The recent antics of pop star Ariana Grande and comedian Pete Davidson have posited the age-old question: Are you even in love if you don’t have a couple tattoo? Though they’ve only been dating for about a month, they’re already engaged, and in what’s arguably an even bigger sign of commitment, they have multiple romantic tattoos between them: a couple of finger clouds, Grande’s “Dangerous Woman” rabbit mask, and, naturally, the initials “AG.”
But as tattooing in general becomes increasingly mainstream and laser removal more accessible, a couple tattoo is not the weighty undertaking it might have once been. In fact, for some, it’s just another relationship ritual, coming somewhere after “I love you” and before “here is a ring.”
We spoke to three artists with tons of experience tattooing (and covering up) couple tattoos, plus two women who have multiple of their own. The verdict? Even if you break up, it’s actually no big deal.
Matt Marcus, owner of Three Kings Tattoo
I would say it happens more on one side of the relationship, rather than couples getting the same tattoo or commemorating each other. It’s always different: a name or a rose or something super specific to them.
There’s an old wives’ tale in tattooing that it’s a curse to get someone’s name tattooed on you. We tell people before we tattoo them that historically, most of the time when people get names tattooed on them, they’re going to split up. But I think people’s attitudes have changed now that laser removal is such a thing. They don’t think of tattoos as permanent as much as they used to. I think people are willing to take more risks, and body art is more acceptable in general.
I know people who have tattoos for multiple boyfriends and girlfriends — maybe not names but tattoos for them. For people heavily covered in tattoos, especially tattooers, collecting them is a timeline of your life. I’m not trying to erase that part of my life. I respect that time and that person, and it’s sad it didn’t work out, but I think a lot of people think it’s nice to have a reminder.
Most commonly, it’s a [partner’s] name or initials. A popular one over the last few years is that the man will get the king of hearts symbol and the female will get the queen, like a K with a heart or a Q with a heart in that Bicycle font. Everything else is super specific to [the couple], where you wouldn’t even know it was for someone else specifically.
I’ve seen people do it in blood. Couples bring in their blood and get it tattooed on each other. It doesn’t have the same properties as ink, but it works and shows up. I couldn’t say how long it lasts; stuff like that is different for everybody.
It’s often newlyweds, but in all honesty, it’s just boyfriends and girlfriends a lot of the time. It’s exactly what you think it is: They’re hot and heavy, early on in a relationship, and they’re trying to show each other that level of commitment. On the other side, I’ve had 65-year-old people who have been married for 40 years and decide to commemorate it in that way. The other big one is the loss of a partner.
Getting someone’s name tattooed on you is one of the oldest cultural rituals. People will always want to make a grand gesture of love, and tattoos are a great way to do it, if that’s what works for you.
Sarah, 32, shares multiple tattoos with her wife
My wife, Kristen, had an impala skull tattoo when I met her. I always liked it and wanted something that connected us. I was 27, and we had been dating about three or four months and decided on a whim to get tattoos. I got the skull on my middle finger on my right hand. It was during our first vacation that we took over Valentine’s Day, and I always saw it on her and knew I wanted it on my body as well.
We knew pretty fast that we were right for each other. We would say “when you know, you know” a lot to each other during the early months.
The skull itself I just like, but it was meant to be a connect between the two of us that was visible. It was also my first hand tat, which was a big deal! But I wanted to be more forward and visible with my tattoos; for me, it’s a way of claiming my body. It hasn’t changed in meaning, only really grown in meaning as we get more tattoos together.
[If we broke up], well, that’s the thing about not getting a tattoo of a name! No one needs to know, and it’s still a reminder of a really good time in my life.
Igor Puente, tattoo artist at 10 Thousand Foxes:
Tattoos are not forever like in the past, so even if the couple doesn’t work out, it’s not a big deal. If you feel that you want it and you are going to enjoy it for a while and you don’t make it in a way that can disturb your life, why are you not going to get it? Life is short, and you have to enjoy it doing what you feel!
I can’t really [say how many couples tattoos I do] because some people hide the real meaning of the tattoo and don’t tell you. But probably three or four per month. It’s one of the most popular cover-ups — shit tattoos or [a tattoo dedicated to an] ex.
Annie, 25, has two couple tattoos
[My first tattoo] was a lotus flower on my right hip. I was 19 — sorry, Mom. [My boyfriend and I] decided we both wanted tattoos, and I was ready for my first. Oh, we were so in love. It was beautiful. We thought this would be a cool thing to do together. But we didn’t get matching tattoos or anything; we wanted to keep our individuality. But the memory of getting it together will always be there. He kind of hates me now, so maybe it’s a bitter memory for him.
It makes me laugh, honestly — we were young and dumb and probably broke, too. For me, it’s just a sweet memory of innocent love. And I love the tattoo still. I have no hard feelings about it. I think it’s cute! But like I said, he was pretty bitter when we split.
[About a month ago] my current boyfriend and I were in Miami and walked by a tattoo shop. I got a crescent moon in my, er, pubic region, and he got a basic palm tree on his wrist. We were actually in a very weird time because we decided to split ways for a bit to try and regain our individuality, so we were going to essentially break up in two days when I left Miami. I think it was just a fun bonding thing for us and a way to remember the fun time we had in Miami. If we broke up, I would keep it, since it was kind of like a breakup tattoo anyway. When I’m older, I am probably going to look at my wrinkly-ass vagina and be like, “Damn, I remember the good old days!”
Krish Trece, tattoo artist at 10 Thousand Foxes:
I understand the impulse, and I think you don’t have to take life too seriously. If it’s in your gut, go with it. You can always break up with your partner and your tattoo. Laser tattoo removal is so much easier going than a breakup.
[Couple tattoos] usually represent loyalty to the other person, the feeling of “forever yours.” I have tattooed many wedding rings, which I find adorable. Sometimes it’s even done like a final resource, to show their partner their love even if things aren’t going too well. That’s a thing.
The feeling of love is crazy. There is no way to explain what goes on inside you, so for this reason I never judge. Just go with it — life is too short to not live it and love it!