I said not to worry I'm an understanding guy.
I've heard that when you love someone, you gotta let 'em go
She hollered, 'When I find myself, you'll be the first to know.'
Ooh. No news."
The tale is approaching its finale and you have a character who has undergone many changes. Now you need them to make a bold statement, to show the world that they are a fully developed individual.
What's the first thing you make them do? Dump their partner.
For some reason, the partner of such a character is discarded like a trinket in an It's All Junk scenario. Sometimes, it's really obvious why this happened - for example, someone that's finally mustered the courage to leave an abusive or neglectful partner, or a marriage they never wanted. But other times, it's more subtle.
Sentimental characters might decide they need to be "better people" before returning to their partner. Just what this actually means is left for the reader to figure out. In this case, their partner will probably wait as long as it takes for their beloved to finally decide to come home. Some other characters who leave their partners in these circumstances take time out to evaluate what they want from life since apparently it hasn't occurred to them to do that before they got married and had kids.
Others though, seem to discard perfectly good and loving partners for no other reason than that that particular person reminds them of their past...or, more selfishly, they've decided that after years in a committed relationship, they "deserve" to experience other people and leave their loyal lover in the dust, blinking in confusion. Extra Kick the Dog points if this lover has stuck by them through thick and thin. The author may try to justify this with claims that their partner was "holding them back" or "too dependent on them." This explanation has varying degrees of success - a possessive partner who doesn't want their lover to cross the threshold of the house won't get much support from the audience, but a loyal husband or wife who has nursed their spouse through illness, only to be dumped the instant the doctor gives them the all-clear, certainly will. After all, if the partner only gets discarded after the Delicate and Sickly character gets better, it begins to look like the ill partner was only using them to get through the illness. Surely if they wanted to get out of the relationship that badly, the illness wouldn't have stopped them?
By the very nature of this trope, here be SPOILERS.
- Berserk: The entirety of the Eclipse arc and the Crapsack nature of the world can be traced back to the moment Guts left the Band of the Hawk (who had just ended a decades-long war for their employer, Griffith getting knighted and on the fast track to promotion) so as to step out of Griffith's shadow. Griffith is having none of that and duels him, expecting an easy win like when they first met. Guts, having been at the forefront of every battle of the past few years, easily wins and leaves. This causes a Heroic BSoD in Griffith who sleeps with Princess Charlotte of Midland and gets caught (that he's a commoner is bad enough, but the fact that the king had unnatural feelings for his own daughter didn't help). Griffith is imprisoned and tortured for two years while the Band of the Hawk has to survive while being hunted by the regular army. By the time the Band rescues Griffith, he can no longer talk, hold a sword or even stand by himself, and seeing Casca has taken up with Guts, goes through an even bigger Heroic BSoD that ends with him starting the Eclipse and sacrificing his soldiers to become one of the Godhand.
- Subverted during a Hope Spot in the Eclipse Arc (after Guts' departure and before everything goes to hell). After a very emotionally climactic episode between Guts and Casca that culminates with Their First Time, Guts tells Casca that he still plans to leave the Hawks after rescuing Griffith in order to finish finding his own dream. No sooner does Casca start winding up into "Am I Just a Toy to You?" than he asks her to come with him.
- Heat Guy J ends this way, with Daisuke leaving the city, his loved ones, and best friend behind...which comes off as a total non-sequitur since he spent most of the series talking about how much he loved the city.
- It's a real head-scratcher because it isn't explained where he went or what he did while there, or what everyone else has been up to while he's gone. It looked like they were going to try to do a sequel, but for some reason never did, so it's just a Cliffhanger.
- Ramona Flowers did this in Scott Pilgrim. Though she does come back. And it turns out she spent her time away doing basically the exact same thing as Scott was during their separation; that is, moping around and playing videogames.
- Scott himself is sort of forced into it.
- Hulkling leaves Wiccan to find himself in Young Avengers. Although in his case "find myself" means "be absolutely sure you aren't using your Reality Warper powers on me without meaning to".
- In Infinity Train: Seeker of Crocus, Specter is being convinced to try again on the Infinity Train (his last attempt nearly destroyed the Train in the process) and Ryoken — who has been in heavy denial about the Train and copped Specter in his room in the Kougami Manor — essentially tells Yuri (who makes a remark on Ryoken being scared on his "Beloved Specter" disappearing in the middle of the night) he doesn't "see Specter in that light". This gets Specter (who has a crush on Ryoken) to realize that he has to get back on the Train and be his own person and he tells Ryoken to shove it.
- The movie Eat, Pray, Love is about a woman who realizes she is unhappy in her marriage, divorces her husband, and travels around the world to find herself.
- In the second High School Musical, Gabriella decides she needs to do this, as she so eloquently sums up in song. She comes back, though.
I've got to move on and be who I amI just don't belong here, I hope you understandWe might find our place in this world somedayBut at least for nowI gotta go my own way
- A variation occurs in Legally Blonde. At the beginning, Elle thinks her boyfriend Warner, who has aspirations to be a politician, is going to propose to her, but he dumps her saying that he needs to marry someone who's not going to be a simple Trophy Wife. She follows him to Harvard Law School, where she finds out that he only got in because his father bribed the admission council, and she earns a reputation as a competent up-and-coming lawyer. After winning a difficult trail near the end of the movie, Warner tries to get back together with Elle, saying that she would complement his brilliance and aspirations, Elle rejects him and says if she would date anyone, it would be someone who is supportive of her aspirations from the get-go.
- In one of Jodi Picoult's novels, the father of the family relates the tale of one of his coworkers who stood staunchly by his wife as she fought cancer. When she was better, she dumped her husband, claiming that she wanted more from life. The father's initial reaction was that the woman was a monster, but after looking after a sick daughter himself, he could understand where she was coming from.
- Ash does this to Mary-Lynette in Daughters of Darkness (1996), vowing to return to her when he's slain the dragon of his past.
- Nina Tanleven: Nine's mother left two years before the series started “to find her own life”, as described in The Ghost Let Go (she was mentioned as having left as far back as the first book, but the exact cause was left unsaid until the fourth story).
- In Palimpsest Lucia flees her marriage to Ludo which she says stifled everything about her true self.
- One of the plot points in The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder. The main character's mother, Anita, has left them to find herself, and the protagonist and his father are taking a road trip to Athens to get her back.
- When Women Were Dragons: Women who dragon often fly away and pursue their own goals, leaving their loved ones behind. Marla leaves her child and beloved sister's family when she dragons. At the end of the book, Sonja leaves her lover to explore outer space.
- Boy Meets World:
- Shawn ends his high school relationship with Angela in freshman year because he wants this.
- As karma would have it, after getting back together, Angela leaves Shawn to go traveling with her dad near the end of the final season. Then it's later revealed she got married to someone else.
- In season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Oz leaves Willow to go learn how to better control his inner wolf. He succeeds (somewhat) but when he returns, she's moved on.
- In Chinese Paladin, Ling'er does this near the middle of the series. Her stated reason is that she's just found out her heritage and needs time to come to terms with it.
- Criminal Minds: Jason Gideon leaves the FBI after a serial killer targets someone in his personal life, and the stress of the incident left him without the confidence to perform his job.
- Sara Sidle of CSI. It ends happily when Grissom came and joined her, and she has returned to CSI since then.
- Implied in the Gilmore Girls when Rory's rebellious boyfriend Jess runs away to find his real father. He pops again months later and it's obvious he never stopped loving her, but needed to sort himself out before committing. Sure enough, when he returns years later, he's a successful author and publisher whose example actually inspires Rory to get her own life together at a particular low-point where she was looking for herself.
- In Homeland the love interest of Saul leaves him because he has a time-intensive job (as if she hadn't known before) and she wants to fulfill herself by demanding that he gives up his job and moves with her to India for charity work. Because working for the Government is not important at all, so this wasn't really giving Saul options, it was a break-up.
- Lily attempted this on How I Met Your Mother: When she was offered an art fellowship in San Francisco, she took it because she regretted not having followed her dream of becoming an artist and wanted to find out who she was without Marshall, as the two had been practically inseparable since their first week of college. She doesn't really want to break up, but Marshall told her she had to choose since he refused to put off their imminent wedding in order to wait months for her to come back and decide if she was ready yet. Deconstructed, as it is made clear Lily left behind her lover, friends, and overall stability (her apartment and most items now belong to Marshall and Ted). When she does come back, it becomes a Break-Up/Make-Up Scenario for them both, once Marshall realized a break was good for them, telling her they should continue to figure out who they are without each other, and initially rejecting her when she tried to make up. Lily is left in a dinky apartment and poor living conditions the entire time. However, they ultimately get back together a few months later and stay together for the rest of the series.
- Sophie, from Leverage, in an inoffensive and justified version. She's trying to ditch the personas that make her nothing but a conwoman, and she has to leave the team in order to sort through them.
- On NCIS, Ziva becomes increasingly erratic and emotionally unstable following the death of her father. After resigning from NCIS for an unrelated reason, she returns to Israel and is confronted with her past as a trained assassin, which makes her re-evaluate her life. She becomes the target of an attack and realizes she doesn't want this life anymore, and when Tony tracks her down, she chooses to remain in Israel to reconnect with herself and rebuild her life. When she cameos in season 17, it's discovered this was never able to happen, because her past caught up with her and things got complicated.
- In the second season finale of Ugly Betty, Gio asked her to go on a romantic trip to Italy with him, while Henry (who she'd just gotten over) proposed to her. She Took a Third Option and went on a cross-country road trip without either of them.
- The Cascades' "Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain" has the line "The only girl I cared about has gone away looking for a brand new start."
- The song "Come Back To Me" is set through the dumped's POV. However, despite the title, the lyrics suggest that the person accepts that their Love Interest needs to find themselves and that they will wait for the loved one to return.
- Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry" is about a woman telling her lover that "I'm gonna miss you like a child misses their blanket," but she still has to leave him so she can "get a move on with my life." The lyrics suggest that despite how devoted they are, they've really been nothing more than little kids playing house, and she needs to get out and learn to stand on her own two feet.
- Lonestar's "No News" is also from the POV of the dumpee.
- Patty Loveless's "You Can Feel Bad" is also from the POV of the person dumped by someone who "needs a brand-new start." In a subversion of most songs in this genre, the singer has suspected this was coming and isn't heartbroken. But she tells him he can feel bad about it if it makes him feel less guilty for leaving her.
- Kamelot mentioned this on their Epica album-track. Center OF the Universe and Farewell.
- Not About You appears to be about this, and mentions it almost by name: "I saw that movie where the guy gets dumped and the girl goes off to find herself."
- The Human League's "Don't You Want Me" is also about this situation from the dumpee's POV, but unlike the examples above, he isn't taking it well.
When you think you've changed your mindYou had better change it back or we. will. both. be sorry!
- The woman's side of the lyrics imply that he's The Svengali and she needs some breathing room.
- The Train song "Drops of Jupiter" is sung from the perspective of the abandoned lover:
"And tell me, did Venus blow your mind...Was it everything you wanted to find...And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there...
- "Freebird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd describes a man who wants to leave his partner so he can travel the world. It is most notable for its opening line being grammatically wrong ("If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?" should be "will you still remember me", or alternately it should be "if I left here tomorrow"), and for having a sweet guitar solo at the end.
- Aaron Tippin, "I'm Leaving":
She said there's someone else
And I've kept it to myself
But I can't keep these feelings locked inside
I need to tell you this
It's one of your old friends
One you haven't talked to in a while
She said I'm leaving
And there's nothing you can do
I said I had a feeling you found somebody new
And I'll bet I can guess his name
But it's so hard to believe
'Cause she said you're not even close
It's someone you don't know
I'm leaving you for me
- Dierks Bentley's "Settle for a Slowdown" is another told from the POV of the dumped, hoping for just the smallest hint that she even misses him as she takes off to pursue her dreams.
- The extended version of the theme song to WKRP in Cincinnati goes into this.
Headin' up that highway leavin' you behind,
Hardest thing I ever had to do.
Broke my heart in two, but baby, pay no mind.
The price for finding me was losing you.
- In Chicago, one of the girls in the "Cell Block Tango" number mentions how her lover, Al Lipschitz, would go out every night looking for himself. "And on the way, he found Ruth, Gladys, Rosemary...and Irving!"
- Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, Older Than Radio and a Trope Codifier in the world of theatre. After subservient and sweet-natured Nora forges a signature to save her husband Torvald - her one and only show of initiative up until this point - he suddenly turns on her when this "deception" is revealed. As she realises their entire marriage is built on lies and she has been nothing other than a "doll" to both him, her father and society as a whole she decides to leave in order to develop her own personality. Less sympathetic, though, is her decision to abandon her children into the bargain. Values Dissonance may play a part here - at the time it was written, it would probably be extremely difficult for a "rogue" wife to get custody of her children. However, Nora's final speech suggests that even if it were possible to keep the children, she wouldn't even try. Notably, Nora is aware that the children are under the care of a trusted nurse.
- In the original ending of the theatrical adaptation to Miss Lulu Bett, Lulu says goodbye to everyone, both her Jerkass family and her admirer Cornish, going off to live independently for a while.
Mrs. Bett: Where you goin' now, for pity sakes?
Lulu: Away. I thought I wanted somebody of my own. Well, maybe it was just myself.
- In Next to Normal, Dan has coped with Diana's bipolar disorder for almost two decades and, recently, while struggling with his own depression. As the play nears the end, Diana decides she needs to cope on her own (oddly enough, by running off to her parents' house...) and leaves Dan behind with the farewell gift of their dead son's spectre. Needless to say, he isn't too happy about this, but both sides are seen as sympathetic.
- In Street Scene, Rose ultimately leaves Sam because, after what happened to her mother and her father, she decides that people shouldn't belong to anyone but themselves; "loving and belonging aren't the same thing," she explains. She tries to reassure him that perhaps they can be together again some time, when they're older and understand themselves better, to little avail.
- Zoë and Reza break up for this reason in the backstory of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. They remain Amicable Exes though, and a large part of the plot is about Zoë investigating the disappearance of Reza. By the time the next game begins, they are back together.
- Not romantic (unless you want to stretch it a bit), but Kain staying on Mt. Ordeals and missing Cecil and Rosa's wedding in the ending of Final Fantasy IV counts, as he's looking to make himself a better person after being forced to betray Cecil twice during the game.
- In Syberia, Kate maturely breaks up with Dan over the phone, after she realises that he's happier with Olivia and that her journey has made her unable to reconnect with her former life in the US.
- In Volume 8 of RWBY, Nora ends up telling Ren she's not ready to get together with him because she's realized she's based so much of her identity around being his best friend that she doesn't know who she is without him.
- In Boy Meets Boy, Skids "grows up", reclaims his proper name, Gio, gets rid of his hat...and moves to New York, resolving never to see his old friends again.
- Friendship version: In the final storyline of Casey and Andy, Casey proposes to Mary. He then tells Andy that he's going to need Andy to move out of the house when they're done with their latest adventure. Casey explained it as he needed to step up and be a more responsible adult now that he's going to be a proper husband with the implication that Andy's manchild behavior would be too much of an enabler to keep him from doing so. Downplayed in that there's no indication they stopped being friends. It was more that they couldn't keep hanging out all the time.
- In Friendly Hostility, you could argue that Fox was reckless, empathy-challenged, and occasionally downright stupid, but one thing no one could question was his devotion to his boyfriend, Collin. The pair weathered family woes, financial hardship, and employment issues together, with each prepared to make massive sacrifices for the other...until the denouement, where a more "developed" Collin decided Fox was no longer meeting his needs. All of Fox's positive deeds were obliterated by Collin's Accentuate the Negative tendencies, and the "grown-up" Collin makes it clear that he wants to move on. He would probably have received the audience's unreserved sympathy if Fox hadn't been trying to change for the better while Collin was dithering and angsting while messing with Fox's head.
- Word of God has Collin's decision to terminate his relationship with Fox as a major Character Development hallmark, explicitly stating in Other People's Business that Collin was a much more rounded character after ditching Fox, marrying Leon, and returning to his parents' good graces. Meanwhile, Fox had such a complete romantic BSOD that his family struggled to pick up the pieces. Mitigating factor: Fox and Collin did try counselling before this. Non-mitigating-factor: by all indications, Collin wasn't half as interested in repairing the relationship as Fox was, and rather than terminate the relationship honestly and face up to the pain he knew he'd cause, Collin tried to do a moonlight flight.
- At the end of the "There But For the Grace" arc in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, Galatea leaves her newfound family to go explore the world — her stated reason being that she's genetically identical to Molly, and she's afraid that if she stays in the environment that molded Molly, she'll stop being her own person.
- Deconstructed in the American Dad! episode "Fartbreak Hotel". Francine is mistaken for a concrete saleswoman, and to combat her deep frustration and lack of fulfillment in her current life, she goes along with it. Doing surprisingly well in this new life, she chooses to leave her family to pursue this new purpose, and ends up becoming a very wealthy and successful business woman. However she finds even less fulfillment in this life, and still misses her family, so through Mental Time Travel, goes back to stop her younger self from leaving.
- The Futurama Season 6 finale "Overclockwise" has Leela, aspiring to greater things than her dead-end job at Planet Express and feeling that her relationship with Fry is failing to move forward, moving off-planet and embarking on a new career. Of course, it's a very brief departure and she returns and reunites with Fry at the end of the episode, confessing that she missed the job and him.
- Played interestingly in Rick and Morty. In "The ABCs of Beth", after Beth has her Jerkass Realization and isn't sure what to do next, Rick offers her the chance to do this by leaving her family and Earth behind to have her own adventures throughout the universe and embrace her darker side, while he creates a clone of her that would look after her kids for her so they wouldn't even know she'd left. The episode's ending makes it ambiguous whether she accepted and the Beth we see there is the clone, or turned down the offer and she's the real Beth. "Star Mort: Rickturn of the Jerri" reveals that Rick did clone Beth, and one of the two versions did indeed fulfill this trope by going out to space as he suggested—becoming a badass Action Girl space rebel in the process—while the other stayed on Earth to look after her family. The twist is, nobody, not even Rick, knows which one is the original and which is the clone.
- The first season finale of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated has Fred find out that Mayor Jones isn't his real father and took him from his real parents, Brad and Judy of the original Mystery Incorporated, to protect the Treasure of Crystal Cove. He then breaks up his engagement with Daphne to find his real parents, not long after he stopped being so Oblivious to Love.
- In the Steven Universe episode "The Question", Ruby decides to be an independent Gem separate from Sapphire after the reveal that Rose Quartz was really Pink Diamond makes them feel as if the whole basis of their perma-fusion as Garnet was a lie. After some much-needed self-exploration as a cowboy, she eventually reunites with Sapphire and asks her to marry her.
- Steven Universe: Future: The Grand Finale, "The Future", has Steven leaving the Gems and moving out of Beach City to travel the country. He doesn't stop being Connie's boyfriend.