Why did Rory and Dean break up in ‘Gilmore Girls?’

Rory Gilmore and Dean Forester’s relationship in Gilmore Girls is the textbook example of how precious first love is and how it helps lay the foundation for one’s identity growing up.

Their romance begins in the pilot episode of the series when Dean moves to Stars Hollow from Chicago just as Rory is accepted into the prestigious Chilton Preparatory School. Their first kiss happens when Rory drops by Doose’s, the neighborhood supermarket where Dean works, under the pretense that she needs to pick up some items but actually just wants to see him. The awkward and adorable kiss surprises Rory so much that she says “thank you” and runs away, accidentally shoplifting some corn starch.   

Rory and Dean’s early relationship has many adorable moments. After their second kiss, Dean teasingly says “thank you” to Rory. Dean reads books that Rory suggests for him. He’s supportive of her Harvard dreams and is totally able to hold his own when hanging out with her and her mother, Lorelai. Dean even makes Rory her very own car.

With all this heartfelt, endearing cuteness, why does this first love ultimately come to an end?

Rory and Dean’s first mini break-up

As first loves sometimes do, Rory and Dean break up and get back together a couple of times. Their first break-up occurs when Dean says “I love you” to Rory and she struggles to say it back ⏤ not because she doesn’t love him, but because she’s scared and shy. They get back together when Dean shows up at Chilton and Rory proudly proclaims: “Because I love you, you idiot.” 

The second break-up

Things go smoothly until Luke’s bad-boy nephew Jess moves into town and becomes close with Rory. Rory and Dean break up in a painfully public way at the Stars Hollow 24-Hour Dance Marathon. Dean yells at Rory and Jess: “Go! Be together! There is nothing standing in your way now because I am out.” Rory and Jess do eventually get together and Dean and Rory try to become just friends. Dean starts dating Lindsay Lister and goes on to marry her.

Rory and Dean continue a friendship while in other relationships, but the deep pull and lust of young love becomes impossible to resist. When Dean and Lindsay’s marriage becomes rocky, Rory and Dean sleep together, which is Rory’s first time. When Rory tries to talk to Dean about it, they end up just having sex again. In order to avoid her guilt and her mother’s judgment, Rory escapes to Europe with her grandmother, Emily. While away, Rory has Lorelai deliver a letter to Dean. Lindsay finds the letter, which talks about Rory and Dean’s affair and ends the marriage, with Lindsay publicly throwing Dean’s clothes out of their apartment window.

The final break-up

Rory and Dean’s ultimate breakup can be explained in two different ways: the actual plot of the show and Jared Padalecki’s decision to leave the show. Dean and Rory try to make their young adult relationship work even though it did not start out ideally, and both of them are busy pursuing their independent paths. Dean is working hard and still dealing with the emotional fall out of his divorce from Lindsay while Rory is studying at Yale and trying to take advantage of every opportunity to further her journalism ambitions. When Dean attempts to pick up Rory from her grandparents’ house to spend precious time with her, he sees her in her new world and cannot see a space for him in it. He muses, “I don’t belong here. Not anymore. Do I?” 

From a practical casting perspective, Rory and Dean also had to break up because Padalecki, who played Dean, was cast in the lead role of the new CW series Supernatural. Shooting schedules would not allow him to play both Dean Forester and Sam Winchester, so Rory Gilmore would have to move on to her next great love. Luckily for her, Logan Huntzberger, who was also attending the party at her grandparents’ home where Rory and Dean broke up, consoles her, laying the groundwork for a future relationship. 

The legacy of Rory and Dean’s relationship

Rory and Dean’s relationship was the perfect mix of awkward young love and romantic firsts. Although they were not completely wholesome with their treatment of Lindsay, they helped each other become the people they were always meant to be. We see this when Rory runs into Dean in the miniseries Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. Dean is a happy but tired father of three, soon to be four. Rory is writing her first novel. Both are exactly where they should be in life and can look fondly back on their relationship knowing that even if things didn’t work out between them, what they had together will always be special.