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Differing Priorities Breakup

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Ted: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Robin: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Ted: Honestly, in five years, I probably want to be married.
Robin: And I probably want to be in Argentina. [...] Or Tokyo, or Paris. Ted, I don't know where I'm gonna be in five years. And I don't want to know, I want my life to be an adventure.
Ted: ...we have an expiration date, don't we?
How I Met Your Mother, "Something Blue"

Alice and Bob are at a crossroads. Alice has recently come out and admitted she eventually wants to settle down, get married, and have kids, while Bob doesn't want to be tied down in life. So now they have a decision to make: they can either stay together a few more years and then break up, or they can break up now and avoid wasting their time. They choose the latter. It's not that they no longer love each other, but they both know that if one of them gets their way the other will be unhappy. And thus they part.

This trope has many different forms, but the gist is that two romantic partners break up because they both want different things out of life. Three variants are most common:

  1. Alice wants to eventually get married but Bob doesn't so they break up.
  2. Bob wants to have kids with his wife Alice but she doesn't, so they divorce.
  3. The above options overlap.

These types of breakups tend to be especially tragic since neither partner actually wants to part right now, but they both know it will be better in the long term.

Compare Love Cannot Overcome, Creative Differences, It's Not You, It's Me and It's Not You, It's My Enemies. Sister Trope to the Wet Blanket Wife, who has priorities her husband doesn't.

Contrast Minor Flaw, Major Breakup and Toilet Seat Divorce.



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    Fan Works 
  • In Amazing Fantasy, MJ divorces Peter not because he wouldn't have a child with her (they have one Mayday Parker), but because she grew tired of worrying about him not dying on every superhero adventure and his inability to ignore his Chronic Hero Syndrome long enough to be a father and a husband. He's deeply regretful because of this and almost feels cursed with his insistence on Comes Great Responsibility.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Implied in the backstory of TRON as far as Flynn and Lora go. Flynn was in no hurry to grow up and take responsibility. Lora had completed her doctorate and was looking for stability while she focused on her career. Flynn is clearly not over her in the film, but Lora moved on with her eventual husband, Alan Bradley.

  • In Little Women this is one reason why Jo refuses Laurie:
    Jo: You'll get over this after a while, and find some lovely accomplished girl, who will adore you, and make a fine mistress for your fine house. I shouldn't. I'm homely and awkward and odd and old, and you'd be ashamed of me, and we should quarrel — we can't help it even now, you see — and I shouldn't like elegant society and you would, and you'd hate my scribbling, and I couldn't get on without it, and we should be unhappy, and wish we hadn't done it, and everything would be horrid!
  • Harry Dresden spends twelve books playing Will They or Won't They? with Karrin Murphy. Both of them are attracted to each other, they're close allies, and Harry at least erupts with jealousy whenever he sees Murphy with anyone else. But Harry wants someone to settle down with, while Murphy's not in a place in her life for anything beyond casual encounters. They finally come to a decision, and barely two minutes before They Do someone puts a bullet in Harry's chest.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Friends:
    • Richard, Monica's last serious boyfriend before marrying Chandler, broke up with her because she wanted children. Richard is twenty years older than her and already has two adult children and says he doesn't want to be in his seventies when he and Monica's kids go off to college and their life can finally begin. He eventually tells Monica he's willing to have kids with her if that's what it takes to keep her, but she says she doesn't want to have kids with someone who doesn't also want kids.
    • In season nine, Phoebe and her boyfriend Mike decide to move in together, but then she learns he never wants to get married again after his messy divorce. She initially decides she is okay with it but breaks up with him after realizing she really does want to get married.
      Phoebe: But I don't think I can! It was okay to move in when I didn't know what was gonna happen, but I can't move in knowing nothing is ever gonna happen.
      Mike: Can't you at least try living together? I mean, you might change your mind about marriage.
      Phoebe: Are you gonna change yours?
      Phoebe: Me neither. I...I think I need to be with someone who wants what I want.
    • A few months later Mike decides there is no reason good enough to keep him from spending her life with her and asks for her to take him back, this time with marriage on the table. She does, and they marry a few episodes before the Grand Finale.
    • This was also the impetus for Ross to break up with Elizabeth, his former student. While she was fun to be with, Ross realized that the two of them were at very different stages in their lives and there just wasn't a future there.
  • How I Met Your Mother:
    • This is why Ted and Robin break up. Ted actually knew Robin didn't want to get married, but on their anniversary Robin freaked out when she thought Ted was proposing to her, forcing them to reevaluate their relationship and ultimately admit they can't keep postponing confronting the fact they can never be happy together in the long term.
    • In season seven, Robin briefly becomes engaged to her boyfriend Kevin who wants kids. Kevin is initially willing to give up potential fatherhood for Robin, but she forces him to admit he won't be happy if he can't have kids, leading to their breakup.
  • The Office (US): Towards to beginning of the series, Jan Levinson went through a messy divorce from her husband who refused to have children with her. According to her, they both got married knowing they had different ideas about family but figured the other would change their mind.
  • In Supergirl (2015), Alex and Maggie are on the verge of getting married when they realize that while Maggie doesn't want kids, Alex does. Alex decides to give up on having kids for the relationship, but then when she and Kara go to Samantha's daughter's recital she realizes she can't make that sacrifice.
    Alex: I convinced myself that... that living a life with her, it was enough. But watching Ruby... I want all the experiences that mom had with us. You know? I... I want to take my kid camping, and I want to show her the constellations. I want to teach her how to read, and how to throw a punch. And how to make cheesy valentines. And I want to hold her when she has a bad dream, and I want to tell her that the world is a better place because she's in it. [starting to cry] I want all of it. I want to be a mom. What am I gonna do?
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Riker and Troi in the backstory. They had a happy love affair when he was stationed on her homeworld, but he took a posting elsewhere that advanced his career while she felt she had to stay on the homeworld at the time. She later left the homeworld, enlisted, and became a ship's counselor. Cue one very awkward moment when the Enterprise's new XO walks in and sees his ex-girlfriend as the ship's counselor.
  • This Is Us: Kevin wants kids, Zoe doesn't. Kevin tries to choose Zoe over having kids but is clearly struggling with the decision, and Zoe decides she's asking too much of a guy who she believes would make a great father so she ends it for him.

  • The song "Different Drum" is about two lovers, one of whom wants to settle down while the singer doesn't want to be tied down.
    Yes, and I ain't sayin' you ain't pretty.
    All I'm sayin's I'm not ready for any person,
    Place or thing to try and pull the reins in on me.

    Video Games 
  • Inverted in the non-Katherine endings of Catherine. Vincent's girlfriend Katherine breaks up with him for non-priority reasons (Vincent cheated on her with the titular Catherine while drunk, or so they think), but he can choose not to win her back because of his life goals. In the non-Katherine endings, he decides that her ideal route of settling down to a stable life isn't what he wanted, and runs off to space as a tourist, or marry Catherine and usurp Nergal as Lord of the Netherworld, depending on the ending.

    Western Animation 


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