If you've watched classic TV Westerns for any length of time, you've probably noticed something about the recurring characters of any given series: they can't seem to make a romantic relationship stick. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as the Curse of the Cartwrights, but it is by no means limited to that one unfortunate family. (Or perhaps the Virginian was just a distant cousin of theirs; I don't know.) If "the hero gets the girl" was a cliché of the Western film, serial television turned it on its head and took it to the opposite extreme—even the most heroic of heroes just couldn't make it to the altar. The real-life Old West must have had its share of bachelors, surely, but they couldn't possibly have been jilted, bereaved and left in the lurch as many times as the cowboys of the small screen.
But it wasn't really the heroes' fault, of course. The blame lies with screenwriters who seemed to be allergic to the notion of marriage for recurring characters. We all know the real reason for this, of course: they wanted the opportunity to write romance episodes as often as they liked, and a steady love interest—let alone a wife—would get in the way. This meant that they were forced to get quite creative in thinking up ways to get rid of their female guest stars once they'd gotten the requisite number of romantic scenes out of them. The following is a list of methods, ranging from the cliche to the highly original, for a love interest to make her exit. Lest you think I'm just romancing (pun intended), let me add here that most, if not all, are drawn from actual TV Western episodes that I've seen myself:
1. She transfers her affections to someone else.
2. She decides that the West isn't for her and catches the first train back East.
3. She never forgives you for having to shoot her no-good father or brother.
4. She gets caught in the crossfire of the climactic gunfight.
5. She dies of a fatal illness.
6. She turns out to be married already, and her husband suddenly turns up.
7. She turns out to be part of the outlaw gang. (Variation 7b., a con artist.)
8. She reveals a secret about her past that makes you change your mind.
9. She is offered a lucrative position and decides to eschew marriage in favor of a career.
10. She is told she has talent and decides to eschew marriage in favor of becoming an actress, singer, artist, etc.
11. She decides she'd rather stay with the Indians who captured her.
12. She enters a convent.
13. You promise to "come back for her," but inexplicably never do.
14. It turns out that she doesn't actually exist.
15. She simply changes her mind.
Have I forgotten anything?
So far as I know, the only TV Westerns that included a married couple among the regular cast of characters were High Chaparral and the last few seasons of The Virginian, when the third owner of Shiloh Ranch was a married man. Does anyone know if there were any others?