Take it away, Dan! Betty liked Peter for his shy, bookish side, the persona he often put on to distract those around him from noticing he was Spider-Man. Betty was fearful that Peter would end up like her brother Bennett, who was murdered by Blackie Gaxton during a gang war.
Eventually she begins to look for attention elsewhere and begins dating Ned Leeds without officially calling things off with Peter, a habit she will continue to display with all the various men she ends up dating over the years.
Ned eventually gets stationed in Paris for a prolonged duration and Betty grows homesick for New York. When Ned returns home and confronts the two Peter quickly ends the affair, regretting his involvement. His maturation and development due to his powers pushed him into dangerous situations and out of the arms of Betty.
It is this rejection that pushes Betty into the arms of Ned Leeds, who for a while was thought to be the Hobgoblin, and damages her psychologically for quite awhile. Betty and Peter are best of friends now, but what could their future have looked like without Spider-Man? Unfortunately this is also true for most female characters that have appeared in Spider-Man comics.
Much of this treatment really depends on the specific writer of each book and their own depiction of women young and old. Gone is the truly deceitful Peter who hides his secrets away from the women in his life and instead readers are given a realistic young man who is emotionally honest with the women he chooses to spend his time with, outside of all the normal teenage dramatics that come along with dating.
After Mary Jane is nearly killed by the Hobgoblin, Peter breaks up with her to protect her from the dangers of his world. After meeting Kitty Pryde during his debacle with the car-exploding Geldoff, Kitty aided by Storm and Jean Grey decides to call Peter and set up a date. Kitty has been secretly obsessed with Peter for awhile, decorating her bedroom with images of him in his Spider-Man costume, despite not really knowing him beyond their brief initial encounter.
The two meet up after school and spend the day chatting at the mall before getting entangled in a battle with the Shocker. It is this battle that cements for Peter that he could date Kitty without having to protect her. The two young adults are both coming fresh off of very important and significant first relationships in their lives and begin dating, with their exes still playing a large part in their lives.
As is common, the two are almost dating so as to prove to their previous significant others that they still have value to the world. These situations inevitably lead to jealousy, heartbreak, and infidelity. Kitty is consistently insecure about their relationship, due to her obsession over Peter and his own insecurities about how public their relationship soon becomes. This insecurity propels Peter back into the arms of Mary Jane, when a fight with vampires unsettles him more than any recent battles of his have.
The two are eventually able to reconcile but would never date again. Their relationship is made difficult for a number of reasons: Black Cat remains a criminal, taking after her father, for quite some time.
Felicia learns that the Kingpin is in control of an incredibly powerful detonator that the Owl plans on using to hold New York City hostage whereas Doctor Octopus plans on using it to reduce the city to rubble. As she is being operated on, Peter realizes just how much he cares for her, eventually starting to love her. While she is recovering the two begin a relationship and Peter reveals his identity to her, something that Felicia has an especially hard time with. The two remain together and become almost sickeningly in love with each other, with many issues of Spectacular Spider-Man detailing just how obsessed with each other they had become.
She undergoes the same procedures that were done to the Scorpion and The Fly thanks to the Kingpin. The powers she gains begin to permanently affect Spider-Man, essentially jinxing him. Sensing the lies growing between them, Peter calls off the relationship between him and Felicia and has Doctor Strange remove the hex that she put on him and in the process gives her new powers. The two would continue to have a rocky relationship moving forward, particularly when Felicia finds out that Peter and Mary Jane have married.
For awhile she taunted and threatened Peter and Mary Jane and even dated Flash Thompson just to get even. The two meet in Amazing Spider-Man 31 when Peter first attends college. With Ditko as the artist on the book, Gwen is initially presented as a sultry, popular blond who is clearly assessing the potential of all the new young men at Empire State University. Tensions rise between the two and Gwen even attempts to slap Peter at one point.
The introduction of Romita cast the world in a distinctly different light. Peter and Harry patch up their differences over shared familial experiences and Gwen begins to see Peter in a different light.
Gwen would date both Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn due to the murkiness of her relationship with Peter and his sudden disappearances. However, when they were together Peter and Gwen were an unstoppable couple who faced innumerable threats to their lives.
When Gwen eventually leaves for England to visit her Uncle Arthur it is only then that Peter realizes just how much he loves Gwen and thinks silently about the possibility of marrying Gwen.
The world of Spider-Man was changing, with the introduction of some modern problems and situations that only served to make her character seem more and more like a relic of the past. Peter was growing up as well and the only next logical step for the two of them was marriage. It was the catalyst for him to enter the adult world of superheroics where it was no longer just fun and games but a world full of consequences.
As great as their relationship was, it will always be remembered for how it ended … Tragically. What do you care about straights like me and Gwen? Go on — get out of here. I know how you hate sick beds. This is the moment that not only comics grew up, with the death of the innocence in Gwen, but also that Mary Jane matured to become the woman Peter would eventually be with.
If Gwen was an innocent love, Mary Jane was the real thing with all the ups and downs that come in a real romance. This very concept was incredibly documented in the original graphic novel Spider-Man: Blue, as Peter talks to Gwen posthumously and tells her how Mary Jane has taught him to love again.
This is why it is so unfortunate to see all the things that have been done with her character over the past several years. That being said, all of these qualities that I enjoy about both Gwen and Mary Jane are both alive and well in the Ultimate Universe where perhaps the best versions of these characters exist.
I wonder if Peter Parker can ever move beyond Mary Jane or if comic creators can ever create an honest and loving character in this more modern world of complicated relationships, especially since both Gwen and Mary Jane came from a simpler and more pure era of comics. These are just my Top 10 but I would be remiss in forgetting to mention all the other wonderful or not women that Peter has been romantically linked to.
See if you can recognize them all: