One of the most common complications in the classic Love Triangle scenario. Two men (in most cases they're men - probably has something to do with a woman needing a man to 'provide' for her) are vying for your affection. Who's the right one? It's hard to tell, but there's a good chance that one of them is considerably wealthier than the other, and he can provide security, glamour and the good life, while the other (who has a good chance of being an impoverished artist) can give none of the same. What are you gonna do?
Most of the time, it's going to be "go with the poor one," and the story will carry an Aesop that true love is worth more than material wealth. This makes sense if the rich one is a total bore or outright jackass, or the woman is just not in love with him as she is with the broke one. When done poorly, however, the rich one often ends up as the Designated Villain. This trope overlaps considerably with Wrong Guy First and Disposable Fiancé, but keep in mind that the rich suitor is not necessarily wrong, first or particularly disposable.
If the suitors are also a Betty and Veronica pair, the dynamic will typically be either "poor but nice suitor vs. rich but haughty suitor" or "poor but exciting suitor vs. rich but boring suitor", being obviously slanted toward the poor suitor in both cases. So much, in fact, that having the rich suitor win or even be a decent, likeable person is considered by many as a subversion of this trope - perhaps the trope name should have been "Poor Suitor Wins" instead?
Compare Gold Digger, Meal Ticket. Can involve Compete for the Maiden's Hand.
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Anime & Manga
Maison Ikkoku: Yusaku Godai is the poor college student, Shun Mitaka is the rich guy who only coaches tennis as a hobby. Kyoko Otonashi spent six years choosing between them, thanks to a rash of Status Quo Is God. She chooses the Poor Suitor. The Rich one finds a girlfriend of his own and they're happy together.
Grandma Godai had a pair of these when she was younger and chose the poor one. However, she tells Kyoko to go for the rich guy since the poor one will only give her a life of misery.
Subverted in Hotohori's character novel and OAV, Suzaku Hi Den. His future wife and empress Houki is in the middle of the Love Triangle; Hotohori is the rich suitor, while his long-lost brother Tendou Shu is the poor suitor. This time, Hotohori wins and Shu dies... in Houki and Hoto's arms.
With a little bit of Shipping Goggles applied, Axis Powers Hetalia can be seen as having this in the form of aristocratic and reliable Austria and rough-and-tumble Prussia both being interested in Hungary. (Though Prussia is not shown to be that poor either.) Atypically, Rich Suitor Austria is canonly the victorious one, but the fanworks that emphasize this trope the most are the ones that believe Hungary would be better off with the "more fun and passionate" Prussia. And they often apply Die for Our Ship to Austria to "justify" why Hungary would dump him.
For some fics, you can switch Prussia with Hungary's teenage-hood friend Poland and it's similar. Including the DFOS, sadly.
Rare female example in Kasei Yakyoku: the noblewoman Akiko Hashou and her maid Sara Uchida are this to Taka Itou, the male lead. Neither wins. Though Sara came damn close, love declaration and night of sex included before things got worse.
Played straight with Taka (Poor) and Saionji (Rich) for Akiko. Neither wins, again. Then the female Poor Suitor gets together with the Rich Romantic False Lead.
In Hana no Ko Lunlun, a beautiful young woman chooses a French sea captain over a rich Italian count. That woman was Lunlun's Missing Mom. And 18 years later, Lunlun meets the man who could've been her father... who turns out to be a rather kind-hearted guy.
Future GPX Cyber Formula has Asuka Sugo involved in a love triangle between the middle-class guy and her longtime friend Hayato Kazami (poor suitor) and the aristocratic rich guy Karl Lichter von Randoll (rich suitor). She eventually chooses Hayato, although it's almost pretty obvious on who she will choose.
In Honoo No Alpen Rose Jeudi (or rather, Alicia Brandel) is persued by Georgede Germont, who is the local Count and Lundi Courtout, who lives on the countryside. She obviously chooses Lundi, as the Count (given his personality), never stands a chance.
There's another triangle later, with Elegant Classical Musician Leonhardt "Leon" Aschenbach as the Rich Suitor to Lundi's poor suitor. In a variation, this happens after Lundi and Jeudi have gotten together, but by these days Lundi is MIA and believed to have died in a Heroic Sacrifice, and not to mention Leon is portrayed much more sympathetically than the Count. When Lundi turns out to be alive and reunites with Jeudi, after some pep talks Leon accepts that he's the Unlucky Childhood Friend and wishes them well, asking Lundi to protect her in his stead.
Medabots: Both Ikki (Poor Suitor) and Koji (Rich Suitor) love Karin, who has yet to notice either's feelings for her.
In The Building by Will Eisner, Helen had a college sweetheart poet who loves her, but instead chose to marry the more stable, richer dentist - but ends up having an affair with the Poet because the marriage was ultimately loveless.
In the early years of X-Men, Jean Grey had to choose between Warren Worthington, who was incredibly rich, handsome, charming and athletic, and had wings, and Scott Summers, who was a penniless orphan, skinny, massively introverted, and always wore giant nerd glasses lest he blasted someone's head off.
One of the stories in What If? v2 #60 (which was devoted to what-ifs about Jean and Scott's relationship) showed what would have happened if she did choose Warren over Scott. Basically, Scott's edges would have been even harder had she not been there to soften them, and he was an even bigger antisocial Jerk Ass than he is in the normal continuity. So much, that Professor X named Beast as the leader of the X-Men since he had compassion and cared to endear himself to his teammates. This caused Cyclops to storm off and join the Brotherhood.
Richie Rich had Mayda Munny (Rich Suitor) and Gloria Glad (Poor Suitor). Well, Gloria isn't exactly poor but, compare her to either Richie or Mayda.
Not played with much, but in the John Romita days of "Spider-Man", upper class socialite Gwen Stacy was the rich suitor and working class party girl Mary Jane Watson was the poor suitor.
Johnny and Neil in Dirty Dancing. Provided, it doesn't hurt that Johnny is incredibly attractive and an extremely good dancer, whereas Neil is more or less a Jerkass loser.
A Knight's Tale: Jocelyn must choose between Count Ademar, the nobleman, and William, the squire disguised as a knight (and only a country knight of minor nobility at that, although his money situation improves as he keeps winning tournaments). Not a straight example because she thought they were both noble, but she was still willing to love William after she found out his true heritage.
Moulin Rouge!: Satine must choose between the rich Duke (that's his only name) and the young bohemian playwright Christian — or, more poetically, between her diamonds-are-a-girl's-best-friend materialism and her desire to be free to love. And of course the a show-within-a-show they're planning has the exact same love triangle.
Pretty in Pink: Impoverished young Andie must choose between rich boy Blane and poor boy Duckie.
Reality Bites: Lelaina must choose between successful businessman Michael and slacker/philosopher/asshole Troy.
Shampoo: Jackie must choose between the rich Lester and the blue-collar hairdresser George.
Spartacus: Slave girl Varinia (and, in a way, slave boy Antoninus) must choose between high-ranking Roman general Crassus and rebel slave leader Spartacus. She chooses Spartacus. And then he dies. Crassus makes sure that Varinia is released and then commits suicide to tell "fuck you" to his enemies.
Titanic: Rose must choose between the wealthy businessman Cal and impoverished artist Jack. Leonardo Dicaprio won.
Wayne's World: Tia Carrere must choose between lower-class Wayne and TV executive Rob Lowe.
Shopgirl: Mirabelle must choose between a wealthy older man and a penniless younger man.
Two Moon Junction: April must choose between her wealthy fiancee and her newly found fling, who is a carnie. In the end, she marries the rich guy, but ends up with the carnie, too.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Elizabeth must choose between her true love, penniless blacksmith Will or the older, wealthier Commodore Norrington. Unlike other examples, both guys are portrayed as good men and both genuinely love her. She chooses Will. Norrington accepts it with grace and tells Will If You Ever Hurt Her.
Played with in Coming to America, where Prince Akeem portrays himself as poor so that his future queen will love him for who he is, rather than how much money he has. In his fight for Lisa, he is up against Daryl, the money-rich but personality-poor heir to the Soul Glo fortune. Of course, it comes out that Akeem is really a prince, even with his father the King coming to fetch him back home. Hilarity Ensues.
Subverted in The Notebook as the rich guy is decent and very lovely.
Played with in Just Friends in which Jamie must choose between her former high school best friend who is now a Jerkass, a successful The Casanova with a glamorous job in the music intustry and another former friend who has grown up into a nice, down to earth small town paramedic. Except it turns out the Jerkass Rich Suitor is really a Jerk with a Heart of Gold while the supposedly nice Poor Suitor is a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing deliberately looking to break her heart for not noticing his crush on her in high school.
Given a bit of a twist in Aladdin, where Jasmine falls in love with "street rat" Aladdin and doesn't much care for this Prince Ali who comes parading down the streets with an ostentatious display of wealth and possessions. The twist being, of course, that "Ali" isactually Aladdin who's been turned into a prince by Genie. Jasmine only begins warming up to him when she figures this out and he begins acting more like himself. And it was not like she knew she had a choice between the "two of them", since Jafar lied to her, claiming Aladdin was executed (since he wanted her for himself).
The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas: Casino owner Chip Rockfeller and quarry employee Fred Flintstone are rivals for Wilma's affections. The movie twists the trope by having Chip needing to marry Wilma, who's from a rather affluent family as well, to be able to pay his debts and stay wealthy.
A rare male version in Tyler Perry's Good Deeds. Wesley Deeds has to choose between his fiancee Natalie (rich) or a down-on-her-luck single mother who is a janitor in his office building.
Played straight at the end of another Tyler Perry movie, Diary of a Mad Black Woman. when the main character Helen has to choose between her wealthy, disabled, but abusive husband (Charles) and a factory worker she meets, Orlando. Double subverted because she at first chooses Orlando, then when Charles is paralyzed goes back to him, then finally chooses Orlando.
Mr. Deeds: Deeds as the rich suitor; Babe's coworker and fake mugger as the poor suitor.
Played with in High Society: Poor Suitor vs. Self-Made Man Rich Suitor vs. Born Rich Suitor - the first is part of the Beta Couple; the second is very proud of his money, and the power it affords him; the third is incidentally rich and doesn't really display it. Doubly subverted in that not only does (one) Rich Suitor win; but out of the two rich men, the richer is the nice, artistic composer and singer, rather than a boring coal tradesman, and wins.
Played with in How to Marry a Millionaire: Schatze Page sets out to marry a rich man and finds herself torn between wealthy older gentleman J.D. Hanley and working-class stiff Tom Brookman. Although J.D. is a kind and caring man and Schatze gets along very well with him, she has much more chemistry with Tom and ultimately chooses him, only discovering afterwards that Tom is in fact a bona fide millionaire in his own right.
Renata, a rich girl from the Mexican film Amar Te Duele has to choose between Francisco and Ulises, the former who is a Jerk Ass hinted to be the son of an influential politician and the latter who is poor boy whose family sells clothes on the street, she does choose Ulises, but it doesn't end well for them.
High School Musical: offers a rare gender-flipped, modern example. The second film has Sharpay using her social connections and scholarship opportunities to lure Troy away from his ordinary, middle-class girlfriend Gabriella. (Who is working with him at Sharpay's parents country club.) Troy is only ever interested in Gabriella, but Sharpay's interference does eventually break them up. Until Troy realizes what's going on, tells Sharpay to go to hell and wins Gabriella back.
"The Choice" by Dorothy Parker is a poem about a woman who has a choice between a man who offers her lands and fine things and a man who charms her with his singing alone. She chooses the latter without a second thought—and then wonders afterward if there's something wrong with her head.
In the book Holes, during Stanley Yelnats's great-great-grandfather's story, Elya (the grandpa) is the poor one and he's up against a fat slob rich guy who's significantly older. The contest is decided by the size of the bride price, a pig, but they turn out to be the same size. The father lets the bride choose which one but she doesn't care. At that point Elya realizes she doesn't care about him and leaves in disgust.
Even Elya faces this choice, sort of. In the old country, the girl he pursued was richer than he was but dumb as a brick. The one he ended up marrying in America, however, was a smart and capable farm girl.
Deconstructed in James Thurber's fairy-tale parody short story "The Princess and the Tin Box", where a princess raised in luxury comes of age and is given a choice between many suitors. All but one are the "rich suitor", who present her with jewels in the hopes that she'll marry them only for them, the other having all the trappings of the "poor suitor", giving her only a tin box full of pebbles out of lack of anything else, which intrigues her because she's never seen anything like it before. The princess, after carefully considering everything...chooses one of the rich suitors. (The reader is admonished in the end that "All those who thought that the Princess was going to select the tin box filled with worthless stones instead of one of the other gifts will kindly stay after class and write one hundred times on the blackboard, I would rather have a hunk of aluminum silicate than a diamond necklace.")
In The Great Gatsby, the backstory had Daisy being torn between common soldier Jay who's away at war and wealthy Jerk Jock Tom. She chose Tom, but it's implied that she regretted not waiting for Jay and loved him more than she loved Tom. And then this trope is deconstructed every which way when Jay returns even richer than Tom and begins successfully courting Daisy, only for Daisy to be ultimately too weak-willed and shallow to choose him over Tom and Jay to get shot for trying to cover up a death Daisy accidentally caused.
In The Premature Burial by Edgar Allan Poe, there is a mention of a wealthy young woman named Victorine LaFourcade, who was involved with a poor journalist named Julien Bossuet. She caved under pressure from her family, though, and married a prominent banker, who abused her until she fell ill and (apparently) died. Julien comes to her grave with the intention of taking a piece of her hair as a memento of her...only to find that she had been Buried Alive! He took her home and nursed her back to health, and they left France for America together. Later, when they return to France and he's challenged by the banker, Julien legally gets to keep her as his wife, because of the unusual circumstances and the decades that had passed.
In Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, Linnet and Jacqueline are this to Simon Doyle. Linnet, the rich one, manages to steal Simon away from her poorer friend Jackie. Except that it turns out Jackie was the victorious one all along; Simon always loved her and married Linnet, who he saw as just a Clingy Jealous Girl, only so that he and Jackie could murder Linnet on a boat voyage over the Nile and inherit her money.
Death on the Nile also has a "beta" case of "rich suitor, poor suitor." Cornelia Robinson, the poor relation of a rich woman on the boat, is being courted by both the scraggly Communist agitator Mr. Ferguson and the successful, famous Dr. Bessner. She chooses the poor suitor which turns out to be the doctor, who is comfortably well-off, but not spectacularly wealthy. Ferguson was a wealthy Lord, but Cornelia didn't care. She thought he was just as much of a Jerkass as an aristocrat as he was as a commoner.
The second and third books in the Twilight series run on this trope, with Bella having to choose between Edward and Jacob. Edward wins.
The knight Palamon and the commoner Arcite for Emily in "The Knight's Tale" of The Canterbury Tales. Arcite wins the physical duel for Emily's hand but suffers fatal injuries when his horse throws him off during his victory celebration, making Palamon the winner by default. It's also worth noting that Emily prayed to Diana to either remain unmarried or become married to the man who loved her the most which implies that Palamon's love for her was purer than Arcite's, something that is usually not done with the rich suitor.
In the novel Les chiens et les loups by French Ukrainian-born writer Irčne Némirovsky where the major theme is the contrast between the Nouveau Riche Jews (les chiens aka the dogs) and the poorer Jews who still live in the ghetto (les loups aka the wolves), the protagonist Ada is a poor Jewish girl who is in love with her rich distant cousin Harry (who develops feelings for her after meeting her in Paris and starts an affair with her) but ends up marrying her first cousin Ben who has loved her all his life and shared with her a rather unhappy childhood of poverty.
Song at DawnDiscussed Trope and one of the many conodrums resolved by the Court of Love: if both are equal in all aspects except wealth then the fulcrum is the lady's own wealth. If she is wealthy she should chose the poor suitor because she could provide for him and 'love's greatest joy is providing for a lover's needs'. On the other hand, if she is poor then she should choose the rich suitor so he can take care of her. After Arnaud proposes to her, Estela turns him down and tells him to wait for 'the heiress of his dreams'.
A variation appears in the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy where Katniss has to choose between Gale and Peeta. Depending on how you look at it, Gale can be the poor suitor and Peeta the rich suitor or the roles can be reversed. Gale was born in the Seam, like Katniss, and is by that definition the poor suitor. Peeta was born merchant, which doesn't make him rich but still better off than Gale, and after the first book he's got enough money to last for the rest of his life. On the other hand, Gale is a hunter who brings home fresh game and is able to support a family while Peeta is a painter and a baker who would probably be in trouble if he lost his Games' winnings. About halfway through the book it's clear that the one who won Katniss' heart is Peeta.
Explicitly called out in 1632. The up-time Americans prefer the plucky young poor-but-earnest suitor, while the down-time Germans think the Americans are crazy and strongly prefer the currently wealthy suitor over one whose prospects are iffy at best.
Live Action TV
Full House: Donna Jo aka D.J. must choose between the abnormally rich Nelson and the flaky but sensitive guitarist Viper. She eventually chooses neither.
A notable exception in Days of Our Lives was the creation of the quite unconventional Super Couple Jack and Jennifer. Jennifer (the classic girl-next-door type) had to choose between rich, arrogant, manipulative, snarky, corrupt, ex-rapist Jack Deveraux and sweet, caring, poor, leather jacket-wearing Emilio. Even though Jack was doing the typical Rich Suitor stuff like throwing his money around, demeaning the poor suitor and manipulating the situation to seem superior, he still got the girl and became one of the show's most popular characters for years to come while Emilio got cheated on and eventually fell off a roof and died.
One episode of The Twilight Zone was about a woman who had to choose between a rich man she didn't love and a poor man she did love, and her future self pursued her on a horse to warn her not to choose the wrong man. The woman ultimately chooses to run off with the poor man. Unfortunately, he turned out to be the wrong choice her future self had tried to warn her against. The brilliant deconstruction was that the poor guy was predictably lousy at handling money and ran the farm they depended on into the ground.
Happened in the book as well, and therefore, presumably, in real life.
Early episodes of The O.C. had this in the form of Ryan (poor) vs Luke (rich) competing for Marissa's love.
The first season of the Reality TV dating show Average Joe had a plain-looking guy who owned his own company and a good-looking guy who wasn't even out of school yet as the final two choices for the girl, and she ultimately chose the latter. In a twist, her choice of the "poor suitor" was blasted by most viewers who felt that she chose him solely because he was better-looking than the "average Joe".
Subverted in Frasier: Niles leaves rich plastic surgeon Mel Karnofski for poor health care worker Daphne Moon, but he's already a wealthy psychiatrist so it was more about social status than wealth. Daphne herself leaves rich lawyer Donny for the equally-rich Niles — it leads one to wonder if the writers made sure Donny was wealthy so that when Daphne chose Niles over him, no accusations of gold-digging could be slung around.
In Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Helen has to choose between her abusive but wealthy ex-husband Charles, who is disabled by the end of the story, and Orlando, a poor factory worker. At first she chooses her husband, because he is disabled, but then decides not to and chooses Orlando.
Revenge has the main character Emily Thorne being pursued by the wealthy Daniel Grayson and the comparatively poor Jack Porter. Though in something of a twist for this trope, while Daniel is wealthy by any objective standards, Emily is even more so and could probably equal Daniel's entire net worth with the money she loses in her couch cushions.
At close to end of Family Matters, this happened with Laura between Steve (poor) and his counterpart-split-from-him Stefan (rich) who both proposed to her at the same time. At first, Steve attempted to take the decision out of Laura's hands by moving to Russia and performing a I Just Want My Beloved to Be Happy, but in the end, Laura ended up choosing him.
Gossip Girl tried to play up this trope when Dan pursued Blair, to the point of actually calling him "the pauper" in promos. Apparently living in a large loft in Brooklyn, having gone to expensive private schools, having an über rich stepmother who gets you prestigious internships, riding around in limos, traveling the world and having published a best-selling novel and making a ton of money off the deal in your early twenties is the same as being poor. Ironically, the rich suitor in this scenario (Chuck) spent the first episodes of season four living on much more limited means than Dan ever did. Most fans found the pauper angle for Dan downright ridiculous.
Series/Victorious has a play in Tori the Zombie in which the lead character is pursued by an obnoxious rich man and a kind valet.
One of the stories in the Celtic Woman song "At the Ceili", as per the page quote. She picks the poor suitor.
The Spin Doctors' "Two Princes" has the poor Prince (the singer) and the rich Prince (the guy with the diamonds and the rockets).
The Billy Joel song "Uptown Girl", despite being vague about specific characters, makes numerous allusions to "high class toys" and refers to Billy Joel as a poor working-class Prince Charming, despite his commercial success.
Patsy Cline mulls these over in her song "A Poor Man's Roses (Or a Rich Man's Gold)".
Josephine in H.M.S. Pinafore has two potential mates, the wealthy Sir Joseph Porter and the lowly Ralph Rackstraw. She even has a dramatic aria comparing the two, though at other times she obviously favors the tar over the lord.
The Merchant of Venice: Almost all of Portia's suitors are rich (princes, dukes, barons, etc), and Bassanio, a "poor...gentlemen" is the exception. Needless to say, he's the only one she's really interested in. A lot of the plot revolves around the fact that he's borrowed money from a friend in order to woo her.
In "Fulgens and Lucres": the noblewoman Lucres must choose between two suitors: the thrifty but honorable Gayus or the filthy rich but depraved Cornelius. She decides to marry whoever is nobler, and has them both make speeches listing why they fit that description. Needless to say, the one who kept his speech short won.
In Celebration, the Orphan and Edgar Allen Rich struggle against each other to get the girl. Their names speak for themselves.
The legend of Flemeth in Dragon Age: Origins. The commonly-known story is that Flemeth was married to a wealthy lord named Conobar, but fell in love with a traveling bard named Osen and ran off with him. Morrigan, however, relays a very different version of the tale, supposedly told to her by Flemeth herself: that Osen was her husband, and Conobar a jealous onlooker. According to this version, Flemeth offered to trade herself to Conobar, in exchange for his giving Osen wealth and power, which they both accepted; as Morrigan puts it, "love fades in the wake of hunger." Conobar, however, had Osen murdered so he wouldn't have to keep up his end of the bargain. Flemeth eventually found out, and summoned up spirits to kill Conobar...
Choice of Romance plays this extremely straight with your main two suitors (not including the King/Queen) being wealthy but unattractive nobleman Torres and romantic but impoverished artist Mendosa. Picking Mendosa gives you a considerably happier ending where the two of you live a wild, love-filled life and eventually come into money too than if you pick Torres; while Torres is genuinely sweet and devoted to you, you never truly love him and wonder what could have been if you had followed your heart more.
In the fighter's path in Baldur's Gate II, you become lord of a manor. One of the challenges is to decides who to marry a ward of the estate to, the rich suitor or the poor one.
Can be genderflipped in True Love Junai Monogatari, if the Player Character has enpough love points with both Remi (Rich) and Mikae (more Middle-Class than Poor, but yea). it's actially the closest to a Love Triangle in the whole game, since the MC can romance all the girls at the same time (before deciding on one)... but that can't be done with these two. It's either one girl or the other.
Additionally, this may be played straight in Mikae's path too, only with the MC as the Poor Suitor and The Casanova Toshio as the Rich Suitor (he's implied to be from an upper-class family, unlike middle-class MC who has a part-time work).
In the crossover between Superman: The Animated Series and Batman: The Animated Series, Lois fell in love with the wealthy Bruce Wayne and Bruce somewhat fell for her in return. Clark felt jealous especially after he found out that Bruce was Batman. But that ended when Lois dumped Bruce when she found out that he was Batman.
At the end of the two-parter, Bruce notes the irony to Clark that Lois is romantically into Bruce but not Batman and likes Superman but not Clark.
The Simpsons: Mr. Burns and Grandpa Simpson for Marge's mother.
In Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Belle has two suitors over the course of the film, the huntsman Gaston and The Beast, a prince who lives in a magnificent castle and whose servants make up much of the cast. The trope is subverted, however, as she never shows any real interest in Gaston despite his pursuit of her and eventually chooses the Beast.