What Happens When You Get a Couples Tattoo, Then Break Up?

A couple with matching puzzle piece tattoos.
Photo: Anthony Mccord /Getty Images/EyeEm

Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson wasted no time in their relationship getting multiple tattoos together. Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas recently immortalized their bond with matching Toy Story wrist ink, while Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott have tiny complementary butterflies. Is the true mark of love and confidence in your partner getting a permanent cosmetic procedure with each other? Or is it too much of a risk? And, most importantly, what happens if things go the Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton route?

To find out, the Cut spoke to three people who got matching tattoos with their significant other (or more than one) only to break up.

Tracy Spangler, 39

Tracy Spangler.

I got married for the first time when I was 18 years old. We only knew each other for about five months, but I was young and I thought I was in love at the time. So the first matching tattoo we actually got were our engagement rings. That was in ’98. In retrospect, most of this is because he was a cheapskate and his best friend was a tattoo artist. You can’t tattoo on the palm of your hands because the ink doesn’t stay, so it’s actually only a half-ring — green vines with some orangey-red thorns on it. The second one — I worked at Hot Topic for a couple years, and they had a T-shirt that was like a rockabilly couple with tattoos and rockabilly outfits. We took that and we actually personalized it, so I still have a cartoon version of him on my leg. And he had me on his arm.

After we broke up, he got that covered up with a very large-breasted obnoxious looking woman. I still have mine on my leg and it’s my story to my kids I have now in my current marriage: “This is why you don’t do tattoos of people that you’re dating or married to.” I think about getting them covered up or removed every time I look at them. It seemed so romantic at the time. And now when people ask about my tattoos it’s kind of my little “ha ha, here’s what a fool I was.”

Lina Abascal, 28

Lina Abascal.

We met when I was 22. When we got the tattoos, I had a decent amount of tattoos, and he had only one, non-visible tattoo. We were in Bushwick drinking, and we had been together for like a year and a half and we were so in love — and that’s why I don’t even regret it at all and I would literally do it again with another person and probably will. We were at this bar and I was like, “I kind of want to do something weird but I don’t know what you’re going to think. I have this crazy idea.” And he was like, “Uh, okay, what is it?” And I was like, “What if we got each other’s initials tattooed?” And we got to this kind of janky spot under the train at midnight and we wrote out each other’s initials in one another’s handwriting, and then I got his first initial and he got mine. I got mine near my elbow crease which is very visible. He got mine near his armpit, which is significantly less visible. But that didn’t bother me. I didn’t think like, “Oh, you’re not as into it as me.” One time when we got in a really big fight, I got drunk and tweeted like, “Fuck you, I’m getting this tattoo removed.”

Eventually we did break up. I kept the tattoo for maybe six months after, because I was maybe just too lazy and it didn’t really make me sad. And then eventually I was like, “Yeah, I’m gonna cover this.”

My favorite song from the mid-aughts is “Hustler” by Simian Mobile Disco, and so I wanted to get one word on each elbow crease that said “Hustler Baby.” I just got the “Baby” part and then it was too much pain to get the other. I never finished it, so now I just have a huge tattoo that says “baby,” which means nothing. It definitely was convenient because his first initial was “D” and a “B” is kind of two Ds on top of each other.

Michael White, 31

I got matching tattoos with two girlfriends, and broke up twice. My first one was my college girlfriend and we were together for three-and-a-half years. We did a black outline of a star on the tops of our left feet and we couldn’t even afford to fill it all in, so we just did a blue faded-marker scribble-in. It basically looks like an 18-year-old girl getting her first tattoo on Spring Break.

The second one is really stupid. About a year after that girlfriend, I started dating another girl. We were only together for two months one summer. I was a huge fan — man, this is so embarrassing — of Dexter at the time. There was a line in the second season where he kind of starts becoming more human, or at least more empathetic, and talks about how he used to wear a mask in front of people and lately he feels like “the mask is slipping.” I really liked Michael C. Hall’s reading of that line and I liked the idea. And so she and I were both into that show and I was like, “You know what, I think I really want to get this tattoo, just the line ‘the mask is slipping,’ written in that blood font from the title credits.” And she was like, “That sounds awesome, let’s do it together.” And I was like, “Uhhhh … okay!” I got it on the same foot, actually, right next to the star … it just gets more and more trashy, doesn’t it?

I think about getting them covered up all the time — but I don’t hate them, I don’t really regret any of my tattoos. I kind of look at all of them as just, like, representations of time and place. My wife doesn’t really get hung up on old relationships in a way a lot of other people do, so I don’t really think that aspect bothers her. I just think she thinks they’re not good-looking tattoos. And she’s right.

What Happens When You Get a Couples Tattoo, Then Break Up?