. Yet the reality is much more sinister. When Buffy tells Willow that her modest age gap with Oz is no big deal because her own boyfriend is inhumanly old, it seems funny. But Buffy is a 16-year-old dating a 269-year-old reformed serial killer. To make matters worse, Angel knowingly seeks out Buffy to relieve the persistent guilt of his past by "protecting" her. There's another word for that, folks: stalking.

Though Angel puts up minimal resistance to Buffy's initial crush, he never electively comes clean until the truth emerges in Season 1. Instead of having a serious conversation, he terrifies her when his vampire face emerges mid-hook-up. Rather than explain himself, Angel yeets himself out of her window, leaving Buffy betrayed and confused. Sure, Buffy has to grow up way faster than any teen should, but this relationship is all kinds of shady and controlling, even after Angel breaks up with her in Season 3. Buffy's Watcher, Giles, really should have done more to convince Angel to stop their relationship before it began. What father figure sits by and waxes poetically about his teenage pseudo-daughter's relationship with a going-on-300-year-old predator?

The O.C.: Julie Cooper and Luke Ward

Julie Cooper certainly isn't winning any parent-of-the-year awards for her behavior in the first few seasons of "The O.C.," but sleeping with Luke, Marissa's ex, in Season 1 is particularly awful. The series includes a throwaway line denoting that Luke is 18 before he and Julie take things to the next level in a seedy motel, but this doesn't make the situation any less creepy.

Julie is going through a bit of an identity crisis at this point, following her husband's loss of the family fortune through fraud. Wanting to recapture her discarded youth, she decides to get in bed with her daughter Marissa's high school sweetheart. Marissa is already having a rough go of things between her mom's unhinged behavior and her dad's scandal — this certainly doesn't help. Instead of coming clean to her daughter, Julie leaves Marissa to discover the truth when she overhears Luke promising Marissa's current boyfriend Ryan that he's ending things with Julie.

Not only does Marissa feel the sting of betrayal from Julie and Luke, she feels blindsided by Ryan, who kept the truth from her. To be fair, Ryan is the one who makes sure both parties stop the illicit affair, and it's easy to understand why he feels this is a secret best left unsaid. But the truth always comes out in Orange County, as he should know already.

Gilmore Girls: Paris Geller and Asher Fleming

What could be more romantic than a man in his 60s trolling the incoming freshman class for a new paramour? It's bad enough when a relationship between a professor and student develops, but in "Gilmore Girls," the tenured Yale professor in question has an acknowledged reputation for manipulating a new girl into an affair every year. And hey, did we mention that Professor Asher Fleming attended Yale at the same time as Rory's grandfather?

Thankfully, every character who isn't Paris, Fleming, or Fleming's star-struck students is horrified at the very mention of the affair. Nothing about it is appropriate, from the very first time Rory witnesses the duo kissing outside their dorm building on. But what does Fleming have to fear? He knows that if he's caught, the school will likely sweep the scandal under the rug. To paint a picture of the yikes factor here, we offer this little tidbit: When Fleming dies of a heart attack in Season 4, everyone asks Paris if he bit the dust in bed. We'll take some of that end-of-semester lemonade, please.

Friends: Monica Geller and Ethan

If "Friends" teaches us anything, it's not to lie about one's age. Monica learns this lesson the hard way when she fibs about being 22 to a college guy — or so she thinks. In truth, he's also lied about his age. Sure, he's in school, but it's not college. Yep: Monica hooks up with a 17-year-old. The name of the episode says it all: "The One With the Ick Factor." Now, there are plenty of questionable things in "Friends" fans try to ignore. But not only is this age gap uncomfortable, it's illegal. Even more disturbing, Monica only learns the truth after they've done the deed. Fans witness way too much of this massively inappropriate dalliance. Monica at least feels gross about it, but the one-episode inclusion is wholly unnecessary.

Later in the show, Frank and Alice's relationship presents similar ickiness. Phoebe's brother is freshly 18 when he dates 44-year-old Alice. Not only do they get married way too quickly and ask Phoebe to serve as a surrogate, they also have a horrifyingly intense PDA problem. Frank is far too young for that kind of commitment, and Alice should know better. The cringe doesn't end there, though. Ross later dates a student from his NYU class, and Monica has a long-term relationship with her parents' best friend, who knew her as a child. Let's be real: Most of "Friends" wouldn't exist on TV today, but these relationships are especially off-putting.

The Vampire Diaries: Damon Salvatore and Caroline Forbes

Fans of "The Vampire Diaries" either love or hate Damon Salvatore. But no matter which way you sway, there's just no excusing what he does to Caroline Forbes in Season 1. In this universe, vampires can mystically compel people to follow their desires. It doesn't take a genius to realize that there can't be any kind of consent to sexual activity when someone is quite literally capable of controlling your mind.

Damon wastes no time getting creepy: In Episode 2, he aggressively bites Caroline neck, igniting their one-sided relationship. Damon uses, abuses, and ultimately discards the sheriff's daughter. Not only is Caroline 16 years old, making her well over 100 years Damon's junior, Damon actively talks down to her when they're in the bedroom, making her feel that much more awful about the situation. On some level, she doesn't even know what she's upset about, because he's toying with her mind and muddling her memories.

Damon isn't the only creepy vamp around either. Stefan starts a relationship with Elena without telling her his age, vampire status, or the fact that he's stalking her because she looks like his allegedly dead ex. This just in: Mystic Falls desperately needs a vampire therapist.

Glee: Noah Puckerman and Shelby Corcoran

It's totally cool to sleep with the teenage father of your adopted baby, right? According to "Glee," the answer is yes. Shelby Corcoran takes the cake for the most disturbing fling Noah Puckerman, aka Puck, engages in. You'd think the new mother — who, again, adopted his baby — would have more sense than to risk getting her child taken away. But no: Their first kiss comes after Puck sings "Waiting for a Girl Like You" to her. Yikes. Puck and Shelby's dynamics are even weirder, given that she's a teacher. Puck later sings — you guessed it — "Hot for Teacher" to her.

On the one hand, Puck is desperate to be a dad to baby Beth and likes the idea of having an instant family. He starts making advances toward Shelby soon after she allows him to see Beth. Yet she loves the attention he gives her, and isn't keen on the single mom dating scene, so she barely pushes back. Watching Puck brag about his prowess is almost as uncomfortable as watching them kiss. Unable to be the adult in the room, Shelby ultimately leaves altogether in search of a new life, facing zero consequences for being a newly-minted predator. Stay classy, Shelby.

Gossip Girl: Dan Humphrey and Rachel Carr

How many times does someone need to get fired for fraternizing with students before they get the picture? For "Gossip Girl" teacher Rachel Carr, the answer is unclear. Given that she teaches students about Shakespeare at Constance Billard, you'd think she might be more in-tune with the unhappy ending she sets herself up for.

Ms. Carr gets fired for creepily hanging out with Dan in a way that doesn't seem on the up-and-up to the school's head honchos. But instead of proving them wrong and keeping things innocent with Dan, she immediately throws caution to the wind and strikes up an actual relationship with the school's nerdiest student. Of course, in a Shakespearean twist of fate, Ms. Carr gets re-hired, but doesn't end her affair with Dan. Instead, she takes their teacher-student bond to the next level by giving him a key to her place via a handwritten note. Good thing no teachers ask Dan to read that to the class. 

It only takes some theater costume closet dallying for Mrs. Carr to realize that she's a predator and that going home to Iowa is a good idea. Unfortunately, in the "Gossip Girl" reboot, it appears that Mrs. Carr has once again taken up her role as a creepy teacher at Constance Billard. Maybe another firing is in order.

Once Upon a Time: Belle and Rumple

"Once Upon a Time" didn't invent the story of Beauty and the Beast, but it certainly drags its inherent horror out. Rumple is over 100 years older than Belle, and he never treats her like more than a possession. On top of holding her hostage, he continually lies to her, uses his power over her, and gaslights her any time she stands up for herself. How can anyone root for a pairing that requires a woman to return to her captor after escaping, just so she can kiss him and hear his story? Their first kiss in Episode 12 is more tragic than it is romantic, and a whole lot creepier than anything else.

If Rumple truly worked on himself and fought to be a better man, the relationship would be less toxic. Yet he continually makes the same mistakes over and over again, and Belle always gives in, even when she tries to fight back. In Season 4, she forces him out of Storybrook — but it's not long before he weasels his way back into her heart. This isn't what dreams are made of. In fact, their relationship has all the makings of a nightmare.

Why Women Kill: Scooter Polarsky and Rita Castillo

"Why Women Kill" takes the sugar mama dynamic to the next level. Rita Castillo gave up her youth to marry a rich man out of a belief that she would inherit his wealth upon his death. The problem is, he just won't die. With Rita's own husband decades her senior, the resentful housewife takes a leaf out of his book and finds a young plaything of her own.

Rita manipulates struggling actor Scooter Polarsky into doing her bidding, slowly but steadily entrapping him. Though she has nothing but contempt for her husband, she mimics his behavior in her treatment of Scooter. Everything between the pair is a negotiation, and not an especially fair one. Rita uses her wealth and status as a weapon, making it impossible for Scooter to get out of their relationship. Every kiss between these two reminds fans that she's caging him, and it's more than a little tough to watch. Most horrifyingly, Rita refuses to let Scooter have any relationships of his own, while treating him like a possession. Not cool, lady.

Community: Annie Edison and Jeff Winger

On "Community," middle-aged Jeff Winger spends his entire friendship with college student Annie Edison talking about how she's too young for him. Yet he frequently implies she's irresistible, and that he has no choice but to give in to her womanly wiles. At every turn, Jeff ping-pongs between interest and disinterest in a very uncomfortable way. And while Annie may not actually be underage, a 10-to-15-year age gap is incredibly suspect when the younger member is an 18-year-old. It's almost worse when the characters are keenly aware that the dynamic isn't okay. 

Jeff and Annie have a total of eight kisses in the series, and they're all pretty gross. The power imbalance just never gets out of the way, and makes their will they-won't-they relationship sketchy at best. It doesn't help that the show also can't quite resist sexualizing Annie, even when it pairs such moments with canned lines about her being too young for such treatment.

Switched at Birth: Daphne Vasquez and Jeff Reycraft

How could we have a list of predatory romance without including a skeevy boss who hires people so he can try to sleep with them? Cue Chef Jeff Reycraft of "Switched at Birth." Sure, Daphne Vasquez makes the mistake of not clarifying that she's a high school student when she mentions it to Jeff, but it's not the underaged teenager's responsibility to prevent adults from taking advantage of her. Even if she were the college student he assumes she is, the dynamics are still off.

This isn't a Doogie Howser situation, either. Chef Jeff is a fully-grown adult and the head chef of a classy restaurant. That kind of position requires a certain amount of experience that a doe-eyed teenager just doesn't have. Yet even after Jeff discovers that Daphne is still in high school, he doesn't push her away in the back stock room. Instead, he opts to make out with a teenager in their place of business. Luckily, Daphne's friends and family don't normalize this relationship, so it's not one getting framed in a positive light.

How I Met Your Mother: Barney Stinson and everyone

Barney Stinson of "How I Met Your Mother" has an infamous "playbook," which is essentially a how-to guide to trick women into sleeping with him. His favorite pastime is trolling bars for drunk women who are barely legal (if at all). He even has a test to decide whether or not a woman is too old to sleep with: He asks if they think Ewoks in "Star Wars" are cute. If they do, they were probably pretty young when the movie came out, which means they're young enough to be attractive to him.

His creepiness doesn't end there. If Barney's not getting young women plastered before sleeping with them, he's filming them during sex without their consent or knowledge. He also uses hundreds of ploys to attract them, like pretending to be a dying man or feigning a ridiculous time travel story. As a result, nearly every kiss Barney has in the show is another step towards his place on the sex offender registry. His whole "changed man" schtick at the end of the series just isn't believable after all of this nastiness.