You know, there isn't really anything wrong
with this guy. He's just doesn't measure up for some reason. Somebody else can make the jokes he tells a little funnier. He could use a little help in the wardrobe department. He loses a lot of women to the taller, more handsome, more suave guys
(and/or the bad-boy types
). Or maybe he's all of those qualities, yet somehow isn't quite Mister Right Enough for the leading lady, who prefers the Protagonist's flaws.
The reason this character shows up so often in stories is likely to make a statement about the mysterious ways of love and about how the chemistry between two people is something that cannot be predicted. This message is a little undercut by the fact that certain people seem to be exactly
the type to be cast as second-runner in a romance. Perhaps the chemistry is not so mysterious, after all.
Note that while this trope largely applies to male characters, it can occasionally affect female characters as well, particularly in Love Triangle
relationships where there's two women and one guy.
Sometimes called "The Baxter" (but not Ted Baxter
) from C.C. Baxter of The Apartment
, a sad sack who actually gets the girl.
The Michael Showalter
movie The Baxter
deconstructs the concept. Compare Hopeless Suitor
, Romantic False Lead
, Unrequited Tragic Maiden
, and No Sparks
. See also Did Not Get the Girl
and Everything but the Girl
when it's The Protagonist
who is the romantic runner-up.
Note that since this trope involves the resolution
of love triangles, SPOILERS AHEAD!
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Yamcha may be the quintessential example. In fact, he combines this trope with Romantic False Lead, because in the events of Dragon Ball, he was explicitly set up with Bulma after the end of the first big story arc conclusion, when the dragon was summoned. However, fast forward to Dragon Ball Z, & Bulma dumps him, & then gradually warms up to Vegeta of all people, who had been a villain actively threatening the planet in the previous story arc.
- Kotori is a female example from Da Capo. Many of the characters mention that she's popular, she's a good cook, smart, and she likes spending a lot of time with Junichi. Many characters also comment that those two would be a good match for each other. But unfortunately for her, Junichi's jealous sister Nemu doesn't like him spending time with any girls but her.
- Sakura is another example. She even fought with Nemu at first, but eventually gives him up at the end of the first Season.
- Kentarou Nara from the anime/manga School Rumble. Oddly enough, he was originally going to be the main character of the show, but was nonetheless relegated as a side character with little screen time or role in the story.
- InuYasha: Houjou is unbelievably and relentlessly nice to Kagome, and even though the few dates they try out are disastrous, he doesn't give up. However, his name isn't in the title, so of course he's doomed to providing lots of unnecessary medicine while she runs off to save the world with Inuyasha. Fortunately, he doesn't seem to mind much.
- Similarly, in Ranma ½, Akane Tendo openly considers Ryoga Hibiki to be much nicer and sweeter then her Compassionate Critic and No Social Skills fiance Ranma Saotome, but she's more or less Oblivious to Love when it comes to him. That said, Ryoga does find somebody else... a pity that his new relationship wasn't handled very well.
- Yuuno Scrya from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Nice guy, helpful, supportive; he was the one who gave Nanoha her calling but relationship-wise it just didn't go anywhere.
- An odd example is Kyougo Monou from X/1999. He did get to marry the girl he loved, Saya, and even had two children with her (Fuma and Kotori)... but he remained as the Romantic Runner Up and Unlucky Childhood Friend since he knew Saya loved him but not that way, as she was in love with her best friend Tohru and married Kyougo mostly to fulfill her destiny.
- This seems to be more common in Shōjo (Demographic) works. Suzuno Osugi's unnamed husband from Fushigi Yugi would count. He seems to know and accepts that he is 2nd to his wife's pretty boy star crossed lover as he shows no protest in her being reunited with her lover for eternity after death.
- Actually, didn't Suzuno remain a spinster willingly to keep herself faithful to Tatara, and her grandson Toki was just adoptive?
- Ayashi no Ceres features a similar situation where Yuuhi readily accepts his romantic loss to Aya's Mysterious Protector, Tooya. In the end, however, Tooya tell him that he's dying and won't live more than two years, so he asks Yuuhi to take care of Aya and their soon-to-be-born child once he's gone.
- Seemingly played straight then subverted in Paradise Kiss. Hiroyuki Tokumori was in a love triangle with Miwako and Arashi, ending up as the loser. He also was Yukari's first crush, but then she fell for George. In the end, though, Yukari and George break up, George goes abroads... and Yukari marries Tokumori.
- Female example: Anju Kitahara in the Marmalade Boy anime. Marmalade Boy has actually more than one example (Ginta, anyone?), but Anju is the one who fits the most.
- Dr. Itsuki of RahXephon, anyone? Haruka initially dated someone else before the Mu arrived, then she dated Itsuki in college. He who developed unrequited feelings for her. Several years the events of the main series occured and Itsuki's chances dropped to zero.
- In Corsair, Aura, a plucky (if naive) girl had being planning to marry Canale for a very long time. Though Canale really respects and cares for her he does not want to pursue a relationship for reasons even other than the obvious, and he ends up with the jerkass Bastard Boyfriend instead, who is something of an adopted sibling to Aura, just to rub it in.
- Eleanor of Victorian Romance Emma is a female example. There's nothing wrong with her, it's just that William had already fallen in love with someone else.
- Dr. Araide in Detective Conan. Dude's handsome, soft-spoken, rich,... and he happens to have romantic interest in a young girl named Ran, who has been smitten with the Guile Hero Shinichi/Conan already for years. One of the OAV's shows what would likely happen if Shinichi never found a way to become normal... Araide would lose even then, since Ran would rather be alone than without Shinichi. Thank 'Gods it was All Just a Dream...
- Misty from Vandread falls into this trope. She never really had a chance since she was introduced in Season 2, and her romantic rival, Dita, was a part of the ship's crew, and they didn't want to see her miserable (nor did she want to ostracize them any further). so she painfully gave up pursuing Hibiki, and while she tries to play off her pursuit of him as "being bored", she later goes to the park alone to cry.
- Reito of Mai-HiME, for Mai. Mai strongly considered him at first, but ended up with Yuuichi in the end.
- In the SHUFFLE! anime, every girl, especially Kaede becomes this once Rin chooses one near the end of the anime.
- In the anime for CLANNAD, every girl not named Nagisa falls into this trope. If it wasn't already blatantly obvious to viewers from the very beginning of episode 1, a massive Ship Sinking scene occurs in episode 18, which makes it very clear to all of the other girls which one of them Tomoya really cares about.
- Deconstructed in Rosario + Vampire with Kurumu (a succubus). It's fairly clear how heartbreaking it is for her to not be the girl to get Tsukune. Gets worse because in this universe unrequited love is a bad thing for a succubus.
- The Michael Showalter film The Baxter is a parody from the perspective of one of these guys.
- Ralph Bellamy in just about any movie where he's not playing Franklin D. Roosevelt. Were TV Tropes around in the '40s, he'd be the Trope Namer.
- Actor James Marsden has quite the Baxter career going, playing blandly nice guys who fail to get the girl one way or another in Superman Returns, X-Men, Enchanted, The Notebook...
- He does get the girl in Superman Returns. Strangely enough, that film casts Superman as the Baxter. In the first hour, at least. In the end, he still loses, Lois pretty much states that they're done as a couple and she's going to pine for Superman, because she really loves him and he is the father to her son.
- And he gets a girl in Enchanted too — just not the one he was originally looking for.
- And in 27 Dresses, but he's more of a Deadpan Snarker there.
- Until 27 Dresses, there was a joke that if James Marsden is in the movie, the girl he loves is in love with someone else.
- Even then, that was still true for the first half of that movie!
- And in X-Men, where Jean even marries him. Suck on that, Wolverine!
- Sam in Crossing Delancey is one of these, but ends up winning the girl anyway.
- This page describes Pirates of the Caribbean James Norrington's entire existence — even though he is played by Jack Davenport, he cannot compete with Will or Jack. Even in Dead Man's Chest, when he was dirty, drunk, and hot as hell. Poor fellow.
- Technically Jack Sparrow too, as he also loses Elizabeth to Will in the third film. This is less tragic though, because while Norrington genuinely loved Elizabeth and eventually made a Heroic Sacrifice to save her from Davy Jones, Jack's relationship with her was more Played for Laughs and he ended up getting a new love interest in the fourth film anyway.
- Walter in Sleepless In Seattle. This is a guy who was about to get married, and basically gets dumped for some guy who lives on the other side of the country and whom his fiance has never even met.
- Julian in Somethings Gotta Give. Diane Keaton dumps the much-younger, suave doctor Keanu Reeves for Jack Nicholson. Sad Keanu, indeed.
- Speaking of Trope Namer Michael Showalter, how about Coop from Wet Hot American Summer? Katie's speech to him at the end basically epitomizes this trope:
Katie: Listen, Coop - last night was really great. You were incredibly romantic and heroic, no doubt about it. And that's great. But I've thought about it, and my thing is this: Andy is really hot. And don't get me wrong, you're cute too, but Andy is like, * cut* . From marble. He's gorgeous. He has this beautiful face and this incredible body, and I genuinely don't care that he's kinda lame. I don't even care that he cheats on me. And I like you more than I like Andy, Coop, but I'm 16. And maybe it'll be a different story when I'm ready to get married, but right now, I am entirely about sex. I just want Andy. I just wanna take him and grab him and fuck his brains out, ya know? So that's where my priorities are right now. Sex. Specifically with Andy and not with you. But you're really nice. Everyone thinks so. And I still totally wanna be friends.
- Dan from Over Her Dead Body.
- Michael Cera in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and Arrested Development.
- Maybe he starts out as this but his character ultimately gets the girl in both of these.
- Cary Elwes's character from Liar Liar.
- Ben Stiller in Reality Bites.
- Proteus in Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas.
- (500) Days of Summer is interesting in that one of these is the main character and it is about the fact that while he was completely in love with her, she wasn't at all in love with him(which isn't a spoiler). The key theme is the difference between his expectations and the reality of the situation.
- My Best Friends Wedding is entirely built around Julia Robert's character fighting not to become this. She doesn't get the guy, but hooks up with Rupert Everett at the end. Awwww!
- Richard Mayhew, the Everyman in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere who refused The Call.
- Sam from Charlaine Harris's The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries books. He's her employer, and first indicated her interest when she got into her first serious relationship with another man. They're just good friends by now.
- This is part of Demandred's backstory in The Wheel of Time, and is apparently why he ended up as a mass-murdering evil general.
- In particular, it's massive RPT MASSIVE resentment of his status as second fiddle to the Dragon. Almost as smart, powerful, handsome, etc, etc. IIRC, he wound up playing for the side of evil so he could finally be superior.
- Frank in the Outlander series has the unfortunate distinction of first losing his wife in a magic rock, and then, just as he's getting over her, geting her back only to find that she's still in love with the guy she married in the 18th century.
- Nicci of the Sword of Truth is a female example. Though she eventually becomes the closest confidante and magical advisor to her love, she remains the No. 2 woman in his life.
- Jacob Black of Twilight. Specifically in New Moon when he was still nice to Bella till she showed he would choose Edward over him, after that he started to get all Alpha Male on her trying to get her grounded, kissing her by force and later by emotional blackmail. In the end he managed to get Bella to admit she loved him, but she still loved Edward more.
- Len Levy not only doesn't get Jessica Darling in Second Helpings (or the later books in the Sloppy Firsts series), he loses her to his best friend.
- Several characters in Harry Potter: Viktor Krum, Cho Chang, Michael Corner, Dean Thomas, Lavender Brown. And Pansy Parkinson might count considering she didn't get Draco Malfoy in the end.
- The Hunger Games: Sorry Gale...
- Ashfur in Warrior Cats, when Squirrelflight passes him over in favor of Brambleclaw. This does not bode well for his mental health...
- Simon Lewis from The Mortal Instruments.
Live Action TV
- Zack Allan in Babylon 5 with regards to Lyta Alexander.
- Billy Keikeya on Battlestar Galactica.
- For that matter, Apollo as well. Sure, he steals Dualla from Billy but then it turns out he really wanted to be with Starbuck, who instead goes for handsome, kind-hearted jock Anders. He eventually tries to get over her but it doesn't work and he gets separated. But Starbuck's dead by that point, or at least appears to be, and things get way hectic when she comes back. Then Anders is revealed as a Cylon, but the revelation doesn't break Starbuck and Anders up as one might predict. And then, Dualla shoots herself. To top it all off, when Anders dies, Starbuck, who's Not Quite Dead, disappears again. Sucks to be Apollo.
- Which is hilarious, because in some ways Anders also fits. While, yes, he does actually get to marry Starbuck, it's implied a number of times that she would rather be with Apollo (and Anders knows this). At one point, she basically out-right states that the only reason she hasn't left Anders for Apollo is because she doesn't believe in divorce.
- Galen "Chief" Tyrol also sort of counts. First, his girlfriend, who he's not supposed to be seeing anyway, turns out to be a cylon. Then, though she resists her programming at first, she ends up shooting Commander Adama, revealing her identity. Galen is suspected of being a Cylon and badly treated as a result and because of this he forsakes Boomer and tells her he wants nothing to do with her — until she gets shot, at which point it's clear that Aw Look They Really Do Love Eachother. He's hung up on her for a year afterwards, made all the worst when her Good Twin shows up and is pregnant with The Fettered's kid. He then, subsequently, gets married to The Scrappy, which ends badly when she finds out he actually is a cylon (which he himself didn't known) and gets shoved out an airlock by the girlfriend Tyrol doesn't remember he had. Then, he finds out their kid isn't his kid. Last, but far from least, Tyrol eventually sorta-kinda-maybe gets back together with Boomer when she's taken prisoner, only for it to turn out she's a double agent, who's going out with the show's Big Bad. Damn.
- In the original series, Athena seems to be this for Starbuck.
- Dean Forester from Gilmore Girls. He may have been Rory's first ever boyfriend, but he eventually loses her to Jess and Logan as the series progressed.
- Harvey Kinkle in the later seasons of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. After he himself dumped Sabrina after finding out she is a witch at the beginning of season 5, he kept returning to appear in the show throughout seasons 5 to 7 and kept dropping hints that he still was in love with Sabrina. But only in the very end he gets the girl back.
- Stuart McRae was a very good version of this in Road To Avonlea. It made perfect sense for Felicity to want to marry him - and for her to dump him after it turned out that Gus was still alive.
- David, Phoebe's on-and-off boyfriend on Friends, showed up once again in season nine and proposed. Phoebe promptly rejected him for Mike Hannigan, whom she ultimately married. To add insult to injury, the writers went out of their way to point out that the inoffensive David was a penniless failure by this point.
- Also in the Season 6 finale, Richard for Monica, when she picks Chandler over him. This is rather ironic as Richard in-universe is considered the perfect guy and an Always Someone Better to Chandler. However the writers make it very clear that Monica moved on from him and it's Chandler, with all his neuroses and insecurities, who is the love of her life.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- Xander qualifies for this trope on multiple occasions. Buffy rejects him for the more romantic Angel. Cordelia ultimately also winds up with Angel after breaking up with him. Willow, after pining after him for the first two seasons, ultimately chooses Oz over him. Even Anya sleeps with Spike after breaking up with Xander. Inverted when Buffy does begin to develop romantic feeling for Xander — and Xander rejects her for her little sister, Dawn (who had a crush on him and he rejected her).
- Though in the case of Anya, it was less a case of her picking Spike over Xander and more of her taking comfort in Spike after Xander called off their wedding.
- Also, Cordelia and Xander had long been broken up (and out of contact) by the point she and Angel developed feelings for each other. By this point, Xander had moved on from her to Anya.
- Spike. And on a century-plus streak going at it, despite numerous metamorphoses, whether he be human, rabid young vampire, sarcastic and surprisingly sane old vampire, chipped reluctantly-good vampire, soulful good vampire, soulful bad vampire, or all-out champion of good. The irony being that most of the time he's losing out to Angel or Angelus, probably because while Angel was taking levels in badass he was getting hit by Badass Decay so hard the trope had his name for a while.
- Riley Finn, who loved Buffy, but she didn't love him back. The interesting thing is that Riley is otherwise more the Prince Charming type. The problem is that Buffy is... well, take your pick: a) just interested in him because he's the 'normal' guy, b) not Angel.
- Willow suffered from this, too, as she had a crush on Xander during Seasons 1 and 2, only for it to go unrequited, as he was more focused on Buffy and Cordelia at this point. It was only during Season 3 that they expressed mutual attraction for each other.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: This has happened to Bashir twice. Leeta dumped him for Rom, whom she marries. Later on, after Jadzia is gone, Ezri tells him that if Worf hadn't come along, Jadzia would have chosen him.
- 'Course, the situation is promptly reversed. Ezri goes out with Worf for a while before realizing that her feelings for him are just residual versions of Jadzia's. She dumps him for Julian. Irony? Yes.
- Tom Demming from Castle is a mix of this and a Romantic False Lead, as while his arc is only a few episodes and he exists, essentially, to wake Castle the hell up, he is a genuinely good guy who really does care about Beckett and seems to make her happy.
- Subverted in Sex and the City Steve looked like he would be this for Miranda, and they even broke up for a while. But in the end his sheer averageness was just the kind of stability she needed.
- Boomer of the little-known children's show Maddigan's Quest. Even before the series, Garland saw him as more a goofy friend than anything, and after Timon shows up, he's got no chance. Even when Timon turns into a human cockroach, Garland still prefers him. I mean, ouch.
- Between her roles on The Office and Parks and Recreation, Rashida Jones seems to be building a career on playing this character.
- The Office, definitely, but on Parks and Rec, she's playing a super-cute, Even the Girls Want Her Hospital Hottie. Of her three relationships, she ended two of them, and the third wasn't ended for another person. Her relationship with Mark ultimately ends because he becomes this to her although there is no one else she is interested in at the time.
- Additionally averted in that her character on Parks and Rec ends up with Rob Lowe's Chris Traeger, who had been teased as a possible love interest much earlier in the show's run.
- Artemus Gordon ends up this way at the end of almost every first season episode of The Wild Wild West. Having helped saved the day (and usually the girl) most of the time, he turns to talk to either her or Jim West and finds that the girl is now in Jim's arms. From the second season on Artie's luck gets much better.
- Brian Krakow in My So-Called Life may be the ultimate Deconstruction of this trope. Especially since he gets his own runner-up in Delia Fisher, and shows you exactly what the real-life consequences of at least two tropes, and a complete and utter crushing deconstructive subversion of a third.
- Zach was this to Seth in The O.C. with regards to Summer. A nice guy, son of a congress man, confident, mature, and yet just not quite what Summer really wanted. The implication when he was Put on a Bus was that he went into business with George Lucas, so maybe it all worked out in the wash.
- How I Met Your Mother deconstructs this trope in the episode Shelter Island. Ted sees himself as the Dogged Nice Guy, and even invites fiancee Stella's Jerk Ass ex-boyfriend Tony to their wedding. Only when she leaves him at the altar does he realise that Tony was actually the romantic lead of that particular love story, while Ted is the Romantic Runner-Up.
- When Tony later writes and sells a movie script based on the events, Ted is pissed off and humiliated because he doesn't even get this characterization in the movie. Instead, the character based on him is an outright villain who goes around kicking dogs and doesn't even care about the female lead; he just wants to keep her away from her soul mate for laughs. The worst part is that the character, Jed Mosely, even refers to himself using Ted's real name during a Jerk Ass "Do you know who I am?!" rant.
- Mickey Smith from Doctor Who is the embodiment of this trope. He's decent, okay-looking, just an average guy with a hot girlfriend...until some guy with a leather jacket and a nice ride sweeps her off her feet.
- Martha Jones too. Gorgeous, funny, extremely intelligent, and brave. Which the Doctor knows- it's just that he still misses and loves Rose. No wonder Mickey and Martha end up married.
- Lancelot from Merlin has such low self-esteem that on realizing that Arthur is in love with Guinevere, gives up on his own romantic hopes without a fight or even checking with Guinevere herself to see what man she prefered (and at that point, he would have almost certainly been her first pick).
- Given a twist in the final season of Frasier in which Frasier is the bland nice guy who gets the girl while the more exciting boyfriend doesn't. Aspects of this trope are played straight by the boyfriend Frank, who is overall an extremely nice and friendly guy and a committed environmentalist.
- This was Frasier's original reason for existing on Series/Cheers. He was meant to appear as a recurring character in the third season as a Love Interest to Diane, as a way of providing conflict between her and Sam. This eventually led to the two getting engaged and having a wedding in the season finale, one that Diane eventually runs out of. Still, while Diane didn't run out to reunite with Sam initially, she does end up rekindling her romance with him later on, while Frasier forms a relationship with Lilith.
- Part of the rivalry between Jack and Sawyer for Kate's affections in Lost. Jack is a very good guy, skilled, likeable and an excellent surgeon. Sawyer is dangerous, charming, and mysterious as well as almost entirely unlikeable. Ben points this out to Sawyer telling him that ,on the island, he's the dashing adventurous bad boy while Jack is the bland doctor. Off the island, Sawyer is two bit ex-con and Jack is the respected, well-educated Doctor.
- Later during Season 5, Sawyer ends up forming a relationship with Juliet (who had previously realized that she was essentially a Romantic False Lead for Jack). However, the sexual tension between Sawyer and Kate remains, and Juliet continues to worry that she will be this to Kate, this time for Sawyer. In the end, Jack ends up with Kate, and Sawyer ends up Juliet.
- Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries: Both Katherine and Elena prefer and have chosen Stefan over him. Is always second best to Stefan in regards to love and romance.
- Fringe: Poor Lincoln Lee. Let's recap: in the original timeline red-verse, he is in unrequited love and friend-zoned with Fauxlivia. This doesn't seem to change after the Season 4 reboot of both universes. In the rebooted blue-verse, he has a flirtation going with Olivia, who seems interested. Until a handsome, snarky stranger shows up who's actually her true love from an erased timeline. To add insult to injury, her choosing to remember Peter means she won't even really remember that she and Lincoln had a mutual attraction. However, after his much cooler alternative universe-counterpart dies, he decides to cross over for good and stick to Fauxlivia. Towards the end of the last season, when Olivia crosses over one last time using her cortexiphan-induced powers, it's revealed that they married and had a son.
- Joy Mercer on House of Anubisso very much. It gets to the point where even when Nina was gone, Fabian refused to date Joy, as he believes they should be just good friends and nothing else.
- Although this can be partially because of all the tricks she pulled to try and get Nina to be this instead, as EVERY fan knows just how attached to and protective over Nina Fabian is.
- In Mass Effect, Dr. Michel has feelings for Garrus, but will lose to a female Shepard who romanced Garrus in the second game, and even if the player does not romance him, he'll end up with Tali if Shepard didn't romance her.
- Given the many ways one can play their character, almost all of the series' party members can be subjected to this if Shepard decides to romance one character in either of the first two games and end up with someone else in Mass Effect 3.
- Kain from Final Fantasy IV could well be the Ur Example for the medium.
- In Punch an' Pie, Heather's mother describes Heather's ex-boyfriend as squarely fitting into this trope (he hasn't been seen, though). Angela's ex-boyfriend from the prequel had a lot of these traits but doesn't quite fit the trope.
- Erfworld has Jillian, who has three people in love with her. After she leaves two behind to go after the third, one of them asks the other why he didn't go with her.
Jack Snipe: Hm, well... Could I ask the same of you, then, [Wanda]? Could it be the same answer? I mean, I wouldn't have minded so much counting myself among Queen Jillian's trophies. But I wouldn't much have enjoyed placing, oh...thirdish among them. I would say she left with the one she really came to take. It seems there is Ansom, and then there are ancillaries. And where is the glory in being a spare?