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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. They've sat down and talked about Happily Ever After — namely, how each of them defines a "Happily Ever After" — and discovered that their definitions are mutually exclusive. It's not just that their ideas are different, it's that they're contradictory: Alice's idea of happiness would result in an Awful Wedded Life for Bob or vice versa. 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. And... they choose the latter. These types of breakups tend to be especially tragic since neither partner actually wants to part right now, but they both know that Love Cannot Overcome such glaring differences.

There are multiple conflicts that can cause a Differing Priorities Breakup:

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  1. Opinions on marriage — one of them has Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions whereas the other likes the old ways. Or maybe one of them wants to practice polyamory while the other prefers perfect monogamy.
  2. Childfree decisions — only one of them wants to reproduce.
  3. Religion — one of them has specific ideas about religious beliefs, ones which they want (themselves and their children) to live out, but which the other doesn't share.
  4. Finances — one of them is Money Dumb or Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense; or there's a Penny Among Diamonds situation that can't be resolved.
  5. Politics — maybe one of them is A Nazi by Any Other Name. Stranger things have happened.
  6. Opposites Attract just doesn't work out as advertised. Uptight Loves Wild, sure, but that doesn't mean they want to live with a Walking Disaster Area for the rest of their lives or put up with unrelenting British Stuffiness forever either.
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Compare Love Cannot Overcome, Creative Differences, Married to the Job, It's Not You, It's Me, Surprisingly Realistic Outcome, 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.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Aggretsuko: Retsuko and Tadano have a happy relationship until Tadano casually mentions that he doesn't believe in marriage, nor does he want kids. Those are things Retsuko wants very much and she tries adopting Tadano's worldview to convince herself to make the relationship work, but ultimately she can't lie to herself and they break up.

    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.
  • In The Stalking Zuko Series, differing outlooks on life help make Zuko and Mai's relationship, although Azula revealing that Mai had spied on Zuko is the final nail in the coffin. Zuko is a passionate and honest person trying his best on a number of serious causes and responsibilities, while Mai is a seemingly disinterested noblewoman who keeps tight control on her emoting. While Mai does care about Zuko, she isn't very understanding of his priorities and concerns and frequently tells him that he's boring and she doesn't care what he thinks or how he feels. On Zuko's side, he often asks more of her than she feels comfortable giving, such as his request that she visit Azula, which blows up in Mai's face. They inevitably break up because there really wasn't much keeping them together other than the perception of being convenient for each other, and even that falls apart pretty quickly due to how dysfunctional they are as a couple.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Princess Diaries, Mia's parents, despite sincerely loving each other, divorced when she was a baby because her mother didn't want to be a princess and raise Mia in the spotlight, and her father couldn't bring himself to step down as crown prince. This dynamic is absent in the book, where Mia's mother was just a casual mistress of the prince.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm: A potential Uptown Girl couple breaks up before even officially becoming a thing because of this. The male half of the pairing secretly can't leave his job in the duchy's capital without risking a He Knows Too Much death, but thinks the job is good enough that the female half would happily move in with him. The female half wants to go back to her home province after getting married and is technically the better off one, so what she wants to do takes precedence as far as society as a whole is concerned.
  • 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.
  • 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!

    Live-Action TV 
  • Criminal Minds:
    • Garcia and Kevin break up because they move at different speeds in the relationship. Kevin is always ready to move on to the next step—spending more time together, fighting the FBI protocols to be allowed to publicly acknowledge their relationship, moving in together to pursue a new career, etc.—whereas Garcia struggles with change and likes things the way they are—she likes having her own space and having things her own way. Ultimately, when she learns he plans to propose, they have a conversation and realize they can't reconcile their different ideals.
    • JJ gives this as a reason to break up with Will. He wants to tell their friends and she doesn't, he lives in New Orleans while she lives in Virginia, the Long-Distance Relationship is getting difficult, neither one is willing to give up their own career for the sake of the other... He stops her cold on the last point because they've never actually discussed that. It turns out she's just having cold feet about telling others because "when things get more real, they get more messy" and she would rather end the relationship early than deal with a nasty fallout later. Once she confronts those feelings, she realizes she's willing to make it work. They later have issues over whether or not to get married (he wants to, she doesn't), but they decide they can reconcile that too, and they stay together.
    • In the backstory, this is why Rossi divorced his second wife, Hayden. Hayden was a diplomat stationed in Paris at the time, with an established successful career. Meanwhile, Rossi was in the FBI but drifting on his ultimate goal. Ultimately, he felt that he wasn't in the same place as Hayden and was ashamed for it, and being in her world made it impossible for him to focus on finding his own way.
  • 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.
  • Full House: Danny and Vicky break up because Vicky lands her dream job in New York City while Danny can't bring himself to uproot his entire family from San Francisco.
  • Gilmore Girls:
    • This happened 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.
    • This is also why Rory and Logan break up in the final season. After graduation, she's ready to pursue her career and explore and likes the feeling of having so many options available. Logan, meanwhile, is ready to get married and buy a house and settle downnote . Rory tells him that isn't what she wants and tries to continue their relationship as is, but he tells her he doesn't want to "take a step backward" and breaks up with her.
  • 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.
  • JAG: Harm’s girlfriend Navy psychologist LCDR Jordan Parker breaks up with him when he gets his night vision fixed and regains full flight status. She says she “fell in love with the lawyer, not a fighter pilot who goes to sea and leaves her for six months”.
  • 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 and 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 Unit: In the Season 1 episode “Eating the Young”, Hector Williams’s girlfriend breaks up with him when he reveals to her that he is in Spec Ops, and not a Logistics Clerk as implied by his official Army cover. She wants someone who can have a viable career outside the Army, so she doesn’t see a future with someone whose only skill is “gunfighter”.
  • 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.
  • Va 11 Hall A: This is part of Alma's backstory. She had a boyfriend named Robert with whom she was with for 4 years, but Robert was not a family person: not only did he not want kids, but he also was distant from his own family and din't like Alma's family either. Alma, being a very family-oriented person, couldn't fix that divide and the two eventually broke up.

    Visual Novels 
  • Daughter for Dessert:
    • Some of the “bad” and “neutral” epilogues involve some form of this.
    • Defied in the “good” Lily epilogue. The protagonist realizes that Lily is leaving the diner for good, and he realizes that he doesn’t want to stay at the diner for the rest of his life, so he leaves everything to Amanda and leaves to travel with Lily.
  • Discussed in Melody with the movie that the protagonist and the title character watch together in the theater. As Melody realizes, the main characters’ dream lifestyles just wouldn’t mesh together well.

    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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