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Differing Priorities Breakup

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Ted: Seriously, where do you see yourself in five years?
Robin: Where do you see yourself?
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"
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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.
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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, Married to the Job, It's Not You, It's Me, Reality Ensues, 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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Examples:

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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.
  • In the fourth and final story of ''The Anguis Series'', Beyond This Place, it is revealed that Cal and Nat had broken up due to the vastly different demands of their careers and lifestyle. Quite an anticlimatic end for a couple who had spent almost the entirety of their relationship proving their love and even sacrificing their freedom, friendships, and safety for the sake of the other.

    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.
  • Reversed in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man Trilogy. Though Peter and MJ do eventually get together, differing priorities — particularly in the flavor of "Comes Great Responsibility" — are part of what keeps them apart for the first two films; and, indeed, MJ can only begin serious romantic overtures with Peter after she becomes his Secret Keeper.

    Literature 
  • In Little Women, their different ideas about their life 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!
  • The Dresden Files: 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 his 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. (They later get back together and eventually do 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?
      Mike: ...no.
      Phoebe: Me neither. I...I think I need to be with someone who wants what I want.
    • Ross breaks up with Elizabeth, his former student. While she's fun to be with, Ross realizes that the two of them are at very different stages in their lives and there just isn't a future there.
    • In season seven, Rachel breaks up with her 24-year-old assistant Tag. On Rachel's thirtieth birthday, she realizes it's time for her to start looking for her future husband, who certainly isn't Tag.
      Rachel: I just think I'm past the point where I can just have fun.
      Tag: Rachel, don't do this. This is just because you're turning thirty.
      Rachel: Yeah, it is.
  • In Gilmore Girls, this happens with Rachel, Luke's False Soulmate from before the pilot episode. Despite being truly in love, Rachel's flighty and impulsive nature left her unable to commit to Luke. As a result, Luke doesn't have another serious girlfriend for years until he starts dating his Second Love Lorelai.
  • How I Met Your Mother:
    • Ted and Robin break up because they both want different things from life. Ted actually knows Robin doesn't want to get married, but on their anniversary Robin freaks out when she thinks Ted is 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 goes through a messy divorce from her husband who refuses to have children with her. According to her, they both get 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.
  • In What I Like About You, Val breaks up with her first on-screen boyfriend because she wants to get married and he doesn't (though there are also other personality conflicts in play, this is the final straw). Interestingly enough, when she winds up in an Accidental Marriage a few seasons later, she wants to divorce but her husband insists on making things work. When they start to conflict over how many children to have (she only wants one or two, he wants several), he also insists on working that out, and they agree to compromise.

    Music 
  • 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.
  • A cited reason for the ugly break-up between Bentley and Penelope in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is because they don't have the same desires in life. Bentley is happy enough to be a part of the Cooper Gang, and designs gadgets as a hobby. Penelope has no regards or empathy for a simple family life, and wants to make a huge fortune in weapon designs and rule the world with an iron fist.

    Western Animation 
  • In DuckTales (2017), Scrooge and Goldie have great chemistry, all the same interests, and the same obsession with treasure. As with so many relationships, theirs is ruined by the details; Goldie only cares about achieving her ends, while Scrooge is concerned with the means.
  • In Futurama, this is seemingly the cause of Leela's Leaving You to Find Myself moment in Season 6 finale "Overclockwise." She has ambitions beyond her dead-end job at Planet Express and wants to understand where her on-and-off relationship with Fry is heading, while Fry likes the job and is content to take life as it comes, although he's clear that he wants to be with Leela forever. The problem is solved by the end of the episode when Bender, who's received some insight into their future, gives them a written trajectory of how their life together will play out; we don't get to see it, but their reactions make it clear that they're both very much on board with his prediction.
  • Played for Laughs in Phineas and Ferb with Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz and his ex-wife Charlene, whose divorce had nothing to do with his Card-Carrying Villain status, to which she's totally oblivious:
    Charlene: Vanessa Doofenshmirtz, your father is not evil. We just didn't get along. We wanted different things!
    Vanessa: Was one of those things "to be evil"? Because he's evil.


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