"You're asking me, will my love grow?
—The Beatles, "Something"
Normally, it's easy to recognize when a romance arc ends with a Relationship Upgrade or an outright Happily Ever After. The tale may end with True Love's Kiss, romantic Holding Hands, an embrace, a mutual Love Confession or proposal, or even a wedding. Babies Ever After may ensue, particularly in the credits.
But what about those romance plots that end on an ambiguous note? What if both parties seem interested, and there's no definitive "no," but there's no kiss, no embrace, and no wedding? This can occur when a story ends with the tentative start of a new relationship, rather than with the culmination of the relationship. In some cases, separated characters are reunited, or a quarrel between two romantically interested characters is resolved, but it isn't entirely certain where the relationship is going to go. Instead of a "yes" or "no" answer to Will They or Won't They? we get "probably" or "kinda sorta maybe."
Unlike some other forms of No Romantic Resolution, a Maybe Ever After ending hints at or implies a successful conclusion to a romance arc. However, the degree of resolution can vary widely. At one extreme, a Maybe Ever After ending can strongly imply that the characters in question are entering into a long-term relationship, coming just short of explicitly indicating that. At the opposite extreme, there may be just a hint of something romantic developing between the characters. That said, when adding examples, don't forget that there must be a reasonable likelihood that the characters in question would end up together. Wishful thinking doesn't count: if you can't point to specific evidence of a potential romantic relationship, leave it out. Likewise, there must be at least some degree of ambiguity about the status of the relationship: if the ending leaves absolutely no doubt about the fact that the two characters are a long-term item now, the example belongs in Relationship Upgrade, Last-Minute Hookup, Happily Ever After, or They Do rather than this trope.
This is a common ending trope in anime adaptations of manga, where it may manifest as an alternative to a Gecko Ending. In Western literature, it may function as part of a Sequel Hook. Maybe Ever After is the subtrope of No Romantic Resolution, which may offer less resolution or may otherwise lack the hint-of-a-positive-ending that characterizes Maybe Ever After.
If your example involves secondary characters whose relationship involves little or no romance arc to speak of, it might be a case of Hooked Up Afterwards. See also Belated Happy Ending, where a sequel clears up the ambiguity of a Maybe Ever After, as well as Downtime Downgrade, where the resolution gets unraveled in between the first work and the sequel. Contrast with Did Not Get the Girl, which may lead to a Bittersweet Ending.
Anime and Manga
- The anime of Kaze no Stigma ends with Ayano using her "bond" with Kazuma to bring him back to himself. However, despite the fact that she's been forced to acknowledge her feelings for him, there's no real resolution to the romance arc: just a hint that there's potential for their relationship.
- Ranma ½ ends with this.
- Gun X Sword: The finale ends with an unexpected reunion between two characters who had gone separate ways years before. They don't do anything but stare at each other, but the jingle from the ring on Van's hat suggests that he's happy to see the all-grown-up-now Wendy.
- Roy and Riza from Fullmetal Alchemist. Fans can debate forever on whether or not they love each other, but even in the epilogue, where there's Babies Ever After for other characters, there is no almost hint of what happens between them since the end of the series. It is confirmed by their last photo that she's still working alongside him.
- And the third art book puts an end to that do-they-or-don't-they argument, since the author herself confirms that if the military didn't have that pesky rule against fraternization, they would be married by now.
- Ergo Proxy fits this: Vincent/Ergo Proxy chooses Re-l over Monad, and they both escape from Romdeau unscathed, but they're separated and it's unclear what Re-l thinks of his new self-appointed duty to kill off the human founders of Romdeau.
- Monster has ambiguous endings for minor characters Karl and Lotte and between main characters Nina and Tenma, who show hints of potential romantic interest by the end of the series, but who are (temporarily?) separated by education and work.
- The anime of Ouran High School Host Club ends without definitively establishing which of her two major Love Interests Haruhi will choose, although there are some pretty strong hints.
- Rihoko's arc in Amagami SS ends with Junichi and her apparently closer, but still in his "friend zone".
- SS+ solves this problem.
- Brigadoon Marin and Melan is an unusual example. Normally, if a series ends with Sealed with a Kiss, you assume that They Do, but in context since the ending doesn't say whether Marin goes to Brigadoon with Melan, as opposed to staying on Earth, it's quite possible that this is a goodbye kiss. The new ending theme for the episode may hint at a happy ending, but not in a conclusive way.
- The anime of Welcome to The NHK's includes a declaration of love, and it sure looks like it's mutual. But at the very end, Satou and Misaki are meeting together as usual, and though they are clearly involved in each other's lives, it isn't clear whether they are involved as friends or as romantic partners.
- Robin and Amon in Witch Hunter Robin. They've had heavy Ship Tease from the start, and while the ending has Amon basically agreeing to stay by her side for life (in case she ever loses it and needs someone to stop her, though it's shown neither believes such a thing will happen), we get no confirmation of anything.
- Axis Powers Hetalia: The Buon San Valentino strip, in which Germany finally seems to be coming to terms with his feelings for Italy, never got finished, so we never get to see what happened there.
- Interestingly, The Movie of Mobile Suit Gundam 00 has this trope. Just prior to Tieria launching for the final battle with the ELS, Mileina surprises him with a short but cute love confession totally out of the blue. Right afterward, he hitches a ride to the ELS homeworld with Setsuna and the 00 Qan[T]... and that's it. She's never seen again and it's unknown if he ever returned to Earth... although there IS a Tieria-type Innovade aboard the Sumeragi fifty years later.
- Konoka and Setsuna in the Where Are They Now? Epilogue of Mahou Sensei Negima are deliberately taken right to the border of They Do. Both are shown in wedding kimonos, and any reader knows that Setsuna is deeply in love with Konoka, but it never explicitly says they got married.
- Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman ends with Bruce and Kathy driving off into the sunset together. However, anyone familiar with Bruce's track record with relationships isn't going to hold their breath for the wedding. Even more so when it was a Foregone Conclusion that Bruce would end up all alone.
- Oddly, for a Disney movie—especially one that's marketed as a Disney Princess movie -- Mulan ends with what is essentially Mulan and Shang's first date. No declaration of love, no kiss, just a "hey, let's get to know each other better." The sequel has them marry (if you count it).
- Of course, the Emperor tells Shang not to let Mulan get away, because a girl like her is so rare they don't pop up every dynasty!
Film (Live Action)
- In the Romantic Comedy One Fine Day, the protagonists don't even make it as far as dinner together. Instead, they fall asleep on the couch at the end of a tiring day.
- At the end of The Graduate, Ben saves Elaine from the wedding she doesn't want to have, and they jump on a bus. So what happens then? We don't know.
- The film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World ends this way.
- Mal and Inara at the end of Serenity.
Mal: So, you ready to get off this boat and back to civilized life?
- The ending of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
- Paul & Michelle (1974) ends this way, with Paul and Michelle separated, but holding out some hope that he will keep his promise to return to her again in three years when he's finished with college.
- The Rebound ends in this way with main couple sitting down to dinner with their extended family, secretly holding hands.
- The Woody Allen film Broadway Danny Rose has a Bittersweet Ending but ends on a glimmer of hope with Danny Rose chasing after Tina though its unclear if his accepting her offer of friendship will extend to anything more than that.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two, they had this happen between Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood, something which definitely didn't happen in the books. Neville mentions to Harry that he's going to find Luna so that he could tell her that he loved her, but whether he actually did or not, and whether the confession was before or after their scene on the stairs, is left vague. According to Matthew Lewis (who played Neville), they got together for a "summer fling", but eventually moved on to their canon pairings.
- In My Fair Lady, Eliza returns to Henry, and it is clear from both their responses that they're reconciling after their quarrel. There is romantic interest on both sides, but no definitive sign of a Relationship Upgrade.
- Going the Distance has one after Garrett moves closer to Erin and they re-connect at the concert.
- The drama adaptation of the manga Yankee kun to Megane chan has this for Adachi and Shinagumi. The former finally confesses in the last few minutes and the latter seems to be playing hard to get, grinning and teasing him by feigning obliviousness when he asks her for an answer. Things are looking good though.
- The film In Good Company has Dennis Quaid's character's daughter (played by Scarlett Johansson) breaking up with Topher Grace's character midway into the movie. The ending hints that they are possibly still romantically interested in each other but did not actively pursue it.
- Before Sunrise ends with Jesse and Celine very clearly in love, despite only having met the night before, but having to seperate and return to their homes in American and France respectively; they agree to meet up again in Vienna six months later, but the audience doesn't find out if they made the rendezvous and it's left to each person's individual opinion to decide. This fact was remarked on by many critics of the film, and hearty lampshaded in the sequel.
- Then a sequel was made almost a decade later that clarified things: Jesse made the rendezvous, but Celene didn't due to a sudden family emergency.
- Definitely Maybe has Will reuniting with April after not talking to each other for many years and even sharing a kiss, though given their past relationship, it may not be a sure thing that they will get together.
- In the revised ending of Great Expectations, Dickens implies (without explicitly stating) that Pip and Estella will end up together. It's noteworthy that the original ending had Estella marrying someone else instead.
- Unlike The Song of The Lioness and The Immortals, both of which ended with clear romantic couplings, Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small ended on a Maybe Ever After note, just hinting that something might develop between Kel and Dom.
- Patricia C. Wrede's The Raven Ring ends with Eleret turning down one suitor and traveling homeward with the other. However, the relationship with Karvonen is just beginning, so this falls into "Let's see where this goes" category.
- At the end of The Thrawn Trilogy, Luke gives Mara Jade his father's lightsaber for a multitude of reasons—but mostly because he wants her to have it. She reflects that he's just given her one of the last remaining links to his past, and thinks that this is not a subtle message, and he's wasting his time. But as he's leaving, she tells him to hang on a minute—she's coming with him.
- Successive books in the Star Wars Expanded Universe largely ignore Mara Jade and this hint. Luke has had a lot of love interests. It's not until the same author came back with the Hand of Thrawn duology that they, in fact, got together. It was followed quickly by Star Wars Union, in which they were married—and then other authors had to acknowledge it.
- In a case where the "maybe" is clear but ultimately, fortunately, "no", there's Splinter of the Minds Eye. It was intended to be the sequel to the first Star Wars movie if it didn't make enough money for Lucas to tell the story he really wanted (eg. The Empire Strikes Back), so Han Solo wasn't involved, but Luke and Leia were. Along with endless Subtext.
- Mary Stewart's The Stormy Petrel ends with a promise that Rose and Neil will see each other "next term," suggesting the potential for a romantic relationship. In this case, ending the novel with just the beginning of a potential romance is quite realistic, as they've only known each other for a few days.
- Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock has a very subtle ending, and has left a lot of readers uncertain as to whether Polly and Tom will get together or not. The villainess's trap for them implied that the only way for Polly to help Tom was to reject him, but since the trap was set up so that this was true when they were "Nowhere" (that is, in Faerie), Polly works out that this implies they can be together "somewhere". However, Polly's relationship with Tom has always been either as a child hero-worshipping an adult, or a teenager with a crush. So if they're going to start anything new, she acknowledges that they're going to have to get to know each other as adults, and find out whether it'll work or not.
- Fablehaven ends with Kendra and Bracken tentatively considering getting into a relationship. On one hand, there's a definite attraction between them. On the other hand, Bracken is Really Seven Hundred Years Old and not technically human. Meanwhile, Kendra is still a teenager, and human. (Mostly.)
- At the end of Vampire of the Mists, it appears that Sasha and Liesl might end up together. Of course, that depends on whether they survive at all, and whether they manage to cure her of lycanthropy. So who knows?
- That '70s Show ended this way for Eric and Donna. Although they had been the show's primary couple for the first seven seasons (sans Season 4), Eric left the cast in Season 8, and they broke up offscreen. He returned for the finale, but his scenes with Donna did not make it clear whether they were reconciling or not.
- Spaced ends this way for Tim and Daisy. They had some very subtle UST built up, and the finale revolves around Tim getting Daisy back to live with him, but it's not a romance that pulls them back to each other. It was intended to be followed up in a third season, but the show was ended by the creators. A while later, a DVD extra was filmed showing they had hooked up and had a baby.
- Marsha and Mike are the same as they share a final scene together that implies but doesn't state at all that they will get together.
- The X-Files series ends this way. The romantic arc for Mulder and Scully had been going pretty much since day one, and even after they were officially a couple and had a child, they couldn't be together. The final scene of the series ends with the two cuddling on a hotel bed while on the run from the FBI. It was the first time they'd been able to do such in over a year, and it ends with Mulder saying "Maybe there's hope." It's unclear about where the relationship is going or even where they're going. The 2008 movie "I Want to Believe" shows that they had bought a house and were living together like a married couple. Chris Carter actually played on this trope in the trailers for the movie, as the trailers imply that Mulder and Scully were no longer together.
- Veronica Mars ended this way, with hints of possible feelings lingering between Veronica and Logan. In this case, the lack of resolution might simply be a result of the series being canceled.
- Single Father ends on an optimistic note but without a definitive happy ending for Dave and Sarah.
- Played with in the finale for JAG. During the last ten minutes, Harm and Mac finally admitted their love for each other after nearly a decade and she accepted his marriage proposal. However, as she was being reassigned to San Diego, and he was reassigned to England, the show did end on a question mark, as they literally flipped a coin to determine whether Mac would resign from the Marines or Harm from the Navy so they could be together.
- At the end of Measure for Measure, the Duke proposes to Isabella, a novice in a religious order. She never replies, so the script leaves it unclear whether she accepts or declines. Depending on which performance you see, however, this might be played as a Maybe Ever After: some theater companies depict her given a sign of consent or acceptance. Others have the actress assume an expression of dismay or shock, implying a rejection.
- Sophie and Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier.
- Cripple Billy Claven and Slippy Helen McCormick in Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan. Possibly a Belated Happy Ending as the next play in the trilogy, The Lieutenant of Inishmore introduces Mairead and Davey Claven, a sister/brother duo with personalities eerily similar to Helen and her brother Bartley respectively. Billy was established as having no living relatives. This hypothesis depends on how long Billy lives after the ending of The Cripple of Inishmaan.
- Hal and Catherine in Proof.
- The Legend of Zelda: In a series infamous for its constant Implied Love Interest, this comes with the package. However, two games take the cake.
- The first is Spirit Tracks. The constant strong Toy Ship of the game would suffice by itself, but it goes further. The last shot of the game is Link and Zelda holding hands in a very romantic tone. Also, in two of the three epilogues of the game we see that they still are together in some way.
- The second would be Skyward Sword. After chasing/saving Zelda for the entire game the two of them stand together on top of a statue where the game previously teased a kiss and look over the landscape. Zelda decides that she's going to try to make a life for herself there and asks Link if he'll be doing the same. He smiles and the game ends.
- In Gloria Union, the B ending involves Elisha sending a letter to Ishut that hints at her having feelings for him, and Ishut's comrades teasing him about it. Aside from that, nothing.
- Blaze Union's C ending hints that protagonist Garlot and his childhood friend Siskier might be getting together in the near future—if for no other reason, because their third childhood friend Jenon (who had a crush on Siskier) and Garlot's first crush Nessiah are both conveniently dead, leaving Siskier with no more obstacles. Remarks by the creators in an interview confirm that they eventually do get together.
- Solatorobo strongly implies that Red and Elh will get together in the near future (and, as of DLC Quest #8, Elh knows Red's feelings, though he has amnesia of the event and Elh has decided to wait until he comes to his senses on his own, rather than trying to push for anything - despite the fact that asking to remain together was what prompted Red to begin to confess). Less strongly implied but still quite possible is Beta Couple Merveille and Béluga.
- Every single possible pairing in Final Fantasy XII. Vaan and Penelo have known each other a looooong time and are travelling together at the end, Penelo's final line being "Every sky pirate needs a partner" and that's it. Balthier and Fran also get a lot of Ship Tease in the game and are at least implied to be together at the end though no confirmation on whether they've broken the sexual tension yet. There's even a possible romance hinted between Ashe and Basch with Penelo writing in her letter very pointedly that Ashe misses him.
- Rikku and Gippal in Final Fantasy X-2. The scene where he says they were together (which Rikku denies) is optional though she does have a few moments in the game that suggests otherwise and the two are seen leaving the Farplane holding hands.
- Some of the non Miou endings in A Profile give a hint to a possible Kaine/Miou relationship developing in the future. Before this, Kaine was alternately jealous of and angry with Masayuki regarding Miou because he felt that Masayuki broke up with her in a harsh way.
- In Katawa Shoujo, Shizune's route ends with Hisao, his girlfriend and her best friend going their separate ways for now, but promising to meet again one day.
- In Penny and Aggie, the title characters, having tried and failed at a romantic relationship in their last year of high school, keep in touch through college and beyond. The comic ends with their five-year High School Reunion, during which they discuss their recently-ended relationships with others, and what they've learned from those and from each other. In the final strip, Penny asks Aggie what she thinks they mean to each other now. Aggie smiles and says, "Now's when we find out."
- In Justice League Unlimited, the Love Triangle between Shayera, John, and Vixen is closed out by John declaring his intention of staying with Vixen. However, given the existence of John and Shayera's Kid From the Future, as well as flashbacks that reveal John and Shayera are a Reincarnation Romance, this is less than convincing. Word of God states that John and Shayera will eventually be together.
- My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: In the episode "Hearts and Hooves Day", Big Mac and Cheerilee fall in love due to a love potion given to them by the Cutie Mark Crusaders. At the end of the episode after the potion has been cured, they're last seen pretending to still be in love before going off to have a picnic. It's left ambiguous whether they're just friends putting on a act to troll the CMC or whether there's actually something going on.