For 12 seasons, The Big Bang Theory provided viewers with tons of laughs and a barrel full of bazingas. Neurotic physicist Sheldon Cooper delivered most of the chuckles, but bombshell next door Penny consistently cracked us up as well. Fish out of water humor is almost always sure to land and Penny, struggling to fit in with her geeky, comic-booked obsessed friends, never failed to disappoint.
Penny often seems like the most superficial member of the group. At times she leans into this image herself. But underneath it all, Penny is an emotionally deep person, as caring as she is vulnerable. She’s terrified of failure and even more terrified of having her heart broken. Thus, she puts up walls, which lead to some of the show’s most gut-wrenching moments. You might want to have “Soft Kitty” playing in the background as you read this one. Here is Big Bang Theory: 10 Times Penny Broke Our Hearts.
10 She Almost goes back to The Cheesecake Factory
The decision to pursue creativity full time is never easy. It has its obvious financial risk, but it can also alienate us from our loved ones. When Penny decides to quit waitressing at The Cheesecake Factory and devote herself to acting, it flummoxes the risk averse Leonard. This puts a strain on the couple’s relationship, as Leonard thinks Penny is making a big mistake and Penny thinks her drastic choice is long overdue.
No matter whose side the viewer takes, everyone is rooting for Penny. For seasons we watch her face a pile of rejection as she struggles to find her big break. However, the only thing that breaks is her car. With no money to replace it, it appears that Penny’s hands are tied. We’re crushed at the prospect of her having to go back to her old job, tail between her legs, and admit defeat. But in a touching moment, Leonard surprises Penny by buying her a car, putting her dreams back on track. Though she eventually quits acting, Penny never has to serve a piece of cheesecake again.
9 She “Forgets” her first kiss with Leonard
Every couple has their milestone moments. They’re told and re-told, each iteration more starry-eyed than the next. But it can be rather awkward and upsetting when a couple realizes that they don’t share the same intimate memories.
Leonard and Penny find themselves in this particular pickle when they disagree about their first kiss. Penny insists it was at Leonard’s birthday party, but Leonard reminds her they kissed before that, on Halloween. Penny cites her blackout drunkenness as reason for forgetting and Leonard is devastated. As viewers, we’ve been on Leonard and Penny’s rocky road to romance right along with with them, so we feel his pain. However, Penny later reveals that she does remember the kiss, but is saddened by the fact that it was fueled by booze and anger toward her ex. Comforted by the fact that Penny remembers, Leonard agrees to make the birthday party kiss count as their first. With the past in order, Leonard and Penny concentrate on the present, lips at the ready.
8 She Wishes she were smarter
As tight as the gang is, Penny often finds herself being reduced to a dumb blonde stereotype. When she’s not shrugging these digs off, she’s using a feigned superiority complex as a defense mechanism. Penny acts as if being a hard-partying, attractive woman is much better than being a brilliant scientist.
But behind Penny’s shield of fabulousness, she’s totally insecure about being the least educated member of her circle. She confesses this to Sheldon. Not only do we feel sorry for her in the moment, our sympathy doubles as we think back to every joke made at the expense of her intelligence. These comments have always come across as insensitive and cringeworthy, but this revelation twists the knife even harder.
7 She Endures Leonard dating Priya
Breakups suck. But misery loves company and it’s often a small comfort to know that our ex is probably just as sad and lonely as we are. So when they move on first, it definitely smarts.
Penny finds herself in this situation when Leonard rebounds with Raj’s sister Priya. Not only is Priya gorgeous and poised, she’s intellectually a much better match for Leonard than Penny. Penny acts like she’s cool with it, but later breaks down and sobs in front of Amy. While Penny may envy Priya’s positive qualities, what really breaks her heart is how quickly Leonard moves on and that the possibility of getting him back is all but gone. But on the bright side, Amy is able to make a monkey cry.
6 She Doesn’t want kids
Nothing makes a show more boring that its protagonists getting what they want. When Leonard and Penny are (mostly) happy and married, fans complained about their dull plotlines compared to the other characters. But all that gets shaken up when Penny tells Leonard she doesn’t want to have kids.
A couple disagreeing on having kids can be a huge deal breaker. Penny has every right to her decision, but it’s still tough to watch the crestfallen Leonard re-process his entire future, and we worry that future might not include Penny.Ironically, the idea of Leonard donating sperm bookends the series. When he agrees to be a donor for Zack and his wife, Penny finds her stance wavering. At the end of the series, Penny reveals she’s pregnant. Her drastic shift in wanting kids is a little abrupt to fully buy, but at least Leonard and Penny wound up happy.
5 Leonard’s kiss revelation
Just when it looks like Leonard and Penny are finally going to get their happily ever after, he drops a huge bomb on her, confessing he made out with a colleague on a work trip. While clearly hurt, Penny still wants to go through with their Vegas wedding.
However, matrimony doesn’t just make Penny forget about Leonard’s indiscretion. Most newlyweds can’t seem to stop kissing each other, but it’s now a sore spot for Leonard and Penny. It becomes an all-too real possibility that Penny may not be able to move on and that her marriage to Leonard may be over before it evens starts. Fortunately, they’re able to get past Kiss-gate and move on stronger than before.
4 When she Plays Spock in Sheldon’s fan-fiction
This scenario sounds hilarious and it definitely delivers the laughs, but it’s also a moment with incredible heart. Penny agrees to give Sheldon acting lessons, so they begin a dramatic rendition of Sheldon’s Star Trek fan fiction. In the vignette, Mr. Spock arrives to take Sheldon to the future, much to the dismay of Sheldon’s mom. Penny insists that she play Spock and Sheldon play his mother.
The result is Sheldon fully appreciating his mother’s love for him in a way he hadn’t before. As Sheldon cries, the viewer is reminded of how much trouble he has relating to others. Though he masks it with a snide attitude, Sheldon longs to be able to understand those around him. With Penny’s help, this is a huge first step.
3 She Can’t tell Leonard how she feels
Much of the conflict between Leonard and Penny stems from her inability to articulate her feelings. In Season 2, though they have chemistry, it appears that Leonard’s feelings for Penny are one-sided. But when he plans to go to the Arctic for three months, Penny begins acting extra-affectionate. She buys him a Snuggie and gives him a lengthy goodbye hug.
Before he leaves, Leonard checks in on Penny and she assures him he’ll be fine. But when she closes the door, Penny whispers to herself that she wishes Leonard wasn’t going. It’s a bittersweet moment in that we’re elated Penny returns Leonard’s feelings but bummed at the prospect of them being apart. What if, after three months, one of them changes their minds? Talk about a cliffhanger of a season finale.
2 She Kisses Zack on New Year’s Eve
Can we all agree that New Year’s Eve is the worst holiday ever? In terms of making single people feel lonely, it’s even worse than Valentine’s Day. After all she’s been through, Penny certainly doesn’t want to be alone when the clock strikes midnight. She makes plans with Zack, even though she has little interest in him.
This ends up being rather awkward when the gang all celebrate New Year’s Eve together at the comic book store. When the New Year rings in, Penny and Zack share the obligatory kiss, though she’s looking at Leonard the whole time. He stares back and it’s clear that they both wish they were kissing each other. It’s tragic when happiness is within our reach, yet we’re unable to grasp it. Making out with Superman is no consolation.
1 She Breaks up with Leonard
The best relationships have an equal balance of affection. When one party is more emotionally invested than the other, it can spell trouble. This usually comes out during the first “I love you” declaration. In Leonard and Penny’s case, he says it and she’s unable to say it back.
Some couples can survive this, but it gnaws away at Penny. Leonard has carried the torch for Penny much longer than she’s had romantic feelings for him. She doesn’t want to lead him on, so she decides the best course of action is to end things. Judging by her tearful breakup, it’s clearly not what she wants to do. It’s agonizing for the viewer, because we know that Penny really loves Leonard back, even if she doesn’t yet know it herself.
NEXT: The Big Bang Theory: The 5 Best (& 5 Worst) Episodes