I was playing rock and roll and you were just a fan
But my guitar couldn't hold you
So I split the band
Love lies bleeding in my hands
Essentially, when a woman—and yes, it's almost Always Female—must choose between her own career and landing a man—and generally, she will choose the man. This often comes with the expectation that she would be a stay-at-home mom should the couple have children; but even if they don't, she might still be expected to be a happy housewife, cooking the bacon that her husband brings home.
A successful woman with a strong career can intimidate potential lovers, and that a woman who chooses her career over her marriage is either a Straw Feminist or a bitch. And even if she keeps her job, she might still be held responsible for all the cooking, cleaning, and other wifely tasks - after all, manly men just aren't good at that stuff.
An infamous Double Standard, since men are rarely put in this position. The extent to which this is Truth in Television varies by culture. In Asia, many women leave their jobs upon marriage, though in the west, women are often expected (or forced) to keep working to bring money into the household. Even so there's often an attitude that her job is less important; if someone has to cut their hours to part-time or refuse a promotion, it's frequently assumed that it should be the wife. This can lead to a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy where employers are less likely to hire and promote women because they're assumed to be less likely to stick with the position, which leads to women being more likely to quit their jobs because they're making less money than their husbands are...
- Played with in the final episodes of Hana no Ko Lunlun. The heroine Lunlun was entrusted with the mission of finding the Flower of Seven Colors so the heir to the Flower Star throne can have his Awesome Moment of Crowning. When she finishes her mission it turns out that the Mysterious Protector who helped her more than once, Serge Flora, was said heir, and in their travels they have fallen in love with each other. Thing is, now that Serge is about to become the King, he wants Lunlun to be his Queen... but if she wants to marry her boyfriend, she'll have to abandon Earth and leave her normal life as well as her beloved grandparents. What happens in the end? Lunlun rejects Serge proposal despite her love for him. And then, the trope is Double Subverted, perhaps even gender-flipped: Serge decides to cut a deal with his family: his younger brother will become the King, and he will go to Earth with Lunlun. They accept, Serge's brother gets the Awesome Moment of Crowning, and Lunlun and Serge live a happy life on Earth.
- Subverted in Project ARMS. In the Where Are They Now epilogue, Kei is working for the Blue Men and has long been dating Hayato. Both are happy to keep things slow.
- Played with in Mahou Sensei Negima!. A recurring romantic subplot is that of Schoolgirl Lesbians Setsuna and Konoka. During the School Festival arc, little vampire Evangeline gives Setsuna the choice during their tournament fight between "your sword or your happiness", meaning that she has to choose between her friends - with Konoka at the centre of this - or her bodyguard duties to Konoka. She Takes a Third Option.
- A rare gender-flipped version occurs in Attack on Titan, in the shared back story of Commanders Erwin Smith and Nile Dok. As Trainees, both men intended to join the Survey Corps together. However, both ended up falling for the same woman, a barmaid named Marie. Erwin chose to become Married to the Job, abandoning love for the sake of Humanity while Nile abandoned his friends by joining the Military Police Brigade, and settled down to start a family with Marie. When they speak about it many years later, neither man has any regrets about the decision.
- An episode of Pokémon has Jessie fall in love with a doctor and decide to leave Team Rocket. Her friends James and Meowth allow her to because they understand what she's going through and want her to do whatever makes her happy. After noticing her crush has feelings for his childhood friend Jessie rejoins Team Rocket.
- Mawaru-Penguindrum has Yuri announce her retirement from her acting career on the same night she announces her engagement to Tabuki (presumably to become a housewife, though the real reasons turn out to be a bit more complicated). Don't get too comfortable in Yuri's posh apartment, there, Tabuki; I doubt you can afford it on just your income.
- This was in Katma Tui's origin: she had to choose between a man she wanted to marry and the Green Lantern Corps—she chose the latter. Brought back and gender-flipped 20 years later when Hal Jordan has to choose between the Corp and his girlfriend; Katma gets to complain when Hal makes the opposite choice she did.
- Stormer from Jem and the Holograms has an interesting variation. Her bandmates don't mind her dating however they loathe the titular band. Stormer is forbidden from dating a Hologram or she willl be kicked out of the band. Thus her and Kimber begin a Secret Relationship, though Kimber's sisters know.
- The first Captain America (1960s) run has a mild example with Cap and his girlfriend, Sharon Carter, whom he expects to quit SHIELD when they marry. She disagrees, which upsets their relationship. In a later story, they compromise by having her transferred to a desk job; the point is not that she can't work, but that they shouldn't both be doing very dangerous work if they intend to be married and maybe have a family.
- Zigzagged in The Princess and the Frog. Tiana is driven to achieve her goal of starting her own restaurant, but then learns a lesson on the importance of family and love, eventually realizing her love for Naveen. At the same time though, Naveen tries to put himself out of the picture so she can have her restaurant. At the end of the film, we see that Tiana is able to start her restaurant and she and Naveen are Happily Married. There is also a gender-flipped version with Tiana's father, who also strove to start his own restaurant. He didn't succeed, but did live a happy life as a devoted House Husband.
- Nicely averted in Barbie in the Princess and the Pauper. Erika initially turns down Dominick's marriage proposal so she can fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a singer and seeing the world, which he sadly agrees to, but gives her a ring before she goes. After awhile of touring, Erika freely chooses to return to him and get married, meaning she got to have both.
- The Devil Wears Prada - Miranda Priestly is the highly successful editor of Runway and suffers her fifth divorce during the movie's plot. The movie also demonises Andy for working too hard to have time for her boyfriend.
- Subverted in His Girl Friday; part of the reason Cary Grant's ex-husband chases after his ex-wife is to keep her in her career as a journalist, since she planned to settle down with her new fiance. She gets back together with her ex and they continue working together.
- This is the main conflict of My Brilliant Career: Sybylla wants to go into a creative field, even though her friends and family insist that the only way she can live is through marriage. She eventually finds the love of her life and foregoes marriage to pursue her career as a writer.
- Played with in The Five-Year Engagement and subverted when Jason Segel's character drops his successful chef career in San Francisco to follow his fiance to Michigan. However, he's ultimately not happy there, and the resulting friction takes a severe negative toll on the relationship.
- In Stormy Weather, Bill wants to build a dream home for Selina and for her to quit her singing career and start a family with him. She decides not to. But then she changes her mind. Ah, the 1940s.
- In The Red Shoes (1948), Vicki is torn between following her career as a ballerina and marrying a composer; the company's impresario Lermontov finds love to distract people from their true potential as artists, and her lover Julian worries that the devotion to career demanded of her will be her doom (ala the events of the fairy tale that gives the film its title and major dance setpiece). She chooses marriage, but misses her career so badly that she tries to return to it over her husband's objections. Ultimately, she decides to Take A Third Option — suicide. Interestingly, critic Danny Peary (in his book Alternate Oscars) argues that Julian is the bad guy in all this, because his career is not halted by their marriage yet he won't let Vicki dance!
- In All About Eve, Margo Channing's main source of strife is her career. She's a very successful stage actress but is playing parts much younger than herself which makes her insecure. She eventually gets married and its implied she accepts her fading career.
- In the old movie Cover Girl, Rita Hayworth plays Rusty, who wants to go to Broadway, gets into a fight with her boyfriend. Eventually she realises she wants to be with him, but this seems to be at the cost of her Broadway career (which she strongly wanted at the start of the film but makes her miserable later).
- Played Straight and subverted in Ziegfeld Girl. The film focuses on three girls - the first gives up the show to be with her boyfriend, who didn't support her success, the second burns out from a destructive lifestyle and her former boyfriend comes back to her and the third becomes a big success in the show. The third girl notably had no boyfriend to make her choose between her career and her show.
- Thoroughly Modern Millie uses a variation of this trope where Millie pursues her career with the intention of marrying a rich man (her boss) as the end goal. Then she starts falling for a different man and has to choose, but it all works out for her in the end when the man she's in love with turns out to be rich anyway.
- Subverted in Down with Love. In the end, she gets the guy and they write a book together.
- Played With in that the entire thing was her own plan and her only real goal was to get the guy.
- Mona Lisa Smile Joan's speech to Katherine pretty much sums up that while she would like to have both, she knows that she can't reasonably pursue both a career and a family, and that she feels that she would regret not being married more.
- Surprisingly averted in Third Finger, Left Hand. Myrna Loy doesn't have to choose between her career and her man, she can have both!
- Subverted in A Brother's Price. Jerin meets his former schoolteacher, who quit her job to get married. However, she was working as teacher in the first place to make money so that her sisters and she could afford a husband. Now that they have enough money, they'll marry, and she returns to her home to get her share of the husband's company. Not so much career versus man as career in order to get a man. (It's implied that her family owns a farm, but that she could make more money as teacher).
- In Twilight, it's mentioned that Bella has ambitions of going to college and becoming a teacher. While she never flat-out abandons this goal, after her marriage to Edward, she really shows no inclination to continue on with that plan. How much of that is this trope and how much is due to the events of Breaking Dawnnote forcibly rearranging her priorities is a matter for opinion.
- Vorkosigan Saga: Miles' first girlfriend Elli Quinn is forced to choose between marrying Miles and a career as Admiral of a mercenary starfleet. She chooses the fleet.
- Darryl of Heart In Hand provides a Rare Male Example when the photograph of him kissing Alex is leaked, but he is not identified as the person pictured. He fears that his NHL career would be destroyed if he owns up to it, but if he stays silent, that means Alex will have to face all the media attention alone. He chooses his career, but later finds that the two aren't mutually exclusive.
- A subject brought up by Daniella Ivashkov in Spirit Bound. She figures that Rose will have to eventually choose between her career as a guardian and settling down to become a housewife. And correctly realizes out that Rose will always put her career first.
- In Warrior Cats, male deputies and leaders are allowed to have a mate and kits, but female leaders aren't because it might get too in the way of their responsibility of the Clan. Leafstar even thinks about how unfair this is, and by the end of the book she decides to follow the "The word of the Clan leader is the warrior code" rule and declare that SkyClan female leaders are allowed to have kits.
- At the end of the first arc of the Deverry novels, Jill realizes that the life of Lady Aberwyn would not leave her time to seriously study magic, so she could have Rhodry or her dream career, but not both. She chooses magic over love, and doesn't see her lover again until more than twenty years later.
- How I Met Your Mother:
- Ted's Season 1 girlfriend Victoria, though in this case the choice arises because her dream job happens to be on the other side of the Atlantic from Ted. They try a Long-Distance Relationship, but it doesn't work, partly due to the fact that they only knew each other for a couple of months before she goes to Germany and Ted still having feelings for Robin.
- Robin is often in this situation. Notable that Robin has no serious regrets about this until later in the series, and even after acknowledging those regrets, she isn't about to stop furthering her career for a husband. In one episode, she thinks about taking a better job in another city, but decides not to since she's in a serious relationship with Don. Her boyfriend gets offered the job instead and he immediately takes it.
- At the end of season 1, Lily, whose dream is to become an artist, gets offered an art internship in San Francisco, though didn't originally plan to do actually do it. She decides to accept the internship knowing she couldn't make her relationship with Marshall work if she did. The decision has more to do with her wanting to figure out who she is outside of the relationship she's been in for 10 years than it is about her career, and when she comes back to New York she continues to try to do this, but eventually returns to being a kindergarten teacher.
- In season 8, Marshall (who by that time is married to Lily) finally gets offered the chance to become a judge, which he had been waiting a long time for. By Season 9, he accepts the offer but is afraid of how to tell this to Lily, since she was just offered a job in Italy for a year that could advance her prospective art career, which she had previously given up on. Justified in this case since one of them would have to be in this position, since being in different countries for a year would be impractical while raising a new child together.
- At the beginning of the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Who Mourns For Adonais," McCoy implies that this is common for Starfleet women:
McCoy: One day she'll find the right man and off she'll go, out of the service.
- This seems to be specific to Carolyn Palamas herself - though as a rule neither male nor female Starfleet officers seem able to combine ship duty with family. The implication might be that the men tend to reconcile the conflict by pursuing their careers at the expense of family, while women in Starfleet more often choose to pursue relationships (and family) and leave the service more commonly.
- JAG: In "Scimitar", Colonel Al-Barzan is fascinated by the strong-willed Meg Austin, leading to a discussion (and dismissal) of this trope:
Colonel Al-Barzan: How can work compare to the caresses of a man you love?Lt. J.G. Meg Austin: I wasn't comparing them, Colonel. You were.Colonel Al-Barzan: A woman like you needs a strong hand.Lt. J.G. Meg Austin: I already have a strong hand. My own.
- Gossip Girl features a gender-flipped version. Starting with Jack Bass telling Chuck he should choose business over Blair, continuing with an evil, ghost-version of Bart mocking Chuck for choosing love and thereby being soft, finishing with Chuck choosing business over love. By selling his girlfriend for a hotel.
- Rachel Berry of Glee fame zigzags in and out of this plot at various points throughout the series - or claims to. However, given that the man in question is Finn Hudson and the career in question is currently non-existent but an at least somewhat plausible future possibility, it's hard to view it as anything more than an Informed Conflict and sop to convention.
- When the writers aren't being dumb, they actually portray this conflict very well and at least with this relationship portray the realities of high school dating (esp. when one partner is more ambitious than the other - the other may eventually become a hanger-on). The rest of the time, it's Finn and Rachel being... Finn and Rachel.
- This arc has now been resolved by other circumstances.
- Happens literally in Parks and Recreation. Leslie's relationship with Ben is against the rules. Not to mention that since Leslie is running for city council, being with Ben (who is technically her boss) would cause a huge scandal. She actually chooses to try and have both, but ends up in trouble until Ben chooses her over his own career and resigns, taking all the blame for any wrong-doing.
- It's implied that something like this happened to Annie in Being Human, when she tells about how she decided to move away from home to live with her boyfriend, Owen. We later find out that she was very unhappy because of this, partially because of homesickness and partially because he was abusive. Later on, Annie takes a part-time job which she balances with dating someone but it doesn't work out, mainly because she's dead.
- Averted with Kaylee and Zoe in Firefly. Zoe is Happily Married to the ship's pilot, Wash, and both balance their jobs and marriage quite well for the most part. Kaylee, meanwhile, sees no reason why she can't continue her work as a mechanic while pursuing a relationship with Simon and at the end of The Movie, the two hook up with her keeping to her job.
- The Bad Future in "Morality Bites", Prue demonstrates this trope. Whilst she chose Career this decision comes with strong, negative overtones. When she asks her assistant if she has a husband, the assistant laughs and says "as if you have the time". To be fair, it also implies that Prue has been neglecting her family as well - the assistant not even knowing that Piper was her sister.
- Subverted in Season 6. Jason asks Phoebe to move to Hong Kong with him, and her job at the Bay Mirror is one of the reasons she considers not going. Her boss Elise reminds her that she can still email her column in.
- Subverted in Stargate Atlantis when a near-perfect man tries to woo Elizabeth. While she clearly likes him, she explains that having a relationship would split her focus and compromise her role as leader of the expedition. True to the trope, though, is the fact that she doesn't even consider trying to do both.
- This also happened near the beginning of the season when Elizabeth had to leave her fiancee without even a face-to-face goodbye in order to make the top-secret trip to Atlantis.
- The New Adventures of Old Christine: After Christine marries Barb (They're not actually in a romantic relationship, but Heterosexual Life-Partners in a Citizenship Marriage) the company that financially supports their gym tells them they have a policy against gay marriage and threaten to withdraw their funding. Christine decides to stay married to Barb anyway, and the two try to figure out how to deal with the consequences.
- Grey's Anatomy: Izzy falls in love with her patient, Denny, who needs a heart transplant. She cuts his LVAD wire, hoping it will move him up the transplant list, risking her career. She ends up getting fired (later rehired) and Denny dies soon after getting the transplant.
- Miranda Bailey's marriage starts to suffer due to her ridiculously long hours, especially after she's made Chief Resident. While her husband Tucker initially accepts becoming a stay-at-home husband, the situation eventually starts to get to him, as he only ever sees Bailey from midnight to 6 AM. After a bookshelf falls on their son, Tucker blames Bailey for not being there and moves out (she's not allowed to take part in the operation to save her son's life due to her being too emotionally rattled, despite her practically begging to assist). They start to go to counseling, and it appears they might make up. Then Bailey is offered two attending positions at the hospital: general surgery and pediatrics. She really wants to do pediatrics, but that would require spending two years studying (i.e. even less time home). Tucker gives her an ultimatum: either she takes the general surgery position, or he files for divorce. Bailey Takes a Third Option by filing for divorce herself (if a marriage devolves into ultimatums, it's pretty much over) but still going with the general surgery position, as she can't afford to be away from her child even more now that she's a single mother. Kudos for Bailey never even considering for one moment to cut back on her career before this. Later, her father shows up and expresses his disapproval for her choosing work (e.g. "cutting out some fat guy's hernia") over family. After a shouting match at the Christmas dinner, he admits that he was primarily upset that she didn't tell him herself, and he had to find out from other people.
- Scrubs: When Kim gets a job offer in Washington, JD tries to act like an awesome boyfriend so she won't go. What makes the situation more complicated is that Kim has recently found out that she is pregnant with JD's child. She doesn't plan to be gone long, just for a few months, so she has a Long-Distance Relationship with JD when she goes to Washington. When Kim has a miscarriage, both realize they really only stayed together because of the baby, and their relationship fails because they had only been dating each other for a few weeks at the time Kim left. Later it's revealed that Kim lied about the miscarriage, and she was still pregnant when JD later saw her at a medical convention.
- On The Hour, Bel realizes that if she wants to keep up her affair with Hector, she's going to have to sacrifice her growing career, and she's not willing to do that when she's worked so hard to get to where she is.
- In Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, set in The Roaring '20s, this causes conflict when Dot's fiancé assumes that she'll become a housewife once they marry. Quickly zig-zagged: when he insists that it wouldn't be appropriate for her to keep her job as Miss Fisher's assistant, she cancels the engagement until he changes his mind, and they end up Happily Married with Dot still happily employed.
- Jane the Virgin
- Throughout the first season, Rafael struggles to balance between his work to continue his father's legacy as a hotel owner, and between Jane and the baby.
- Like Rafael, Michael also finds himself in this situation in the season 2 premiere. Jane and Rafael get Mateo back but he has to let Nadine, his only lead on the Sin Rostro case, go.
- The 1960s series Get Smart has been recognized for its aversion of this at a time when it was taken for granted in Real Life — 99 continues working as an agent after she and Max get married and even after they have children, with no one even considering the possibility of her doing otherwise or acting like its odd, making her the first female character to do so in television.
- The quote is from the second half of the song Elton John's song Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding and is a male example. A guitarist has to choose between his band and his love, he chooses the latter but both parties seem to regret the decision.
- Invoked in For Better or for Worse: when Anthony married Therese, he assumed she would give up her career and become a Housewife. He was wrong. This was treated as a clear-cut case of Ambition Is Evil and a sign that their marriage was destined to fail to make way for Elizabeth.
- The ending of Annie Get Your Gun has Annie deliberately throw a duel against her on-again-off-again lover Frank Butler so that he will marry her thinking he's the better sharp-shot in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, they then merge their routines. In real life Frank Butler was well aware of Annie's superior skill and supported her career.
- Norman of The Norman Conquests by Alan Ayckbourn keeps trying to force this choice on his wife Ruth. She tends to choose "career," but he hasn't given up hope yet.
- This trope is a recurring theme in In Your Arms Tonight, in which the protagonist is a recently-married working woman in her early thirties. She enjoys her job and is very good at it, but faces pressure from her husband's family and her own to quit her job in order to focus on taking care of the house and having children. In Koichi's route, one of the few points in his favor early on is that he firmly defends her choice to keep working and refuses to push her to quit.
- In Ebihara's sequel and in Soji's epilogue, the issue comes up again as circumstances require the protagonist to choose between staying in Tokyo to continue pursuing her career or moving to another part of the country to stay with her lover. In both cases, she resolves to quit for the sake of her relationship, only for her lover to refuse to hear of it because he admires her work and knows how important it is to her.
- Zig-Zagging Trope: Hillary Clinton did get married - in fact, played this trope straight and followed her heart (and Bill) to Arkansas - but kept her maiden name as many lawyers and other professional women do. However, this was interpreted as an overtly feminist act in Arkansas, and contributed to her husband's loss of the Governorship. So because she chose the dude, but not in a traditional way to protect her career, she had to choose between inconveniencing her career or his. As you know, she eventually settled on Rodham Clinton. (And her career wasn't all that much inconvenienced, either, considering the string of titles before her name includes "Senator" and "Secretary of State.)
Bill Clinton: [in 2000] For the last twenty years, we've gone where I wanted to go and done what I wanted to do. Now I'll give her the next twenty years — and if I'm still alive after that, we'll fight over the rest.
- Can sometimes be inverted by gender. If the man is a minimum wage laborer, and the woman is a skilled professional, the man might find it more feasible to be a House Husband over hiring a nanny and paying for two cars.
- Sometimes the woman chooses both out of necessity: in many countries the wife is expected to work in order to have an extra income, often essential just to make ends meet. Even among middle class families.
- Up in Microsoft country (and in other places along the geektastic West Coast), it's not that uncommon for non-tech company spouse to work part time or give up their job just so they can actually see their spouse for more than five minutes a day. Even the best of tech companies require insane work hours/weeks/months when trying to meet deadlines, but many allow extended time off when they're done. Good luck fitting a regular work schedule or vacation into that. Even better luck trying to maintain a good relationship when it's almost impossible to see each other.
- Albeit it's still a majorly patriarchal country, in Japan there are more and more women who face this decision since roughly the 80s, specially women raised in big cities like Tokyo or Osaka. Many argue that the clash between the traditional Japanese women image and the increasing number in independent women (who, the most cynical say men have a REALLY tough time accepting, since it affects the traditional Japanese men image) is one of the main reasons of why the country has had such a dramatically low childbirth rate in the last few decades.
- One news story had a firefighter be in this position after marrying his boss' daughter, because there was a rule prohibiting it, as the chief being the boss of a family member could be seen as a conflict of interest.
- Just watch any interview with the astronauts on the space station. Most of the men have a wife back home and 3 or 4 kids. The women are nearly all single and no children.
- Karen Nyberg averts this trope. She is a mother and is married... to another astronaut.
- Russian cosmonauts Yelena Kondakova and Yelena Serova avert this trope. Both were married and had children at the time of their missions. Cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya married after their space missions, but maintained active professional and political careers nevertheless.
- The Marriage Bar was a law in Ireland that dictated a woman had to give up her job if she married. Married women had very little chance of becoming civil servants until the law was abolished in 1973.