"Almost five years [he had pined for her]! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart."The nature of emotional relationships often overlaps in confusing complications ranging from the simple crush to Freudian oddness. If this causes the writers to accidentally build things like harems, the easy way to get around this is reveal the basal nature of a relationship. This is a form of Wishful Projection. In the character's mind, one type of relationship was simply confused with another. This has some basis in reality, where some potentially romantic relationships are actually people seeking "figures". (Hell, who hasn't done this at some point?) They spend time with a person because he or she reminds them of someone else. For example, some characters attracted to older characters often have an absent parent or older sibling. This situation is often the inherent role of an Unwanted Harem's Unlucky Everydude. In some other cases, it turns out that the character was only in love with the idea of being in love and applied it to the first suitable person they met; and in others, a character falls in love with another character… or more specifically, some defining feature of that character. For example, Bob falls in love with Alice because she is incredibly beautiful, or a brilliant fighter, or incredibly smart, but he fails to actually comprehend Alice beyond that trait. This is easy to do to The Lost Lenore, since she's not around to contradict an idealized version of her. Doing this poorly can feel incredibly cheap if the "explanation" doesn't make sense or potential evidence wasn't presented beforehand, as it feels as if the writers are just going down the list of romantic opposition and checking them off. Like Death of the Hypotenuse and Ron the Death Eater, this trope serves as a subtrope of Die for Our Ship in fanfic, to clear the way for the author's preferred ship. If a character is Really 700 Years Old, this can keep the writers from having to deal with a Mayfly–December Romance. The trope name refers to Éowyn's unrequited love for Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, from the line "It is but a shadow and a thought that you love." Accordingly, compare and contrast with All Love Is Unrequited. Compare The Dulcinea Effect. Not to be confused with Fighting a Shadow. Most definitely can be Truth in Television.
— Nick about Gatsby and his flame for Daisy, The Great Gatsby
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Anime & Manga
- 5 Centimeters per Second: In Chapter 3, Takaki is no longer in love with Akari herself, but rather with the idea of Akari. All the things he is longing for are not physical but abstract things that he cannot grasp, which is why he finds it so difficult to find any way to resolve his longing. He's made efforts to move on, as evidenced by his relationship with his new girlfriend Risa, but he's as distant with her as he is with everyone else.
- Area 88: In the manga and OVA, Ryoko's obsession with Shin falls into this category. She idealizes Shin and is enamored with the idea of being in love. However, she fails to understand how he thinks, what motivates him, or how his time at Area 88 has affected him. For this reason, she's completely blindsided when he abandons her in both continuities.
- Black Cat: This happened to Creed's worship of Train in the anime. After Train defeats him, he suddenly does a Heel–Face Turn and no longer has any reaction or romantic obsession with him, even getting together with Echidna. This never happened in the manga, where Creed goes into a catatonic state of shock and is never shown getting over Train. Rather ironic, considering that the anime made Creed more pervertedly obsessed with Train than in the manga, making this an even less justified trope.
- Bubblegum Crisis: Priss Asagiri, the Knight Saber's singing biker, has some of this towards Nigel Kirkland in Tokyo 2040, much of it, as Mackey observes, seems to be based on how they're both very quiet, very reserved individuals who say much by saying very little. She's hurt later on to learn that he's with her boss Sylia Stingray (more or less), after which she finally begins to bond more with the hulking roughneck AD Police officer Leon McNichol.
- Cardcaptor Sakura: Sakura realizes that her feelings for Yukito are (mostly) familial in nature, while Syaoran's crush on Yukito is explained as "attraction of similar magic", which clears the way for both of them to fall in love with each other.
- Death Note: This is part of the reason for Misa's Love Martyrism—to her, Light Yagami will always be the handsome and heroic vigilante that avenged her murdered family, regardless of how less than heroic he actually is, and she is madly in love with him for that. It proves hazardous for them both.
- Detective Conan: Kobayashi-sensei at first thought Inspector Shiratori's love for her was due to the extreme similarity between her and Inspector Satou, who Shiratori unsuccessfully courted for. It was subverted that it was Satou who was the shadow—Shiratori's childhood friend that he's been in love for more than half his life was indeed Kobayashi, but he didn't know her name and mistook that to be Satou when he grew up. When this is cleared up and Kobayashi remembered Shiratori as clearly as he recalled her, they properly got together.
- How the little girl whom Shiratori loved was a big fangirl of the Japanese police force (just like Satou) didn't really help. Neither did the fact that, back then, Kobayashi lacked her trademark glasses, which is the main physical difference between her and Satou.
- Freezing: Kazuya's attraction to Satellizer STARTS like this as she reminds him of his departed sister Kazuha. Kazuya grows out of this, but it becomes a source of tension on Satellizer's part as she wonders if she's just a "replacement" for Kazuha.
- Fruits Basket: After volumes of what seemed like romantic buildup, in order to solve the love triangle that Yuki and Tohru are involved in, it's revealed that Yuki never truly loved Tohru romantically, but was looking for a mother figure in her after years of Parental Abandonment.
- Fullmetal Alchemist:
- May Chang in Fullmetal Alchemist has a HUGE crush on Ed when she's introduced (with dream sequences no doubt reminding some of Ouran above). She inevitably finds out what he's really like... but shortly afterwards she gets to know Al and the squeefest starts all over again. Not even seeing Al's true emaciated body once he's restored to his original form puts her off, and it's implied that by the time Ed and Winry are married with kids, they may be either together or on their way to get hitched.
- In the 2003 anime adaptation, a filler episode in the beginning of the show focused on an alchemist named Majahal obsessed with reviving a beautiful woman named Karin who had died decades ago. To that point he's created life-size dummies of how Karin looked before she died. It turns out Karin hadn't actually died. She'd fallen off a cliff and sustained a head injury, which caused her to wander off in an amnesiac daze. Everyone just assumed she died because they couldn't find a body. Years later, as an older woman with her youthful beauty having faded, she regained her memory and went back to her village under a different name. The problem was Majahal's love for the younger Karin had turned into an obsession, and when Ed revealed Karin's identity Majahal refused to accept this "hag" was the beautiful Karin of his youth, and dies rejecting her.
- Fushigi Yuugi
- Wholesome Crossdresser Nuriko's habits were handwaved by the explanation that he was taking the place of his dead little sister Kourin.
- Likewise, Nuriko's love interest Hotohori had a huge crush on Miaka and was a strong contendor for her attentions. Turns out he was more in love with the idea of the Suzaku no Miko, rather than Miaka herself as a person. He gets over it enough to marry one of the court ladies, Houki (who looks suspiciously like Nuriko when he was still a crossdresser, or like his dead little sister would've looked like if she was alive), and have a child with her… before he dies.
- Haikarasan Ga Tooru: Countess Larissa Mikhailovna, who falls for the amnesiac Shinobu because he looks and acts almost exactly like her beloved husband Sasha, who died in the Russian Revolution. Even more so: Shinobu was Sasha's older half-brother by their mother's side, which explains the extreme physical similarity.
- Hikaru no Go: Non-romantic version. In the beginning of the manga, Hikaru, who was being controlled by Sai, defeated Toya Akira in a game of Go, and the latter becomes obsessed with him ever since.
"If you keep chasing after my ghost, the real me is going to pass you by!"
- I Can't Understand What My Husband is Saying had a variation in the backstory. Upon reflecting on the incident where he falls for Kaoru, he notes that he more idolizes Kaoru and their co-worker, comparing it to falling for fictional characters. Said co-workers' rejection of him forced Character Development on him, self-admonishing for his folly. He also suspects it was when his love for Kaoru become something more solid, substantial and real.
- Sonken Chuubou in Ikki Tousen: Great Guardians was the reincarnation of Shuuyu Koukin's wife from their past lives, so she was crushing out on him before they even met. She stops doing so once Koukin says she shouldn't make fate rule her happiness, though. That, and Koukin was already in love with his cousin and Chuubou's "older sister", Sonsaku Hakufu, which Chuubou also accepted very gracefully.
- Mahou Sensei Negima!:
- The girl most overtly fond of Negi, Class Representative Ayaka, had a younger brother who died at birth the same year Negi was born. In many ways, Negi really is the "shadow" Ayaka wanted her baby brother to be.
- An arrow-straight version of this is the oddly flirtatious relationship the Noble Demon Old Master Evangeline has with Negi. She had a crush on his father and followed him halfway around the world before he defeated her through trickery and sealed her away on campus... and no, she did not look any older then.
- Mawaru-Penguindrum: Ringo Oginome seems at first to be utterly smitten with Tabuki—stalking him, feeding him a love potion, and generally devoting her entire life to pursuing him. However, she eventually reveals that she only loves him because her dead sister Momoka did, and Ringo believes that if she can fulfill Momoka's role by bearing Tabuki's child, her dysfunctional and broken family will be happy again. Eventually,and with help from Shouma, she gives up on Tabuki and starts pursuing her own desires. Tabuki has some troubles with this trope himself; he and his girlfriend Yuri both loved Momoka and are dating in order to recreate their relationship with her, even though they don't love each other romantically. At the end of the show, they decide to try and start a real relationship.
- Millennium Actress: This is a plot point for two characters. It is even the subject of more direct Lampshade Hanging at one point. The main character became an actress in order to find the man she loves, a rebellious artist. She sees him very briefly in her youth, and continues to keep the torch alight all her life. In the end she admits that "It's the chasing him that I really love."
- Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny: Shinn's late-season relationship with Lunamaria is initially based around him installing her as a surrogate for Stella, who in turn serves as a surrogate for his dead little sister. Develops into a proper relationship after Shinn comes to terms with Stella's death and Luna finds out Meyrin is alive.
- Monkey High!: Haruna suspects this is why Atsu keeps hitting on her. Their classmate Emi similarly pines for Atsu, and it's even pointed out that Atsu is the type who only loves who he can't have.
- Naruto had a crush on Sakura because he thought she was pretty (which is an incredibly shallow reason to "like" someone, thereby fitting this trope perfectly) and she always loved his rival Sasuke, which made him subconsciously believe that if he managed to win her love, he'd be beating out Sasuke at something for once. It was always about his rivalry with Sasuke—The Ace, the Chick Magnet of his class, and someone who was always better than Naruto—than any actual romantic feelings. Sakura even called him out on this trope, pointing out that his jealousy towards Sasuke was the only reason why he had a crush on her at all—which was implied back in Chapter 3. Both Chapter 469 and The Last: Naruto the Movie make it patently clear that his one-sided shallow crush on her was legitimately just that: a passing crush and nothing more; it was never romantic love. The movie also makes it very clear that Hinata is the first time (and only time) Naruto experiences both First Love and true love, because he genuinely fell in love with the person, rather than the idea of winning someone over by beating out someone else. Even the movie's Tagline is "His last story is his First Love", which makes Hinata his One True Love, First Love, the First Girl After All, and First Girl Wins. Finally, Kishimoto himself explicitly stated that Sakura was his first crush, while Hinata is his First Love.
- Speaking of The Last, Naruto's fangirls definitely count, since they're only interested in Naruto because he's the hero who ended the war and saved the world. Since he has long since past his Glory Seeker phase, he is clearly shown to be exasperated by their attention. Conversely, Hinata Hyuga is the only girl in the Leaf Village who actually loves Naruto for who he is and has always loved him for the way he is and not because of him being a hero.
- All of the girls that have a crush on Sasuke fall under this trope. Karin got a good look at the real Sasuke as he punched a hole in her to kill Danzo, which seemed to end her affection definitely...except it didn't. After Sasuke gave her a weak apology, Karin immediately forgave him.
- Sakura starts out like any other Sasuke-admirer, but later falls in love with him for real after they become teammates and she learns more about him. She remains in love with him even after he tries to kill her twice, because she believes that Naruto can bring him back. When he rejoins the good guys, he continues to treat her like trash, but Sakura still can't stop seeking his approval. When he goes off the deep end again and attacks her, Sakura still can't let go of her feelings for him, to the point that Sasuke himself says that Sakura has no reason to love him. Even over a decade later, after marrying him and having a daughter with him, she's unable to answer incredibly basic questions about him, as shown in Naruto Gaiden. According to Kishimoto, he deliberately avoided the reasons for why she fell in love with Sasuke because he found all the ideas too contrived.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: Misato at one point openly admits in her narration that she loved Kaji in part because he reminded her of her father, who died in the Second Impact.
- In the Yaoi Genre manga Oku-san's Daily Fantasies the titular character has fallen in love with his local delivery man, Sudo, without knowing anything about him or having a full conversation with him. When he finally confesses to Sudo and is promptly turned down, he realises he isn't as upset as he should be if he really felt something towards him and says he was really in love with the idealised version of Sudo that he fantastied about. At this time he realises that he has real affections for his neighbour, who confessed near around the same time.
- Ouran High School Host Club:
- A French young girl was the confidant of an older lady who worked at her Big Fancy House as a part of the staff. The lady told the girl many times that her estranged son was a gorgeous, gentle person; a living Princely Young Man. The naîve and unexperienced girl was completely smitten with such a dream image, logically therefore she went to Japan to meet him... and tried to fulfill her girlish dream by promising said son, Tamaki, to help him re-meet his Missing Mom if he agreed to go to France with her and leave the Host Club. Thankfully, she realized it, and backed off in the nick of time.
- There's also Ascended Fangirl Renge Houshakuji, who originally had a crush on Kyouya because he reminded her of her favorite guy from a dating sim.
- A positive version of this trope occurs in Presents. An artist falls in love with the daughter of a gallery owner at first sight. The daughter is a Rich Bitch who says she'll only go out with him if he can paint a fabulous portrait of her and then give it to her as a present. The artist tries and fails repeatedly, until Kurumi tells him that he needs to put into the portrait what he felt when he saw her for the first time. The last portrait is hailed as a masterpiece and put on display in another gallery. When the rich girl reads about this, she greedily decides to remind the artist that he owes his success to her and his promise about the painting. The artist, surprisingly, turns her down, because he realizes she's not who he fell in love with. The girl he fell in love with is the girl he saw that day, the girl who is immortalized in that portrait, and for all his hard work and everything he put into it, he gets his dream girl. The girl in the portrait steps out from the frame and becomes real. The artist receives a happy ending with his love. The rich girl, on the other hand, has a less than happy ending when she becomes just like all the failed paintings given to her before.
- Revolutionary Girl Utena:
- A rather heartbreaking and slightly twisted variant occurs with Miki Kaoru, a piano player, who is apparently smitten with Anthy Himemiya. He is attracted to her demurity and good nature because it reminds him of his twin sister Kozue, or rather, how she used to be (at least in his mind) when they were children (in the series, she's a borderline-Yandere and is smitten with him.) So he projects his feelings about his sister (or the sweet girl he used to be) on Anthy...
- Juri is in love with Shiori, but she seems to be more in love with an over-idealised mental image of Shiori than with the actual person.
- Mikage is smitten with Mamiya, but "Mamiya" we see in the show is Anthy doing a Dead Person Impersonation, the real Mamiya died years ago. Mikage later projects his feelings for Tokiko onto Utena as well.
- Sailor Moon:
- It's speculated that Seiya's crush on Usagi may have come from how similar she was to the Starlight's leader, Princess Kakyuu.
- Makoto begins the series constantly falling in love with any new guy she meets because they remind her of her old sempai, whom she had a huge crush on. Luckily, she grows out of it.
- School Days: The reason why Otome Katou loved Makoto Itou, since she's the Unlucky Childhood Friend in the Unwanted Harem surrounding him. She's heartbroken when it finally sinks in that the kind Makoto she once loved doesn't exist anymore, so she decides to call him out on it to his very face right before the... very special Grand Finale.
- Earlier in the series, Ayame tried to warn Tanukichi about the dangers of idealizing someone, but he didn't listen. In his mind, Anna was pure and innocent. Even after she awakens to her spent-up exual urges and begins stalking him, he refuses to believe it's "the real" her. It isn't until episode 7 that he finally faces the truth and now wants nothing to do with her.
- During the same episode, Ayame realizes Tanukichi's begun to idealize her as well. So she reminds him that she isn't as noble as he believes her to be and that her reasons for opposing the Public Morals Committee are selfish ones.
- Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Misa Hayase was deeply affected by the loss of her beloved fiancé and childhood friend, Riber Fruhling. Later, Minmay's handsome cousin Kaifun enters the scene, and he looks a LOT like a Chinese version of the deceased Riber...
- Tiger & Bunny: Played for tragedy when the focus of the episode turns to Sky High. During a slump in his superheroics, he falls in Love at First Sight with a beautiful girl he meets at the park, and his conversations with her help him work through his issues. Unfortunately, the girl in question, Cis, was a malfunctioning android, and everything she said to him was the result of simplistic conversational programming. When Cis goes berserk because of her damaged programming, her artificial skin burns off, and a freshly re-moralized Sky High destroys the rampaging robot. The next day, he goes back to the park with a bouquet of flowers to thank Cis...
- The Vision of Escaflowne:
- Everyone assumes Allan Schezar is attracted to slender young ingenues (borderline-legal in Japan, criminal almost everywhere else). Hints revealed later indicate that they are all Replacement Goldfish—specifically, replacements for his little sister whom he was unable to rescue in his youth.
- Hitomi's attraction to Allen Schezar was partly caused by his extreme similarity (both physical and personality-wise) to her beloved Amano-sempai, her long-time crush in school.
- Since the plot of The World God Only Knows revolves around having Keima make girls fall in love with him for their own good, there's going to be a lot of this. In fact, he seems to do it intentionally. He projects whatever personality they want to see in him so that they become attracted while he helps them solve whatever problems created a gap for them in the first place. Only two targets and the supernatural characters avert this.
- In Kaiketsu Zorro, it's strongly implied that Lolita's infatuation with Zorro is born from him being like an adult version of her brave and astute childhood friend that she actually love, even if he has become a wimp while abroad. Luckily, said childhood friend is actually Diego de la Vega, and the two ultimately get together when he can drop the facade.
- Nightwing gets this all the time.
- At one point he had upwards of six love interests, all of whom were infatuated with different shadows.
- Raven feels this way for Nightwing for an arc in Teen Titans when she's permitted to feel emotions for the first time. Starfire has to pull her aside and explain that there are different kinds of love. At first it looks like they're headed to a different solution, but they end up working things out in a mundane way.
- This is one of the reasons that Nightwing and Oracle fell apart. She was in love with Robin and he was in love with Batgirl — Nightwing and Oracle's former secret identities. Well, that and Dan DiDio just hated them being together.
- In an old She-Hulk comic, She-Hulk meets an old boyfriend who introduced her to his new girlfriend who looked just like She-Hulk only not so green. The two women glared at each other.
- The Black Cat was in love with Spider-Man and only Spider-Man; she had no interest in the man under the mask when Peter revealed his identity to her. She eventually grew to love Peter for himself, but by that time their relationship was long over and Peter was Happily Married to Mary Jane.
- In the New 52, Mr. Freeze's origin is given this unsettling twist. When Victor Fries was a child he became fascinated with freezing things when his mother almost died after falling through thin ice. As an adult, he became fascinated with Nora Fields, a woman who was cryogenically frozen at age 23 in 1943 when she was diagnosed with a fatal heart condition. At the time she was in the care of Wayne Industries, so Fries applied for a job there just so he could have a chance to study her. He eventually became delusionally obsessed with her and started thinking she was his wife—a nasty change from his more sympathetic DCAU origin. Batman calls out Freeze on his delusional "love" of a woman he doesn't know who is old enough to be his grandmother.
- Amora the Enchantress's on again/off again fixation with The Mighty Thor showed signs of this.
- Namor the Sub-Mariner's infatuation with Susan Storm-Richards/The Invisible Woman had a little bit of this on both ends.
- Cyclops' unfortunate involvement with Madelyn Pryor (AKA: the clone of Jean Grey) was very much this.
- Wolverine's infatuation with Jean Grey, and redheads in general, has traces of this. Deep down he never got over Rose, his first (unrequited) love and one of his first (accidental) victims.
- Colossus refused to see his sister Illyana as anything but his beloved little "snowflake" even after it was clear to everyone else that her time in Limbo and her transformation into a demon sorceress had changed her for the worse (it was even a factor in ruining his renewed romance with Kitty Pryde). Illyana got fed up with this and manipulated Colossus into temporarily becoming the new Juggernaut to teach him a lesson. In her own words, "there are no snowflakes in Hell." When Colossus realizes that she tricked him into becoming the servant of a God of Evil and let him suffer when she could have freed him at any time, he acknowledges that she's become a monster and vows to kill her the next time they meet.
- Lois Lane often came across as this towards Superman back during her Stalker with a Crush days.
- Because the Flashpoint Mera died before Convergence began, Flashpoint Aquaman is looking at her counterparts to find a suitable replacement. He's settled on the pre-Flashpoint Mera in Convergence: Justice League.
- The Flashpoint Superman, Subject-One, does the same thing with the pre-Flashpoint Lois Lane. He's convinced she's his version of Lois and wants only to save her.
- Advice and Trust:
- Asuka had a crush on her guardian Kaji because she longed for being acknowledged and treated as an adult and he was the only decent father figure she had known. After hooking up with Shinji and realizing Kaji was infatuated with Misato, she dropped her crush right away.
- Ritsuko was in love with Gendo but she did not know him at all.
- At the same time she thinks Maya's crush on her is idol worship because Maya did not know her real self.
- Dungeon Keeper Ami: Venna's crush on Snyder, is something along these lines. According to Snyder. Other characters, however, seem to find it cute, and occasionally tease him/arrange for them to be alone together.
- Weightless: Shepard spent 17 years to love Nihlus because he was the first person who was nice to her. But later, she realized that she never knew about him as he had never let her in and that she was just in love with the idea of him.
- Played to tear-jerking effect in Children of Time: Beth Lestrade is in love with Sherlock Holmes, but Holmes himself changes until there's hardly anything left of himself. Beth still loves the real Sherlock Holmes, but that Sherlock Holmes no longer exists. As for Holmes's response to her pleas, it doesn't get much colder than this:
I suggest you relay your message to his shade, wherever it may roam, and cease to bore me with your melodramatic sentiments.
- The belief that Ginny Weasley is in love with The-Boy-Who-Lived rather than Harry Potter is extremely common in fanfiction—especially among writers who prefer some other pairing. In canon, it did start that way for her (she was ten when they first met, after all), but by the time they finally hooked up she had known and even been genuine friends with the real Harry for years.
- The Infinite Loops can have this, as every reality reboots various Loopers coming Awake for the first time have to deal with the Loopers that have been around for so much longer.
- A particularly tragic case involves Chrysalis, whose first loop Awake was a variant in which she was married to a nonAwake Shining Armor. The Looping Shining Armor is, as per canon, married to Cadence.
- Notably both Clone!Sakura and Real!Syaoran avert this in Shatterheart as they both refused to do this. While they both realize that the other is similar to their lover, they realize the other is too different to be their actual love.
- Power Rangers GPX: Pink Ranger Hitomi has a crush on Red Ranger Sean, but as the narration points out, she was enamored with what he represented, freedom from her strict family. He was never once interested in her except as a little sister figure, and instead fell in love with Yellow Ranger Maria Aparicio. Unlike some other examples, Hitomi is a graceful loser and eventually finds real love with an elf girl.
- In Be the Sea Dweller Lowblood, Karkat's large number of hate-based flings are because he hates himself so much that anyone who can tell him how he's a failure and a fake can turn him on.
- Several characters in No Grave Can Hold My Body Down:
“When I touched your face to kiss you, you tilted your head down,” Rachel says, and she takes her hands away. She doesn’t look mad, and Chloe wishes she did. She just looks perplexed. “I’m an inch taller than you. It’s not me. There’s someone else.”
- Rachel loves the goddess of Arcadia Bay, but only as a goddess—not as a real flawed human whose power doesn't define her. Upon seeing the 'real' Max for the first time, Rachel has no idea what to do or say.
- Out of loneliness, Chloe projects her romantic feelings for Max onto Rachel.
- In Neon Genesis Evangelion: Genocide, Ritsuko is angry and spiteful because she's realized Gendo wasn't the person she believed he was, and he actually never loved her.
- The Second Try: After maturing a bit, Asuka admits to Shinji and herself that she didn't really love Kaji. She had a "delusional crush" on him because he represented the adult world that she wanted to be a part of. In a scene, while she sleeps with Shinji, Asuka wonders about the difference between being in love and thinking you're in love.
But what if there weren't other people? Who could judge if you were in love or if you'd just experience a crush on someone; if you just think you are in love?
- The One I Love Is: Asuka had a crush on Kaji because he was handsome and manly. Later on, she admits that he wasn't the person that she believed that he was.
- This isn't actually happening in All This Sh*t is Twice as Weird, but one of the Big Bad's minions tries to make the Lady Inquisitor think it is; the Nightmare implies that the people around her only care about her for what they think she is, and not for her as a person. She's not wholly convinced, but since she's already suffering a Crisis of Faith at this point, she can't easily dismiss the idea either.
- Done in The Prime Minister's epic series about the relationship between Xellos and Lina Inverse. After the Anime series, Lina and Gourry are in a romantic relationship. During Amelia and Zelgadis wedding, the two have a fight, resulting in Lina leaving Gourry because she is afraid of commitment, which Gourry wants after being with her for over a year. She runs into Xellos and the two have an affair that leads to two children over the years while having many adventures together. However, Lina grows to resent and hate Xellos, because she believes he tricked her and longs to be with Gourry again, even naming her son after him. This leads to many fights between the two over a long period of time. It's not until Lina meets him again over a decade later that she realized she left Gourry because she truly didn't love him like he still loved her, and she chose to be with Xellos, because she does love him, but couldn't bring herself to admit it once again because of fearing commitment and being dependent on another person.
Films — Animation
- It could be taken that in 9, 5 gets so attached to 9 so quickly because he reminds him somewhat of 2, especially considering how much he muses about 2 the first couple of times they're together, his "You know, you're just like him—you forget to be scared!" line, and the fact that 2 is killed shortly after they meet.
- Strange Magic: Marianne, when commiserating on her love life with The Bog King , admits that she didn't really know her ex-fiance Roland because she was blinded by his good looks.
- Frozen: Anna falls for Hans and agrees to marry him quickly because she's desperate for affection, when the person to whom she really wants to be close again is her sister Elsa (not in that way). After reconciling with her sister and seeing that Hans is not the Prince Charming he made himself out to be, she's able to move on and actually spends time getting to know her new Love Interest Kristoff before getting into a serious commitment with him.
Films — Live-Action
- Rob Gordon in High Fidelity realizes this about Charlie, his third ex. He spends most of the movie reminiscing about how fantastic, and sophisticated, and amazing, and profoundly intellectual, and out of his league she was—back when they dated in college—until he finally sees her again after having grown up a bit. It would be an understatement to say Rob discovers how utterly boring and shallow and repulsive she truly is and always was.
- One of the waitresses in I Really Hate My Job wonders if her crush on Danny Huston is just this. Then she shrugs it off with wondering if he'd fall in love with her.
- Subverted in Laura. When it turns out she is alive, she is what the detective hoped she would be.
- In There's Something About Mary, Ted explains that none of the guys pursuing Mary love her, but are fixated on her 'because of the way you make them feel about themselves'.
- A tragic example is Scottie's fascination with who he thinks is Madeleine in Vertigo, and his attempt to mold Judy into the same woman, indeed the woman he originally loved was never real to begin with.
- The main character in While You Were Sleeping nurses a crush on a regular commuter at the train station where she collects tokens. Over the course of the movie, she comes to discover that, while not really a bad man, he's not the man she thought he was, and finds herself falling for his brother, whom she gets to know quite well.
- Bruce Wayne/Batman spends much of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Saga being stubbornly infatuated with Rachel Dawes, his childhood friend. The two actually have very little in common as adults, outside of wanting Gotham City to be a better place; and though Rachel promised Bruce she would wait for him to finish his work as Batman at the end of Batman Begins, they have even less in the way of chemistry, romantic or otherwise. But Bruce just can't seem to let go of his fixation with Rachel, having put her on too high a pedestal, even after she starts dating Harvey Dent. By the end of The Dark Knight Rachel herself realizes that she probably had a little bit of this towards Bruce as well and finally realizes that she really doesn't love Bruce while her heart truly belongs to Dent (which ends tragically for all involved). In The Dark Knight Rises Bruce gets into this again with Miranda Tate, who reminds him of Rachel until the end when she reveals herself to be Talia and tries to kill him along with the rest of Gotham. In the end, Bruce finally finds something real with Selina Kyle and starts a new life with her in Italy.
- Comes up in the James Bond films quite often.
- Princess Uracca had a bit of this towards Rodrigo in El Cid.
- Peter Parker's infatuation with Mary-Jane Watson in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man Trilogy comes dangerously close to this. The third film didn't do their relationship any favours either.
- In J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Éowyn hates her confined life. She meets Aragorn and convinces herself she's in love because he's life outside. (When Aragorn heals her in The Return of the King, she doesn't respond to his calling her; but she instantly reacts when her brother Éomer, whom she loves as a real person rather than a shadow, calls her.) Aragorn spots the trope as soon as the event happens, and eventually gives Éowyn this:
Aragorn:' It is but a shadow and a thought that you love.
- One of the more critical parts of The Great Gatsby is when Gatsby, in an affair with his childhood sweetheart Daisy, is revealed to love the idea of her, an idea which she doesn't and can't realize. When he tries to get her to renounce her love for her husband, Tom, she's unable to respond and the climactic chapter is where the affair falls apart in spectacular fashion.
- Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility: 35-year-old Colonel Brandon falls deeply in love with 17-year-old Marianne Dashwood because she reminds him of both his tragic first love and his beloved adoptive daughter (who was seduced and abandoned by Marianne's first suitor, Willoughby). While this seems to be the classic set-up for Loving a Shadow, this is portrayed as the ideal happy ending for both Marianne and Colonel Brandon. (The age difference is even more glaring in the 1995 movie when the 50-year-old Alan Rickman played Colonel Brandon while 20 year-old Kate Winslet played Marianne Dashwood.)
- Played straight in Mansfield Park, where the male lead, who is exasperatingly oblivious to the female lead's feelings for him, loves a shadow. The situation is made more complex and much more brilliant because he has always been adept at wishful thinking and when he discovers that she doesn't live up to his hopes, his experience as a Morality Chain to the heroine makes him certain that she could. It's made even more interesting because the person on whom he projects these hopes isn't wholly unsympathetic; although self-focused, she is more sensitive to the heroine's problems than most of the characters. But it turns out her more lovable traits (emotional sensibility and compassion) are pushed too far for what is about her, making her a manipulative, self-indulgent, entitled, materialistic Fake Cutie. He realises it near the end of the book. A violent break-up ensues, and he then has a Love Epiphany over said female lead.
- In Iron Kissed, Samuel and Mercy simultaneously come to the epiphany that he's not jealous of her flirting with a stranger because he's fallen out of love with her. His jealousy in the previous two books is handwaved as "teasing", despite the fact that he nearly came to blows to Adam.
- In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Gods of Mars, Thuvia professes her love for John Carter and is unmoved by his speaking of Dejah Thoris—not that she would ever dream of rivaling her. He tells her "Forget your foolish gratitude-begotten infatuation, which your innocence has mistaken for love." Well, she does manage to take up with Carthoris by the end.
- In Tim Powers' The Stress of Her Regard, Crawford's second wife Julia was murdered horribly on their wedding night. Years later, her Angsty Surviving Twin roleplays Julia very accurately for an extended period—and Crawford realizes that he never really knew Julia, and doesn't like what he sees of her now.
- In Tim Powers' Dinner at Deviant's Palace, Greg Rivas spends thirteen years failing to get over a girl he loved whose rich father had him thrown out of town. Then the father hires him to rescue her from a cult, which he succeeds at doing after many painful adventures. Along the way, he realizes that his inability to let go had more to do with their violent separation than their actual connection, and that left to themselves they'd have drifted apart anyway. When they're reunited he finds that she's just a naive rich girl without much in the way of personality or accomplishments to recommend her, so he takes her back to her father and gets on with his life.
- In the Dragonlance Legends series:
- Warlord Kitiara and Elf wizard Dalamar hook up. Kitiara is the half-sister of Dalamar's master, and still not over Tanis Half-Elven.
- Raistlin himself has this for Laurana in Dragons of the Hourglass Mage, and though he realizes that what he feels isn't anything more than a crush inspired by her beauty and non-negative reaction to him, he spends a chunk of the book trying to find ways to rescue her from Kitiara's clutches if the opportunity arises (it doesn't, but he still has brief imagine-spots of rescuing her.)
- The Star Wars Expanded Universe
Thrawn: There are all too few idealists in this universe, Car'das. Too few people who strive always to see only the good in others. I wouldn't want to be responsible for crushing even one of them.Car'das: And besides, you rather liked all that unquestioning adulation coming your way?Thrawn: All beings appreciate such admiration.
- Wraith Squadron. Kell thinks he's in love with another pilot, who tells him in no uncertain terms, after asking a few tough questions, that he doesn't love her but his mental image of her. Later, using the criteria she set out earlier, he finds that he's in love with the "real" her... which prompts her to tackle him to the floor in his quarters, as she was smitten almost from the start and was just waiting.
- Outbound Flight has Maris, who falls for the idealistic image she has of Commander Thrawn. Thrawn... he's not exactly a villain yet, but he's not quite as nice as she imagines. He's aware of this and keeps some distance from her, but also does not disillusion her when they part.
- In the Mary Higgins Clark novel A Cry in the Night, the relationship between Jenny and her artist husband Erich is like this from both sides. Jenny loves the gentle sensitive guy that she believes Erich must be based on his paintings; Erich loves Jenny because she looks like his dead mother. Needless to say, this does not end well.
- In K.A. Knaak's Dragonrealm, Gwendolyn originally falls for Cabe Bedlam because of his similarities with his grandfather Nathan, who was once her lover; but later she falls for all those peculiarities that make Cabe himself.
- In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett finally realises—too late—that her supposed true love for Ashley is "only a sort of dream I had when I was a little girl".
- In one Nightside novel a reporter falls for John and tries to convince him to leave Suzie for her, stating that Suzie's violence is keeping him from being the hero the reporter knows he really is. John gently tells her that she's only in love with an image she's created in her mind and that he and Suzie belong together because they are both monsters.
- In John C. Wright's Golden Transcedence:
- Phaethon realizes that most of his love for Daphne Prime was inspired by Daphne Tercius, even when she was a doll and not an emacipated partial.
- Daphne Prime reveals that, in the Back Story, she approached Phaethon to get to Helion because she was in love the idea of a man who preserved the life of the sun, and when she met Helion, did not like him at all.
- Lolita: Humbert Humbert himself explains his obsession with Lolita in the first few pages, claiming that his unconsummated relationship with Annabel caused him to be attracted to "nymphets." Humbert claims that Lolita eventually replaced Annabel in this role; however while he continues to wax lyrical over his idealised "Lolita", in reality he's in a sordid sexual relationship maintained through threats and bribery, with a miserable, sullen teenager whose innocence he has thoroughly destroyed. All of this is complicated by the fact that ol' HH has no problems at all with misleading the reader.
- Harry Potter
- Harry's crush on Cho Chang, which throughout the fifth book comes off as Harry being desperate for someone other than Ron and Hermione who believes and understands his angst and frustration over the Cedric, Ministry, and Voldemort issues. His crush on Cho was mostly based in an idealized view coming from how pretty, popular and Quidditch-adept Cho was, aside from how she treated him kindly in a constant manner. In the meantime, the emotionally crushed Cho is trying to wrap herself up in the memories of her tragically cut short relationship with Cedric Diggory by latching onto the person who was closest to him when he died. However, they had barely shared anything close to real conversations, and the relationship is ended about three-quarters of a way into the book.
- Hermione says that Romilda Vane is only interested in Harry because he's The Chosen One.
- A more poignant and tragic example is Severus Snape's lifelong devotion to the memory of Lily Evans. Even if it was a genuine affection, it wasn't enough to convince him to steer clear of the dark arts until it was much, much too late. Of course, Unrequited Love Lasts Forever, to the point that his Patronus remains a doe (the same as hers) for the rest of his life.
- In the Vorkosigan Saga, the reason that Elli Quinn didn't marry Miles is because she was in love with his alter ego Admiral Miles Naismith, rather than his true persona Lord Miles Vorkosigan.
- Isabella to Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. All Girls Want Bad Boys, until they turn out to be abusive bastards. And then it's too late, at least in that day and age.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Tristifer Botley does this toward Asha Greyjoy based on some experimentation when they were barely more than children. His projected ideal woman has little to do with the flesh-and-blood claimant of the Seastone Chair.
- Robert Baratheon idealizes Lyanna Stark, to whom he was engaged. It becomes clear that he did not know her very well, and her brother Ned's recollections reveal that she was quite aware about the whole thing.
- In Diane Hoh's Guilty, Katie Sullivan believes that somebody is stalking her and plans to kill her because they blame her for the death of her boyfriend, Brownie. It turns out that Katie is being stalked by one of her friends, and that he was the one responsible for Brownie's death. He was trying to kill Katie because, in actuality, Katie went through a massive personality overhaul as a result of Brownie's death. She wasn't "guilty" for Brownie's death, she was "guilty" for killing the old her, whom everyone used to refer to as Kit.
- In Looking for Alaska, Alaska discusses this trope when she tells Pudge that he doesn't love her; he loves the version of her that he imagines her to be.
- The Phantom of the Opera has a variation: Erik was in love with Christine insofar as he wanted her to be his "bride in death." At the end, he realized that his love for the girl was false, and so he let her go.
- Helen and Huntingdon both in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Helen thought Huntingdon was a better man than he was and that she could change him. Huntingdon thought Helen would be more submissive and docile.
- The Last Dragon Chronicles: Lucy's crush on Tam can be seen as this, considering that she ended up with said crush through email correspondence with him.
- In Sweet Valley High, Steven Wakefield goes through a stage of dating girls who remind him of Tricia, his girlfriend who died tragically. They pretty much all cotton on to this and call him out on it, and he eventually accepts he needs help.
- A familial version happened in one of the Sweet Valley Twins books where the twins' classmate Mary becomes attached to their mother and keeps making excuses to come over to the house to spend time with her. It's eventually revealed that Mary was kidnapped as a child and her real mother looked like Alice Wakefield.
- Elizabeth and Jessica both had multiple stalkers for this reason, the most notable being William White in the Sweet Valley University series.
- Also in Sweet Valley University, in one of the Thriller specials, Enid/Alex Rollins is stalked by a guy obsessed with the idea of Enid as she was in high school, rejecting her choice to change her name and live a different lifestyle.
- Fernando Ariza from Love in the Time of Cholera spends fifty years obsessed with Fermina Daza, the girl he became in enamoured with as a teenager, long after she herself has dismissed the brief relationship as a juvenile illusion.
- Several examples in the works of Jacqueline Wilson:
- In Falling Apart, an early and largely forgotten novel, Tina falls for the older, more socially advanced Simon and soon convinces herself he is the love of her life. She doesn't realise that to him she is just a fling, leading to tragic consequences when he tries to break up with her.
- Little Darlings: Destiny was conceived after her mother had an affair with rock star Danny Kilman after meeting him at a concert. She is convinced that they were in love and had a serious, if brief, relationship; but it becomes clear to the reader that she did not know him at all and their entire "romance" was most likely a one night stand.
- Ellie in the Girls series falls for Kevin, a handsome older guy she sees around town. She builds up a fantasy around him (even dreaming about him) as she is disappointed in her real boyfriend Dan, who is awkward and nerdy. She eventually finds out that Kevin is gay and not at all the person she imagined him to be, although they do become good friends.
- In The Illustrated Mum, Marigold has spent the last fourteen years idolising Micky, the father of her daughter Star, as the love of her life. When she meets Micky again at a concert, she clings onto her memories of him and believes that he loves her; unwilling to accept he doesn't want anything to do with her and only wants to be involved in Star's life. Her younger daughter, Dolphin, tracks down her own father: whom Marigold pursued because he was also named Micky and looked a little like the first Micky.
- Sylvie, the protagonist of Kiss, has grown up in very close proximity to her friend Carl. She has always believed they would get married one day, and as they become teenagers she clings to this image, seeing Carl as a Prince Charming figure and convinced he will fall in love with her. Her illusion is shattered when Carl comes out as gay and tells her of his feelings for a male friend.
- Game of Thrones: Sansa with Joffrey, a Draco in Leather Pants in-universe. She's entirely willing to overlook Joffrey's many, many flaws even when she sees them firsthand, all in the name of her fairy-tale romance. She finally snaps out of it at the end of "Baelor," but it takes her beau ordering her father's execution. Ned also points out to Sansa that because she's going to be Joffrey's wife, she needs to show at least the pretense of Undying Loyalty to him, regardless of whether he deserves it. And, well, Ned was right about this.
- This is heavily implied to be the basis of both Lana's love for Clark (dead parents) and Lex's love for Helen, his string of failed romances, and his eventual obsession with Lana (dead mother Lillian). In addition, Lana calls Clark out for loving the image he's built up of her over the years to the point where he was blaming himself for her very illegal, very felonious activities (kidnapping and torture, and eventually felony murder).
- Chloe Sullivan has a similar situation with Davis Bloome in Season 8, where he's clearly a Clark substitute.
- Lex's love for Lana and Helen aren't the only things that are placed in this light; many of Lex's relationships take this form. His fascination with Kara is likely due to wanting Clark to be honest with him about his alien heritage. Also, his idolization of his mother came from the years of physical and emotional abuse from his father; however, while his mother was probably too sickly to physically abuse him, she definitely could be just as vicious as Lionel was, emotionally.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Booby Trap", Geordi creates a simulation of one of the engineering designers, Dr. Leah Brahms. While working with her to solve the problem, he falls in love with the simulation. This produces very awkward moments when, in the later episode "Galaxy's Child", he meets the real woman, and finds she is nothing like her projection. But subverted in the series finale, which implies that in at least one version of the future, they actually get together. He gets called out on it by Guinan in her own unique way.
Guinan: Here you had this perfectly wonderful fantasy... and now the real Leah comes along and ruins it. She's done the most heartless, despicable thing one person can do to another — she didn't live up to your expectations. Take a hard look through your VISOR, La Forge... see her for who she really is... not what you want her to be.
- In the BBC's version of Robin Hood,
- After Marian's death Robin begins a relationship with Isabella who bears a slight resemblance to Marian.
- Likewise, Kate's feelings for Robin seemed to be based more on hero-worship than any particular regard for him personally, and had the show not been cancelled, it's likely that she would have been paired up with newcomer Archer instead.
- There's also Much, who falls for Kate despite the fact she treats him poorly. Fan speculation is that she simply reminds him of Eve, his Season 1 love interest, who also had distinctive blonde hair.
- In Frasier Daphne and Niles get together after seven years of UST, after which Daphne develops a weight problem, which a therapist speculated was due to anxiety over being unable to live up to the image Niles had built up of her (a fact seemingly confirmed by the fact that Niles remained oblivious to her rather severe weight gain). Frasier later speculates that Niles may also fear being unable to live up to being in a real relationship with her. The problem is resolved when the two of them make a long list of everything they hate about each other.
- Kamen Rider:
- Subverted and Lampshaded in Kamen Rider Decade. When the group reaches Agito's World, Yusuke finds out that it has its own version of his Big Sister Mentor Yashiro, who died early in the series. Yusuke decides to leave the Hikari Studio group and stay in Agito's World with Yashiro, but he realizes that she has feelings for Shoichi (Agito) and helps get them back together before returning to the Studio. Lampshaded in Tsukasa's "World of Cardboard" Speech, in which he refers to Yusuke as "chasing a dead woman's shadow" but adds that he learned from his mistake.
- In Kamen Rider OOO, Dr. Maki is implied to have been in love with his sister. He remembers her as a kind, sweet, loving woman and is briefly drawn to Chiyoko, who looks like her. Later, he's forced to confront the truth that his image of his sister is fake: she wasn't a very nice person, didn't really care for him, and planned to have no contact with him after her forthcoming marriage (which is why he murdered her.)
- In the Yesterday Dopant arc of Kamen Rider Double, Shotaro falls for a client named Yuko; but discovers she's actually Kirihiko Sonozaki's sister Yukie, and was using Shotaro in a scheme to avenge her brother's death and he didn't know the "real" her at all. He decides he does still have feelings for her, but he'll wait until she regains her memories, which she lost after the Yesterday Memory was destroyed.
- In the same show, Jun Kazu idolizes Saeko and imagines that when he creates "Utopia" she will rule over it with him. He learns that she's not who he thought he was when she defies him in order to save Wakana.
- In Kamen Rider Gaim, Mitsuzane Kureshima becomes intensely obsessed with Mai, leading him to side with the Overlords and attempt to destroy Kouta in the belief it will make Mai fall for him; when he does not understand her as a person at all.
- Played poignantly in an episode of Jonathan Creek. At first Robin Priest seems a bit of a lout for having an affair with an unpleasant blonde. However, it turns out that his so-called wife took advantage of a bump to his head and brainwashed him into believing that they were married. When The Reveal comes, it's clear that his immediate attraction to the blonde was simply because she bore a startling resemblance to his real wife, who—though dead—is displayed prominently in several portraits around his former house.
- In the Friday the 13th: The Series episode "Femme Fatale", a director married the actress who played a Femme Fatale in one of his movies. Even though both of them are in their twilight years, he is still obsessed with the Femme Fatale. He uses the artifact of the week, a cursed film projector, to send women into the movie to take the place of the Femme Fatale who appears before him in the flesh. The women are forced to act out the role which ends in them being shot to death in the movie while the director makes out with the Femme Fatale. Everything comes to a head when the character convinces him to kill his wife, thinking it will allow her to exist in the real world for good. His wife turns the tables on him by faking her death and shooting him dead, coldly stating that he never loved her, only the "pathetic character [she] played." Even the Shadow itself grows disillusioned with the man, since he only used her as a glorified sex toy.
- Supernatural: It's pretty easy to see Dean's relationship with Lisa as a case of this, seeing as he decides to have a long-term live-in relationship with her after seeing her three times in ten years. Dean's actor has stated that Dean was more in love with the idea of having a long-term relationship, an adoptive son, and a stable home than he was with Lisa herself.
- Oliver and Laurel's romance seemed to be a case of this, though later seasons clarify that they did love each other — Oliver gave up on Laurel because he felt he was unworthy of her and couldn't give her the life she wanted with him, no matter how much they loved each other. Though Season 5 does imply Oliver's complicated feelings for Black Siren, Laurel's evil Earth-2 doppelgänger, is a case of this, as he is trying to find the Laurel that he loved in a woman that, while similar in appearance, is not her.
- A more concrete example would be John Diggle's brief romance with his widowed sister-in-law, Carly. While they did have an attraction, it's implied that John's feelings for her partially stemmed from wanting more of a connection with his brother. That's why they broke up, as no matter how much they cared for each other, there was always going to be three people in that relationship, and they both deserved better than that.
- The Flash (2014)
- It's all but stated that Earth-2 Hunter Zolomon, aka Zoom, the Big Bad of Season 2, developed a Villainous Crush on Caitlin Snow because of her similarities to his deceased mother (as it's implied the beginning of their relationship was just him seducing her). When Caitlin calls him a monster, he flashes back to his mother doing the same with his father, right before said father killed her. This is why it's so easy for him to give up on her when she rejects him one too many times — it was a shallow attempt at forming a connection by a man who has only ever known hate all his life.
- Iris West's relationship with Eddie Thawne had shades of this. While Iris did love Eddie, it isn't hard to see that she loved Barry more — it's implied that one of the only reasons why their relationship even got as serious as it did was because Barry was in a coma for the beginning of it (the other being that Iris was painfully oblivious to her own feelings for him). In fact, it was even part of how they got together, as Eddie covered Joe's shifts at the precinct so he and Iris could be with the comatose Barry, and Iris decided to thank him with a cup of coffee one day — things just spiraled from there. When explaining to Iris why he was breaking up with her, Eddie straight up tells her that (much like the John Diggle example above) there have always been three people in their relationship: him, her, and Barry. And as much as he would have liked to believe otherwise, he knows that when it really comes down to it, Iris will never choose him over Barry. He just thought he could love her enough to change that.
- The Walking Dead: It is rather clear that Rick's infatuation with Jessie Anderson in Season 5 is a case of this. His attraction to Jessie came out of nowhere and comes off as him projecting his perceived failures to protect Lori on to Jessie. She is a vessel for his perceived failings with his dead wife and a second chance to do for this woman what he feels he could not do for Lori.
- In Law & Order, a middle-aged man falls in love with a young woman he met online. He is so in love with her, that the young woman convinces him to commit murder for her. Turns out, the young woman was Dead All Along and the man was being manipulated by the mother who was the mastermind behind the whole thing. He makes a deal with the prosecution to testify against her in court. Lampshaded before he takes the stand to testify:
Middle-Aged Man: "I loved her more than you ever did."Mother: "You didn't even know her, idiot."
- In Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the SVU are hunting a suspect who kidnaps teenage girls and dresses them up to his ideal girlfriend. A long time ago he took in a teenage girl because she looked liked the one he liked, but left her when she grew too old for him.
- Downton Abbey:
- When Lady Rose plans to marry Jack Ross, an African-American jazz singer (in a relationship considered hugely scandalous for the time period), other characters believe that she is attracted to him mostly because she wants to upset her mother with the scandal. Jack seems to disagree, but he breaks off the engagement because he claims he doesn't want to ruin Rose's future.
- After an ongoing downstairs love triangle between Alfred, Daisy, and Ivy, Daisy ultimately concludes that she didn't really know him as a person and her feelings weren't real. She wishes him well before he leaves Downton Abbey to become a chef.
- Possibly the reason why Robert almost has an affair with Jane Moorsum, who bears a resemblance to his wife Cora.
- The Comte de Rochefort, main antagonist of series two of The Musketeers, has this as his motivation. He is obsessed with Queen Anne, to the point of dressing up a prostitute to pretend to be her, and planning to take over the throne of France so he can rule together with Anne. He has very little idea of what Anne is like as a person (believing her to be rather less resilient than she actually is) and deludes himself into believing that she is in love with him, when in reality she sees him as an old friend and mentor figure.
- In The Other Kingdom, Astral initially loves Tristan from afar, and her main motivation to become human is in the hopes that she can get to know him as a person to see if he feels the same way about her.
- Dear White People: In the penultimate episode, Troy calls out Coco on the fact that she doesn't even love him, let alone like him - she just loves the idea of him as a model leader.
- I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You) by John Mayer features Mayer singing to some unknown woman, warning her that he is nothing but trouble and will only lead to heartbreak. He drives the point home with this verse:
Who do you love?
Girl I see through, through your love
Who do you love? Me or the thought of me? Me or the thought of me?
- Candle by Lunik:
dreaming all day long
you're too perfect to be real
did I just make you up how I wished you to be?
dreaming with the curtains closed between shades and candlelight
was it all just in my mind and now I'm losing it?
- "Shadow" by Maria Mena is a good example of this trope in reverse:Trying hard to be someone I don't even know/ I feel like a shadow/ walking behind who you think I am/... / thought I'd light me bright and new/ but my candle burnt out long before you. Likewise Boston's "A Man I'll Never Be."
- Conceiving You by Riverside is about eventually giving up the actual person to love the shadow.
- "Ten Years Gone" from Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin
'Vixen in my dreams, of great surprise to me; in the midst I see your face the way it used to be''
- "Behavior" by Steel Train.
A pretty girl.
Followed her around the world.
And when I caught her she said to me:
"Look, at love, it's nothing but a shadow.
Where, you saw, a heart, that was hollow.
Look, at you. You've been chasing shadows."
And then I woke up.
- "Her Pretender" by Off Course. Though it does turn out okay in the end since the singer sticks around as "her someone else" long enough for her to see him as himself.
Like an illusion surrounded by fantasy
A lover’s confusion; she only sees what she wants to see
I guess I’m just an imitator soon to be
The love I feel was never meant for me
- "Love Through Her" by The Weeknd
Am I going crazy?
Do I need some therapy to get shorty out of my mind?
Girl, my head is racing
Heard shorty's been needing the rest of my mind
Am I making love to you through her?
Am I make love to you through her?
Am I making love to you through her?
Love through her (love through her)
- "Shadow Lover" by Mary Jane Girls is about exactly this
- A track from Rush's Clockwork Angels involves the narrator falling in love, only to realize when he is rebuffed that he had created an idealized woman in his mind and then attempted to graft his delusions onto a real person; he admits this was not the first time he has done this. The song is even called Halo Effect.
- "A Forest" by The Cure, from Seventeen Seconds, if interpreted metaphorically, has the protagonist look for a girl who is supposedly lost, only to find out she "was never there". He then realizes, lost himself, he just ran "towards nothing", which we assume is not the first time in his life.
The girl was never there, it's always the same
I running towards nothing again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and agaiiiin!
- The song "Flawless" from The Neighbourhood is about the singer falling in love with an idealized, 'flawless' girl that he starts a relationship with... and then falls out of love with when he gets to know her and realizes that she's human and flawed the way everyone is.
- Poets of the Fall's "Carnival of Rust" has singer Zoltar, a decaying automaton stuck in his fortuneteller's booth, desperate to leave the Carnival. Its clear that his pleas and demands for love from his latest customer stem from self-interested Wishful Projection. He taints her Tarot reading by declaring her "The Star," his Messiah Figure, instead of recognizing her as a person in her own right, and as a result, his affections go unreciprocated.
- "Who's That Girl" by Robyn
Who's that girl? That you dream of
Who's that girl? That you think you love
Who's that girl? What if I'm nothing like her?
- Subverted with Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; at one point, Todd starts wondering what his daughter Johanna (whom he has not seen in 15 years since she was a baby) is like, and ultimately concludes that he can't really care about her. Played disturbingly straight with Anthony for Johanna (he seems mostly enamoured of the idea of rescuing her from her evil guardian); possibly also Mrs. Lovett for Todd.
- Romeo and Juliet: Romeo begins the story utterly heartbroken that his one true love Rosaline has dumped him. The minute he sees Juliet, he is utterly infatuated with his new one true love. Some interpret this to mean he, being very Hot-Blooded and brimming with all kinds of intense emotions (he is 16 after all), is too needy or in love with the idea of being in love. However, such an interpretation is not popular because it destroys the notion that the play depicts love at its most ideal.
- Les Misérables had Éponine sum up this trope best with "And I know it's only in my mind: that I'm talking to myself and not to him... I love him, but only on my own."
- Cyrano de Bergerac: One of the core points of the play is that Roxane doesn’t love Christian nor Cyrano, she is in love with their Shadow Archetype: An entity who has all the positive traits of both suitors, but none of their defects, a true shadow.
- In J.B. Priestley's Dangerous Corner, pretty much all the characters' unrequited affections for each other turn out to be this. The entire play is based around how none of them really knew or understood each other for who they were.
- In On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Mark Bruckner falls in love with Daisy Gamble by discovering her eighteenth-century incarnation, Melinda Welles.
- In The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge, Pegeen Mike falls in love with Christie Mahon, despite knowing little about him, because the one thing she thinks she knows inspires her to imagine him as an adventurous, romantic figure, the "playboy" of the title. When it turns out that the one thing isn't true, she turns against him. The irony is that, partly inspired by her interest in him, Christie has blossomed over the course of the play into just such an adventurous, romantic figure as she imagined—but she doesn't realise this until it's too late to get him back.
- An variation occurs in Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. Marta falls head-over-heels in love with what she falsely believes Emil to be, clearly ignoring Emil's actual personality. When he calls her out on this in a moment of frustration, she draws back and realizes that, no, Emil really isn't like her fantasy. Then she ends up falling for Emil for real.
- A story which can be read in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, titled "Palla," tells the tale of a mage who falls in love with a long-dead woman depicted fighting a monster in a statue. Of course, it doesn't turn out like he thought it would. Palla turns out to be the name of the monster. Guess who comes back to life?
- In Disgaea:
- Etna's contradictory relationship with Laharl is the result of this: she adored his father, but hated his mother. She admits in her diary that when Laharl came along, she had no idea whether to love him or hate him because of it.
- Laharl himself is attracted to Flonne, and it's mentioned that she reminds him of his deceased mother.
- Mega Man ZX has Prairie falling in love with Girouette. She later admitted that it was because Giro reminded her of someone she knew in the past. Prairie is strongly believed to be Alouette of the Mega Man Zero series, and Giro is a (rather blatant) expy of the eponymous character that Alouette looks up to and idolizes. Do the math.
- Final Fantasy VII: Aerith latches onto Cloud so quickly because he reminds her a lot of her first boyfriend, Zack. Zack was Cloud's best friend and Cloud (unknowingly) picked up some of his traits and even bits of his memory after his death. It's very, VERY complicated.
- Fire Emblem Jugdral
- If she's paired up with Horse Archer Midayle, Pirate Girl Briggid from will straightforwardly tell him that she's not sure if he loves her for herself or because she is the older twin sister of Adean, the White Magician Girl he used to love, and Midayle will have to disabuse her of such a belief. She exhibits a similar fear if she's paired up with archer Jamuka, whom Adean helped to have a Heel–Face Turn. Again, Jamuka will reply via saying that he loves only her now.
- It's very strongly implied in one of the mangas that Arvis, a man with big Mommy Issues, may have fallen for Deirdre because she reminded him of his adored mother Cigyun. For massive irony, Deirdre was his half-sister... and they shared the same mom. Whoops.
- Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, Harry's been dead for years and Cheryl is the patient. The Harry you've been playing as is the shadow in this equation; either he was physically manifested by Cheryl or it all took place only in her mind. Probably (hopefully) not a romantic version of this.
- Shrowdy, villain of A Vampyre Story, has a history of kidnapping women who resemble his mother. All of them made some mistake, did something that made Shrowdy realize they were people of their own. All of them can be found in the same pit... what's left of them.
- Invoked in Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening; one side-quest involves finding a mortally wounded soldier who asks you to find his wife and tell her that he died trying to make the world a better place. Velanna rather caustically remarks on the inanity of this declaration, and the player has the option to do the same, an attitude borne out by completing the quest and discovering that his wife was having an affair. If you call her out on cheating on her husband while he was out risking his life for her and the rest of the world, she turns the tables by saying that on the rare occasions he was home he seemed to treat her more as an abstract symbol of what he was fighting for than an actual person with thoughts and feelings of her own. Her reaction to his death is not really the pain of losing a true loved one, but more the impersonal sadness of knowing that a brave, idealistic man had died in the line of duty.
- Hyrule Warriors: Cia develops feelings for Link, the Hero of Hyrule, because she observes his various past lives for years. Due to her loneliness, she perceives him as being her ideal soulmate and grows jealous of his connection to Princess Zelda. After her corruption by Ganondorf, she attacks Hyrule with an army to conquer and claim Link, not able to comprehend what he's actually like or that she's made herself his enemy.
- A non-romantic variant can be seen in King's Quest (2015). After his son Alexander is kidnapped as a baby, King Graham spends the next eighteen years searching for him, and meanwhile developing an idealized concept in his mind of the kind of relationship they'll have when they're finally reunited. But when Alexander does at last return to his family, he's not at all the person Graham has always assumed he'll be; he's a magic user and doesn't really share many of his father's interests or passions. A big part of their conflict throughout Chapter Four is caused by this.
- Little Busters!: Late in Haruka's route, she becomes very worried that she doesn't love Riki, she just thinks she does because she's so broken and insecure that she'd be reacting this way to anyone who showed genuine affection towards her. Riki says that he doesn't care and loves her anyway.
- Virtue's Last Reward, this is essentially why Tenmyouji has pursued Akane for so long after escaping from the Nonary Game in Nevada, despite the fact that the search destroyed his life. It isn't until the "End & Beginning" epilogue that he finally acknowledges (to his deep sadness) that the innocent Akane he once knew no longer exists.
- Mystic Messenger: Yoosung idolized his cousin Rika and was hit hard by her suicide. If the player character pursues Yoosung, he begins comparing her constantly with Rika which causes Zen and Jaehee to worry that he only sees the PC as a Replacement Goldfish for Rika. In his good ending, he overcomes this. In his bad endings... not so much.
- Super Dangan Ronpa 2: Effectively what Souda's crush on Sonia amounts to. He's convinced she's a Princess Classic, which in his mind, makes him her Knight in Shining Armor. In practice, he barely knows a thing about her, and is constantly surprised when she shows that she has a life outside of him. For her part, Sonia is quite aware of this and considers him an Abhorrent Admirer.
- Best Friends Forever: By chapter 23, Vincent finally confesses to Louis that his feelings for Ted are this. He has tried to compare other men to Ted in his mind, but realized that this is unfair to everybody, as he isn't really with Ted, and is much more in love with the idea of having a relationship with Ted and the mental image of a perfect Lovable Nerd he has of Ted rather than Ted himself.
- In one of the few non-cheating examples of this, Nanase is introduced in El Goonish Shive as Elliot's Girlfriend... just in time to dump him so he can hook up with Sarah. Elliot's social life was never explored beforehand, and it's pretty obvious Elliot and Nanase's relationship doesn't have much to it. Nanase doesn't know why she doesn't love Elliot, but soon finds out when she falls hard for Elliot's clone Ellen, who of course is a girl.
- Haruna sees Onii-san as a replacement for her dead fiance Mamoru in Experimental Comic Kotone. However, later strips show that, while she may have originally felt that way, as time went on she fell for Onii-san for real.
- This turns out to be the major source of conflict between Misho and Marena in Keychain of Creation. Misho refuses to have casual sex with Marena. He wants more than that. Marena wants that too, but won't commit to anything more until she's sure that Misho sees her as she is now, not as she was a millenium ago, when she was Misho's First Age Lunar consort.
- One arc of Least I Could Do has Issa introducing the guys to her new boyfriend, who bears a very strong resemblance to Rayne. The other guys notice this and wonder among themselves if she realizes this, as Issa has adamantly resisted Rayne's advances for the last decade or so.
- In Namir Deiter, Cedric convinces himself that he's still in love with Tipper (his high-school sweetheart, whom he broke up with). Tipper tells him point-blank that he's in love with the girl she used to be and she's changed drastically since then. Not to mention she's engaged to someone else. Cedric doesn't take no for an answer. From Tipper OR her fiancee, Charles. It doesn't end well. Then again, Cedric has always been portrayed as a flake who tends to react first and think when forced to.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal applies this trope to Charlie Brown's infatuation with the Little Redheaded Girl.
Charlie Brown: You don't understand, Schroeder. For so long, I watched her from a distance. She went from a person to an archetype to an ideal... and what good is a God with a zit?! Why couldn't we have met sooner! Then she'd have been a person, not a disappointment!
- Happened on Bob's Burgers. When Tina and Darryl pretended to be a couple, she told him how to act as her boyfriend. Afterwards she thought she’d developed feelings for him. He pointed out that she’d only really developed feelings for the person he was acting like, which was him just following her instructions and nothing like who he really was.
- The titular character from Bojack Horseman does this to basically everybody who is nice to him or helps him to focus, he tends to over idealize someone and ignore their flaws as long as they are by his side, often ignoring to even getting to know them properly. This is particularly done to Charlotte, a doe he met 20 years before the series starts a few times who was his best friend's girlfriend at the time, who left to go to Maine. He never really got to know her deeply, but grows to believe she is his last chance to happiness and wonder What Could Have Been. This is ultimately thrown in his face when he goes to find her in New Mexico, just to find out she is a Happily Married mother of two. When he finally declares himself, she lampshades this: they never were really close, they never got to know much about each other, and they haven't seen each other in 20 years, so why would she choose him over her family?
- An episode of The Pirates of Dark Water called "A Drop of Darkness" had the older Cray, who had once dated Ren's father. She threw a fit and left him when she caught him having a picnic with another woman. Ren looks like his father, so when Cray regains her youth, she tries to recapture how happy she remembers being. Either Ren marries her, or his friends meet messy ends.
- Cyclops seems to have this for the missing Jean Grey in Wolverine and the X-Men, not helped by her lack of characterization.
- Kid Flash's constant flirting with Miss Martian on Young Justice had shades of this, as did Miss Martian's own relationship with Superboy (on both ends).
- Doughy in Moral Orel develops a crush on his teacher, Miss Sculptham, after she calls him "son" - something his actual parents don't. Aside from her clearly not being interested in a child, she just takes advantage of him to get free expensive gifts. When he realizes that their relationship is not mutual, he stops giving.
- In Danny Phantom, one episode makes it clear that the titular character's mother Maddie would have never been happy with Vlad Masters, his Arch-Enemy, who use to be college friends with Jack, Danny's father, and Maddie, by showing an alternate timeline where Maddie married Vlad. Vlad is shown to be a control freak, controlling his wife's movements and preventing her from pursuing her passion in ghost hunting, while Maddie is still in love with Jack - who in this reality, took Vlad's place as the first halfa. This is because Vlad is in love with the idea of having Maddie rather than Maddie herself; hence, in the canon timeline, he is a Hopeless Suitor who has no chance with her, regardless of her marriage with Jack.
- In Hey Arnold!'s early episodes, Arnold had a crush on an older girl named Ruth McDougal. She never really became an active player on the show; Arnold simply admired her from afar. In the Valentine's Day episode, he finally has a chance to talk to her and realizes that she's kind of a Brainless Beauty, making him lose interest.
- Steven Universe:
- Greg is clearly in love with Rose Quartz, a nigh-immortal humanoid alien. However (as shown by the Whole Episode Flashback "We Need to Talk"), early in their relationship, he realizes that she can't tell the difference between loving humans and being in love with a human, and becomes concerned about whether her affection for him is one or the other. Rose, for her part, may not even be aware that there is a difference until Greg confronts her about it, which marks a turning point in both their relationship and Rose's own Character Development.
- Broken down a bit more explicitly in "Love Letters." Jamie the mailman sees Garnet rising from the ocean and instantly becomes infatuated with her, writing the titular letter and professing his love to her (in the rain, no less). After both Garnet's blunt rebuttal and Connie and Steven's attempt to let him down easy go awry, Garnet sits down with him and explains that it just isn't possible for him to be in love with her so quickly (they'd said all of two sentences to each other) because love is about knowing the other person and accepting their flaws, and he was just so swept up in the drama of Hollywo- Kansas that he had himself convinced infatuation was love.
- An old Merrie Melodies short called "Ding Dog Daddy" features a hapless dog, who shares the voice of Goofy, eager to find love. After being cruelly rejected, he falls for a female dog he calls Daisy and faces down a vicious guard dog just to be with her. What he's unable to realize is that Daisy is actually just a metal statue of a dog, and his delusion persists even when "she" is picked up by scrap men to be melted down for making munitions.
- Many fans of all genders who are into animated/illustrated media become so fixated with their favorite characters that they openly reject the idea of being romantically involved with real people. While it happens everywhere, Japan is unfortunately notorious for this, including one notorious case of marrying the character in question. The priest officiating averted Artistic License – Law by stating unequivocally that it was not legally binding, though.
- Rita Hayworth complained of this. "Men fell in love with Gilda, but they wake up with me."
- People who are addicted to pornography; you love the pictures, but the pictures don't love you back. This can lead to a condition known as 'porn creep', in which people (generally men) are not attracted to real people of either gender (generally women) because they become so fixated on the images.
- One could argue that some intense crushes and long term cases of unrequited love are an example of this, because the ones who are "in love" have never experienced the object of their affection as they truly are, but instead cling to a built up fantasy of how the imagine the person they desire actually is.
- People who fall in love with a celebrity probably fall under this a lot.
- Henrik Wergeland when he courted, and tried to win, his first crush Hulda Malthe. On some poetic level, he seems to have understood it, and plays the trope straight in the poems he wrote on the subject. The poems are cosmic visions, to say the least, showing that the poet lampshaded his position by literally trying to grasp for stars. He inverted it later, when he met the girl he eventually married, Amalie Sofie. The poems he wrote to her are filled with flowers—a lot more obtainable in Real Life.