Does art imitate life? Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki kept their real-life romance a secret — partially out of concern that it would ruin their Big Bang Theory characters’ relationship for fans.
“When we were dating, Johnny was very worried about ruining the fans’ outlook on Leonard and Penny, because they weren’t even dating yet at that point in the series,” the Flight Attendant star, 36, said in an excerpt from The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story, published by Vanity Fair on Monday, October 3. “He was so cerebral, and I’m like, ‘What?! Who f–kin’ cares?! They’re gonna be fine!’”
After Galecki, 47, clarified that he was more concerned that it would “complicate” fans’ perceptions of the character, Cuoco explained that she eventually came around to his point of view. “I was just so crazy about him, I wasn’t thinking that way,” she said. “But I guess in hindsight, I kind of understood. He was very protective of what the fans would think, because we wanted them to want Leonard and Penny together so badly, that if they saw us together in real life, it could ruin the fantasy.”
The Roseanne alum added: “And if we broke up, how would that affect their acceptance of the characters? … At that point in my life, that felt embarrassing. I would feel differently about it today. … But at that time, it was complicated for me, and we didn’t talk about it. And Kaley was really respectful of the parameters that I had about it.”
Though the now-exes did eventually tell their costars and coworkers that they were together, the stress of keeping their relationship hidden from the public eventually took its toll. “I think one of the things that created a chasm between us was my strict policies of privacy, and Kaley being very, very open about her life. I was very uncomfortable with being public about it, and I think that hurt Kaley’s feelings a little bit, and I can understand that,” Galecki recalled.
Adding that he wasn’t “embarrassed of her or our relationship,” the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation actor explained that The Big Bang Theory‘s growing audience meant there was more attention — and more pressure — on him and Cuoco both on and off screen. “I’m private in general, but it made me especially uneasy because we were working together, and the show was kind of snowballing at the time as far as viewership,” Galecki said. “At a certain point it felt like we were living this lie because we were going to award shows and functions and pretending like we’re not a couple, when in fact we were a very loving couple.”
The former costars dated for two years from 2007 to 2009. Despite their split, Cuoco and Galecki managed to remain close friends. “I adore the friends that we are,” he explained. “I think I might value my relationship with her more than any other previous relationship or relationship afterwards. … We just have such a bond that I appreciate so much. And I think that’s part of our great friendship.”
The Meet Cute star echoed those sentiments: “Yes, there was some hurt there for a bit, but it didn’t take us that long to go back to what we were before we were dating and be friends. He was front row at both of my weddings, and we’ve been so supportive of each other ever since. We adore each other.”
Four years after she and Galecki called it quits, Cuoco got engaged to tennis player Ryan Sweeting in September 2013. They tied the knot two months later, but the Harley Quinn star announced in September 2015 that they had split. Cuoco moved on with equestrian Karl Cook in 2016, exchanging vows in June 2018. The pair called it quits in September 2021. The twosome finalized their divorce in June, one month after Cuoco went public with boyfriend Tom Pelphrey.
Galecki, for his part, began dating Alaina Meyer in August 2018. They welcomed their son, Avery, in November 2019 before calling it quits the following year.