My gold lies in a foreign land buried deep beneath the sand
The angels guide my ev'ry tread, my enemies are sick or dead
But all the victories I've led haven't brought you to my bed."
Love is a common motivation for both heroes and villains - whether it's Love Makes You Evil or The Power of Love, it serves as the driving force for a wide range of plotlines. When writers want to have someone victorious but make their victory bittersweet, then, it's common for them to have them succeed at everything they wanted except the love they originally pursued. In most cases, this poisons their victory; they may become a loveless billionaire or a despondent tyrant.
In some cases, especially for heroes, they're able to give up their power and victory to get the girl back.
- This is the outcome for co-leading heroine Rui in Domestic Girlfriend. For the majority of the series, Rui had an on-again-off-again relationship with leading male Natsuo, and the series followed their coupling through and after high school while it also did so for her sister (and his stepsister) Hina. In the series afterword, creator Kei Sasuga wrote that for both heroines to get their happy ending, their endgames would need to be equal—Rui would gain everything and lose something important, while Hina would keep the important thing while losing everything else. And so, while Rui gets her dream job as a chef, her parents approving of her engagement with Natsuo, and a daughter by him, she does not end up with Natsuo; Hina does, but loses her beloved teaching job and her ability to have children.
- Dream from The Sandman is the God of his realm, but when he fell in love with a mortal woman, their forbidden love destroyed her city. Fearing worse things, the girl denied him (thrice?) until he sent her to Hell. As you do.
- In a comic where they meet for the first or the nearly first time, Captain America evaluates Spider-Man and concludes that the kid is serious about what he's doing. He didn't sign up to impress the girls. Spidey tells him that the girls he knows would need way more to be impressed.
- Hercules is one of the reverse versions: at the end, Hercules can regain godhood, but this would require leaving Megara behind. He chooses to stay a mortal instead.
- This is what triggers Hal's FaceHeel Turn as "Titan" in Megamind; he only agreed to the premise of becoming a superhero on the assumption that, as Metro City's newest protector, Roxanne would have to fall for him, and when he found that this wasn't the case...
- In the original Bedazzled (1967), the hero's deal with the devil spectacularly fails to get him the girl of his dreams at least five times. It's only after he gets out of the deal that he can go back to being an innocent short-order cook and win her himself. In The Remake from 2000, he ends up with a different girl than the one he was trying to get with his wishes. note
- Bruce Almighty — Bruce is given the powers of God himself, and he still can't use them to get the girl. Worse, he already has the girl but his powers are no help in keeping her. In part, the problem is his powers can't affect free will, but c'mon, that's not hard to get around.
- Groundhog Day — "Groundhog Day" Loop, and the corresponding ability to Set Right What Once Went Wrong.
- In this case, it's also Every Girl But THE Girl. He is able to use the looping to get almost any other woman in town into bed, just not the female lead.
- The movie Other People's Money ended on a bittersweet note, as Larry had to live with the fact that being the best at what he does, and staying true to his unorthodox but sincere sense of ethics, had brought him resounding success as always but at the same time driven away his love interest. It's an unusual and thoughtful way to leave off. It should be noted, however that the final scene of the film re-opens the possibility of them getting together, and in the original play, it is explicit that they eventually marry and have children.
- In The Terminal, Viktor manages to complete his father's lifelong quest to get the autograph of every jazz musician featured in the A Great Day in Harlem photograph, and can finally return to his home country. However, his love interest gets back together with the married man she's been having an affair with.
- The plot of the short film Validation, in which the hero tries everything to get through to his love interest, to no avail. When he finally gives up, things take an unexpected turn...
- What Women Want — Telepathy that only works on females. Something of an aversion: it really does help him in as much as it reveals enough of her inner-self that he falls for her, but then he feels too guilty to abuse his power in order to win her heart or bed her (which backfired when he did that with the coffee-shop girl who subsequently became obsessed with him because the telepathy made him so damn good in bed).
- In The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the titular Gatsby is a classic case of Rags to Riches, complete with a Big Fancy House, wealthy and famous friends, and other luxuries afforded to the upper classes in The Roaring '20s. What he cannot seem to truly possess is his One True Love, Daisy Buchanan.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Robert Baratheon went to war against the Mad King to rescue his beloved Lyanna Stark (among other reasons). When the dust finally settled, Robert has become king and commanded all of the Seven Kingdoms, but Lyanna died regardless. He makes it no secret that he is bitter about winning a crown he never wanted and losing a girl he did, going so far as to say that the man who kidnapped her (whom Robert killed in a battlefield duel) won by joining Lyanna in death. In an interesting twist, it's made increasingly clear that while Robert may or may not have "loved" Lyanna, he never really knew her, and it's entirely possible that his passion for her is more about him buying into his own legend and rationalizing his unhappy life than about genuine love.
- In a more twisted example, resident Chessmaster Petyr Baelish rose from the child of a petty lord laughed at by everyone to an incredibly influential political operator with vast wealth and a huge amount of influence over the realm, but he never managed to win the girl was infatuated with since he was fifteen who's now dead, although he's acquired a Replacement Goldfish in the form of her (barely) teenage daughter Sansa.
- Angel has this problem. The Immortal called dibs.
Angel: But she's not finished baking yet! I gotta wait till she's done baking! You know, till she finds herself, 'cause that's the drill, fine, I'm waitin' patiently and meanwhile, THE IMMORTAL'S EATING COOKIE DOUGH!Andrew: Uhhh, Spike, is Angel crying?Spike: No! (in the same defiant tone) Not yet!
- He was slow on the draw with Cordelia, as well. She packed off and left with the Groosalugg, another superhuman warrior who isn't allergic to sunlight.
- Angel has this problem. The Immortal called dibs.
- In Merlin, Lancelot eventually realizes his life-long dream of becoming a knight of Camelot, only to regret his decision to leave Guinevere at a point in which there was nothing standing in the way of a relationship with her - nothing except the realization that Arthur was in love with her as well.
- Possibly one of the most touching musical examples: "Man of the World" by Peter Green.
- The theme of Ne-Yo's 2010 album Libra Scale is that after having saved the city, he's awarded fame, money, and power but at the cost of never being able to fall in love. Not a problem until he actually falls in love with somebody.
- The song "I Can't Get Next To You" by the Temptations.
- This is Strahd von Zarovich's big Dark-Powers-dispensed curse in Ravenloft, in that he is an absurdly powerful ruler in his own domain, but the woman he did all those horrible acts that got him stuck there in the first place to attain is dead. And to further twist the knife, she reincarnates once every generation, but Strahd is cursed to always end up leading her to her death and making her loathe him.
- This is one of the twists to the ending of Conker's Bad Fur Day. And he doesn't even want the crown.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, any PC that romances Morrigan throughout the game will eventually end up experiencing this trope. If you survive the final battle, you will have wealth, fame, and respect — everything, except for Morrigan. However, this is then subverted by the DLC campaign Witch Hunt, which takes place a few years later and allows the PC and Morrigan to reunite.
- Fate/stay night — In a villainous variation of this trope, Gilgamesh was quite literally said to have owned everything there was to own, but still pursued Saber madly in his own sick twisted fashion.
- Oh, and no he does not learn to use his power to help people. He, instead, tries to kill Saber's love interest (Shirou, the main character), and corrupt Saber with All The Evils Of The World. Saber ends his madness by cutting him in half with an Excaliburst.
- In the story of Final Fantasy Tactics, this is the fate that befalls Delita, the clearest winner of the convoluted plots and stacked betrayals. In the process of becoming king despite being a commoner, he manages to backstab and betray so many people that his queen Ovelia, who is probably the only person who he knows is alive that he cares about, feels she was just one more part of his manipulations, tries to kill him and gets killed by him defending himself on instinct. He is left holding her body, wondering what the point of all his plotting was and if this all that it amounted to.
- In an interesting example in Plants vs. Zombies, if you read the biography on the Gargantuar, you see that he shakes the earth when he walks, all other zombies yearn to be him, and other impressive stuff. But he still can't get a girlfriend.
- In Spellcasting 101, Ernie manages to score with several women during his adventures. Ultimately, the one he does not manage to impress is his true love.
- Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Minus the helping people, he's the Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain. Dr. Horrible (or Billy) wants to join the Evil League of Evil to gain power from what he sees as a corrupt society, make the world a better place, and win Penny's heart by doing so. However, to earn his way into the League he has to kill someone and tragically, Penny winds up dead. Billy finally gets to join but says he doesn't "feel a thing" anymore, and all the power and respect he's fought for is hollow.
- In a somewhat similar case, this is subverted in Soon I Will Be Invincible, insofar as getting the girl is the only thing at which Dr. Impossible does manage to succeed... although he doesn't realize it.
- The Fairly Oddparents:
- Fairy magic can never interfere with true love, so Timmy's attempts to get Trixie to fall for him using it have never worked.
- Amusingly inverted in the episode featuring Norm the Magic Genie, whose wishes can affect love, but Timmy words the wish just wrong and every other "Timothy Turner" in the world also gets Trixie's love.
- Gravity Falls: the first episode establishes that Mabel wants an "epic summer romance," while Dipper spends the show crushing on Wendy. At the end of the series, neither has really succeeded. Given the Coming-of-Age Story, the point is probably that neither of them is really ready for romance anyway.
- The Rankin Bass Jack Frost special is a rather literal example: Jack Frost becomes human out of love for Elisa, a beautiful peasant girl. He'll turn back into a sprite at winter's end unless he can collect the four human necessities: a house to live in, a horse to carry him, a bag of gold to sustain himself, and a wife to make it all worthwhile. By the end, he collects the first three and rushes to propose to Elisa, only to learn that she only considers him a friend and is about to marry somebody else.
- Iron Man: Armored Adventures: If Gene never betrayed team Iron Man, chances are he and Pepper (who admitted she was into him toward the end of season 2) would've become a couple. However, he chose power over his friends (and potential love interest) and Pepper moved on, but Gene still clearly cared about her.