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Strange things about Captain America and Peggy Carter's relationship

Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter have a good claim on being the best romance in the entirety of superhero movies. It's a love that spans multiple decades and even multiple timelines, a story of loss and reunification that could only be told through superheroic ideas, focused on characters that we've spent ten years following and becoming invested in. And also, you know, it's about two extremely conventionally attractive people who actually have some on-screen chemistry with each other, which doesn't exactly hurt.

It is not, however, without its share of peculiarities, even by the standards of a universe where the most common way to tell someone you love them is to build them a suit of power armor. From the strange side effects of long-distance relationships that wind up going fully multiversal to the challenges of a super-soldier serum glow-up, here are some pretty strange things about Captain America and Peggy Carter's relationship.

Their strange relationship goes with the territory

We might as well start by acknowledging that in its most basic form, Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter's relationship is pretty wild compared to traditional love stories. From Peggy's point of view, it involves a man who dies and then comes back 70 years later looking none the worse for wear, with the decades in the middle occupied by a long career as a spy, plus a marriage to someone else — with whom she was, by all accounts, very much in love — and two kids that we never even learn about.

From Steve's point of view, it's even weirder. As far as he's concerned, he goes to what he thinks is his death, only to wake up a few seconds later to find that everything, including Peggy, has moved on into the next century without him. He goes immediately from promising to take her dancing to hanging out with her as she's dying of old age, and then goes back in time so that he can marry her, all the while knowing exactly what she's going to look like on her literal deathbed. He's been to her funeral before he was at their wedding. That's not the right order for those, unless something has gone terribly wrong.

That's the baseline that we're working with — time travel in both directions, alternate timelines, and that poor guy who may or may not get the chance to marry the love of his life when this Chris Evans-looking hunk sweeps back into town from the year 2023. This entire love story basically creates Schrodinger's Ex-Boyfriend. 

Of course, that's assuming Peggy's mysterious lover wasn't Steve Rogers himself, who'd already traveled back in time. That would also imply that Peggy knows things are going to work out fine with her and Steve, and that she's keeping that fact a secret from present-day Cap. (Endgame writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus subscribe to this theory.) Either way, this is all pretty typical when you're finding romance in a superhero universe. It's when we go beyond all that where we get into some truly buck wild territory. 

Let's start with Sharon Carter

Let's get the most obvious, and arguably the weirdest, thing about the "Steggy" relationship out of the way right now: Sharon Carter. It's pretty clear from the way that the movies unfold that the relationship between Steve and Peggy wasn't originally intended to be the endgame (or the Endgame, if you will), and that makes sense. Captain America has famously been characterized since his return to the comics in the 1960s as a "man out of time," an iconic hero from the country's past who returns like King Arthur at our moment of greatest need. The thing is, nobody actually wants a superhero who needs Peter Parker to explain how to use his iPhone, so Cap is also a guy who acclimates very quickly to new situations, whether he's fighting bad guys or catching up on 70 years of missed pop culture with his little notebook.

Losing the years he would've spent with Peggy, then, is a necessary ingredient for giving his years spent in the ice some emotional weight. Waking up in the 21st century isn't really that much of a tragedy — he even talks about how much he prefers present-day food to whatever MREs he was snacking on back in the '40s — so the only thing that he loses out on is Peggy. Even that turns out to only be a tragedy for Steve, since we see Peggy explaining that after the war, she got married to an unnamed soldier and had a very happy and fulfilling life working for S.H.I.E.L.D. 

So, as Steve's story continues, the loss of his relationship with Peggy (and eventually Peggy herself) that made us all feel sad at the end of The First Avenger becomes a part of Steve's history, which also means it's something that he can move past. Which, of course, he does … right into the waiting arms of Sharon Carter. Which is a problem.

It should've been Captain America and Sharon all along

As much as we all might love Steve and Peggy together, there's a pretty good reason why Sharon shows up in The Winter Soldier to add another side to this particular cross-time love triangle — or, depending on how much subtext you want to read into Cap and Bucky's relationship, this love rhombus. 

While she might not be as interesting as Diamondback or Bernie Rosenthal, Sharon is is Cap's longest tenured love interest. She even predates all of the others in the comics, and even appears on the page a few months before Peggy, who, until she popped up on the big screen in 2011, was a pretty minor character who mostly appeared in flashbacks. Sharon, on the other hand, was more like Mary Jane Watson — the long-time on-again, off-again romance that always seemed like the default setting for Captain America's love life. The problem, of course, is that if you're going to have Steve Rogers spend 70-odd years on ice before continuing his adventures in the present day, then he should probably have a present-day love interest.

Thus, Sharon was held back from the Marvel Cinematic Universe until she made her appearance in The Winter Soldier, and since there was already a character in the comics who could give her a connection to Cap, Peggy got the role of the bittersweet, tragic romance in the first movie. Unfortunately for Sharon, it turned out to be a little too bitter for everyone who wanted a happy ending, so Cap never really got over Peggy … which created a whole other problem.

Captain America never dates outside his own family

This all brings us to the really weird thing about the Cap-Peggy-Sharon triangle. See, even if they're both age-appropriate due to some suspended animation frolics, it's not usually normal to date your ex-girlfriend's niece. It's, well, it's just frowned upon in most circles.

Even if you're cool with all that, though, there's the problem that we get into with all the time travel that comes at the end of Endgame. It's all well and good that Cap's reward for saving the universe is that he gets to go back and be reunited with his one true love, but if Sharon is Peggy's niece, and Steve and Peggy get married, then Sharon is also Steve's niece. Which means Captain America straight-up made out with his own niece like two days after his wife's funeral. 

Sure, Sharon wasn't his niece yet, and Peggy wasn't his wife before she died — a concise explanation of the headaches that result from time travel in a single sentence — but still. You can use all the Doc Brown timeline graphs you want to explain why it's actually okay for all of this to happen, but even the most die-hard fan of the Steve/Peggy romance has to admit that it's pretty unusual. No matter how you get through with it, we're still walking out of the theater trying to get our heads around the fact that canonically, Captain America's dating pool never really extends beyond his own family. 

Picture imperfect

One of the really sweet things about Cap and Peggy's relationship is that the two characters always carry pictures of each other, even when they're separated by the gulfs of time. Cap has his picture of Peggy that he clipped out of the newspaper, and when we get a glimpse of her desk in the '70s during Endgame, we see that she keeps a framed photo of Steve on her desk, even 30 years after his presumed death in the Arctic. What makes it even sweeter? It's a photo of Steve before his transformation from the Super Soldier Serum, showing us that she loves him for who he is on the inside, and not just because mad science turned him into the Marvel Universe's hunkiest possible Chris. 

At the same time, that's a little unusual in its own right, isn't it? Like, he was Captain America for at least a few years, right? In the comics, Steve becomes Captain America in March 1941, but in the film, it clearly happens sometime after the United States has already entered the war that December. Still, it's got to be pretty close. The First Avenger opens with the Red Skull discovering the Tesseract in that same year, and it's implied that the end of the movie happens close to, or even immediately before, V-E Day in 1945. Even if you give him plenty of time to catch up on the news, volunteer, and go through training, that's still two or three years where he's the hunk that we all know and love. 

Judging by the increasing tightness of his shirts over the course of the MCU, it seems pretty clear that Steve himself is pretty comfortable with his new body, so it's not like there's a big "true self" disconnect between "Cap" and "Steve" like you might see with Superman and Clark Kent. If that's the case, then maybe Peggy's photo isn't really for Steve at all. Maybe it's just a tribute to how much she loves symbolism. 

Peggy Carter fixes relationship problems with firearms

Even at the best of times — relatively speaking — Captain America and Peggy Carter's relationship wasn't easy. Of course, it had to be at least a little rocky. That's where the drama comes in, and while it might just be nice to watch two people have a perfectly content relationship while also destroying sci-fi pseudo-Nazis, even romantic stories are driven by conflict. 

Still, most traditional romances don't involve one party shooting at the other with a handgun four times. And yet, that's what happens in one of the biggest "will they / won't they" romcom moments in The First Avenger, when Peggy catches Cap in a superheroic makeout session with Natalie Dormer. Despite the fact that Steve and Peggy aren't together in any sense — and that it's Natalie Dormer, so, you know, it's pretty understandable why someone might not be in a rush to break off the smooching — Peggy is incensed to the point of telling Captain America that he's a soldier "just like all the rest." It's not just her reaction that's rough, either. Steve immediately gets defensive and goes way too far in response, implying that she's getting some action from Howard Stark. It's a bad scene all over.

It all comes to a head once Stark himself shows up and, oblivious to this little tiff, gives Cap a prototype of his famous shield. Steve asks Peggy what she thinks, and she unloads four rounds from an Army-issue .45 at him, which is the kind of situation where it's okay to be defensive, especially if you're holding a bulletproof shield. That brings the fight to an end, but is it really a healthy foundation on which to build a relationship? Is every argument that these two have in their relationship going to end up involving firearms and vibranium?

How does time travel affect Agent Carter?

The question of how the alternate timelines shake out if Captain America goes back to live a happy life with Peggy Carter raises yet another headache if you try to make it line up with what we know about her post-war career, especially when you try to factor in the events of Agent Carter.

The thing is, Steve's plane goes down in 1945 or thereabouts. Agent Carter takes place in '46 and '47. That means we've got two options as to what might happen when Steve travels back in time. First, Steve goes back to shortly after he vanished and gets that dance, which means that the events of Agent Carter don't happen as we saw them. That could mean that Steve tags along as Peggy's super-soldier sidekick, which would actually be pretty charming, or they wind up doing some other things, and there's no one around to stop Dottie Underwood from murdering Howard Stark in the '40s, which means Tony Stark is never born, which means that this particular timeline probably ends with Thanos murdering everyone because Hawkeye tried to fight him by himself or something. 

The other possibility is that Steve decides to let those early adventures play out, which might have less drastic effects on the observable timeline, but it also means that he has to make the conscious choice to let Peggy think he's dead for at least two years, which basically puts her through the entire grieving process before he drops back into her life. On the other hand, it also lets Peggy and Dottie's encounters happen as we've seen, which is good. It would be a real shame to lose the one relationship in the MCU that has even more subtext than Steve and Bucky's. 

Peggy Carter would totally use Captain America's knowledge of the future

Let's assume that after he departs for the 1940s, Steve settles in for a happy married life and spends the next 70 years with Peggy before arriving back on that park bench as the world's most handsome nonagenarian. He might be back where he would've been without being frozen in the ice, but he's still a man out of time, just in the opposite direction. He's been to the future. And Peggy's a spy.

There's no way that Peggy Carter doesn't use Steve as a resource for information on what's going to happen so that she can more effectively do her job for S.H.I.E.L.D. Even if Steve never got around to getting the specifics from all the years he missed, we know that he's at least aware of a few pretty important things, because he wrote them down in his little notebook. He knows that the moon landing happens in 1969, which is a pretty big deal! He knows that the Berlin Wall goes up in 1961, and that it comes down in 1989. He even knows that Apple is a pretty good investment when it goes public in 1980, and all of that is just what we know from seeing that single page in his notebook. That's enough knowledge to radically change the future, even if we assume that those are the only things he ever heard about, and that he never got caught up on things like, say, the Kennedy assassination. 

But sure, maybe Captain America decides that preserving as much of the timeline as possible is worth not telling his wife things that would help her prevent countless tragedies. He still knows that S.H.I.E.L.D. itself has been infiltrated by Hydra, and that his best friend is alive in Russia, being brainwashed into becoming a cyborg assassin who kills Peggy's pal, Howard Stark. There's no way that he and Peggy doesn't at least address those things, meaning that they're running the risk of creating a very different timeline — one where there's no guarantee that Peggy's going to make it to 2016, even if we know Steve's still kicking around in 2023. 

On the other hand, Peggy probably gets to try Thai food way earlier than she would've otherwise, so that's nice.