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Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder

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At least you can't fault his efficiency.

"Winnie left the next summer to study art history in Paris. Still, we never forgot our promise. We wrote to each other once a week for the next eight years. I was there to meet her when she came home... with my wife, and my first son — eight months old. Like I said, things never turn out exactly the way you planned."
Kevin Arnold, The Wonder Years

When a couple is separated against their wishes, and their love is particularly strong, it is fully expected that they will try to find each other, and refrain from getting involved with anyone else. However, sometimes this is actually quite hard to accomplish, especially in the case of someone believing their lover will never come back, or that they are dead. But unexpectedly, their lover comes back to them, and they are happily reunited.

Or they would be, if it weren't for a little problem — they didn't wait. Not only did they not wait, but they've remarried. Not only did they not wait and remarry, but they've started a family!

If she wants to wait but is coerced into marrying, it's You Have Waited Long Enough — whereupon her true love will show up in time to save her from the wedding.

If she does wait, and a reunion reveals she is no longer in love, it's Old Flame Fizzle, which tends to be treated far more sympathetically.

If she sent word when it happened, it's a "Dear John" Letter.

This is often a staple companion of Stranger in a Familiar Land, as the character will frequently discover upon their return home that their love has had to marry someone else.

A variation occurs when she engages in Taking the Veil; this is often treated more sympathetically, that she did so to escape pressure to marry someone else, or in despair.

The name of this trope is a subversion of the popular saying, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." The popular saying "Out of sight, out of mind" is more likely to be accurate, though.

Odds of a relationship surviving a physical separation depends largely on two things: the commitment of the parties involved, and the duration of the separation compared to the duration of the relationship prior to the separation (and the ease of making the separation seem less: compare a long video chat with a terse E-mail). A new romance is likely to be nipped in the bud, but an older flame is likely to grow stronger if the two in question are determined to keep it alive.

Not to be confused with the Trope Namer, King's Quest V, which has this as a subtitle.

Contrast Second Love, The Mourning After, You Have Waited Long Enough, I Will Wait for You, and Belated Love Epiphany.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • 7 Seeds seems to be playing with the idea of subverting this, but also playing it straight on the emotional side. Hana and Arashi are a couple and have been placed in separate Teams for the project and, upon learning that the other is alive and part of the project, finding each other is their personal goal. While Arashi seems resolutely having his heart set on Hana, despite Natsu being obviously in love with him but him not noticing, Hana seems to be more inclined to liking Aramaki. Nothing has happened yet and Hana is still very devoted to Arashi, but she does seem to care more and more for Aramaki. Her two friends don't seem to help.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2016), while Link and Ilia intially seem to hold mutual feelings, Ilia's amnesia and the broadening scope of Link's quest start pulling their attention elsewhere. Even a touching reunion can't quite salvage what they had, as whatever romantic affections Link may have held for her seem to have shifted to Midna. In the epilogue, Ilia is seen waiting in vain at the bridge for Ordon for Link to return, though she looks quite happy to welcome Shad instead when he shows up in Link's place.
  • In Macross: Do You Remember Love?, protagonist Hikaru Ichijyo, after being separated from his beautiful pop idol girlfriend Lynn Minmay, quickly forms a romantic relationship with his female superior officer Misa Hayase. Minmay's feelings for him, on the other hand, never diminished during his absence.
  • Rooster Fighter: Before leaving town, Keiji recalls that he left a chicken crying and goes to see her. She's already mating with someone else despite it only being a day, so he leaves quietly.
  • In Shaman King, when both Jun and her spirit partner Bailong look at each other in the middle of a battle and faintly blush, Tamao is quick to point out that they make a good pair. To which hilariously, Anna then points out that Bailong did have a wife previously and declared he was cheating on her. Of course, Bailong is dead and then again, so is his wife.
  • Reito, the protagonist from World's End Harem, is given quite the trial to resist his base desires. After waking from 4 years spent in cryostasis to cure his multiple sclerosis, he finds he is one of the Five remaining men on Earth and the new women-led regime now urges the 5 living men to become breeding stallions to give new hope of a new human race. The thing is Reito, confessed his love right before being put into cold sleep, his love Erisa shares his feelings and said she would wait for him, and now in the new world it seems Erisa has disappeared while an officer in charge of making Reito do his “mating” looks exactly like Erisa, but with a different personality and bigger breasts. He can’t help but see Erisa in her and the officer won’t stop at anything to make him do the deed, so Reito goes through extreme self-control to try to find Erisa before anything happens.
  • ×××HOLiC: Watanuki becomes unable to leave Yuuko's shop and Himawari can only visit him for his birthday once a year, which pretty much eliminates any chance of normal romance for them. Years pass and Himawari marries someone else. However, Watanuki knows and fully supports her decision.

    Audio Play 
  • Jan Tenner: Upon learning that Futura's previous assistant and his previous crush Tanja had to be cryogenically frozen for an indefinite amount of time, Jan immediately switches his affection to Futura's new assistant Laura.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • Stephanie Brown/Spoiler discovered an unpleasant consequence of faking your death for a year — her boyfriend, Robin, has since started dating again. She was gone long enough that Robin's relationship with Cassie had both come and gone, but at the time of her return Tim was dating Zoanne, a normal girl at his high school, and she took it quite well, acknowledging that it was her fault for disappearing. She and Tim managed to remain friends and crimefighting partners as he stayed with Zoanne. Of course, then a new creative team came on board; Steph was ordered by Batman to betray Tim to a villain to help "make him a better Robin", in the process entirely ruining her friendship with him. Very shortly after Tim then finally hit the end of the Trauma Conga Line that his life had turned into ever since Identity Crisis (2004) and Steph's faked death, had what can only be described as a complete nervous breakdown, and in the process of cutting himself off from any and all beneficial human contact, Tim broke up disastrously with Zoanne. And so the whole point was rendered spectacularly moot.
    • The Batman Adventures: Deconstruction. According to The New Batman Adventures episode "Cold Comfort", after Nora Fries was cured of her terminal illness, she waited for her missing and presumed dead husband Victor Fries for some time before she gave up waiting, marrying her doctor Francis D'Anjou and leaving Gotham for good. This was expanded in Batman: Gotham Adventures #5, Batman: Gotham Adventures #51, and Batman Adventures #15. In Batman: Gotham Adventures #5 Mr. Freeze teams up with Robin, Nightwing and Batgirl to rescue Francis because he cares about her happiness; after Francis is save and Freeze escapes, Francis reveals that Nora still loves him. Batman: Gotham Adventures #51 shows that Mr. Freeze has been sending letters to Nora asking to see her one more time, but that Francis has been hiding all the letters. The issue ends with Mr. Freeze leaving for the Arctic, accepting that Nora does not want anything to do with him, as Nora arrives at Arkham Asylum asking for him. In Batman Adventures #15, Francis, jealous of Nora's feelings for Victor, frames him for attacking him by having a robot freeze him, hoping to convince her to see Victor as a monster. Nora refuses to believe that Victor was behind the attack and leaves for the Arctic to find him. Victor confirms that he was not responsible, and that he would never hurt Francis because she loves him. Nora wants to believe him and admits she does not love Francis, and is not sure she ever did, as she embraces him. Batman and Batgirl arrive to apprehend Victor, who chooses to fight back, thinking Batman will arrest him for his other crimes even if he isn't responsible for Francis' attack. During their fight, Batman causes Victor's suit to overload, which leaves his head to fall into the Arctic Ocean, devastating Nora. After learning the truth, Nora leaves Francis in prison. After Nora talks with Victor's former assistant Koonak, Nora returns to the Arctic, hoping to find Victor's head. It's implied that she never found him and spends her whole life looking for him. So because she understandably tried to move on with her life, Nora separated from Victor again, and what makes it worse is Victor did not come to see her because his condition has completely destroyed his body and he believes he can never be with her, when in fact Nora does not care and still loves him.
  • Runaways: In Runaways (Rainbow Rowell), Gert is brought back from the dead two years later, and learns that her boyfriend Chase is now about 20 years old, and thus too old to resume their relationship, as she is still about 16. Chase had hoped that she would wait until she was older to resume their relationship, and does not take it well when he catches her making out with Victor instead.
  • Shade, the Changing Man: A pretty big issue in Shade's and Kathy's relationship. While being separated from Shade, Kathy starts up a lesbian affair with their mutual friend Lenny. Shade himself feels guilty about falling out of love with girlfriend on his homeworld.
  • Spider-Man: In The Amazing Spider-Man (2022), this is revealed to be the cause of Peter and Mary Jane's most recent breakup. After Mary Jane was trapped in a Year Inside, Hour Outside Alternate Universe, she gave up hope of Peter rescuing her during the few years she was stuck there and ended up getting together with the only other adult stuck with her and the two of them adopted two kids they found there. However, after it was revealed that the two kids were actually Artifical Humans created to keep her and the other adult together so it could use Mary Jane as a sacrifice, it's becoming harder for the two to stay together, suggesting they only stuck by each other because of the kids.
  • Ultimate Marvel: Bucky plays it more seriously - he married Captain America's fiancee while Cap was frozen in ice. However Cap was completely understanding and supportive of what happened between them (being Cap, he was probably just happy that the woman he loved got to have a life and family.)
  • Y: The Last Man: Sort of kind of done. The story in short: Yorick has a long distance phone call with his girlfriend, Beth, but it gets disconnected before Yorick, who had intended to propose over the phone, can say what he wanted to say. After this, complete gendercide ensures, and Yorick is left the only living man on Earth! One year and a lot of adventurers later he finally meets up with his dear sweetheart, Beth... only to find out that she had intended to break up with him during that phone call one year ago, because her heart had gone yonder during his absence. Not only that, but she had realized that she was actually in love with Yorick's sister!
  • Young Justice: Prior to dating Tim Drake, Cassie Sandsmark had been with Conner Kent, who died. Tim and Cassie had a brief relationship (which could be interpreted as Sex for Solace without having ever gone as far as sex), then break up. Then Superboy comes back from the dead. The pair are sure that he's going to be angry at them, but he's cool with it—hey, it's not like they knew his death was temporary.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Funky Winkerbean, during the second Time Skip, Wally is apparently killed and buried, and Becky remarries. Lately, Wally has returned. It seems the body was misidentified. Very awkward.
  • Played for laughs in a Herman comic. A man in prison tells his wife, "They gave me six weeks. Don't waste your life, Margaret. Find someone else."

    Fan Works 
  • In the Pokémon fic AAML: Diamond and Pearl Version, when a talk with Brock helps Ash realise his true feelings for Misty, he calls for Charizard to rejoin his team and then flies Charizard all the way back to Kanto so that he can ask Misty to rejoin him in his travels (and Charizard then flies Ash and Misty all the way back to Sinnoh, even if the dragon is tired afterwards).
  • Lina was resigned to being stuck on Earth in Blood That Flows. She also ended up falling in love with Shiro who found her unconscious when she first arrived, got married, and had Nanoha. Thus when she learned the TSAB located her home universe, she knew her return was going to be hard for her old friends, especially Gourry, since it was her attempt to save him that started all this. She figured that there was a chance that Gourry and Syphiel got together. However, it gets more awkward when she returns home, as it turns out it's only been a month since that battle with Hellmaster.
  • In Leave Your Spirit, Katara has Sex for Solace with Zuko due to Aang's frequent absence. Even after Katara and Zuko agree not to cheat again, Katara can't help but feel her feelings for Aang dwindling over the decades. She cares for him, but not with the intensity she did as a teenager.
  • In the Total Drama story, Legacy, which is set ten years after the events of the show, most of the couples are no longer together because they had come from all over Canada, so most lived too far apart to see each other regularly.
  • R!Syaoran thought that he would always love his Sakura in Shatterheart, but after being isolated from the group, dealing with C!Sakura and Fai's coldness towards him and having no way of knowing R!Sakura is even alive, he ends up falling for Kurogane and eventually gets engaged to him.
  • In the Zelda fic Surface Tension Ruto is torn about keeping her Childhood Marriage Promise to Link and moving on. She comes to terms with the fact she'll never be with Link and instead begins dating Zelda.

    Films — Animation 
  • 5 Centimeters per Second plays with the trope. Takaki and Akari find new romantic partners while they are apart, but Takaki wants to practice I Will Wait for You, which alienates him from others; it is only by the end of the film that he manages to move on and embrace this.
  • Tanya's song "The Girl You Left Behind" from An American Tail: Fievel Goes West is about this trope, a warning that a girl will look elsewhere for love if left alone.
  • Subverted in Happy Feet. Mumble returns from his long quest to find Gloria hanging out with a strong, handsome male and tending to several penguin chicks. Mumble assumes this has happened and solemnly accepts it until Gloria explains that she and the male are teachers and the chicks are their students.
  • This is what Maid Marian fears in Robin Hood (1973), that Robin had simply forgotten about her during their time apart. However, the very next scene subverts it, as Robin is clearly shown thinking about her.
  • According to Chuckles the Clown from Toy Story 3, this is actually the main reason why Lotso went evil in the first place: Both Lotso and Chuckles were once owned by the same little girl, but one day, the girl accidentally left the two of them and her baby doll behind while picnicking with her family. The three toys eventually make it all the way back to the girl's home, only for Lotso to discover that his owner had replaced him with an identical toy in the meantime (presumably her parents bought her a new one because she missed him). As a result, Lotso lost all faith in children's love, turned evil, and vowed that one day, all other toys will suffer from his wrath. The toys eventually got onto a Pizza Planet truck in search of a new home, both of which will ultimately fulfill the now-opposing toys' destinies: Chuckles was eventually rescued and is now happily living in Bonnie's house, while Lotso ended up in Sunnyside Daycare, where he then planned to terrorize all of the toys living there.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Across the Universe (2007): Jude promises his girlfriend in Liverpool that he'll write after sailing off to the US. He stops writing soon, after meeting American Lucy and dating her. After this, his girlfriend moves on as well, marrying another man and getting pregnant.
  • Aksiniya from And Quiet Flows the Don doesn't deal well with being left alone. When Stepan goes off on maneuvers, she cheats on him with Grishka. Eventually they run away together. Later, when she is working at General Listnitsky's estate as a servant and Grishka is off on maneuvers, she cheats on him with General Listnitsky's son Yevgeny.
    "She fawns on everyone who's kind to her."
  • In Ballad of a Soldier, a soldier named Pavlov asks Alyosha to take a cake of soap home to Pavlov's wife. When Alyosha finds her, she's living with a man. Alyosha hands over the soap, but later takes it back and gives it to Pavlov's father.
  • The Dark Knight: At the end of Batman Begins, Rachel Dawes promises her childhood friend Bruce that she will wait for the day he stops being Batman to be with him. In this movie, she comes to decide that Bruce is never going to stop being Batman and accepts a marriage proposal from Harvey Dent.
  • Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: Emerson is often too busy studying to spend time with Petronella, something Randy is quite happy to lampshade as he talks her into sleeping with him.
  • In the Captain America (1990) film Steve Roger's fiance Bernice waited for him for 16 years when he went missing and presumed dead during his first mission as Captain America. She got married when she was 38 because Her Biological Clock Was Ticking. When they are reunited he is amazed that she waited that long.
  • This happens to Tom Hanks's character in Cast Away; he comes back after five years to find that his loved one started a family with someone else two or three years after he vanished. In a subversion, she's instantly ready to completely abandon her family and run away with him, but he rebukes her. This, in turn, was referenced in Family Guy, after Peter was stranded with Quagmire, Cleveland and Joe on a desert island, only to finally return home and find that Brian had taken over his former role in the home. (They explicitly only married for stability, and, to Brian's chagrin, never did the deed. This is to keep their Unresolved Sexual Tension, well, Unresolved.)
  • The Cider House Rules subverts this; Candy has an adulterous affair with Homer while Wally is off flying in World War II, but she gets back together with the latter at the end, although he is now paraplegic. In the book, Homer and Candy also have an illegitimate child together, who is taken in by the St Cloud's orphanage.
  • Crimson Peak: It's implied that Edith and Alan were childhood sweethearts, but at the start of the movie he just got back from spending several years out of the country studying medicine, and her feelings for him have clearly cooled. Alan seems very keen on rekindling them, only for the Tall, Dark, and Handsome Thomas Sharpe to step in and sweep her off her feet. With Thomas dead by the end of the film and Alan having gone through hell to save Edith's life, the film ends on a Maybe Ever After.
  • Slight variation in The Dead Zone in that Johnny wasn't presumed dead while his fiancee didn't wait for him, he was in a coma from which no one was sure he would wake.
  • In Enchanted, Giselle falls in love with Robert while waiting for her fiance Prince Edward to reunite with her and bring her back to Andalasia. Luckily for Edward, he falls in love and ends up living Happily Ever After with Robert's former girlfriend Nancy Tremaine in Andalasia while Giselle stays in New York with Robert.
  • Hang 'Em High: Despite feeling remorse for hanging the wrong man, vigilante Tommy is willing to join Wilson in trying to kill Jed due to fear that his wife won't be able to wait for him if he goes to prison.
  • Jarhead. It's particularly unnerving to watch Anthony survive attack after attack and keep his hopes up only to have Kristina leave him for the guy she said "was just a friend" after the war was over. Not to mention the porn video scene. This trope is a major theme and comes in endless waves.
  • In Marianne (1929), Marianne falls in love with an American serviceman in France at the end of World War I, four years after her boyfriend was taken prisoner by the Germans.
  • My Favorite Wife is a 1940 comedy about a woman returning home after being shipwrecked (with a very handsome man) for seven years; it was remade in 1963 as Move Over, Darling. See also another 1940 movie, Too Many Husbands.
  • This is the root cause of the Love Triangle in Pearl Harbor. The girl's first love was assumed dead after his plane was shot down. And his best friend unintentionally ended up falling in love with her.
  • Double subverted in The Perez Family. Juan Raúl and Carmela, who have been separated for 20 years by the Cuban Revolution, spend most of the movie looking for each other to resume their marriage. During their search they both meet somebody else they start to fall for, but then they finally find each other. The next-to-last scene is played with some vague dialog that makes it sound like they are going to get back together, but it turns out that they have in fact agreed to end their marriage amicably and continue with their new partners.
  • Calypso didn't wait for Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean... but Elizabeth did wait for Will. According to Word of God, this allows Will to be with Elizabeth as much as he wants, as long as the job is still done. The "one day per ten years" rule does not apply to faithful couples (although the movie implies the opposite).
  • In The Princess Bride, Buttercup doesn't wait for Westley (although she doesn't so much move on as give up on love and consent to a loveless engagement). He was presumed dead, but he seems to think she should have waited for him anyway.
    • In the book, it's more blatantly You Have Waited Long Enough.
      "I am your Prince and you will marry me," Humperdinck said.
      Buttercup whispered, "I am your servant and I refuse."
      "I am your Prince and you cannot refuse."
      "I am your loyal servant and I just did."
      "Refusal means death."
      "Kill me then."
      "I am your Prince and I'm not that bad - how could you rather be dead than married to me?"
      "Because," Buttercup said, "marriage involves love, and that is not a pastime at which I excel. I tried once, and it went badly, and I am sworn never to love another."
      "Love?" said Prince Humperdinck. "Who mentioned love?"
      "Then by all means, let us marry."
  • In the 2010 adaptation of Riverworld, Matt finds that his beloved Jessie has shacked up with Richard Burton. What makes this really painful for Matt is that from his perspective, he and Jessie were only separated for a few days. From Jessie's perspective, she searched for Matt for four years, then fell for Richard after he saved her from some rapists.
  • In Spawn (1997), the title character comes Back from the Dead, and finds out that his girl married his old partner. He's somewhat perturbed by this. The partner, meanwhile, is scared shitless... but really, wouldn't YOU be? Ex-boyfriends are bad enough when they aren't undead antiheroes with demonic powers. In the end, he gets over it, and even notes that "they belong together" after seeing how happy they are when they are reunited.
  • This is one of the main plot drivers of Superman Returns: Superman went off for some years to find Krypton, but didn't bother telling anyone where he was going or when he would be back. His mother mostly accepts it but does scold him for leaving her unexpectedly, but Lois fits this trope perfectly: she married someone else, has a son, and won a Pulitzer Prize for a news article "Why the world doesn't need Superman". Of course, the son is Superman's, and from all indications both Lois and her husband knew it.
  • In Swing Shift, Kay Walsh's husband enlists in the Navy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and she eventually winds up more or less seduced by her factory boss. After a one-night stand they wind up properly dating, which gets broken up when Kay's husband comes home. Fun is not had by anyone, but it turns out all right in the end.
  • In Though None Go with Me, young Elizabeth Bishop falls in love with the town's priest, but he has to go to the Korean war. She gets the news that he becomes a martyr, and she marries her boss. She leads a happy marriage, till she hears that the priest actually did not die. Her husband lets her go if she wants to. She stays till his death only to reunite with the priest at the end of the movie as an old lady, thanks to her granddaughter.
  • In Tiger Bay, Anya grows tired of waiting for Bronislav who is constantly out to sea, and finds herself a new beau - which is what leads Bronek to kill her in a moment of passion.

  • At the beginning of the novel American Gods, the main character, Shadow, is finally getting out of prison and can't wait to see his wife again. Unfortunately for him, not only did his wife just die in a car crash, but she unwittingly caused said car crash by giving a blowjob to the driver, Shadow's best friend. Poor guy, especially considering that she was part of the reason he was in jail for the first time. She then come back as a zombie and tries to apologize.
  • Happens to Marco's father in Animorphs. His wife (Marco's mother) disappeared two years before the beginning of the series, and everyone believed her to be dead. He got married again in book #35, and then, as soon as book #45, he found out that Marco's mother was alive. This was, as you would expect, stressful for him. But he didn't face any kind of Love Triangle, since his new wife, having been captured by the Yeerks, was not herself, and being with her wasn't an option.
    • Also, Marco lied to his dad, saying that the new wife had always been a Yeerk, and had started dating him only as an opportunity to lead him to the Yeerks.
  • In Machelle Magorian's Back Home Ivy's husband is believed to have been killed in the war. So, she marries an American GI. Right before she and her daughter plan to move to the US, they find out that her first husband is still alive and had only been taken captive by the Japanese.
  • In Poul Anderson's Barnacle Bull, Bull's girlfriend urges him back into space, promising to wait for him — and dumps him even before he finishes training, because she sees so little of him.
  • Given an interesting twist in David Eddings' The Belgariad. Garion grew up on a peaceful farm, with his somewhat dim-witted best friend, and the flirtatious girl next door... who became the object of both their affections when they grew a bit older, a fact that she enjoyed immensely. Then, Garion get swept up in this whole 'save the world from an evil god' quests, leaving the farm behind, and quickly maturing into a bona-fide, Magic Knight-style hero. Then, 'bout halfway through his quest, the party swings by the old farm, and he finds that his friend married the girl... said friend, however, is terribly impressed with Garion's new heroic profile, and apologizes for snatching up the girl in his absence... and the girl is both ready and eager to dump him to run off with the new and improved Garion, too. Unfortunately for her, Garion's found himself a fierce-tempered redheaded Princess while out and about, and while he still cares for his old girlfriend, he carefully hides it to make sure she'll stick with the steady guy. Besides, he's got a destiny to catch up with...
    • There's also that if Garion doesn't marry the princess, a centuries-old treaty will be voided and the resulting diplomatic disaster will irreparably sunder the armies of the West at just the exact time all goodly nations need to unify to avoid being crushed by said evil god. Add in that Garion is falling genuinely in love with Ce'Nedra and vice versa, and that Zubrette's life expectancy would be measured in days if she tried to share the rigors of the quest with Garion, and, well, who can blame him for not wanting to ruin her marriage and then end her life in the same month.
  • In the The Blood War Trilogy, Arrin spends fifteen years pining after the Princess he was lovers with (and bore their illegitimate child) despite this leading to him becoming The Exile. When they meet again, she's married with two children.
  • In one of the Brother Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters, it turns out that the murdered man's wife used to be Cadfael's fiancée — long ago, before Cadfael left on a crusade. Most of the other characters seem to think that Cadfael still has a crush on her. He denies this vehemently, and says she did the right thing in not waiting for him to come back.
  • In The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantes is gone for years, and Mercedes marries his enemy and raises a son during that time. She was told he was dead and did not know that her husband was responsible for his plight, and Dantes specifically says the eighteen months she waited before moving on was all a lover could ask for.
    • One of the many "do not follow the plot too strictly" movies tried to "justify" this by claiming Mercedes was pregnant with Dantes' child and had no choice but to marry to save her reputation, and thus got married earlier than in the novel.
    • Lampshaded and parodied in The Simpsons episode parodying The Count of Monte Cristo, where everyone including Marge as Mercedes turns on Homer as Dantes for his revenge plot.
      Marge: We were married for ten years! Why didn't you come back for me?
      Homer: It takes time to come up with a revenge plan this awesome!
  • In P. G. Wodehouse's A Damsel In Distress, Maud discovers Geoffrey is not the man for her when she meets him again and, besides his having grown fat in the interval, he's being served with a breach of promise suit.
  • The book, movie and TV series The Dead Zone. She didn't wait while he was in a coma.
  • The Discworld novel Eric has the Discworld version of Helen of Troy, who got tired of waiting for the war to end and settled down and had kids.
  • In The Dinosaur Lords, after a few weeks on the road, when Jaume realizes his love isn't writing back to him, he starts to pay more attention to his Companions.
  • In Enoch Arden by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Enoch is shipwrecked for several years and declared dead. When he comes back, he finds that his wife is happily married to another man, and he decides not to reveal himself.
  • The climax of Gone with the Wind uses this trope heavily, while also providing a neat deconstruction of The Masochism Tango. Scarlett, the protagonist, doesn't physically leave Rhett, but she insults him, constantly expresses her affection for Ashley and unfavourably compares Rhett to him, and spends the entire novel wondering how she can get revenge on Rhett for a very minor slight. Now, this is all very understandable behaviour (Rhett is just as much a bad person as Scarlett, only he expresses it differently; they both agreed that their marriage would be one of convenience; Rhett has done some very cruel things to her) before Scarlett realises that she's in love with Rhett. Rhett, who has long since realised that he wants nothing to do with Scarlett, rejects her confession and leaves the city. ("But did it ever occur to you, Scarlett...that even the most deathless love could wear out?") When Scarlett apologizes for how she acted and tries to reconciliate with Rhett, his response is scornful:
    "What a child! You think that by saying 'I'm sorry' all the wrongs and injuries of the past can be erased?"
  • In Great Expectations, Pip ignores Biddy's obvious love for him as he fruitlessly pursues Estella. After he realizes the error of his life choices, he returns to claim Biddy as his bride, only to find out she has married Joe instead.
  • The Great Gatsby has Jay Gatsby going off to war, and Daisy marrying Tom Buchanan before he returns and finds her.
  • In Dave Duncan's A Handful of Men series, the wife of the Imperor (not a typo, he's an Imp) thinks her husband has died while they were all on the run from the Bad Guys, and she ends up falling for (and marrying) another man. When he shows up again, things are a bit awkward. Furthermore, the Imperor earlier told that man, that it's OK to love a married woman, and since her marriage is unhappy and she would rather be with him than her husband, the Imperor would ask her husband to give her a divorce. He keeps his promise. Ylo doesn't live long after that, thus the rest of the world never knows that her only child and Imperor's heir is actually Ylo's.
  • Harry Potter: Referenced. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry is going to leave on his quest, Ginny jokes that he might "run into some Veela" and forget about her, so decides to give him something to remember her by. They're in the middle of an intense snogging session (which was implied to be going a bit farther) when Ron bursts into the room. It should be noted that Harry broke up with Ginny in the previous book to keep her safe; this book makes it clear that she's ignoring that, and as far as she's concerned they're still a couple.
  • At the end of Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Chessmen of Mars from the John Carter of Mars series, Djor Kantos reveals that, believing her dead, he had married another. She's delighted. By Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends that way, he had freed her from The Promise, and she can marry the hero.
  • The Kept Man of the Princess Knight: Matthew hardly has a problem hiring prostitutes of his own when Arwin is away in the dungeon, and lying to her that the money is to go out drinking with his friends. Of course, she knows he's lying to her about this and turns a blind eye, since they don't actually have a sexual relationship anyway.
  • The introduction to the first legal edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover discusses definitions of obscenity and offers us this example: "I come home after three fucking years in fucking Africa [fighting in WW2] and what do I fucking well find? My wife, engaged in illicit cohabitation with a male!"
  • In The Man in the Iron Mask, also by Alexandre Dumas, Raoul berates women in general for this very reason.
  • In Maya's Notebook, the titular protagonist is hiding out in Chiloé Island (off the coast of Chile) when she meets Daniel Goodrich, a handsome backpacker. Maya falls in love and it appears to be mutual. Eventually he moves back to Seattle. But as time goes by, his responses to her e-mails become shorter and shorter, until she gets a letter saying he will always value their relationship and the time together, etc. Maya is so heartbroken that after a long period of sobriety, she falls Off the Wagon.
  • In the Outlander series, Claire ends up with two husbands in two different time periods, gets pregnant by one husband and raises that baby with the other husband (though the marriage itself sounds like it wasn't terribly happy after her return). Definitely doesn't forget about #2 (who was presumed dead) when she went back to #1, but felt guilty for wanting to be with #2 when #1 still existed in his own timeline alive and well. It applies even better to Jamie's activities in the 20 years Claire spent in the 20th century. He has a couple flings, one resulting in a child, and even gets married to a widow who once tried to have Claire killed as a witch.
  • Patience and Sarah: After being away from his wife for months on end with only Sam as a traveling companion, Parson falls for Sam and confesses to him. However, "Sam" is actually "Sarah" and Sarah only likes women.
  • Peter Pan's mother gave up waiting for him to come home, and when he went back the window was closed and there was a different boy in his bed. Of course in Peter Pan's case, he could have returned at any time, so really he's the jerk for letting his mother think he was gone forever.
  • The Reluctant King: After Jorian was forced to flee Xylar for self-preservation, before long he cheated on his wives repeatedly, which is basically just treated as what you expect of a man. Estrildis, his favorite wife who he returns for, it turns out also did this, falling for another man who impregnated her. He's enough of a good guy to accept this and not hold her to a double standard, aiding both to go into a neighboring land where they can live together with their baby. Jorian ends up with Margalit, her maid.
  • In The Scarlet Letter, Hester's husband has been separated from her, and she (erroneously, it turns out) believes he's dead, and falls into the arms (and bed) of Reverend Dimmsdale. She becomes pregnant, thus bringing the affair into the open, and setting the story into motion.
  • In Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's Tiger, Mary, as soon as she finds herself in a native household, finds it very home-like and starts to forget Sharpe. The mistress of the house matches her up with a cousin of her husband, suffering under his father's disgrace, and by the time they meet up again, Mary is insistent that Sharpe is her half-brother. Sharpe lets it go, without any heartbreak.
  • A very incestuous example in A Song of Ice and Fire, Jaime Lannister is captured by Robb Stark during the prelude of the War of the Five Kings. While his younger brother Tyrion tried to come up with an exchange to get Jaime back, Cersei started to sleep with Lancel, their cousin, and Osmund Kettleback though she did this to get them on her side for her own plans. When Jaime came back to King's Landing, he had no idea about the affair until Tyrion tells him that "she's been fucking Lancel, Osmund Kettleblack and Moon Boy for all I know". Jaime didn't believe it at first and started to grow distant from Cersei after she insulted him and his "stump". Until he confronted Lancel who confessed that he slept with her, Jaime decided not help Cersei when she got arrested for adultery by the Faith Militant.
  • Tales from Netheredge: In Bright Flame Galen hooks up with Rask after he and Cole have to part. When Cole returns and finds out, he understands and never holds it against him. They work it out in the end and settle down together.
  • In The Thin Red Line Bell, whose only consolation in the war are memories of the times he'd spent together with his wife, receives a "Dear John" Letter from her during the Guadalcanal campaign.
  • In the Timeline-191 series, Jefferson Pinkard is drafted to go fight in WWI. When he finally gets leave, he finds his wife in bed with his old steel-mill buddy, who came home from the trenches short an arm. He forgives her, largely due to his own transgressions at whorehouses near the front. After the war, the sorry state of the Confederacy drives him to the Freedom Party. His absence leads his wife back to the steel-mill buddy. These betrayals are a big part of what turns him on to the path that ends in his execution for crimes against humanity during the "population reduction."
  • In Tranquilium, the female main character falls in love with the hero. The hero is then separated from her for a long time, eventually leading her to reunite with her husband, whom she never got around to divorcing (this turns out to have been the right choice, as they discover they still do love each other after all).
  • Virgil Cole/Everett Hitch: Allie has a need to be with the the alpha male; when Cole is around that’s usually him, but whenever they’re separated (or if she perceives that someone else has the upper hand) she gravitates toward whomever is currently on top.
  • In Voices of a Distant Star: Words of Love/Across the Stars, Noboru gets a girlfriend during the one-year silence from Mikako. He rationalises it away as never having formalised a relationship with Mikako. Even after getting the email, they don't break up until the second year of college, and he mentions having had two more in the eight-year gap between that and her final email depicted in the film.
  • The Wayfarer Redemption protagonist Axis' heartwrenching betrayal of his self-sacrificing lover, Faraday. Who subsequently falls into The Mourning After.
  • Wicked: Melena's husband Frexspar has been off all winter "finding himself", leaving Melena and their infant daughter Elphaba alone in their shabby lil' house with few to interact with. When an attractive glassblower named Turtle Heart pops up at her door one day, it takes Melena's willpower not to pounce him on arrival and they later end up sleeping together. As it turns out, there's no issue with fidelity as Frex ends up liking Turtle Heart as well.
  • Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series, in which someone is mistaken for dead - there is a war going on, after all - and his wife ends up getting pregnant by, and married to, another man. This is a particularly painful one because both the husband and the new guy are focus characters, so we get to spend the entire time the husband is making his slow, tortuous journey back home knowing exactly what's waiting for him, and that things will get very bad when he finishes his quest. Turtledove eventually has him go nuts and get himself killed to resolve the Love Triangle.
  • Wuthering Heights: When Heathcliff returns home he finds that his childhood love Cathy has gotten married to someone else (although that was the reason he left in the first place).

    Live-Action TV 
  • 30 Rock:
    • In the season four episode "Floyd", Liz Lemon reunites with her former boyfriend, the titular Floyd, when he visits New York from Cleveland, and hopes they can rekindle their romance. Unfortunately, it turns out that Floyd is actually getting married to another woman that he met in Cleveland.
    • In the season six episode "Meet the Woggels!", Jenna realizes her feelings for Paul are too strong to continue her sexual walkabout. But when she goes back to Paul's apartment to talk to him, she finds that he has already seemingly moved onto another person.
  • In the finale of Alias season 2, Sydney is kidnapped and brainwashed for two years. In her absence, Vaughn marries another woman. The resulting awkwardness was eventually resolved by said woman turning out to be The Mole and eventually being killed by Vaughn himself.
  • In As Time Goes By, Lionel and Jean were in young and in love when he went to Korea. His letter back to her telling her his address got lost. When both got no letters from the other, they assumed the other had lost interest. Both married, then he divorced and she was widowed, and they got together serendipitously many many years later (30 or 40) and fell in love again.
  • Degrassi: The Next Generation:
    • Leia breaks up with Danny in the hope that he'll want her more. He's relieved for it to be over, though.
    • Anya expects that if she's happy without Sav then he'll want her back, but he realizes that he really doesn't want a manipulator.
  • In the third season of Desperate Housewives, while her boyfriend Mike is in the coma, Susan starts a relationship with a guy who also has a comatose wife. Complications ensues when an amnesiac Mike wakes up and the wife dies.
  • In Emily in Paris, Emily's Chicago boyfriend Doug, who she at one point talks about possibly marrying, can barely last a week of long-distance after Emily temporarily moves to Paris before calling it quits.
  • The pilot of The Flash (2014) shows that Iris started a relationship with Eddie while Barry was stuck in a nine-month-long coma. Before his awakening, Iris and Barry couldn't bring themselves to express how they felt about each other, and he eventually decides to let Eddie date Iris. However, it's shown that she's not truly over her feelings for Barry, as shown by her displeasure at him going out with Linda Park. Eventually, Eddie breaks up with Iris despite her protests, conceding that he was never her first choice.
  • A French Village: Hubert, a French POW, came home and found that his wife had born a son with another man. For the boy's sake, he'd claimed him, but Hubert clearly resents her for this.
  • The first two seasons of Homeland showed that after years of being a POW in the Middle East, Nicholas Brody comes home and eventually learns that his kids are older and don't recognize him (particularly his son) and his wife, Jessica, moved on and fell in love with his best friend, Mike. Justified that Jessica and Mike thought that Brody is dead until they got the news. This cause problems later on until Jessica decided to end the affair in order to rekindle her relationship with her husband. However, any attempt to restore the relationship failed due to Brody's secret of being part of Abu Nazir's terrorist network to kill the Vice-President and later, being forced to work with the CIA by Carrie who he had an affair with. At the end of Season 2, Jessica and Brody knew that their marriage is never going to work out so they broke up with Brody going back to Carrie until everything went into hell by Abu Nazir's Thanatos Gambit of pining the blame on Brody for the bombings at the CIA headquarters, causing Jessica and the kids to suffer the public backlash and Brody a wanted man in Season 3.
  • A slight variation in an episode of House where a soldier's girlfriend dumped him before he went off to fight in the Middle East. At least she didn't lie and tell him she'd wait.
  • In the first season of How I Met Your Mother, when Victoria goes to Germany on a scholarship, she and Ted begin a long-distance relationship, but soon his attraction for Robin gets in the way. When he tries to have sex with Robin without breaking up with Victoria, the two women find out what he is up to and he loses both of them. Not forever, though.
  • Used in In Plain Sight with a 17-year-old who had to leave his (serious) high school girlfriend to go into witness protection with his father. His girlfriend starts dating his best friend in a matter of months. Things were awkward when he turned 18, opted out, and returned.
  • In Manifest, adult siblings Ben and Michaela Stone are considered dead along with the rest of the passengers on Flight 828 when the plane goes missing. When the plane miraculously returns after five years, the two find out that their respective partners have moved on to other relationships, with Michaela's fiance having married her best friend to add even more salt to the wound.
  • In The Middle, this is Played for Laughs. Sue's first boyfriend, Matt, moves to another school. They then attempt a long-distance relationship, but Matt keeps talking about this other girl he met that is showing him around the new school and being really nice to him. Sue doesn't get the hint that he's started dating the other girl until Matt outright breaks up with her.
  • In My Name Is Earl, it's revealed that back in The '80s, Earl's mother Kay slept with their sensitive next-door neighbor Mr. Clark, while her husband and Mrs. Clark were off at work and self-defense classes, in a drunken moment of weakness. Mr. Clark tried to start a relationship with Kay, but she said no because she felt guilty about cheating on her husband. Because he got turned down, he sold his house and moved to the next town. Earl and Randy assumed it was because they tormented him.
  • In an episode of NCIS, the team is helping a woman from a war-torn African nation look for her husband, a political activist who was forced to flee the country years ago and who has had no contact with her since. When they find him, it turns out that he has remarried and had a child, because his wife and most of his family had been reported dead.
  • In The Punisher (2017), Frank tracks down Micro/David's family and starts spending time with them, at first as an intimidation tactic since he knows Micro is surveilling them, then later to keep an eye on them as a favor to David once they develop a working relationship. Sarah kisses Frank while tipsy and lonely, and it probably would have gone further if Frank hadn't stopped her. Sarah can hardly be blamed; David had faked his death a year ago and she has no idea he's still alive. Suddenly here is a kind, helpful, hunky man who is spending a lot of time with her and her family. While David doesn't blame her, he does drink himself stupid out of despair that she's falling for Frank in his absence.
  • In Quantum Leap, Al's first wife, and true love, remarries while he's a POW in Vietnam. This leads him to have a string of failed marriages and relationships. Several episodes involve Sam having a chance to change some aspect of this, either by telling her Al is still alive or rescuing Al in Vietnam. Unfortunately, this is never the reason he's there at the time, and his current mission prevents him from being able to help each time. In the series finale, Sam expresses that this is his biggest regret, and gets a chance to go back and tell her Al's still alive and coming home, thus changing history so they end with Babies Ever After.
  • In Raising Hope, the sister show to My Name Is Earl, it's barely averted. Virginia thinks that Burt has been kidnapped and is a crying mess missing him. A cop who has had an unrequited crush on her for years decides to help her out around the house, and pretty soon warms up to her due to her thinking that he's seemingly better than Burt. However, just after she decides to move in with him, Burt returns, and Virginia calls it off to stay with Burt. It also turns out that the whole situation was a ruse by Virginia's grandmother Maw-Maw to get first Burt out of the picture by tricking him to run away from home, and then her and her son Jimmy to move out, by feeding tips to the cop on how to get on Virginia's good side.
  • In Rome, Niobe is told that her husband, Vorenus, has been killed in battle, and ends up getting pregnant from a one-night stand. When her husband unexpectedly shows up alive, she panics and tells him that the baby is their teenage daughter's. Given how he reacts when the truth comes out, you can't really blame her for lying.
  • Parodied in Roseanne. Darlene tells Dan that "Things have changed since you've been in the big house. Mommy says we have a new daddy now.". Which is unlikely given he's been in police custody for hours at most.
  • Another example of a male not waiting in the Stargate Atlantis episode "The Intruder". During flashbacks of the team's time on Earth after a year without contact, it's shown the Dr. Weir's boyfriend, first seen in the pilot watching a video explaining what she was doing, had met someone else during that time. Turned down a chance to get to Atlantis to stay with the new woman.
  • Teal'c's wife in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Family". She knew he wasn't dead. His betrayal, however, has put his wife and son into the "untouchables" category. Marrying the other guy was the only way to rid themselves of the shame. Luckily, the other guy finds out she still loves Teal'c and goes to betray him, forcing O'Neill to Murder the Hypotenuse.
  • Mark didn't wait for Captain Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager (in fairness, Janeway and her entire crew were missing-presumed-dead). This scars Janeway pretty deeply, and the idea is revisited in a couple of episodes where Voyager's crew is under alien mind control. In the first, Janeway hallucinates about Mark appearing on Voyager with her; in the second, as part of an elaborate illusion, she receives "letters from Earth" in which Mark reveals he has broken off his engagement with the other woman.
  • During Season 2 of Supergirl (2015), Kara has to let Mon-El leave Earth after setting off a planet-wide bomb to chase the other, militant members of his race, the Daxaamites. Six months later, he returns cured of his lead "allergy" due to advanced medical procedures from the future. Unfortunately, for him it was 8 years later, and he had married someone else (Saturn Girl), whom accompanied him back to the past. Brainiac 5, who was also with him, told Kara that for the first 6 years, Mon tried to find a way to return before deciding it would be impossible.
  • Supernatural:
    • In an episode Sam and Dean meet a woman Molly who was being chased by a ghost who was killed fifteen years ago in a car accident and she couldn't find her husband after the car crash they were in (caused by the ghost). At the end of the episode, Molly finds her husband was all right ... and married to someone else. Molly was in fact the one who accidentally killed the ghost fifteen years ago and was unable to accept her death, thus reliving that night for fifteen years.
    • Season 8's Romantic Plot Tumor: while Dean is trapped in Purgatory, Sam has a relationship with the widow Amelia whose husband turns out to be not quiet dead. Amelia chooses to get back with her husband then spend one last night with Sam. She asks him to either chose between her and Dean and Sam eventually stays with Dean.
  • In The Walking Dead (2010), Shane tells Lori that her husband Rick has died (which was very likely true as far as he knew, and the only way to convince her and her son to leave for somewhere safer), and they end up hooking up. That is, until Rick meets up with the group outside of Atlanta. Unfortunately, Shane has fallen in love with Lori in the meantime, ending up bitter and resentful when she goes back to Rick and tries to act like nothing happened between them.
  • During the final season of Zoey 101, Chase and Zoey attempt to carry on a long-distance relationship. When it doesn't work, Zoey dates James, the guys' new roommate. Even though James was the nicest guy in the world (literally. They broke up and all James said was "I get it"), he was the most hated character for getting in the way of the long-anticipated Zoey/Chase relationship. In the end, Zoey ends up breaking things off with James for Chase, but many fans boycotted much of season 4 because of the Zoey/James relationship.

  • Soul song by The Five Stairsteps - "You Waited Too Long"
  • British folk song "The House Carpenter" (Child Ballads #243; rendition by Bob Dylan). It doesn't end well—she runs off with her old flame, but he turns out to be 1) dead, and 2) evil.
  • In the Who's rock opera album Tommy and in the subsequent movie, the title character's father, Captain Walker, goes off to war and is later declared missing in action and presumed dead. Tommy's mother then remarries. This may have seemed like a decent idea until Captain Walker returns home, and going by the album version kills her new husband or in the film is killed by him.
  • "A Quick One (While He's Away)", also by The Who, and in many ways a precursor to Tommy. The female protagonist is distraught at the prolonged absence of her (armed services?) boyfriend and has a fling with Ivor, the Engine Driver. In this case the original couple winds up reconciling.
  • The main theme of the song Long Lost Love by Great Big Sea. He leaves home and his sweetheart for work, stays away too long, and eventually he receives a letter saying she's moved on.
  • "March to the Witch's Castle" from Cosmic Slop by Funkadelic.
  • "Whiskey Lullaby" by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss has this as its theme, coupled with guilt on the girlfriend's part. The music video's opening makes it especially clear.
  • Subverted in the Scottish song "Lass of Glencoe", as well as a few similar songs: A woman has been waiting for her absent lover for ten years. She is approached by a stranger and spurns his advances, even when he points out that her lover may be dead or strayed. He reveals himself to be her lover who was only testing her faithfulness, and she marries the jerk.
  • The video for Elton John's "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" follows a 1950s-era British Army recruit and his girl back home as he misses her during boot camp and she fights temptation from other guys. The trope is ultimately subverted.
  • Insane Clown Posse: In the song "Under the Moon", when the singer kills a man who attempted to rape his girlfriend, he's sent to prison and she promises I Will Wait for You. But as the years roll by, he never gets a letter from her, and she changes her phone number. He finally concludes she's forgotten about him and moved on, and the bitterness is all he has left as he rots behind bars.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Older Than Feudalism: Both Agamemnon and his wife Clytemnestra were unfaithful while he was off fighting in The Trojan War. When he returned, his wife and/or her lover murdered him. Although the fact that he sacrificed their daughter for the gods' favor may have had something to do with it. As well as bringing home his new squeeze, Cassandra. (And Cassandra essentially being living war-loot rarely factors in with Ancient Greece.)
  • The Achilleid: Achilles tearfully vows to his wife that he will never marry or have a kid with any Trojan woman. The line immediately after tells us that Achilles will eventually break his vows on his travels.
    "The storm winds swept his idle words away."
  • In the Book of Judges, Samson posed a riddle to the Philistines during a week-long marriage celebration to his Philistine bride that, if they solved it, he would give them thirty linen sheets and thirty changes of clothes, but if they fail, they would give him the same. The riddle, however, was so tough for the Philistines to discern the answer to that they resorted to emotional blackmail by threatening his bride-to-be, and thus they got their answer through her. Upset that the Philistines resorted to cheating, Samson nonetheless fulfilled his end of the bargain, but while he was out doing that, Samson's bride-to-be ended up marrying someone else, and by the time Samson fulfilled his end of the bargain, the bride's father ended up offering his other daughter to Samson instead. Samson was furious and ended up vandalizing the Philistines' fields, which resulted in starting a Cycle of Revenge that didn't end until Samson's death years later.
  • Subverted in The Odyssey, where everyone believes that Odysseus is dead EXCEPT his wife Penelope. Despite the hundreds of suitors that pester her and believe that Odysseus is never coming back, Penelope remains completely faithful and confident in her husband. Meanwhile, Odysseus was dealing with goddesses who don't handle rejection well, and only did what he had to do to get home to his wife and not be transformed into a pig for the rest of his life. And even when offered a goddess, he still just wanted Penelope.

  • In Finian's Rainbow, the Leprechaun Og says as much in his song "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love".
    Og: When I'm not near the girl I love, I love the girl I'm near.
  • In Hadestown, Orpheus decides to work on his music rather than help his girlfriend Eurydice look for food and shelter during a harsh storm. Starving and neglected, Eurydice accepts a proposition from Hades to come work for him in the Underworld city of Hadestown in exchange for food and shelter. Orpheus is so preoccupied he doesn't even realize at first that Eurydice has left, and has to be updated about this by Hermes. Once Eurydice is in Hadestown, she cannot return to the above world, and Orpheus and Eurydice are permanently separated from each other.
  • Hamilton:
    • Theodosia starts her relationship with Burr while her first husband is in Georgia.
    • Likewise, Hamilton embarks on an affair with Maria Reynolds while Eliza is visiting her father, with their children in tow.
  • If you want to be Lois from Kiss Me, Kate's boyfriend, you have to accept that she has many other boy ''friends'' as she explains in "Always True to You in My Fashion".
  • In Miss Saigon, after Chris was separated from Kim, he returned to America and married, after a suitable period of emotional catatonia. Kim, who had gotten pregnant, awaited the day that Chris would return to Saigon and take her and their son to America. Needless to say, when Chris found out that Kim was still alive, he had a bit of explaining to do to his wife, Ellen.
    • Although you might question the suitable period of emotional catatonia... According to the timeline given by the characters, getting married was pretty much the first thing he did after coming back to America.
    • John, Chris' lieutenant, tells Kim, "He went crazy when he lost you, spoke to no one for a year. Then he finally said "I'm home now, my life has to go on here." So he mourned her for a year before moving on with Ellen.
      • On top of that, he thought Kim was dead. Which isn't a wild stretch of the imagination considering Kim was a hooker married to an American GI and she'd just seriously pissed off a North Vietnamese officer.
    • This is the tried-and-true Madame Butterfly plot.
  • Played for Drama in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. Part of what draws Natasha to Anatole is her uncertainty of when Andrey will ever come home from the war.
  • In Oklahoma!, Ado Annie falls for the Persian peddler Ali Hakim while her would-be fiance Will Parker is out of town.
  • In Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, Musa falls in love with Sheri while his fiancee Gamila is away in Cairo. When Gamila returns, the sparks start to fly.
  • Mocked in The Pirates of Penzance with the line:
    Oh, here is love, and here is truth,
    And here is food for joyous laughter:
    She will be faithful to her sooth
    Till we are wed, and even after.
Note that Mabel was pledging to wait over 60 years.
  • Two Gentlemen of Verona: Proteus is sent off to visit his friend Valentine. He tearfully leaves his beloved, Julia, swearing to be faithful—and then catches a glimpse of Sylvia, the girl Valentine loves, and spends the rest of the play knee-deep in increasingly evil/ridiculous machinations to win her. In the final scene, he defects back to Julia literally as soon as she shows up again, and everyone is happy.
  • In Waterfall, after her husband's death, Katherine reunites with Noppon only to find him engaged to his childhood sweetheart, which later leads to Katherine dying of a broken heart, literally.

    Video Games 
  • A particularly tragic example occurs in Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening when you come across a dying Grey Warden who begs you to return his wedding ring to his wife, only for the player to walk in on her with another man. She shows no remorse, and you don't get to do anything about it despite having potentially killed others for far less.
  • In the NCR ending of Fallout: New Vegas, if playing as a male your companion Cass attempts to resolve the sexual tension between you two, only to discover that you immediately went back to Walking the Earth after victory was declared. Rather than go looking for you, she instead shacks up with a random NCR trooper using your empty room.
  • Love & Pies: The day after Joe leaves for his two-day baker's retreat, his coworker and Love Interest Amelia worries that he might hook up with someone else, which is partially why she calls Yuka over three hours earlier than the latter's usual wake-up schedule to talk about him.
  • Mass Effect:
    • You. Yes, you in Mass Effect 2. Assuming you romanced Kaidan, Ashley, or Liara (none of whom will join you in your adventures the second time around) in the first game and they survived only for you to choose to romance a different person in the second game, it's this. Particularly if you start a romance with one of the new love interests before meeting your old flame for their One-Scene Wonder. Depending on how that meeting goes down though, you may or may not feel guilty about it.
    • While you were dead, Kaidan's friends convinced him to begin seeing a doctor, since it's not like most guys expect their ex-girlfriends to come Back from the Dead. It's also eventually revealed that he still wasn't over you, which is why your reunion on Horizon goes so badly.
      Kaidan: I'd finally let my friends talk me into going out for drinks with a doctor on the Citadel. Nothing serious, but trying to let myself have a life again, you know? Then I saw you, and everything pulled hard to port.
    • Ashley doesn't mention if she saw anyone while Shepard was dead, but Liara definitely didn't move on. She's been too busy trying to take down the Shadow Broker for trying to sell your body to the Collectors, and if you romanced her in the first game, you're then given the opportunity to hook back up with her in some DLC and pick up where you left off, averting this trope in her case. It helps that, unlike Kaidan or Ashley, Liara knew that there was a possibility Shepard could come back. And if you did cheat on her and mutually agree to break up, she seems to take it well and wish you happiness.
    • Shepard has a picture of whoever the romance in the first game was in his/her room. If you choose to start a new romance, it'll be turned face down... so this will come back to haunt you in the third game.
    • Amusingly, this happens to Shepard in Mass Effect 3 if Jacob was romanced. He ends up with ex-Cerberus scientist Brynn Cole. He didn't even wait six months.
    • Also in 3, there's a woman on the Citadel discussing with her asari mistress how to tell her husband who's off defending Earth from the Reaper invasion that she's leaving him. Amusingly, said mistress later admits that she didn't think their relationship was serious, leaving the cheater with nothing.
  • Defied in Pillars of Eternity with your boreal dwarf teammate Sagani and her husband Kallu, whom she left in her village five years ago to go on a quest. She jokingly remarks that Kallu wouldn't dare cheat on her because she's the best shot in the village.
  • In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the Bloody Baron's wife Anna attempted to run away with another man while he was away on a campaign, and that was just the start of their relationship issues.
  • The Walking Dead: Season Three: Protagonist Javier's brother David is separated from his family during the walker outbreak, leaving his wife Kate and young children Gabe and Mariana with Javier to fend for themselves. In the ensuing years spent on the road, Kate develops feelings for Javier. It's the player's choice whether or not Javier reciprocates them.
  • Cyberpunk 2077: The only ending where V survives puts them in a coma for two years. Even worse is that they develop a permanent disability to using most types of cyberware, meaning they'll never be even a shadow of their former popular self again. In those two years, your romantic interests have moved on; Judy finally left the city and, Panam went back on the road and is too busy leading the clan to deal with her abandonment issues rationally, River sold out to pay for Randy's medical bills and is in a dark place (or got himself killed from depression if Randy died), and Kerry got back to his job as a rock star.

    Visual Novels 
  • Being A ΔΙΚ: Both Maya and Josy demonstrate significant desires in starting a relationship with the MC throughout Episodes 1–3, including potentially sleeping with him, despite both being in committed relationships with each other, which he finds out about in the ending of "100%". All parties are, unusually, presented sympathetically to varying degrees: the two have been separated because of Maya's father's Financial Abuse of her, and both girls face extremely high-stress situations, with Josy's In Love with Love tendencies making her terrified of being alone and Maya's stress regarding being accepted by the HOTs for a chance at free tuition and freedom from her father, somewhat explaining why they are drawn to the MC, being their coworker and roommate, respectively. In the end, once he reveals all at the end of "When Worlds Collide", the two get back together, potentially adding him into their relationship.
  • In the backstory of In Your Arms Tonight, the protagonist and Genji Higayashima were High-School Sweethearts until Genji left Japan to pursue his soccer career by training in Italy and stayed gone for twelve years. He'd promised to come back to the protagonist when he left but never contacted her while he was gone, and by the time he comes back at the start of the VN, she has quite reasonably long since gotten over him and has been married for three months. Until she finds out her husband is cheating on her- while she can look past it and try to salvage their marriage, she can also break it off and get back together with Genji.

    Web Animation 

  • In Bittersweet Candy Bowl, Mike is in a Long-Distance Relationship with Sandy. After he rejects a Love Confession, one of his friends invokes this by telling him flat-out he should dump Sandy and get together with the local Love Interest, as "long distance relationships never work out anyway". Mike isn't too pleased at having his feelings on the matter brushed away and his love for Sandy trivialized, and it only damages his friendship with the others..
    • Unfortunately, in recent chapters it is revealed that Sandy developed feelings for her hairdresser and ultimately breaks up with Mike.
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, it's implied that this is the reason Surma Stibnite decided to marry the aloof and stoic Anthony Carver over her ex-boyfriend Sir James Eglamore. Eglamore was undergoing training for warriorhood in the Court and would be miles away for long periods of time, while Tony was a surgeon who was utterly devoted to her and stayed by her side. Eglamore hates him for various reasons, with the main one being that Surma chose him. The flashback chapter "Get Lost" revealed that she cheated on him with Tony while on a field expedition in Brazil. Eglamore's hatred is quite justified here as upon his return, Surma bluntly broke up with him, stating that Eglamore was just never there.
  • In Kevin & Kell, when Lindesfarne Dewclaw and Fenton Fuscus began their relationship, it was when Lindesfarne was living as a porcupine. Being diurnal to his nocturnal, that meant they couldn't be together during the shorter summer nights. Eventually, Fenton took a lover, moth Tammy Tussock. When this was discovered, Lindesfarne's dad, Kevin, told her she was really a hedgehog, which is not only nocturnal, but also an insectivore.note  Lindesfarne initially tried to hunt Tammy to get her out of the way. But being an inexperienced hunter, and per the strip's Arc Words,note  Lindesfarne and Tammy instead became friends, and got revenge on Fenton before Tammy stepped aside and Lindesfarne took him back.
  • Terminal Lance has several strips about the problems the military has with adultery due to personnel being deployed overseas, separating them from their significant others.
  • Unsounded: Emne has been cheating on Emil while he's away on his job in the Peaceguard, she's actually pregnant with another man's child and gets married within a week of Emil's announced death. This is then Double-Subverted, as her new husband is a sleazebag who only married her for politics and was planning to murder her, and she picks up on how much of an asshole he is to come crying back to Emil. Who then reveals that, since she already sent letters about planning a divorce, he started dating one of his subordinates and finds her a better person than Emne ever was.
  • Parodied in xkcd, where a man goes through this entire process in the 90 seconds his girlfriend was gone.

    Western Animation 
  • In Archer, Archer spends three years in a coma and decides to propose to his girlfriend and the mother of his child, Lana, upon waking up. He then finds out that she ended up marrying an older billionaire less than a year into his coma.
  • A parody of The Shawshank Redemption was used on Drawn Together, though working at a lemonade stand was used instead of marriage...
  • On Family Guy, Lois remarries Brian, who's long carried a torch for her, after Peter is lost at sea for some long but unspecified amount of time. In the end Brian gets the marriage annulled so that Lois can get back with Peter. It's also specifically stated to be a Sexless Marriage.
  • Done for laughs in the Futurama movie Bender's Big Score. Hermes's body was damaged and would take a week or two to repair while his head was kept alive in a jar. His wife Labarbara said that a week was too long, so she immediately hooked up with her ex-husband Barbados Slim. All this over Hermes's vocal protestations.
  • In Gargoyles, it's implied that Una may have had a thing for Griff, who vanished and was presumed dead during the Blitz. The tie-in comic reveals that she eventually wound up with Leo instead.
  • Played for Laughs in Harley Quinn (2019), where after Mr. Freeze's Heroic Sacrifice to save his wife Nora she almost immediately hooks up with Maxie Zeus.
  • This is Ron's main fear in the Grand Finale of Kim Possible following graduation. Since Kim was getting hundreds of college acceptance letters while he wasn't getting any at all, he was worried that the separation would lead to a break up. Whether they go to college together or not isn't revealed, but Word of God confirms that no matter what, their relationship will endure and flourish.
  • A man frozen in ice in the South Park episode "Prehistoric Ice Man" returns to find his wife has remarried and had two children with her new husband, who are eight and thirteen. He's understandably confused since he was only gone for three years...
    Wife: I waited for you to come home for over three days! I, I remember how cold and lonely the nights got. By the fourth day, I knew I had to move on.
    • Oddly enough Based on a True Story from Nederland, Colorado, not too far from the actual South Park the show takes place in. Well, barring the guy coming back to life, that is.
  • In Todd McFarlane's Spawn, the title characters comes back from the dead to find his wife remarried to his best friend. In a subversion, it turns out that he has partial amnesia, and recovers the memory of specifically asking his friend to "take care of" his wife if anything were to happen to him. It's unclear whether he specified the sexual aspect...

A subtrope involves a young man going on an adventure in order to impress the object of his affections, and returning to find that she's become engaged, or even married, while he was away. (Often her choice will demonstrate that what really impresses her is a man with a steady job who can be relied on to stay by her instead of disappearing off on adventures.)


  • The song "The Errant Apprentice" by Bill Watkins and Andy M. Stewart is a comical Anti-Love Song, in which the girl tells the singer she'll love him if he becomes a soldier, and then gets married while he's fighting in the Boer War.
  • Karim of Eternal Darkness is tasked by Chandra to retrieve an ancient treasure if he wants any chance of her love. However, when he speaks with her later, she admits that he was gone on his quest so long that she gave herself to a nobleman. However, the nobleman's mistress didn't take kindly to this... Chandra was dragged from her bed and murdered. She's speaking to Karim as a ghost.
  • Suggested to have happened with Samson with his Philistine bride-to-be in the Extra Credits' interpretation of the story of Samson and Delilah, when Samson goes to slay a bunch of people to fulfill a promise he made to the Philistines during the week-long wedding feast, only to find that his bride-to-be has been married off to another person in the interim.
  • Pre-emptively invoked in a John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme sketch. A man asks his girlfriend to give him a quest to prove his love. After he refuses to kill a panda for her, her second suggestion is that he can go to the Arctic Circle for ten years, and when he returns, if she's still unmarried, he may claim her as his bride.
    Man: If you remain unmarried?
    Woman: It's your quest, not mine. You might die out there! I'd look pretty silly then, if I'd waited.
    Man: Not as silly as I would if you didn't!
  • The Lost World (1912) by Arthur Conan Doyle: The narrator joined Professor Challenger's expedition because his young lady said she could only marry a heroic man of action. When he eventually returns he finds she's married to a solicitor's clerk.
  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Which is a subversion within a subversion. Tristran, the adventurer, fell in love with Yvaine during his journey and was no longer in love with Victoria, the object of his affections, when he came back to see her. Depending on whether you've seen The Movie or not, how Victoria reacts is both similar and different.
  • The Witches of Karres by James H. Schmitz: At the start of the book, Pausert is engaged. When his ship returns after his first encounter with the people of Karres, he finds that not only is he in trouble with the law through no fault of his own, his fiancee married someone else almost as soon as he left. It's even implied that his departure on a freelance Space Trucker mission in a ship on loan from said fiancee's father was a plot to get rid of him, which she was in on. He takes it relatively calmly, under the circumstances, as she's the only person involved in his extremely cold welcome home who he doesn't throw off the ship at gunpoint.
  • Donald Swann performed a song called The Youth Of The Heart on this theme: the singer's girlfriend wants to marry him, but he wants to be financially secure first and travels to America to seek his fortune. He returns, having saved enough money, to find that she married someone else a few hours before.

Alternative Title(s): They Did Not Wait, You Are Too Late For Your Love Interest