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Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni co-starred for 12 years as the dynamic detective duo in Law and Order. In real life, their relationship defies expectations.

Over 21 years after the first episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit premiered, Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni are still close friends. The actors co-starred for 12 years as the dynamic detective duo Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler, before Meloni left in 2011 over a contract disagreement. Through it all, however, they’ve remained close, and fans got a long-awaited chance to see them reunite onscreen in a special episode of SVU, airing April 1, 2021, right before the premiere of the brand new spinoff, Law & Order: Organized Crime, in which Meloni came back to play Stabler again after a full decade. How’s all that for full circle?

The reunion, of course has breathed new life into some old burning questions that many fans had (nay, have) about the pair’s undeniable chemistry. It should be noted that as much as fans may have wanted the two to get together, Meloni has been happily married to his wife, artist Doris Sherman Williams since 1995, and that Hargitay fell for actor Peter Hermann (who she met when he guest starred on SVU), and the couple have been happily married since 2004. Meloni and Hargitay are both content and have their own families (hell, Hargitay is even godmother to Meloni’s daughter), so what’s with the enduring fascination, pray tell? Is it their friendship that’s misunderstood? Perhaps it’s the unspoken belief that men and women can’t have strong chemistry and be friends rather than romantic partners? 

Mariska and Christopher talk openly about their relationship

Today, Meloni, 59, and Hargitay, 57, still spirited as ever, decided to tickle fans’ expectations in advance of their on-screen reunion. To this day, the pair contend that they felt an instant bond upon meeting, with Meloni describing how they “walked into the screen test…and we get up onstage in front of all the suits, and we’re just so engaged,” and Hargitay recalled:

I walked in, saw him, and I went, ‘That guy. That’s the guy.’ It went deep, very fast…I won’t say that I fully understood it, but I knew that meeting him was important and life-changing. My father, my husband, [Law & Order creator] Dick Wolf and Chris are the four pillar men in my life. And that happened early.

When the pair got back together to film their reunion episode after a whole decade, it’s hardly surprising that everything clicked right back into place—almost as though no time had passed at all. “It was this thing that I had really dreamed about,” says Hargitay. “It was Pavlovian,” says Meloni. “Ring that bell, and you get right into Stabler and Benson.” 

“We know each other and mess around socially and all that,” he says, “but when we got down and cameras were rolling … it was such a seamless, effortless endeavor. It was great.”

“There was so much shorthand between us, which all goes back to the trust we have,” Hargitay says. “He’s always made me feel like I could just jump off the ledge, the cliff, the bridge, and he would catch me, in so many ways, whether it was comedy or acting or friendship.”

Meloni and Hargitay have shared their most important milestones

Mariska Hargitay and her husband Peter Hermann Credit:
Patrick McMullan / Contributor

The pair have seen each other through many a life milestone and are still going strong.

Meloni, of course, was already married to his wife when SVU began, and Hargitay remembers “The birth of his first child and being privy to his amazing, solid relationship with his wife, before I had that for myself — I think that Chris and Sherman played a really big role for me, to see this really stable couple that loved each other.” 

A few years later, Meloni watched Hargitay fall for her future husband Peter Hermann, who she now has three kids with. Meloni recently described watching them meet, and knowing beyond a doubt that they’d end up together, despite obstacles: 

“He’s on the show as a guest actor, and I’m looking at her, looking at him, and I’m seeing how she’s acting, right? I know her, and I’m like, ‘Oh boy. Here we go.’ And she’s just, ‘Tee-hee, tee-hee, I don’t even care about him or anything like that.’…Sure enough, they start dating…After they’d been dating a long time, she came in one day and she was crushed. She goes, ‘Peter and I had a really deep, long conversation. We cried, and I just don’t think it’s going to work.'”

And she’s sobbing, and the whole time, the [thought] bubble in my head was just: ‘You’ll be married within five months.’ That’s all I was thinking. I knew. I knew.

Christopher Meloni

Ever have a friend know you better than you know yourself? If that’s not intimate friendship, I don’t know what is. 

Friendship, a many splendored thing

To anyone out there who still wishes Hargitay had fallen for Meloni, and that they had shrugged off their respective romances for one another, think again. Hargitay did not fall for the wrong co-star. On the contrary, she’s lucky enough to have both a great love and an infallible friendship with a man. If you’re among those who limit friendship to same-sex relationships (or judge others for not doing so), it may be time to reexamine your reasons for that, your fears—and maybe even those of your spouse/partner. It never hurts to reevaluate those inner settings of ours.

Bottom line: it’s time we all celebrate Hargitay and Meloni for what they do have: a truly incredible friendship. As a society, we have endless reference points for what romantic love should look like, but not so many for what friendship should look like—particularly ones between opposite genders. But we should. In the interest of healthy, well-rounded relationships, I say it’s time to create new reference points for friendship. Reference 1: Hargitay and Meloni. 

Hargitay talks about how before she met her husband, Meloni being in a very strong relationship with his wife made her “feel even safer with him, as opposed to: ‘Great guy — but single.’ Or ‘Great guy — except for his romantic life.’ Instead, he’s this man who is as solid as a rock, and who is that rock in his relationship. And I got to lean on it when I needed to. It was like family.”

Meloni credits their long-lasting friendship to one thing. “It’s simple,” he says. “We have each other’s back.”