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.
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." (Although the original version of the saying was "Absence makes the heart grow fonder unless it makes the heart go yonder.") 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Something similar (although in this case it's coma related) is what kicks off the plot of Rumbling Hearts.
- 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.
- What happened with Himawari in xxxHOLiC if the fact she has a husband is any indication. However, Watanuki knows and fully supports her decision. Also, the fact that Doumeki's great-grandson was interacting with Watanuki indicates that Doumeki eventually did marry someone.
- The xxxHOLiC: Rou OVA explains that Doumeki and Kohane got married, but heavily implies that they both loved Watanuki (in fact, Doumeki outright admits that Watanuki is the one Kohane cherishes the most in her heart) and were marrying each other primarily out of convenience. It's actually far more heartwarming than it sounds, as given how things ultimately turned out, the most probable reason for why they did so was to ensure that even if they passed away, they'd have descendants to make sure that Watanuki's never alone.
- Completely subverted in regards to Watanuki's feelings for Yuuko. As afore mentioned, a lot of time has passed since she left him and as of the last chapter, he appears just as devoted to waiting for her as he was from the get go.
- Reito, protagonist from World's End Harem, is given quite the trial to resist his base desires; turns out he is one of the Five remaining living men on Earth after waking up from being in cryostasis for 4 years in order to cure his multiple sclerosis, the new regime formed by women 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 to cold sleep, his love Erisa shares the same feeling and said she would wait for him, 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 on her and the officer won’t stop at anything to make him do the deed, Reito goes through extreme self-control to try find Erisa before anything happens.
- Batman: Stephanie "Spoiler" Brown 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 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.
- Prior to dating Tim, Cassandra "Wonder Girl" Sandsmark had been with Superboy, 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.
- Bucky in Ultimate Marvel 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).
- A pretty big issue in Shade's and Kathy's relationship in Shade, the Changing Man. 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.
- The Distant Finale of the first volume of Zero Girl. Ouch.
- Sort of kind of done in Y: The Last Man. 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! C'mon, let's say it all together now: Alas, Poor Yorick.
- 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."
- 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.
- Lina was pretty much 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.
- 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.
- This is what Marian fears in Robin Hood, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In Marianne, 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.
- 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.)
- 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 Spawn, 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.
- 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 book, it's more blatantly You Have Waited Long Enough.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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 The Dark Knight, she comes to decide that Bruce is never going to stop being Batman and accepts a marriage proposal from Harvey Dent just in time for her death.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- Variant in Casablanca: Ilsa hooked up with Rick, believing her husband Victor to be dead. Turns out he wasn't. And of course, much of the plot revolves around whether anyone is going to get on the flight to Lisbon at all, and if so, who is going to get the forged papers of free-passage that Rick has ended up with, and Rick ends up with the choice of betraying Victor to his death and leaving with Ilsa himself, or giving the second seat to Victor and staying behind. It looks to everyone, Ilsa and the Germans included, as if he's taking the first option, right up until ALMOST the end — then Rick double-crosses the Germans, gets Victor to the airport and on to the plane, and tells Ilsa to go with him, adding that she'll come to regret it someday if she stays behind with Rick. Rick himself stays behind and shoots the German commander, knowing that the only living witness to his double-dealing is a secret resistance member with the ability to "round up the usual suspects" and get him off the hook.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Marge: We were married for ten years! Why didn't you come back for me?
- 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.
Homer: It takes time to come up with a revenge plan this awesome!
- In The Man in the Iron Mask, also by Alexander Dumas, Raoul berates women in general for this very reason.
- 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 Great Gatsby has Jay Gatsby going off to war, and Daisy marrying Tom Buchanan before he returns and finds her.
- 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.
- The book, movie and TV series The Dead Zone. She didn't wait while he was in a coma.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- In another Turtledove example, 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 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.
- 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.
- 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, red-headed 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.
- At the end of Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Chessmen of Mars, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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 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 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 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.
- 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.
- The Wayfarer Redemption protagonist Axis' heartwrenching betrayal of his self-sacrificing lover, Faraday. Who subsequently falls into The Mourning After.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Another example of a male not waiting. 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.
- 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.
- In the finale of Alias season 2, Sydney is kidnapped and brainwashed for two years. In her absence, Vaughn marries another woman. Fan outrage against C.O.W. (Contrived Odious Wife) was swift and severe. The resulting awkwardness was eventually resolved by said woman turning out to be The Mole and eventually being killed by Vaughn himself.
- On 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Degrassi has Leia and who 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.
- On 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 The Walking Dead 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.
- 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.
- On 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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..
- 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.
- A parody of The Shawshank Redemption was used on Drawn Together, though working at a lemonade stand was used instead of marriage...
- 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.
- 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 Spawn: The Animated Series, 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...
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- On a particular episode of Dr. Phil was about a soldier in Iraq was counted for dead, and then his wife went on to marry his best friend. Needless to say the fellow turned out to be alive and returned home to an unwelcome surprise. Cue the Dr. Phil theme.
- There's a couple stories floating around about men who went off to fight in wars (most notably, the Mexican-American War) with their girlfriends promising to wait, and when they get back, they find out their girlfriend - didn't. Usually by walking in on their girlfriend and her lover.
- War is not even a necessary prerequisite. At least in Russia the (un)commitment of girls waiting for their drafted boyfriends to return from the service (two years until recently and one year now) is a common topic of drama both in fiction and in real life. More often than not it can turn ugly, as the thoughts of their betrothed ones are usually among the few things that keep the conscript's spirit high throughout the army hardships and a sudden hammer slam of a letter saying "I Have Waited Long Enough" can become that last straw that breaks the camel's back and lead to violent or suicidal behavior. Sometimes they desert and venture to "sort the things out". Sometimes they take their guns with them.
- In the American military, this trope is made light of with Jodies, marching songs named for Jody, the hypothetical man back home who is no doubt doing the deed to your woman, so obviously there's no reason for you to worry about leaving the military to get back home anymore. Jokes aside, divorce rates amongst military members is far out of proportion to the civilian population, due to various combinations of the partner back home or the partner deployed abroad (it's not just the civilian who might be prone to wandering) not staying faithful, combined with the repeated strain of long-distance relationships due to military deployments.
- There was a young man in World War II who freed his Jewish girlfriend from the camps by pretending to be a Nazi soldier. However, they got separated while they were trying to get out of the country. Neither waited for the other, and both got married. When they finally met up again as old folks, her husband had died but his wife had not. In a rare show of honor for this type of story (usually, in fiction at least, the old lovers get back together no matter what), the guy wouldn't leave his wife for his old flame, and she died never talking to him again.
- Not uncommon with slavery. Since people could be sold away at any time and for any reason, you could absolutely be separated from your spouse or your children for the rest of your life. Which could lead to tragedies like this where people gave up and started new families, and could not reunite with each other even after they became free.
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.)
- 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 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.
- 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!