Follow TV Tropes


Loving a Shadow

Go To
"Play me Chopin. He died before I could know him, and so he remains beautiful."

"Almost five years [he had pined for her]! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart."
Nick about Gatsby and his flame for Daisy, The Great Gatsby

The nature of emotional relationships often overlaps in confusing complications ranging from the simple crush to Freudian oddness. If this causes the writers to accidentally build things like harems, the easy way to get around this is to reveal the basal nature of a relationship. This is a form of Wishful Projection.

In the character's mind, one type of relationship was simply confused with another. This has some basis in reality, where some potentially romantic relationships are actually people seeking "figures". (Hell, who hasn't done this at some point?) They spend time with a person because they remind them of someone else. For example, some characters attracted to older characters often have an absent parent or older sibling. This situation is often the inherent role of an Unwanted Harem's Unlucky Everydude.

In some other cases, it turns out that the character was only in love with the idea of being in love and applied it to the first suitable person they met; and in others, a character falls in love with another character… or more specifically, some defining feature of that character. For example, Bob falls in love with Alice because she is incredibly beautiful, or a brilliant fighter, or incredibly smart, but he fails to actually comprehend Alice beyond that trait. This is easy to do to The Lost Lenore since she's not around to contradict an idealized version of her.

Doing this poorly can feel incredibly cheap if the "explanation" doesn't make sense or potential evidence wasn't presented beforehand, as it feels as if the writers are just going down the list of romantic opposition and checking them off.

A sub-trope of Broken Pedestal, which is often what awaits anyone on the path of this trope. Super-trope to In Love with Your Carnage, in which a character sees someone dish out brutal murders and falls for them.

Like Death of the Hypotenuse and Ron the Death Eater, this trope serves as a subtrope of Die for Our Ship in fanfic, to clear the way for the author's preferred ship.

If a character is Really 700 Years Old, this can keep the writers from having to deal with a Mayfly–December Romance.

The trope name refers to Éowyn's unrequited love for Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, from the line "It is but a shadow and a thought that you love. I cannot give you what you seek."

Accordingly, compare and contrast with All Love Is Unrequited. Compare The Dulcinea Effect. Not to be confused with Fighting a Shadow.

See Post-Support Regret for the platonic version of this trope, though the two can overlap if the one who loved the shadow was an Only Friend who supported them and ignored all their wrongdoings, only to be proven wrong.

Delusions of Parental Love is another platonic variation, where a child views their parent in a very idealized light and refuses to believe that their caregiver don't actually care about them.

Most definitely can be Truth in Television.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • 5 Centimeters per Second: In Chapter 3, Takaki is no longer in love with Akari herself, but rather with the idea of Akari. All the things he is longing for are not physical but abstract things that he cannot grasp, which is why he finds it so difficult to find any way to resolve his longing. He's made efforts to move on, as evidenced by his relationship with his new girlfriend Risa, but he's as distant with her as he is with everyone else.
  • Aggretsuko:
    • In the Season 1 finale, Retsuko finally realizes that she doesn't love Resasuke, but rather the super-idealized version of him that only exists in her head and she breaks off her relationship with him. In the same episode, Retsuko's coworker Haida confesses his crush on her, but also admits that, despite this, he doesn't really know her that well. However, he decides to rectify this by actually getting to know her.
    • In Season 3, Haida's Dogged Nice Guy tendencies towards Retsuko are painfully deconstructed as everyone in his life calls him an idiot for still going after her when he barely knows her and has another girl who actually cares for him, including Retsuko herself who gives him a "Reason You Suck" Speech in the season finale for expecting her to get over her trauma and return to the real world just to accommodate his feelings.
  • Area 88: In the manga and OVA, Ryoko's obsession with Shin falls into this category. She idealizes Shin and is enamored with the idea of being in love. However, she fails to understand how he thinks, what motivates him, or how his time at Area 88 has affected him. For this reason, she's completely blindsided when he abandons her in both continuities.
  • Azumanga Daioh: While she never confesses her feelings, Kaorin's crush on Sakaki is based entirely on Sakaki's superficial qualities, admiring her coolness as an Aloof Dark-Haired Girl and Academic Athlete. What Kaorin doesn't realize is that Sakaki is actually a Shrinking Violet and a Kindhearted Cat Lover, and her image as cool and rugged comes entirely from people misinterpreting her intimidating looks and lack of social skills.
  • Black Cat: This happened to Creed's worship of Train in the anime. After Train defeats him, he suddenly does a Heel–Face Turn and no longer has any reaction or romantic obsession with him, even getting together with Echidna. This never happened in the manga, where Creed goes into a catatonic state of shock and is never shown getting over Train. Rather ironic, considering that the anime made Creed more pervertedly obsessed with Train than in the manga, making this an even less justified trope.
  • Subverted in Bloom Into You. Sayaka admits that she fell in love with Touko at first sight, based largely on Touko's beauty and the fact that Touko had managed to outdo her on the Toomi East entrance exam. Over time, though, Sayaka came to realize that Touko is quite vulnerable under her façade (although Touko didn't initially realize that Sayaka knew), but rather than be disappointed, Sayaka came to love Touko for who she was.
  • Blue Flag: Futaba eventually realizes her feelings for Touma aren’t really ones of love but more admiration for the sort of person he is and wanting to be like him which helps her realize her feelings for Taichi is the genuine article.
  • Bocchi the Rock!: Played with. Kita initially joined the band due to her crush on Ryo, viewing her as a mysterious and aloof senpai, and is baffled when she realizes that Ryo is actually just an asocial weirdo as they hang out more. However, even after finding out what Ryo is really like, she still actively tries to repress the realization in hopes that it will preserve her image of Ryo being cool and thoughtful.
  • Bubblegum Crisis: Priss Asagiri, the Knight Saber's singing biker, has some of this towards Nigel Kirkland in Tokyo 2040, much of it, as Mackey observes, seems to be based on how they're both very quiet, very reserved individuals who say much by saying very little. She's hurt later on to learn that he's with her boss Sylia Stingray (more or less), after which she finally begins to bond more with the hulking roughneck AD Police officer Leon McNichol.
  • Cardcaptor Sakura: Sakura realizes that her feelings for Yukito are (mostly) familial in nature, while Syaoran's crush on Yukito is explained as "attraction of similar magic", which clears the way for both of them to fall in love with each other.
  • Case Closed: Kobayashi-sensei at first thought Inspector Shiratori's love for her was due to the extreme similarity between her and Inspector Satou, who Shiratori unsuccessfully courted for. It was subverted that it was Satou who was the shadow — Shiratori's childhood friend that he's been in love for more than half his life was indeed Kobayashi, but he didn't know her name and mistook that to be Satou when he grew up. When this is cleared up and Kobayashi remembered Shiratori as clearly as he recalled her, they properly got together.
  • Chainsaw Man: Supplementary materials deconstruct Kishibe's infatuation with Quanxi, explaining that the reason he was enamored with her was because her immortality made her the only stable and unchanging part of his chaotic life as a hunter. He recognizes that he loved her precisely because it felt 'safe' loving her, she couldn't just suddenly die and leave him.
  • Death Note: This is part of the reason for Misa's Love Martyrism—to her, Light Yagami will always be the handsome and heroic vigilante that avenged her murdered family, regardless of how less than heroic he actually is, and she is madly in love with him for that. It proves hazardous for them both.
  • Digimon Adventure 02: Mr. and Mrs. Ichijouji have a parental case of this. Having a Child Prodigy for a son in Osamu got a little to their heads, and when Osamu was killed by a car, they were too caught into their own grieving to pay any attention to their younger son Ken (who already felt neglected). It's not until Ken, under the influence of the dark spores in his body, becomes an Academic Athlete rivalling or even surpassing Osamu that his parents finally give him the time of his day, but they only love him as a shadow of Osamu. It takes Ken vanishing with the intent to stay in the Digital World and returning with Trauma-Induced Amnesia for them to realize this and finally start loving and acknowledging him as Ken.
  • In Dirty Pair Flash, an admirer of Yuri's built a robot duplicate of her, programing it to act how he imagined Yuri acts. When the boy gets the chance to spend time with the real Yuri, he finds that she isn't like he imagined at all.
  • Food Wars!: Erina Nakiri has a non-romantic case of this towards Joichiro Saiba. She genuinely admires him as a chef and wishes to emulate him, but somehow has made herself an image of him being someone who does not admit nor allow failure when that couldn't be further from the truth. Doubles as Dramatic Irony given that she takes to hate protagonist Soma Yukihira for his humble origins and his seemingly carefree attitude of learning from his failures to improve, unaware that he's the son of her idol and Joichiro himself was the one to instill that mindset in him.
  • Freezing: Kazuya's attraction to Satellizer STARTS like this as she reminds him of his departed sister Kazuha. Kazuya grows out of this, but it becomes a source of tension on Satellizer's part as she wonders if she's just a "replacement" for Kazuha.
  • Fruits Basket:
    • After volumes of what seemed like romantic buildup, in order to solve the love triangle that Yuki and Tohru are involved in, it's revealed that Yuki never truly loved Tohru romantically, but was looking for a mother figure in her after years of Parental Abandonment. There is some subtle Foreshadowing for this, since he never gets flustered around Tohru like Kyo does (aside from one instance where Tohru calls him by his given name for the first time) and is briefly shown to be jealous when he sees Tohru acting motherly towards the younger Sohmas.
    • Yuki himself is on the receiving end of this. He has a huge fan club of girls at school who are smitten with his image as a Princely Young Man, but none of them come close to realizing how much of a Broken Ace and Stepford Smiler Yuki really is.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • When she's introduced, May Chang from Fullmetal Alchemist gets a huge crush on Ed based on the few bits of information she hears about him (with dream sequences no doubt reminding some of Ouran below) and she hasn't even met him yet. She inevitably finds out what he's really like... but shortly afterwards she gets to know Al and the squeefest starts all over again. Not even seeing Al's true emaciated body once he's restored to his original form puts her off, and it's implied that by the time Ed and Winry are married with kids, they may be either together or on their way to get hitched.
    • In the 2003 anime adaptation, a filler episode at the beginning of the show focused on an alchemist named Majahal obsessed with reviving a beautiful woman named Karin who had died decades ago. To that point, he's created life-size dummies of how Karin looked before she died. It turns out Karin hadn't actually died. She'd fallen off a cliff and sustained a head injury, which caused her to wander off in an amnesiac daze. Everyone just assumed she died because they couldn't find a body. Years later, as an older woman with her youthful beauty having faded, she regained her memory and went back to her village under a different name. The problem was Majahal's love for the younger Karin had turned into an obsession, and when Ed revealed Karin's identity Majahal refused to accept this "hag" was the beautiful Karin of his youth, and dies rejecting her.
  • Fushigi Yuugi:
    • Wholesome Crossdresser Nuriko's habits were handwaved by the explanation that he was taking the place of his dead little sister Kourin.
    • Likewise, Nuriko's love interest Hotohori had a huge crush on Miaka and was a strong contender for her attention. Turns out he was more in love with the idea of the Suzaku no Miko, rather than Miaka herself as a person. He gets over it enough to marry one of the court ladies, Houki (who looks suspiciously like Nuriko when he was still a crossdresser, or like his dead little sister would've looked like if she was alive), and have a child with her… before he dies.
  • Haikarasan Ga Tooru: Broken Bird and Delicate and Sickly Countess Larissa Mikhailovna, who falls for the amnesiac Shinobu because he looks and acts almost exactly like her beloved husband Sasha, who died in the Russian Revolution. Even more so: Shinobu was Sasha's older half-brother by their mother's side, which explains the extreme physical similarity.
  • Hikaru no Go: Non-romantic version. At the beginning of the manga, Hikaru, who was being controlled by Sai, defeated Toya Akira in a game of Go, and the latter becomes obsessed with him ever since.
    "If you keep chasing after my ghost, the real me is going to pass you by!"
  • I Can't Understand What My Husband Is Saying had a variation in the backstory. Upon reflecting on the incident where he falls for Kaoru, he notes that he more idolizes Kaoru and their co-worker, comparing it to falling for fictional characters. Said co-workers' rejection of him forced Character Development on him, self-admonishing for his folly. He also suspects it was when his love for Kaoru become something more solid, substantial, and real.
  • Sonken Chuubou in Ikki Tousen: Great Guardians was the reincarnation of Shuuyu Koukin's wife from their past lives, so she was crushing out on him before they even met. She stops doing so once Koukin says she shouldn't make fate rule her happiness, though. That, and Koukin was already in love with his cousin and Chuubou's "older sister", Sonsaku Hakufu, which Chuubou also accepted very gracefully.
  • Subverted in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War. Kaguya and Shirogane are genuinely in love with each other, but both of them think that the other only loves the mask that they present to others. Part of the reason they engage in the whole Duel of Seduction is that they're afraid that the other would hate the "real" them.
  • In Kaiketsu Zorro, it's strongly implied that Lolita's infatuation with Zorro is born from him being like an adult version of her brave and astute childhood friend that she actually loved, even if he has become a wimp while abroad. Luckily, said childhood friend is actually Diego de la Vega, and the two ultimately get together when he can drop the facade.
  • In Killer Killer, Serial-Killer Killer Takumi Hijirihara became the way he is after watching Mukuro Ikusaba slaughter his classmates and dedicated his life to emulating her and her "passionate" crimes, even coming up with an elaborate rating system for his victims based on his idealized perception of her. Ironically, the real Mukuro was exactly like the killers he gave low ratings to, which he had no way of knowing.
  • Maria no Danzai: Kumiru has a massive crush on Okaya and constantly tries to get his attention, but it's not until she's at Maria's mercy and she allows Kumiru to text one person without explicitly asking for help that she realizes he doesn't give a shit about her: for all the time they've known each other, he rarely bothers to answer her text messages, which makes Kumiru realize that they've never had a real conversation. She briefly considers texting him in such a way that will allow her to confirm how exactly he feels about her, but relents out of fear that she won't like the answer.
  • Millennium Actress: This is a plot point for two characters. It is even the subject of more direct Lampshade Hanging at one point. The main character became an actress in order to find the man she loves, a rebellious artist. She sees him very briefly in her youth and continues to keep the torch alight all her life. In the end, she admits that "It's the chasing him that I really love."
  • Discussed in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid. When Ilulu first talks to Taketo, she mentions how she thought that she was in love with Kobayashi due to her desire to breed with her, but now realizes that she views her as more of a friend and mother figure. Given that she was emotionally stunted from the loss of her parents and being raised as a Tyke Bomb (plus the fact that dragons, in general, have a loose grasp of interpersonal relationships due to being a solitary species), it's understandable that she'd get her feelings mixed up.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny: Shinn's late-season relationship with Lunamaria is initially based around him installing her as a surrogate for Stella, who in turn serves as a surrogate for his dead little sister. Develops into a proper relationship after Shinn comes to terms with Stella's death and Luna finds out Meyrin is alive.
  • Monkey High!: Haruna suspects this is why Atsu keeps hitting on her. Their classmate Emi similarly pines for Atsu, and it's even pointed out that Atsu is the type who only loves who he can't have.
  • Naruto:
    • Naruto had a crush on Sakura up until Chapter 469 because 1) he thought she was pretty—which is an incredibly shallow reason to "like" someone, thereby fitting this trope perfectly—and 2) she always loved his rival Sasuke, which made him subconsciously believe that if he managed to win her love, he'd be beating out Sasuke at something for once. It was always about his rivalry with Sasuke—The Ace, the Chick Magnet of his class, and someone who was always better than him—than any actual romantic feelings. Sakura even calls him out on this, pointing out that his jealousy towards Sasuke was the only reason why he had a crush on her at all—which was implied as early as Chapter 3. Both Chapter 469 and the Canon movie The Last: Naruto the Movie make it patently clear that his one-sided shallow crush on her was legitimately just that: a passing crush and nothing more; it was never romantic love. The movie also makes it clear that Hinata is the first and only time Naruto experiences both First Love and true love because he genuinely fell in love with the person, rather than the idea of winning someone over by beating out someone else. Even the movie's Tagline is "His last story is his First Love", which officially makes Hinata his One True Love, First Love, the First Girl After All, and First Girl Wins. Finally, Kishimoto himself explicitly stated that Sakura was his first crush while Hinata is his First Love.
      • Case in point: In the second flashback of the prologue to The Last, when Iruka tells his students to write down the name of the person they want to spend their last day with, Naruto tells Sakura that he'd protect her, which she predictably rebuffs because she's focused on Sasuke. However, when Naruto actually thinks to himself, he admits that he doesn't have family or friends, and he's unable to write down a name. Despite his previous statement, Naruto does not think to write Sakura's name, even though he's supposed to have a crush on her in his childhood. This is an understated yet telling scene that demonstrates that his passing crush on her was non-existent and not serious.
    • Speaking of The Last, Naruto's fangirls definitely count since they're only interested in Naruto because he's the hero who ended the war and saved the world. Since he has long since passed his Glory Seeker phase, he is clearly shown to be exasperated by their attention. Conversely, Hinata is the only girl in the Leaf Village who actually loves Naruto for who he is and has always loved him for the way he is, not because he's a hero.
    • All of the girls that have a crush on Sasuke fall under this trope. Karin got a good look at the real Sasuke as he punched a hole in her to kill Danzo, which seemed to end her affection definitely...until it didn't. After Sasuke gave her a weak apology, Karin immediately forgave him.
    • Subverted with Sakura towards Sasuke. She starts out like any other Sasuke-admirer, but later falls in love with him for real after they become teammates and she learns more about him. She remains in love with him even after he tries to kill her twice when they're enemies because she believes Naruto can bring him back. When he rejoins the good guys, Sakura is able to perceive that Sasuke is not fully back to his former self yet. Nevertheless, she refuses to give up on him even as he remains outwardly dismissive and distant towards her and still seeks his acknowledgment. After she reaffirms her love and tries to reach out to him once more before his final battle with Naruto, Sasuke himself comments that they have no reason to love each other and that those are feelings from a failed past. Following his definitive Heel–Face Turn, Sasuke is finally able to let go of his hatred and fully reciprocate Sakura's feelings. They later travel together, get married, and have a daughter named Sarada.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi:
    • The girl most overtly fond of Negi, Class Representative Ayaka, had a younger brother who died at birth the same year Negi was born. In many ways, Negi really is the "shadow" Ayaka wanted her baby brother to be.
    • An arrow-straight version of this is the oddly flirtatious relationship the Noble Demon Old Master Evangeline has with Negi. She had a crush on his father and followed him halfway around the world before he defeated her through trickery and sealed her away on campus... and no, she did not look any older then.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Misato at one point openly admits in her narration that she loved Kaji in part because he reminded her of her father, who died in the Second Impact.
  • Nichijou: Weboshi has a crush on Tsuyoshi, a boy with a mohawk, because she assumes he's a delinquent. He's actually fairly nice, straightlaced, and considers himself an intellectual. The mohawk? That's just how his hair grows.
  • In the Yaoi Genre manga Oku-san's Daily Fantasies the titular character has fallen in love with his local delivery man, Sudo, without knowing anything about him or having a full conversation with him. When he finally confesses to Sudo and is promptly turned down, he realises he isn't as upset as he should be if he really felt something towards him and says he was really in love with the idealised version of Sudo that he fantasised about. At this time he realises that he has real affections for his neighbour, who confessed near around the same time.
  • Ouran High School Host Club:
    • A young French girl was the confidant of an older lady who worked at her Big Fancy House as a part of the staff. The lady told the girl many times that her estranged son was a gorgeous, gentle person; a living Princely Young Man. The naîve and inexperienced girl was completely smitten with such a dream image, logically, therefore, she went to Japan to meet him... and tried to fulfill her girlish dream by promising said son, Tamaki, to help him re-meet his Missing Mom if he agreed to go to France with her and leave the Host Club. Thankfully, she realized it, and backed off in the nick of time.
    • There's also Ascended Fangirl Renge Houshakuji, who originally had a crush on Kyouya because he reminded her of her favorite guy from a dating sim. She eventually has to learn the hard way that Kyouya isn't anything like the dating sim character she's obsessed with.
  • Penguindrum: Ringo Oginome seems at first to be utterly smitten with Tabuki—stalking him, feeding him a love potion, and generally devoting her entire life to pursuing him. However, she eventually reveals that she only loves him because her dead sister Momoka did, and Ringo believes that if she can fulfill Momoka's role by bearing Tabuki's child, her dysfunctional and broken family will be happy again. Eventually,and with help from Shouma, she gives up on Tabuki and starts pursuing her own desires. Tabuki has some troubles with this trope himself; he and his girlfriend Yuri both loved Momoka and are dating in order to recreate their relationship with her, even though they don't love each other romantically. At the end of the show, they decide to try and start a real relationship.
  • A positive version of this trope occurs in Presents. An artist falls in love with the daughter of a gallery owner at first sight. The daughter is a Rich Bitch who says she'll only go out with him if he can paint a fabulous portrait of her and then give it to her as a present. The artist tries and fails repeatedly until Kurumi tells him that he needs to put into the portrait what he felt when he saw her for the first time. The last portrait is hailed as a masterpiece and put on display in another gallery. When the rich girl reads about this, she greedily decides to remind the artist that he owes his success to her and his promise about the painting. The artist, surprisingly, turns her down, because he realizes she's not who he fell in love with. The girl he fell in love with is the girl he saw that day, the girl who is immortalized in that portrait, and for all his hard work and everything he put into it, he gets his dream girl. The girl in the portrait steps out from the frame and becomes real. The artist receives a happy ending with his love. The rich girl, on the other hand, has a less than happy ending when she becomes just like all the failed paintings given to her before.
  • Played straight in Reborn! (2004) where Tsuna’s crush on the School Idol is mostly based on his ideals of wanting to live a normal fulfilling life with a girl who can become an ideal housewife, who is much like his mom.
  • Rebuild World: The Rival Katsuya's image of Sheryl when falling in love with her is that of an Ojou from the upper class out of his league, not knowing she's dirt poor and received everything she has directly from Akira. He also thinks of her as someone who'll always be there for him with emotional support. But, seeing as how Katsuya is actually victim to Sheryl's Honey Trap, this might as well be an Invoked Trope: Sheryl makes herself appear as the woman of Katsuya's dreams, not as herself, so she can impress Akira with the info she digs out of him.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena:
    • A rather heartbreaking and slightly twisted variant occurs with Miki Kaoru, a piano player, who is apparently smitten with Anthy Himemiya. He is attracted to her demurity and good nature because it reminds him of his twin sister Kozue, or rather, how she used to be (at least in his mind) when they were children (in the series, she's a borderline Yandere and is smitten with him.) So he projects his feelings about his sister (or the sweet girl he used to be) on Anthy...
    • Juri is in love with Shiori, but she seems to be more in love with an over-idealised mental image of Shiori than with the actual person.
    • Mikage is smitten with Mamiya, but "Mamiya" we see in the show is Anthy doing a Dead Person Impersonation, the real Mamiya died years ago. Mikage later projects his feelings for Tokiko onto Utena as well.
    • Anthy who is only with Akio because she used to love Dios. It's implied she's complicit in his plans because she believes that if he gets his powers back, he'll once again be her beloved brother. It takes Utena's Heroic Sacrifice before she realizes that it's never going to happen and it's not worth it.
    • Needless to say almost everyone in the series gets this. A major theme is understanding and accepting people as more than just a stereotype or over-idealized image. Because until you do, you will end up talking past and hurting each other.
  • Sailor Moon:
    • It's speculated that Seiya's crush on Usagi may have come from how similar she was to the Starlight's leader, Princess Kakyuu.
    • Makoto begins the series constantly falling in love with any new guy she meets because they remind her of her old sempai, whom she had a huge crush on. Luckily, she grows out of it.
  • School Days: Sekai Saionji who loved Makoto Itou up until the end of killing him.
  • School Rumble:
    • Tenma's crush on Karasuma, since she doesn't really know anything about him because he's The Stoic, only that she thinks he's handsome and mysterious, yet she goes to insane lengths in her attempts to confess her feelings for him.
    • Lampshaded by Harima, who is in love with Tenma but he forgot why a long time ago and admits it's almost a force of habit.
  • Shimoneta:
  • Spy X Family: While Nightfall does harbor true affection for Twilight, she really only cares about being with him and as his wife, not even taking into account how Yor, Anya, or even Twilight himself would feel in ruining the Forger family he worked so hard to create. It also gets played with that ever since her introduction she only calls Twilight by his epithet and never by his Loid Forger name, showing that she only loves the spy Twilight and his numerous aliases and not the loving family man Loid Forger despite saying his family man persona is just as lovable, implied to be because she's resentful that Yor and Anya brought those genuine emotions from him.
  • Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Misa Hayase was deeply affected by the loss of her beloved fiancé and childhood friend, Riber Fruhling. Later, Minmay's handsome cousin Kaifun enters the scene, and he looks a LOT like a Chinese version of the deceased Riber...
  • Played very darkly in Sword Art Online during the Phantom Bullet arc. Kyouji Shinkawa's crush on Shino Asada is rooted in the fact that she killed someone in real life with a real gun, not realizing how much this event traumatized her and that it's not something she's proud of in the least.
  • Tiger & Bunny: Played for tragedy when the focus of the episode turns to Sky High. During a slump in his superheroics, he falls in Love at First Sight with a beautiful girl he meets at the park, and his conversations with her help him work through his issues. Unfortunately, the girl in question, Cis, was a malfunctioning android, and everything she said to him was the result of simplistic conversational programming. When Cis goes berserk because of her damaged programming, her artificial skin burns off, and a freshly re-moralized Sky High destroys the rampaging robot. The next day, he goes back to the park with a bouquet of flowers to thank Cis...
  • Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Tough for Mobs: Conversed Trope. Julius gives Angelica, and Noelle gives Loic, a "The Reason You Suck" Speech for seeing them like this. They each ask the other party to name something they like and Angelica and Loic each fail.
  • The Vision of Escaflowne:
    • Everyone assumes Allan Schezar is attracted to slender young ingenues (borderline-legal in Japan, criminal almost everywhere else). Hints revealed later indicate that they are all Replacement Goldfish—specifically, replacements for his little sister whom he was unable to rescue in his youth.
    • Hitomi's attraction to Allen Schezar was partly caused by his extreme similarity (both physical and personality-wise) to her beloved Amano-sempai, her long-time crush in school.
  • Since the plot of The World God Only Knows revolves around having Keima make girls fall in love with him for their own good, there's going to be a lot of this. In fact, he seems to do it intentionally. He projects whatever personality they want to see in him so that they become attracted while he helps them solve whatever problems created a gap for them in the first place. Only two targets and the supernatural characters avert this.

    Comic Books 
  • Anya's Ghost: Like many typical teenage girls, Anya is infatuated with the Big Man on Campus, Sean, a handsome and popular sports star, and seeks Emily’s help to win him for herself. However, her infatuation vanishes when she discovers that the guy she has been pining for is a Manipulative Bastard who preys on his girlfriend’s insecurities so he can cheat on her constantly with her knowledge and even her help.
  • In Batgirl (Rebirth), Batgirl tells a childhood friend in love with her alter ego that he doesn't know anything about Barbara's current self.
    Kai: I'm sorry. I never meant... I love her.
    Batgirl: You don't even know her, Kai. You're in love with a memory.
  • Batman villain Jervis Tetch, the Mad Hatter, is sometimes portrayed as fixating on women (or, if the writer is prepared to go there, girls) who look like the title character of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, convincing himself they're "his" Alice, and then kidnapping and mind-controlling them. In his Joker's Asylum issue, he has a meltdown simply on noticing his current obsession has a name badge saying "Catheryn", because what kind of not-Alice name is that?
  • Convergence:
    • Because the Flashpoint Mera died before Convergence began, Flashpoint Aquaman is looking at her counterparts to find a suitable replacement. He's settled on the pre-Flashpoint Mera in Convergence: Justice League.
    • The Flashpoint Superman, Subject-One, does the same thing with the pre-Flashpoint Lois Lane. He's convinced she's his version of Lois and wants only to save her.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2020): Gamora gives this as the reason she went with Peter Quill rather than Richard Rider. Despite their feelings for one another, Gamora idolized Rich while he was presumed dead, but when he comes back, his Chronic Hero Syndrome scuppers any chance of them being together. It was easier to love him while he was dead.
  • A story from Giant-Size Hulk implies the hulk had a little of this with Caiera in Planet Hulk, as she reminded him of Jarella, another woman from an alien world who loved the Hulk... but Bruce is quick to remind the Hulk that Jarella loved him, not the Hulk.
  • Lois Lane often came across as this towards Superman back during her Stalker with a Crush days.
  • Amora the Enchantress' on-again/off-again fixation with The Mighty Thor showed signs of this.
  • Namor the Sub-Mariner's infatuation with Susan Storm-Richards/The Invisible Woman had a little bit of this on both ends.
  • In the New 52, Mr. Freeze's origin is given this unsettling twist. When Victor Fries was a child he became fascinated with freezing things when his mother almost died after falling through thin ice. As an adult, he became fascinated with Nora Fields, a woman who was cryogenically frozen at age 23 in 1943 when she was diagnosed with a fatal heart condition. At the time she was in the care of Wayne Industries, so Fries applied for a job there just so he could have a chance to study her. He eventually became delusionally obsessed with her and started thinking she was his wife—a nasty change from his more sympathetic DCAU origin. Batman calls out Freeze on his delusional "love" of a woman he doesn't know who is old enough to be his grandmother. Needless to say, this hit Fanon Discontinuity like a brick wall and eventually also hit Canon Discontinuity, with Bruce explicitly stating that Nora is Fries' wife in All-Star Batman.
    • Canon Fries sometimes gets this treatment as well, with Batman questioning if he does his crimes out of love for Nora or just using her as an excuse. In two seperate continuities, Victor has suceeded in curing Nora, only for her to claim that he's only in love with a vague memory of someone he knew years ago, and she is not that person. In both cases however, she Came Back Wrong, and Freeze attributes this disconnect to that.
  • Nightwing gets this all the time.
    • At one point he had upwards of six love interests, all of whom were infatuated with different shadows.
    • Raven feels this way for Nightwing for an arc in Teen Titans when she's permitted to feel emotions for the first time. Starfire has to pull her aside and explain that there are different kinds of love. At first, it looks like they're headed to a different solution, but they end up working things out in a mundane way.
    • This is one of the reasons that Nightwing and Oracle fell apart. She was in love with Robin and he was in love with Batgirl — Nightwing and Oracle's former secret identities.
  • An aborted Supergirl Bronze Age storyline had the titular heroine meeting her childhood boyfriend Dick Malverne. Dick would admit he was still in love with her, and Linda would retort he hasn't seen her in about a decade and doesn't know her anymore.
  • In an old She-Hulk comic, She-Hulk meets an old boyfriend who introduced her to his new girlfriend who looked just like She-Hulk only not so green. The two women glared at each other.
  • Spider-Man: A good number of Spider-Man's romances with anyone other than Mary Jane Watson are this. Either his love interests like Peter Parker or hate Spider-Man, or like Spider-Man but don't care for the Peter Parker side of him, leading few of them to really get to know the real him and be completely honest with each other:
    • The Black Cat was in love with Spider-Man and only Spider-Man; she had no interest in the man under the mask when Peter revealed his identity to her. She eventually grew to love Peter for himself, but by that time their relationship was long over and Peter was Happily Married to Mary Jane.
    • This is also the case for the Peter-Gwen romance, at least Depending on the Writer. In Tom Beland's one-shot "Web of Romance", Peter actually reflects this about his feelings for Gwen and how it compares to his relationship with Mary Jane (who's always been insecure about being a replacement for Gwen). Peter notes that with Gwen, he was always tense, nervous because of how emotional she was, never entirely relaxed, and that he was never able to be honest and open with her in the way he is with Mary Jane, and his feelings for his wife are greater than they were for Gwen.
    • In Ultimate Spider-Man, when Peter is in a relationship with Kitty Pryde during one of the breakups between him and MJ, he talks about Kitty to MJ (now Amicable Exes) and how she finds it easier to be in a relationship with Spider-Man rather than Peter Parker, then reflects that "she doesn't know me". He and Kitty do become close friends later on but at that point, while Kitty never stops having feelings for him, there's never a possibility of a relationship between them.
  • Watchmen: In a platonic example, Rorschach greatly admires and respects his father, considering him to be a good man. However, it's later revealed that his father walked out on his mother before he was born and Rorschach has never actually met the man.
  • X-Men:
    • Cyclops' unfortunate involvement with Madelyn Pryor (AKA: the clone of Jean Grey) was very much this. Note that it was originally intended to be a Decon-Recon Switch—Scott fell for a girl who coincidentally looked like his dead love, the girl called him out on it, and eventually, he came to love her for who she really is. Then Executive Meddling kicked in...
    • Wolverine's infatuation with Jean Grey, and redheads in general, has traces of this. Deep down he never got over Rose, his first (unrequited) love and one of his first (accidental) victims.
    • Colossus refused to see his sister Illyana as anything but his beloved little "snowflake" even after it was clear to everyone else that her time in Limbo and her transformation into a demon sorceress had changed her for the worse (it was even a factor in ruining his renewed romance with Kitty Pryde). Illyana got fed up with this and manipulated Colossus into temporarily becoming the new Juggernaut to teach him a lesson. In her own words, "there are no snowflakes in Hell." When Colossus realizes that she tricked him into becoming the servant of a God of Evil and let him suffer when she could have freed him at any time, he acknowledges that she's become a monster and vows to kill her the next time they meet.
  • The Grimm Fairy Tales version of Sleeping Beauty features this. The princess' curse is naturally meant to be cured with True Love's Kiss, with the catch that anyone who kisses her with impure intentions gets destroyed. After several princes try and fail, a peasant succeeds in kissing her with true love. The problem is, his love is only pure because he's in love from a distance and doesn't know the princess' true nature...and as soon as he realizes how spoiled and selfish she really is, the peasant renounces his love, and the curse reactivates to destroy him and permanently imprison the princess.

    Fan Works 

  • Played to tear-jerking effect in Children of Time: Beth Lestrade is in love with Sherlock Holmes, but Holmes himself changes until there's hardly anything left of himself. Beth still loves the real Sherlock Holmes, but that Sherlock Holmes no longer exists. As for Holmes's response to her pleas, it doesn't get much colder than this:
    I suggest you relay your message to his shade, wherever it may roam, and cease to bore me with your melodramatic sentiments.
  • Dawn Comes on the Sunset Sea: Marcus tells Robb that Theon only thinks he's in love with Ros, when it's purely a matter of physical attraction. If they were truly in love, Marcus asserts, Theon wouldn't have to pay for her affection.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: Venna's crush on Snyder, is something along these lines, according to Snyder. Other characters, however, seem to find it cute, and occasionally tease him/arrange for them to be alone together.
  • The Infinite Loops can have this, as every reality reboots various Loopers coming Awake for the first time have to deal with the Loopers that have been around for so much longer.
    • A particularly tragic case involves Chrysalis, whose first loop Awake was a variant in which she was married to a nonAwake Shining Armor. The Looping Shining Armor is, as per canon, married to Cadence.
  • The Many Dates of Danny Fenton: Katie Kaboom's interest in Danny formed due to a series of misunderstandings.
  • Arrow: Rebirth:
    • Tommy's affection for Laurel gradually degrades into this the longer he spends with the League. Even Ra's al Ghul can't help but note that Tommy doesn't love her so much as lust after her.
    • After Felicity dies and Oliver learns that she was plotting to murder Laurel, Oliver gradually comes to the realization that he never loved the real Felicity, but rather the good person he wanted her to be. Later commentary suggests that none of Team Arrow knew and cared for the real Felicity either.
    • Quentin realizes this was his relationship with Dinah after he learns that she refused to return to Starling, even after Sara came back, in the previous timeline. As he puts it, she never really wanted their family at all.
      Quentin: I really was in love with a mirage.
  • Forging a Better Future: During one of Oliver's therapy sessions, his therapist and him discuss relationships, and Oliver comes to the realization that his relationship with Felicity checks off every attribute of a Trophy Husband-relationship — proving that she never really loved him but rather the idea of being the Green Arrow's wife. This, along with his lingering love for Laurel, is why Oliver chooses not to pursue a relationship with her again. This only becomes even more obvious with The Reveal that Felicity had brainwashing powers and essentially forced him into a relationship with her, proving she was more concerned with living her personal fantasy than whatever feelings he had.
  • These Foolish Things: Oliver admits that this is a major issue with him. He keeps trying to look for perfection in himself and in his significant others, and the entire situation with Felicitynote  forces him to accept that he's not going to find it and that he needs to stop chasing after a fantasy and start living in real life.
  • What It Takes:
    • In one of Oliver's dreams, his father Robert reveals that his relationship with Isabel was more of a byproduct of a Hollywood Mid-Life Crisis. He wised up after Thea fell off her horse, and realized that if he stayed with her he'd be missing out on his family, on being there when they needed him.
    • Oliver initially believes that his relationship with Felicity isn't this, as he cares about her far more than his father ever cared about Isabel, since she was his friend and teammate before she became his lover. And then he finds out she's been lying to him for months and let their friends and loved ones out to dry in order to maintain their relationship and keep him "safe". So it is a case of this, just in a different way than Robert's relationship with Isabel. Whereas Robert chased after Isabel to feel young, Oliver wanted a genuine relationship with the person he thought Felicity was, instead of the selfish Control Freak she actually was.
  • Cross Ange The Knight Of Hilda: Salia develops an infatuation with Rio, seeing him as a Prince Charming/Knight in Shining Armor of sorts without really knowing him as a person. Her craving for genuine affection leads her to actually jump on Rio to try to seduce him, while he for his part is angry when she does this and tells her she's just confused.
  • Everyday Life with Ultimate Girls: Chisa sincerely believed that Kyosuke wanted her to help everyone at Hope's Peak by exposing how corrupt the Steering Committee was, for the sake of the students and staff. Then she learns that Kyosuke's real plans are to Blackmail the Steering Committee into making him the new Headmaster, with the intent of turning Hope's Peak into an Assimilation Academy. He never cared about any of the people there beyond how he could profit from their existence. Upon learning this, the horrified Chisa immediately falls out of love with him.
  • Hope on a Distant Mountain: Over time, Makoto begins to wonder whether he was falling in love with the Kyouko Kirigiri that he met inside the D-course simulation. As it turns out, his real classmates aren't quite the same as the fictional versions; in particular, Kyouko has a much nastier grudge against her father, and is willing to go to extreme lengths to hurt the headmaster, not caring who else gets caught in the crossfire.
  • Danny Phantom: Lost Episodes Series: Royal Pain has Danny realize that Paulina Thinks Like a Romance Novel and is projecting that onto Danny Phantom, picturing him as the Knight in Shining Armor that she's destined to marry. This enables him to let go of his own crush on her, which he recognizes was just as shallow.
  • Danny Phantom: Stranded:
    • In Lost, Johnathan admits that his love for Stella blinded him to how she was nothing more than a self-absorbed Rich Bitch until it was too late.
    • Missing: Poindexter had a crush on one of his classmates, but didn't know anything about her. He's surprised to learn that she became a race car driver, and that she married somebody who used to be a "tinkerer" rather than a football star like he'd assumed.
    • In Envied, Meilin calls out Shi on this, declaring that she'll no longer be "the shadow he loves".
  • In Resurrected Memories: Ember spends some time worrying that Danny is an inverted case of this, fearing that he only likes her alter ego “Amberline” over her.
  • In Big Brother Hal Explains It All, Razer fears that he is only attracted to Aya because she modeled herself after his late wife, Ilana. Hal is able to convince Razer that he likes Aya for who she is rather than what she looks like, while also warning him that he'll skin him alive if he hurts her.
  • Tyrantly Ever After:
    • Artina suggests that this is one of Fenrich's biggest problems: rather than loving his Lord Valvatorez for who he is, he's besotted with his own ideas of what he could become, building grandiose plans around him taking his 'rightful position' at the top of Hades and regaining his former powers... while ignoring what Valvatorez himself wants.
    • She also points out that Valvatorez has a similar issue when it comes to her. In his head, he's got this idealized image of the woman he made his promise to, and struggles to accept her flaws. Even as she becomes more willing to pursue a potential relationship with him, she insists on delaying it until he's able to break past that mindset and accept her as who she is.
  • Darkness Burning: Due to Anna's desperate desire to feel loved by anyone, she tends to latch onto her suitors very swiftly, besotted with the idea that they're the ones who can fill that void. This winds up repelling most of them.
  • In the Frozen (2013) fanfic The Torn Prince, Anna and Hans are instantly attracted to each other, causing Hans to impulsively propose. Later, Lars forces Hans to admit that he is merely deprived of love and to the point of seeing Anna as less of an object of affection but rather an escape from his miserable life. Later, Hans also forces Anna to admit that she only fell in love with the idea of him. But during the months they spend together while Anna is ill in the Southern Isles, they gradually get to know each other and genuinely grow to love each other.
  • Return to Krocodile Isle: Inverted; K. Rool is essentially hating a shadow. His image of Donkey Kong is of a stoic, almost Batman-esque superhero who understands and reciprocates K. Rool's personal hatred for him. In reality, DK is the same absent-minded goof as in the TV show and completely forgot that K. Rool existed until he was back in front of him in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
  • This isn't actually happening in All This Sh*t is Twice as Weird, but one of the Big Bad's minions tries to make the Lady Inquisitor think it is; the Nightmare implies that the people around her only care about her for what they think she is, and not for her as a person. She's not wholly convinced, but since she's already suffering a Crisis of Faith at this point, she can't easily dismiss the idea either.
  • The Savior King, the Master Tactician and the Queen of Liberation: Edelgard’s canonical crush with Byleth is reimagined as this. When Thales offhandedly mentions that Byleth is in a relationship with Claude and Dimitri, she’s left devastated by the revelation. However, Edelgard has shown to be someone who disregards any kind of dissenting opinion, including Byleth's, and as a result; her connection with her is flimsy compared to Byleth’s connection to both Claude and Dimitri. Her heartbreak also has elements of entitlement; essentially, she “loves” Byleth, but she doesn’t truly know her in any meaningful way.
  • Pray for Us, Icarus has a complicated example with Aziraphale and Crowley when the latter begins to reincarnate as a human: while Aziraphale does genuinely love Crowley, he keeps wishing that the Crowley he's with was the demon who remembers the six millennia of their shared experiences on Earth instead of a human who has no memories of their past. As a result, while he's still happier with Crowley than he is with anyone else, he can't be fully happy with a Crowley who doesn't remember what they used to be.
    The truth was that he found himself wishing it was the real Crowley who lay with him afterwards, murmuring softness against his neck, running worshipful fingers over his chest and stomach. Wishing those eyes were as gold and glimmering as they should be, wishing that smile was weighted with all their centuries together, wishing that Crowley would call him angel, would call him by his true name. Wishing they'd found a way to do this long, long ago. Wondering if they would ever have the chance now, or if this pale echo was all he could hope for.
  • Pacifica's Revenge: Tyrone believes his mother Tracy was a deeply loving woman who expressed her devotion through all manner of small gestures before she and Dipper divorced, and gets very distressed whenever anyone insults or badmouths her. In reality, Tracy is a Gold Digger who only married Dipper because he'd gotten rich working for NASA. When they divorced, she took everything she could from Dipper, aside from the debts she'd wracked up and custody of their son.
  • In Be Careful, Lily Evans calls out the canon incarnation of Snape on this, stating that he never really cared about her as his friend so much as the fantasies he'd woven around her.
  • Princess of the Blacks: When the Potters attempt to reconcile with their estranged daughter, Jen calls them out on this. Not only were they the ones who abandoned her in the first place, they only want the girl they've imagined in her stead back, not the one she's grown up to be.
    Jen: Let's be honest, James, Lily. You don't want me... You want the daughter you could have had, once upon a time. A daughter who acts and thinks like you do and does things you approve of. That's just not going to happen with me. The daughter you're looking for would be like the late Ginny Weasley, a nice, polite Gryffindor girl who supports the Light as the epitome of everything that is good and right in the world and looks forward to being a housewife. I'm a dark witch who worships Death and whose interest is rediscovering lost and forgotten magics. That's who you keep saying you want to bring into your family.
  • In Be the Sea Dweller Lowblood, Karkat's large number of hate-based flings are because he hates himself so much that anyone who can tell him how he's a failure and a fake can turn him on.
  • Herding Cats:
    • Eridan projects all of his ideas of what Feferi should be onto her. Nepeta calls him out on it.
    • This also turns out to be why Sollux wouldn't fully commit to his relationship with Feferi. He'd been in love with Aradia, but believed they were unobtainable after she was killed and subsequently possessed a robot. Feferi reminded him of the way the other used to be, so he was trying to make himself feel flushed for her and become her matesprit, only to find that it wasn't working.
  • Equal Romance 02: Obscure Ways to Devotion has Kim start dating Josh Mankey after she essentially ends her friendship with Ron, but even before she realises that she cut Ron out of her life due to a misunderstanding, she realises that her attraction to Josh was purely superficial. When they actually spend time together, Kim and Josh can't truly engage with the other's interests and end up in their own groups when out at social events, to say nothing of Josh never truly supporting Kim the way Ron always would, culminating in the two of them breaking up at the Winter Formal.
  • The Touch of Green Fire: Josh Mankey's decreased relevance as the series went on is explained as being due to this. Kim thought she liked him because she figured she was supposed to, not because of genuine attraction. She moved on when he began dating someone else on the cheer squad.
  • Several characters in no grave can hold my body down:
    • Rachel loves the goddess of Arcadia Bay, but only as a goddess—not as a real flawed human whose power doesn't define her. Upon seeing the 'real' Max for the first time, Rachel has no idea what to do or say.
    • Out of loneliness, Chloe projects her romantic feelings for Max onto Rachel.
      "When I touched your face to kiss you, you tilted your head down," Rachel says, and she takes her hands away. She doesn't look mad, and Chloe wishes she did. She just looks perplexed. "I'm an inch taller than you. It's not me. There's someone else."
  • Weightless: Shepard spent 17 years in love with Nihlus because he was the first person who was nice to her. But later, she realized that she never knew about him as he had never let her in and that she was just in love with the idea of him.
  • In general, it's very common for fanfics to Deconstruct the Loves My Alter Ego plot of the series by claiming either Adrien or Marinette (or both) are actually only in love with an idea of their partner, and not the real person. Typically this is either used to break up the pairing in favor of the author's prefered ship (particularly vindictive authors might use it to outright demonize whichever character they dislike in favor of the romantic partner they're using instead), or in more benign examples, allows for a more healthy and honest relationship to form once they get over their preconceptions. These also tend to run on the assumption that "Ladybug" and "Adrien" are fronts the characters put up, with "Marinette" and "Chat Noir" being more indicative of their real personalities, leading to this trope.
  • NeutralMime's Chameleon: alternate ending has this come into play during the 'Adrien version'. In short, Marinette informs Adrien of how she almost got akumatized after Lila threatened her in the bathroom. Adrien opts to focus on the almost and declares she just proved that she's strong enough to handle Lila without exposing her lying to the others. Then he learns that Lila was the one who'd stolen his father's book, nearly getting him yanked out of school, and promptly turns around and outs her himself. Seeing how abruptly he changed his tune upon realizing he was personally affected, Marinette realizes how self-centered he is and is left wondering what she ever thought she saw in him.
  • Chloé's Lament: Due to Chloé being his Only Friend when they were younger, Adrien has convinced himself that he knows her better than the classmates she's been bullying for years. It takes her betraying the heroes and taking over Paris as Miracle Queen for him to finally recognize just how spoiled and self-absorbed she is, along with her complete Lack of Empathy for others.
  • I See What You Do Behind Closed Doors:
    • Adrien is in love with the idea of Ladybug — namely, in the version of her that exists only inside the confines of his head, where she's merely "Playing Hard to Get" when she rejects his unwanted advances and is secretly into him. In fact, he is so besotted with her that he starts dating Marinette purely because he notices that she happens to resemble the object of his affections, unaware that she IS Ladybug.
    • For her part, Marinette loves the boy she believes Adrien to be: a kind, compassionate young man whom she can count upon for support. Once they start dating, however, it doesn't take long for her to see Beneath the Mask — especially after he tells her that he's Chat Noir.
  • The Karma of Lies: Marinette realizes that Adrien isn't the sweet, empathetic boy she'd thought he was when he not only refuses to do anything about Lila, but outright ignores her pain. Even when she confesses point-blank how she's on the verge of breaking down under the stress of being systematically isolated from her peers, he just smiles and 'reassures' her that she's strong enough to handle it, making clear that he has no intention of listening to anything she has to say on the matter.
  • Leave for Mendeleiev: Aurore believes Adrien to be a Nice Guy who's a bit sheltered due to being a Lonely Rich Kid, and that he hasn't noticed how badly she's crushing on him. In reality, he's a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing who's deliberately feigning ignorance about her crush, being completely uninterested — the only reason he's spending any time with her in the first place is that he's trying to get closer to Marinette.
  • Long Con has Marinette realize that Adrien's Bystander Syndrome stems from how he's never had to deal with bullying himself before. This leads to her further realizing that she really doesn't know anything about him at all, resulting in her amiciably falling out of love and giving up on her pursuit of him.
  • Marinette Dupain-Cheng's Spite Playlist: Adrien combines this with Love Epiphany after he nearly kisses Marinette, realizing both that he loves her and that he was merely infatuated with the idea of Ladybug and that he was somehow meant to be together with her simply because they were both superheroes.
  • The One to Make It Stay: While she gives up on pursuing Adrien very early on, over time, Marinette comes to realize that her crush on him was actually a case of this and that he wasn't the thoughtful, considerate Pretty Boy she believed him to be. Two incidents during All the Laughs We Had in the Past serve to drive this home:
    • First, she discovers that Adrien is Chat Noir. This allows her to connect all of Chat Noir's entitled, selfish behavior to her former crush, realizing that Adrien is the sort of person who refuses to take 'No' for an answer and has been getting increasingly harder to work with lately due to his mounting jealousy of Viperion and the other heroes.
    • Second, she learns that Adrien found out about her former crush on him when he overheard her and Alya arguing at the museum... and not only did he decide not to do anything with that knowledge, he actually blames her for it. The fact that he sees himself as the victim in that situation proves to her beyond any shadow of a doubt that he's hopelessly self-absorbed.
    • Adrien's feelings towards Ladybug, meanwhile, are another good example of this, though he fails to recognize that himself. To his mind, Ladybug is destined to be his partner, and he firmly believes that if he just persists long enough, she'll have to return his feelings. This leads him to blame her for the mounting tension between them, and ultimately ensures that he loses the ring to Miracle Queen when she disguises herself as Ladybug and pretends to reciprocate. Despite how he'd literally just had a huge argument with the real Ladybug, he accepts the Mirage because it's precisely what he wants to see: Ladybug giving in and doing what he wants.
  • Of Patience and Pettiness:
    • Marinette fell for Adrien in the first place out of the belief that he was empathetic and compassionate. However, she reevaluates his character after he fails to help her with Lila, realizing that he tends to prioritize coddling the bullies than helping their victims, and didn't care if she was hurting so long as she didn't do anything that threatened the illusion of 'peace' in their class.
    • Adrien's situation plays around with this. While he comes to realize that he didn't love Ladybug so much as he loved the idea of her — the fictional version that he'd created inside his head — he blames her for this. There's also the Dramatic Irony of his decision to move on by switching targets to Marinette, unaware that she's the same girl he originally pursued... and proceeding to make the exact same mistake of idealizing her and ignoring the fact that she's no longer interested.
  • Soulmate Survey: Adrienne is completely attached to the idealized image she's built around Adrien. When she gets akumatized into Fandoom, Ladybug calls her out on this, simply asking "Do you know him?"
  • Tales of Karmic Lies Aftermath: In Ladybug: Miraculous Journey, Bridgette's crush upon Felix leaves her convinced that he's much nicer than he actually is. It takes his complete Lack of Empathy when she recounts how scared she was when Chat Noir threatened to kill her in a Shoot the Hostage situation for her to realize just how wrong she was... while completely unaware that Felix is Chat Noir.
  • Two Letters:
    • After harassing Ladybug with his unwanted advances for roughly two years, Chat Noir finally gave up and switched targets to Marinette, right as Ladybug was so broken down that she was starting to grow receptive to his advances. When Luka points out that this makes it look as though he was only interested in the challenge, Adrien denies it, while declaring that Ladybug should have just accepted he wasn't interested anymore and moved on despite refusing to do so himself for so long.
    • Adrien's infatuation with Marinette is also shown to be this; he completely ignores her rebuffing him and spelling out all her reasons for doing so, heavily implying that he intends to claim her as his prize after he's dealt with the new Ladybug and Chat Noir.
    • For her part, Marinette laments having fallen for Adrien's whole "Sunshine Boy" act, angrily questioning how she could have ever seen anything good in such a self-centered Spoiled Brat.
  • Weight Off Your Shoulder:
    • After Chloé's Karma Houdini Warranty runs out, Adrien scolds Marinette and the rest of the class for daring to be happy that she's finally facing consequences for her actions for once, claiming that they should take her feelings into account. This causes Marinette to realize that he was never the empathetic, compassionate young man she'd believed him to be; he repeatedly prioritizes the feelings of bullies like Chloé and Lila over those of their victims, not caring about the pain they're causing to others.
    • Adrien himself eventually realizes that he'd fallen into this with Chloé. Since he knew her back when she was a sweet, Lonely Rich Kid like him, troubled by her mother's Parental Neglect, he convinced himself that he was the only person who knew "the real Chloé" and had to defend her from all her critics. The shock of learning that his father was Hawk/Shadow Moth all along forces him to reevaluate everything he thought he knew, and he realizes that her Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse for being a Spoiled Brat and bullying everyone around her.
  • In What Friends Do, Alya calls Marinette a Hypocrite not just for using the same pushy, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer tactics on Adrien that she gets mad at Chat Noir for doing on her, but for claiming to be above this trope with Adrien, saying she loves him for who he is unlike all Adrien’s other Loony Fans, when in reality, she is also blinded by his status and fame to the point where she still acts like a Stalker with a Crush even after two years, during which time she could have gotten over her nervousness if she’d just approached him and tried to talk to him instead of putting him up on a pedestal.
  • What Goes Around Comes Around: This serves as one of Adrien's Fatal Flaws: rather than recognizing who people actually are, he creates heavily idealized concepts of who he believes they are and ignores anything that suggests otherwise.
    • He believes that Chloé and Lila are just Lonely Rich Kids like him and are only acting out for attention; of course they don't mean to hurt anyone with their tantrums and lies! Rather than being punished or having their misdeeds exposed, they need their victims to Turn the Other Cheek and show them nothing but kindness, compassion and understanding, to the point that he sees Marinette as the real problem.
    • He's also convinced that not only is he entitled to Ladybug/Marinette because they were chosen to bear the 'matched set' of the Ladybug Earrings and Black Cat Ring, but that Marinette must immediately put her own feelings aside and cater entirely to what HE wants in an All Take and No Give relationship as his 'perfect girlfriend'.
    • This also applies to his parents; while both are Control Freaks who see their son as nothing more than an extension of their will, Adrien clings to his insistence that they truly love and care about him, and only have his best interests at heart, despite all evidence to the contrary. It takes Emelie giving him a Breaking Speech about his naivete for the truth to finally sink in.
  • The Wolves in the Woods:
    • Lila sardonically notes how both she and Marinette fell into this trap with Adrien; Marinette believed he was a sweet, sensitive and thoughtful guy after he leant her his umbrella, while Lila was simply interested in his good looks and rich lifestyle. Both learned the hard way that he was actually a self-absorbed Bitch in Sheep's Clothing.
    • Played for Drama when Adrien lets slip that the only reason he dated Kagami was because she happened to look like Ladybug.
    • While Marinette had been gradually coming to terms with this, she's still blindsided upon learning that Adrien is Chat Noir, causing her to realize just how far divorced he was from everything she believed about him.
  • Your Wish is my Command: Even after it becomes evident that the reality-altering Wish she made has created an Adrien who is fiercely independent and unwilling to tolerate her tricks, Lila clings to the image she had of the original Adrien being an Extreme Doormat, and is determined to claim him as her subservient boyfriend.
  • Monster Prom Senior Year: Vicky's crush on Scott is based entirely upon her perception of him rather than who he actually is. Over time, she gradually gets over this.
  • Cain plays this interestingly with Katsuki, as what he admires most about All Might and Pro Heroes is simply their raw power and the idea that they always win. Not how they fight for justice, protect the innocent, or anything connected to moral character; in Katsuki's eyes, all of that is just done for publicity's sake. Due to this, and how he assumes everybody else thinks just like him, Katsuki proves incapable of grasping why Toshinori is so put off by his underhanded efforts to destroy Izuku's dreams and Obliviously Evil behavior. All of All Might's attempts to teach Katsuki what being Heroic is supposed to be about also fail, as Katsuki simply can't fathom the idea that morality — and anyone aside from himself — might actually matter.
  • Crimson and Emerald: Due to how his idol Stain praises Hawks' heroics, Dabi develops a Celebrity Crush on him.
  • Dekugate shows this as one of the perils of fame: All Might may be Loved by All, but many are more invested in what they've projected onto them. For instance, the titular online community is full of Loony Fans who have convinced himself that his marriage is a sham, building an entire narrative around the idea that the HSPC forced him to leave his true love David Shield and made him marry Parakeet, with their son being nothing more than a product the HSPC is shilling. Thus, they spew all manner of hatred and bile towards his wife and son for the high crime of existing and getting in the way of their fantasies.
  • In Izuku's Pro Hero Harem Life, Izuku gives Toga a lecture to this effect when her rehabilitation hits a snag in that she still hasn't internalized why her previous actions and those of the League had to be stopped. Izuku points out Toga only admires an idealized, surface-level understanding of him and doesn't actually know him that well, and puts a temporary moratorium on their meetings. While Izuku assures Toga he's not abandoning her and is committed to helping her get better, Toga obviously doesn't take this well, exclaiming Izuku is supposed to be hers and ending the conversation in tears.
  • Perfect Masks: One of the problems Momo has run into while dating is suitors who only care about her public image as a Pro Hero. One of her relationships failed when she started letting her boyfriend see other, more private and personal facets of herself, only for him to mistake it for a Secret Test of Character:
    Momo: Makoto well, he was entranced by the image of Creati that I had made. When I started showing the other parts of me, the parts that enjoy Britpop Jazz and truly terrible light novels, he flinched and ran. Thought that I was testing his commitment, and he wasn't going to put up with that in a relationship.
  • With Confidence: After All Might breaks his own pedestal by telling Izuku that he can't become a hero without a Quirk, Izuku calmly admits to him that he really liked the idea of having somebody like his idol support his dreams. But of course, he'd only ever seen what Toshinori presented to the media, not knowing what the real All Might was like... until now.
  • All The Way Back: Princess Luna recognizes that her feelings for Twilight Sparkle may have roots in this, as Twilight is the unknowing reincarnation of her One True Love Dusk Skyshine.
  • In the comic Ascension, Celestia starts flirting with Golden Vellum right away. However, it's more due to him being a stallion from outside of town than because she actually likes him. Celestia doesn't get to interact with many from outside her village.
  • Androgyninja's A Drop of Poison:
    • Sakura realizes early on that she'd fallen into this with Sasuke; after getting paired off for a training match at the Academy, Sasuke gets upset at her managing a Curb Stomp Cushion and declares that civilian-born shinobi are nothing more than glorified Cannon Fodder. This sparks her recognizing that he's an Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy, and her crush on him soon dissipates.
    • Naruto struggles with this as well; while he's nicer to Sakura than Sasuke is, he doesn't really see her for who she is. He's so far out of touch with her that he's completely blindsided by the revelation that she's been forced to kill on several of their missions, and angrily calls her out for the Crime of Self-Defense... which only serves to convince her that he never really cared about her at all.
  • A Growing Affection:
    • Hinata admits that her initial infatuation with Naruto fell into this; she didn't know him very well at all back in the Academy, and was more in love with the idea of him. That led to a dramatic misunderstanding where she thought she overheard him insulting her, spurring her Anguished Declaration of Love. Happily, the two are able to work things out, building a friendship that makes their eventual romance all the stronger.
    • Naruto also accuses Sakura of this when she comes on to him, saying she doesn't know anything about him other than that he used to have a crush on her that he's since gotten over.
  • Space to Breathe:
    • While Sakura was originally thrilled that she ended up on the same team as Sasuke, spending so much time around her crush forced her to realize just how much she'd been projecting her own desires onto him. Not only was he completely uninterested in her, he proved to be so self-absorbed that she started worrying whether she could trust him as a teammate, let alone a potential love interest. What's left of her crush crumbles apart around the time that she transfers out of Team Seven and takes an apprenticeship under Ibiki.
    • Naruto has a similar problem when it comes to Sakura herself. Rather than appreciating her for who she is, he's more invested in the notion of her being a prize he can win, somebody he's competing with Sasuke to win over... despite Sasuke's complete disinterest. Sakura eventually calls him out on it.
  • What You Knead: Spending time with her new teammates forces Sakura to recognize that she didn't really know Sasuke that well at all, and was fawning after the idealized image she'd created of him. The fact that Sasuke recklessly endangered her life during the Bell Test by attacking Kakashi while he had a kunai near her neck didn't help much, either.
  • Advice and Trust:
    • Asuka had a crush on her guardian Kaji because she longed for being acknowledged and treated as an adult and he was the only decent father figure she had known. After hooking up with Shinji and realizing Kaji was infatuated with Misato, she dropped her crush right away.
    • Ritsuko was in love with Gendo but she did not know him at all.
    • At the same time she thinks Maya's crush on her is idol worship because Maya did not know her real self.
  • The Death of One:
    • Asuka decides that sleeping with Ikari would enable her to have some memory of "making love to Shinji". Ikari angrily rejects her advances, declaring that he's his own person.
    • Ikari also asks Rei if she sees him as a replacement for Shinji, she asserts that he's his own person. However, she later admits that she did indeed love Shinji, and got together with Ikari out of loneliness.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion: Genocide, Ritsuko is angry and spiteful because she's realized Gendo wasn't the person she believed he was, and he actually never loved her.
  • The One I Love Is...: Asuka had a crush on Kaji because he was handsome and manly. Later on, she admits that he wasn't the person that she believed that he was.
  • The Second Try: After maturing a bit, Asuka admits to Shinji and herself that she didn't really love Kaji. She had a "delusional crush" on him because he represented the adult world that she wanted to be a part of. In a scene, while she sleeps with Shinji, Asuka wonders about the difference between being in love and thinking you're in love.
    "But what if there weren't other people? Who could judge if you were in love or if you'd just experience a crush on someone; if you just think you are in love?"
  • In Straight Through, Yosuke becomes infatuated with Yukari in much the same way he did with Saki before, much to Yukari's annoyance.
  • Beyond the Winding Road: Both Anderson and Gilbert have difficulty looking past the "half-truth of a superimposed image" they paint on Oz.
    • Andy loves his brother Lewis, but doesn't understand his connection to Oz Vessalius or how it's shaped his identity as Oz worked through his reincarnation-induced Disassociative Identity Disorder. He also doesn't understand why Lewis now chooses to go by Oz, seeing it as the name of his alternate personality.
    • Gilbert, meanwhile, is eternally devoted to Oz Vessalius, but doesn't know anything about Lewis "Oz" Tale or how the last fifteen years of his reincarnated life has shaped him into who he is today.
  • Ash's Coma reimagines the anime as Adventures in Comaland. While Misty was based off somebody he's seen in real life, he didn't actually know her, and her personality is entirely his own invention.
  • The drabble Fix You explores this with Serena and Misty. As both of them knew Ash in different stages of his life, Serena has a hard time accepting the less-than-nice aspects of his personality. Misty calls her out on it, telling her she's made herself a "perfect" image of Ash and proceeds to tell her she never saw him when he was brash, selfish, a bit of a Sore Loser, and prone to Unsportsmanlike Gloating. The implication is that Misty is aware of Ash's flaws, yet she accepts them as a part of him and loves him nonetheless. It's also somewhat downplayed in that Serena's feelings are no less genuine than Misty's, but she acknowledges that she needs to know Ash more.
  • Power Rangers GPX: Pink Ranger Hitomi has a crush on Red Ranger Sean, but as the narration points out, she was enamored with what he represented, freedom from her strict family. He was never once interested in her except as a little sister figure and instead fell in love with Yellow Ranger Maria Aparicio. Unlike some other examples, Hitomi is a graceful loser and eventually finds real love with an elf girl.
  • Aunt Salem: The Cult of Salem's followers have a zealous devotion to Jaune. But it isn't Jaune the person they are enamored with, but with the child of the family whom Salem has blessed. They thus imagine Jaune as having far more power and prowess than he actually does. Jaune himself is disappointed and exasperated by all this, thinking he is getting praise and help he hasn't actually earned. Only Ren avoids this.
  • In Learning To Bloom, Weiss' crush on Neptune is compared to Jaune's crush on Weiss (which only lasted a few weeks). It's a surface-level attraction based on his looks and charisma. Weiss' feelings for Neptune wither quickly after realizing he's not what she imagined him as, but she still continues to date him because she wants to make their relationship work. In the end, she ends up leaving him for Pyrrha.
  • Raise: Weiss' attraction towards Jaune stems mainly from the stories she's seen and heard about him resurrecting others, and she seems incapable of separating said powers from his identity. When he suggests taking a day off so that they can celebrate his birthday together, she's aghast at the notion that he would "let people die". Later, after he's exhausted nearly all of his Aura resurrecting victims of a White Fang attack, she protests Elm suggesting that he take a break, insisting that he can surely save at least one more person. Willow tells her outright that she doesn't love Jaune at all, merely the idea of him and what he can accomplish with his abilities.
  • A Thorn Amongst The Flowers: Luo Binghe forces Shen Qingqiu to marry him after getting a glimpse of another world in which the man doted on him. Shen Qingqiu is thoroughly disgusted to learn this and bluntly tells the half-demon that he's infatuated with a mirage.
  • Done in The Prime Minister's epic series about the relationship between Xellos and Lina Inverse. After the Anime series, Lina and Gourry are in a romantic relationship. During Amelia and Zelgadis' wedding, the two have a fight, resulting in Lina leaving Gourry because she is afraid of commitment, which Gourry wants after being with her for over a year. She runs into Xellos and the two have an affair that leads to two children over the years while having many adventures together. However, Lina grows to resent and hate Xellos, because she believes he tricked her and longs to be with Gourry again, even naming her son after him. This leads to many fights between the two over a long period of time. It's not until Lina meets him again over a decade later that she realized she left Gourry because she truly didn't love him like he still loved her, and she chose to be with Xellos, because she does love him, but couldn't bring herself to admit it once again because of fearing commitment and being dependent on another person.
  • Bequeathed from Pale Estates makes clear that Robert never really loved the real Lyanna by having him develop a lustful attraction towards her niece/daughter Lyarra, simply because he sees her as being a "perfected" version of Lyanna in terms of appearance.
  • In What If...? Catelyn Tully, Catelyn, in a moment of rage after an argument she had with Ned over Jon, makes a wish that Ned's brother Brandon, to whom she was originally betrothed and courted by, didn't die. She then wakes up in her childhood bedroom as her younger self in an alternate timeline where the Mad King Aerys II died earlier on, allowing Rhaegar to become king and avoid the events that led to Brandon's death and Robert's Rebellion. She's initially ecstatic, only to quickly realize she didn't really know Brandon all that well outside of their brief meetings, with things rapidly degrading into an Awful Wedded Life.
  • In There and Back Again, Jon Arryn believes Robert is simply projecting the torch he still carries for the late Lyanna (whom he never really knew as a person) onto Sansa as a Replacement Goldfish when the latter announces he'll betroth himself to her after finding out about Cersei's affair with Jaime.
  • Unbreakable Red Silken Thread: Cody realizes his feelings for Gwen were this after a talk with Noah.
  • Transformers Animated: Cybertronian Genesis: Elita-1 was the love of Optimus Prime's lifecycle, which is why, no matter how hard tries, he cannot seem to let go of Blackarachnia. However, as far as Blackarachnia is concerned, Elita-1 is dead. Even more, there is evidence that suggests that the Elita Optimus loved never existed in the first place.
  • Notably both Clone!Sakura and Real!Syaoran avert this in Shatterheart as they both refused to do this. While they both realize that the other is similar to their lover, they realize the other is too different to be their actual love.
  • Verdigris: Glinda shows some attraction to men, but it's predominantly with the image of them more than anything. Her feelings for Fiyero wither the moment they have sex.
  • Shadowchasers Series: Kyon Rokudai is instantly smitten with Ace and constantly tries to help and woo her, but she mostly ignores him. In Shadowchasers: Tournament of Shadows, Ace reveals herself to be a lesbian when she falls in love with Kenshin. Kyon is furious and has the audacity to call Ace ungrateful for ignoring him, but several characters confront him with the fact that he never actually knew her and made an image of her in his mind. For example, he assumed that if he acts like her gallant knight and hero then he'll sweep her off her feet, but she is a tomboy and fighter who doesn't need men to save her (even if she wasn't a lesbian). He also assumed she's a fan of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but she's not.
  • Rivals Series: Viktor's initial feelings for Yuuri are based entirely on who he perceived him to be, rather than who Yuuri actually is. It takes the two temporarily living together in Moscow for Viktor to see past his preconceptions, ultimately falling in love with Yuuri the person rather than his imagined ideal.

    Films — Animation 
  • It could be taken that in 9, 5 gets so attached to 9 so quickly because he reminds him somewhat of 2, especially considering how much he muses about 2 the first couple of times they're together, his "You know, you're just like him—you forget to be scared!" line, and the fact that 2 is killed shortly after they meet.
  • Frozen (2013): Anna falls for Hans and agrees to marry him quickly because she's desperate for affection when the person to whom she really wants to be close again is her sister Elsa (not in that way). After reconciling with her sister and seeing that Hans is not the Prince Charming he made himself out to be, she's able to move on and actually spends time getting to know her new Love Interest Kristoff before getting into a serious commitment with him.
  • Strange Magic: Marianne, when commiserating on her love life with The Bog King, admits that she didn't really know her ex-fiancé Roland because she was blinded by his good looks.
  • The Super Mario Bros. Movie: Bowser never really saw Peach as a person so much as a literal object of his affection to make himself happy. The moment Peach personally ruins said chance for happiness, he has no problems trying to kill her.
  • Non-romantic example in Toy Story 4: Gabby Gabby is an antique doll who was never played with because she was defective right out of the box. She eventually ended up in an antiques store and became fixated on the store owner's granddaughter Harmony, probably because she looked like the little girl in the storybook she was sold with and was the only kid she saw regularly. She believed Harmony was the perfect owner although she’s shown to be fairly careless and probably a little spoiled as her grandma let her take whatever toy she wanted from the store free of charge, and her driving motivation is to replace her faulty voice box so she can finally be with Harmony. When she actually does manage to get Woody’s voice box Harmony casually tosses her aside, leaving her devastated. Fortunately she finds a child who appreciates her soon after.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In American Graffiti, Curt sees a beautiful woman in the next car and spends most of the movie trying to meet her. He knows literally nothing about her. When describing her to people, one person thinks that she's a married woman, while another identifies her with a prostitute; in both cases, Curt refuses to believe that they have the right girl, apparently just because he doesn't want it to be true. His ultimate decision to stop chasing her ties into his overall arc about needing to find an adult life outside of town.
    • Note that, in an earlier version, this trope would have been more literal: the movie was going to open with the girl, except that she was transparent, indicating that she wasn't real, just Curt's idea of a perfect woman.
  • Rob Gordon in High Fidelity realizes this about Charlie, his third ex. He spends most of the movie reminiscing about how fantastic, and sophisticated, and amazing, and profoundly intellectual, and out of his league she was—back when they dated in college—until he finally sees her again after having grown up a bit. It would be an understatement to say Rob discovers how utterly boring and shallow and repulsive she truly is and always was.
  • One of the waitresses in I Really Hate My Job wonders if her crush on Danny Huston is just this. Then she shrugs it off with wondering if he'd fall in love with her.
  • Subverted in Laura. When it turns out she is alive, she is what the detective hoped she would be.
  • Nurse Betty: Charlie falls in love with an idealized version of the woman he is chasing and argues with any suggestions that conflict with his opinion of her. This constantly annoys and baffles his partner Wesley. Ultimately, it turns into an oddly touching You Are Better Than You Think You Are speech during their last confrontation.
  • In There's Something About Mary, Ted explains that none of the guys pursuing Mary love her, but are fixated on her "because of the way [she] makes them feel about themselves".
  • A tragic example is Scottie's fascination with who he thinks is Madeleine in Vertigo, and his attempt to mold Judy into the same woman, indeed the woman he originally loved was never real to begin with.
  • The main character in While You Were Sleeping nurses a crush on a regular commuter at the train station where she collects tokens. Over the course of the movie, she comes to discover that, while not really a bad man, he's not the man she thought he was and finds herself falling for his brother, whom she gets to know quite well.
  • Bruce Wayne/Batman spends much of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy being stubbornly infatuated with Rachel Dawes, his childhood friend. The two actually have very little in common as adults, outside of wanting Gotham City to be a better place; and though Rachel promised Bruce she would wait for him to finish his work as Batman at the end of Batman Begins, they have even less in the way of chemistry, romantic or otherwise. But Bruce just can't seem to let go of his fixation with Rachel, having put her on too high a pedestal, even after she starts dating Harvey Dent. By the end of The Dark Knight, Rachel herself realizes that she probably had a little bit of this towards Bruce as well and finally realizes that she really isn't in love with Bruce while her heart truly belongs to Dent (which ends tragically for all involved). In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce gets into this again with Miranda Tate, who reminds him of Rachel until the end when she reveals herself to be Talia al Ghul and tries to kill him along with the rest of Gotham. In the end, Bruce finally finds something real with Selina Kyle and starts a new life with her in Italy.
  • Comes up in the James Bond films quite often, since James has never really gotten over losing Vesper and Tracy, the two women in his life he really cared about, and he often finds himself in the company of women who see him as a means to an end and he's not above sleeping with them and/or exploiting their feelings.
  • Princess Uracca had a bit of this towards Rodrigo in El Cid.
  • Zigzagged with Peter Parker's infatuation with Mary Jane Watson in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man Trilogy, where he has put her on something of a pedestal since childhood while she barely seems to know he even exists. However, Peter's also aware that MJ isn't the perfect glamor girl she presents herself as and tries to respect her relationship choices while still offering her his friendship. MJ, for her part, was implied to already be secretly fond of Peter, and ultimately reciprocates his feelings because he genuinely cares about and wants to get to know her. Though the third film shows how their respective issues complicate their relationship.
    • MJ's initial boyfriends are a straighter example, as she breaks up with them when it turns out they're more interested in the image of her than her true self.
  • In (500) Days of Summer, it's made clear in the movie and by Word of God that Tom is fixated on an idealized version of Summer as his desired Manic Pixie Dream Girl and doesn't see the actual flawed human being in front of him, namely that Summer is not interested in a serious relationship with him.
  • In Problem Child 3, this becomes the main plot point. Junior falls in love with a girl and admires her from afar. Towards the end of the movie, he finally gets to talk to her and quickly discovers that she is a shallow Alpha Bitch. Not only does he quickly lose interest, but he also pulls a prank on her shortly afterwards.
  • In 27 Dresses, main character Jane works tirelessly for George, the owner of a camping supply company, because she's desperately in love with him and has built up an idealized image over the years. This leads to a bitter war when her sister Tess shows up and falls in love with George at first sight. When Jane finally confesses her love for George and kisses him, she realizes that there is absolutely no spark between them, and she's been enamored of the idea of him rather than the man himself.
    • This is also implied to be the reason why Jane loves planning weddings in the first place—she loves the concept of fairy-tale marriages and "happily ever afters," but doesn't really understand what it takes to actually be in a relationship.
  • In the heat of their fight in Stan & Ollie, Oliver accuses Stanley of a platonic version of this, claiming that the other man had only ever cared about their studio-mandated partnership and never about himself as a real friend. Fortunately averted when the two reconcile after Ollie's health scare not long after, with both admitting they hadn't meant their harsh words that night and reaffirming their friendship going forward.
    Ollie: You loved "Laurel and Hardy". But you never loved me.


  • The plot of Almost Love by Louise O'Neill focuses on this; alternating between Sarah's obsession with Matthew (whom she barely knew as a person) in the past, and her present-day relationship with a man she neglects while still hung up on her illusion of Matthew.
  • In Always Coming Home, that’s how Stone Telling views her mother’s love toward Terter Abhao. She never knew his people’s culture, so how could she know the kind of man he really was?
  • In Carry On, Simon thinks that he and Agatha are destined to become married and live happily ever after but he's really more in love with the idea of having something normal and stable in his chaotic life that he can rely on than with Agatha herself and she breaks up with him because she doesn't want to be just the "prize" he gets at the end of the story. Similarly, Agatha's crush on Simon's nemesis Baz is shown to be more her desperately wanting a purpose outside of "the hero's perfect girlfriend" than her actually being in love with Baz.
  • In the Mary Higgins Clark novel A Cry in the Night, the relationship between Jenny and her artist husband Erich is like this from both sides. Jenny loves the gentle sensitive guy that she believes Erich must be based on his paintings; Erich loves Jenny because she looks like his dead mother. Needless to say, this does not end well. Jenny slowly comes to realize that everything she loves and admires in Erich is purely an act and that she doesn't know the real him at all. She later admits that she began to suspect he wasn't what he appeared long before, but was too afraid to look under his mask. She also frequently has to remind Erich that she's not like his mother (whom he also has an overly-idealized and unrealistic view of).
  • Daughter of the Sun: Orsina belatedly realizes that her love for her former lover Perlita was never entirely true, since Perlita's not who she thought. She's a far more selfish, uncaring person that Orsina ever believed earlier.
  • Baili Qingmiao from Devil Venerable Also Wants To Know, after spending a long time obsessing over He Wenzhao even after he kept breaking her heart and proving that he wasn't half as devoted to her as she was to him, realizes that her love was mainly just her being in love with the idea of selflessly sacrificing herself for romance and not wanting to give up on the hope that her sacrifices would eventually be repaid one day.
  • In Tim Powers' Dinner at Deviant's Palace, Greg Rivas spends thirteen years failing to get over a girl he loved whose rich father had him thrown out of town. Then the father hires him to rescue her from a cult, which he succeeds at doing after many painful adventures. Along the way, he realizes that his inability to let go had more to do with their violent separation than their actual connection, and that left to themselves they'd have drifted apart anyway. When they're reunited he finds that she's just a naive rich girl without much in the way of personality or accomplishments to recommend her, so he takes her back to her father and gets on with his life.
  • In the Dragonlance Legends series:
    • Warlord Kitiara and Elf wizard Dalamar hook up. Kitiara is the half-sister of Dalamar's master, and still not over Tanis Half-Elven.
    • Raistlin himself has this for Laurana in Dragons of the Hourglass Mage, and though he realizes that what he feels isn't anything more than a crush inspired by her beauty and non-negative reaction to him, he spends a chunk of the book trying to find ways to rescue her from Kitiara's clutches if the opportunity arises (it doesn't, but he still has brief imagine-spots of rescuing her.)
  • In K.A. Knaak's Dragonrealm, Gwendolyn originally falls for Cabe Bedlam because of his similarities with his grandfather Nathan, who was once her lover; but later she falls for all those peculiarities that make Cabe himself.
  • In The Genovese Merchants Daughter by Mikhail Kuzmin, five sisters discuss their love for their husbands. Caterina loves hers for his kindness and honesty, Petronella loves hers for his painter's talent, Veronica loves hers for his wealth, Martha loves hers for his gorgeous looks, and Philomena says she loves hers no matter what and is promptly laughed at. Then their husbands get involved in a political plot, and the honest man betrays the rest, the painter loses his eyes, and the handsome man gets scarred in the ensuing fight, and all of them are stripped of their riches. It's easy to guess which one of the sisters does not abandon her husband afterwards.
  • In John C. Wright's Golden Transcendence:
    • Phaethon realizes that most of his love for Daphne Prime was inspired by Daphne Tercius, even when she was a doll and not an emancipated partial.
    • Daphne Prime reveals that, in the Back Story, she approached Phaethon to get to Helion because she was in love with the idea of a man who preserved the life of the sun, and when she met Helion, did not like him at all.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Gods of Mars, Thuvia professes her love for John Carter and is unmoved by his speaking of Dejah Thoris—not that she would ever dream of rivaling her. He tells her "Forget your foolish gratitude-begotten infatuation, which your innocence has mistaken for love." Well, she does manage to take up with Carthoris by the end.
  • In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett finally realises — too late — that her supposed true love for Ashley is "only a sort of dream I had when I was a little girl".
  • One of the more critical parts of The Great Gatsby is when Gatsby, in an affair with his childhood sweetheart Daisy, is revealed to love the idea of her, an idea which she doesn't and can't realize. When he tries to get her to renounce her love for her husband Tom, she's unable to respond and the climactic chapter is where the affair falls apart in spectacular fashion.
  • In Diane Hoh's Guilty, Katie Sullivan believes that somebody is stalking her and plans to kill her because they blame her for the death of her boyfriend, Brownie. It turns out that Katie is being stalked by one of her friends, and that he was the one responsible for Brownie's death. He was trying to kill Katie because, in actuality, Katie went through a massive personality overhaul as a result of Brownie's death. She wasn't "guilty" for Brownie's death, she was "guilty" for killing the old her, whom everyone used to refer to as Kit.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Harry's crush on Cho Chang, which throughout the fifth book comes off as Harry being desperate for someone other than Ron and Hermione who believes and understands his angst and frustration over the Cedric, Ministry, and Voldemort issues. His crush on Cho was mostly based on an idealized view coming from how pretty, popular and Quidditch-adept she was, aside from how she treated him kindly in a constant manner. In the meantime, the emotionally crushed Cho is trying to wrap herself up in the memories of her tragically cut short relationship with Cedric Diggory by latching onto the person who was closest to him when he died. However, they had barely shared anything close to real conversations, and the relationship is ended about three-quarters of a way into the book.
    • Hermione says that Romilda Vane is only interested in Harry because he's The Chosen One.
  • In Iron Kissed, Samuel and Mercy simultaneously come to the epiphany that he's not jealous of her flirting with a stranger because he's fallen out of love with her. His jealousy in the previous two books is handwaved as "teasing", despite the fact that he nearly came to blows to Adam.
  • Several examples in the works of Jacqueline Wilson:
    • Destiny's mother in Little Darlings didn't really know the father of her daughter, and was caught up in a fantasy she associated with his being a rock star.
    • In the first book of the Girls series, Ellie develops an attraction to Kevin, an older boy she has seen around town but never really met or spoken to. She later develops a relationship with Dan (a boy her own age) and has to accept that Kevin will never live up to her romantic fantasies as he is gay; however, Ellie and Kevin do form a genuine platonic friendship.
    • Marigold from The Illustrated Mum has idolized Micky as the love of her life for years but fails to realize that he does not want anything to do with her. Micky is more interested in his daughter, Star, and is implied to find Marigold's unusual ways intolerable. Marigold got together with Michael, Dolphin's father, mostly because he had nearly the same name.
    • Drives the plot of Falling Apart. Tina falls for the older, more socially advanced Simon and soon convinces herself that he is the love of her life. She is unable to see that he is not the person she thinks he is, and that to him their relationship is just a casual fling. It doesn't end well when he breaks up with her.
    • Sylvie, the protagonist of Kiss (2007), has grown up in very close proximity to her friend Carl. She has always believed they would get married one day, and as they become teenagers she clings to this image, seeing Carl as a Prince Charming figure and convinced he will fall in love with her. Her illusion is shattered when Carl comes out as gay and tells her of his feelings for a male friend.
  • Often a factor in Jin Yong novels, especially when unrequited love is involved, but it's most blatant in Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, where Duan Yu falls in love with a statue before ending up gaga over Wang Yuyan, who reminds him of "her". When the story was originally in syndication, he ended up winning her over (she had an unrequited crush on Murong Fu) and marrying her, but when Jin Yong published a newer edition later in life, he had Duan Yu come to the realization that he and Yuyan were Like Brother and Sister and Better as Friends.
  • During the climax of the second act of Jane Eyre Mr. Rochester confesses to Jane that this mentality is why he has been unsuccessful as a husband and a lover—he does not take the time to get to know women prior to getting involved with them, leading to massive disappointment on all sides. He feels as though he has found the ideal female companion in Jane, but this only proves to Jane that he does not truly know her either, as her stated principles will not allow her to be involved with a married man, regardless of how much she loves him.
  • Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice by James Branch Cabell features a garden inhabited only by imaginary creatures, including fairies, centaurs, and "all the women that any man has ever loved."
  • Parodied in the Jonathan Swift poem "The Lady's Dressing Room", where a young fop is traumatized to learn that the object of his adoration uses cosmetics to enhance her appearance and swears off romance forever when he sees proof that she has bodily functions.
  • In Algernon Charles Swinburne's libertine novel Lesbia Brandon, the young protagonist Bertie meets his love interest Lesbia for the first time while disguised as a girl and she's into it. Unfortunately, as her name indicates, she's not into men and after the inevitable Unsettling Gender-Reveal both she and Bertie are left to sort out their feelings - Lesbia struggling to understand her residual attraction to Bertie despite his assigned sex, and Bertie trying to come to terms with the fact that he enjoyed the idea of being courted by a queer woman who viewed him as a girl. Both Bertie and Lesbia are implied to be genderqueer to some degree. Despite being a tragic story, it's an unexpectedly sympathetic depiction of queerness for a novel written in the 1860s. It helps that Swinburne himself was queer.
  • Lolita: Humbert Humbert himself explains his obsession with Lolita in the first few pages, claiming that his unconsummated relationship with Annabel caused him to be attracted to "nymphets". Humbert claims that Dolores Haze eventually replaced Annabel in this role; however while he continues to wax lyrical over his idealised "Lolita", in reality, he's in a sordid sexual relationship maintained through threats and bribery, with a miserable, sullen teenager whose innocence he has thoroughly destroyed. All of this is complicated by the fact that ol' HH has no problems at all with misleading the reader.
  • In Looking for Alaska, Alaska discusses this trope when she tells Pudge that he doesn't love her; he loves the version of her that he imagines her to be.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Éowyn hates her confined life. She meets Aragorn and convinces herself she's in love because he's life outside. When Aragorn heals her in The Return of the King, she doesn't respond to his calling her, but she instantly reacts when her brother Éomer, whom she loves as a real person rather than a shadow, calls her. Aragorn spots the trope as soon as the event happens, and eventually gives Éowyn this:
    Aragorn: It is but a shadow and a thought that you love.
  • Fernando Ariza from Love in the Time of Cholera spends fifty years obsessed with Fermina Daza, the girl he became enamoured with as a teenager, long after she herself has dismissed the brief relationship as a juvenile illusion.
  • Played straight in Mansfield Park, where the male lead, who is exasperatingly oblivious to the female lead's feelings for him, loves a shadow. The situation is made more complex and much more brilliant because he has always been adept at wishful thinking and when he discovers that she doesn't live up to his hopes, his experience as a Morality Chain to the heroine makes him certain that she could. It's made even more interesting because the person on whom he projects these hopes isn't wholly unsympathetic; although self-focused, she is more sensitive to the heroine's problems than most of the characters. But it turns out her more lovable traits (emotional sensibility and compassion) are pushed too far for what is about her, making her a manipulative, self-indulgent, entitled, materialistic Fake Cutie. He realises it near the end of the book. A violent breakup ensues, and he then has a Love Epiphany over said female lead.
  • In Memoirs of a Geisha, one of Sayuri's main patrons, Nobu Toshikazu, falls in love with her and tries to make her his mistress, much to her dismay. Not only is she secretly in love with the Chairman, his best friend and business partner, but she has only ever interacted with Nobu while she was working as a geisha, and thus putting up a persona deliberately designed to attract men; she's well aware that Nobu doesn't know her nearly as well as he believes he does. She does care for him as a friend and really doesn't want to hurt him by conclusively rejecting him, but she also can't stand the thought of becoming his mistress because she assumes that doing so will permanently lock her out of the relationship with the Chairman she secretly hopes for.
  • The Mer: Since Liam's transformation into a Mer ended his relationship with Margaret, he's fallen for several women who he thought could take her place, only to mistreat and reject them when they failed to live up to his idealized memories. Of all the woman he did that to, Hazel took it the hardest - she spent years thinking she was defective because Liam never let her forget that she wasn't as good as Margaret.
  • Much Ado About Grubstake: Arley gushes over Duncan, the young newspaperman who inherited the paper from his dad at a young age, but eventually realizes that while he's a good man, her feelings for him are over over-idealized because, for a long time, he was the only man near her age in town.
  • In one Nightside novel, a reporter falls for John and tries to convince him to leave Suzie for her, stating that Suzie's violence is keeping him from being the hero the reporter knows he really is. John gently tells her that she's only in love with an image she's created in her mind and that he and Suzie belong together because they are both monsters.
  • The Phantom of the Opera has a variation: Erik was in love with Christine insofar as he wanted her to be his "bride in death." In the end, he realized that his love for the girl was false, and so he let her go.
  • Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility: 35-year-old Colonel Brandon falls deeply in love with 17-year-old Marianne Dashwood because she reminds him of both his tragic first love and his beloved adoptive daughter (who was seduced and abandoned by Marianne's first suitor, Willoughby). While this seems to be the classic set-up for Loving a Shadow, this is portrayed as the ideal happy ending for both Marianne and Colonel Brandon. The age difference is even more glaring in the 1995 movie when the 50-year-old Alan Rickman played Colonel Brandon while 20-year-old Kate Winslet played Marianne Dashwood.
  • 17 and Gone has a platonic example with Lauren and the missing girls, who she imagines elaborate backstories for despite never knowing them in reality or at all.
  • In The Sharing Knife: Horizon young(ish) Patroller Neeta from New Moon Cutoff who, due largely to couple of years on exchange up in Luthlia, starts fixating on Captain Dag Wolverine (Hero of Wolf Ridge) as soon as he connects him with the epic cycle she memorized. The broken amputee Tent Wolverine sent back to his birthplace in the hopes of him healing his emotional wounds, the humble patroller who literally lived for malice slaying, and the Happily Married trainee groundsetter she actually met would all agree that the actual heroes at Wolf Ridge died there.
  • The Spider-Man: Sinister Six Trilogy includes a scene where Spider-Man, watching a holographic recreation of Gwen's death, reflects that he has come to recognize that he and Gwen wouldn't have worked out long-term, as she wanted a peaceful life where he seeks crusades, but that doesn't stop him from wishing that she could have lived a longer life.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Tristifer Botley does this toward Asha Greyjoy based on some experimentation when they were barely more than children. His projected ideal woman has little to do with the flesh-and-blood claimant of the Seastone Chair.
    • Robert Baratheon idealizes Lyanna Stark, to whom he was engaged. It becomes clear that he did not know her very well, and her brother Ned's recollections reveal that she was quite aware of the whole thing.
    • Lysa Arryn (nee Tully) had been in love with Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish ever since they were children. She never quite grasped that Petyr only had eyes for her older sister Catelyn. While he eventually married her, she only really learned what kind of man he really was at the moment he told her to her face that Cat was the only woman he'd ever loved, before shoving her to her death via a 600 foot drop.
      • Petyr Baelish has his own fixation on Sansa Stark, Catelyn's daughter, in a way that is clearly tied up in his lingering feelings for her mother.
  • In the first Spellsinger novel, Jon-Tom is surprised that Flores, the cheerleader he has a crush on, is enthusiastic about being transported to a fantasy world, and she points out that he doesn't actually know her, and is just basing this on his stereotype of what cheerleaders are supposed to be like.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • In Wraith Squadron, Kell thinks he's in love with another pilot, who tells him in no uncertain terms, after asking a few tough questions, that he doesn't love her but his mental image of her. Later, using the criteria she set out earlier, he finds that he's in love with the "real" her... which prompts her to tackle him to the floor in his quarters, as she was smitten almost from the start and was just waiting.
    • Outbound Flight has Maris, who falls for the idealistic image she has of Commander Thrawn. Thrawn... he's not exactly a villain yet, but he's not quite as nice as she imagines. He's aware of this and keeps some distance from her, but also does not disillusion her when they part.
      Thrawn: There are all too few idealists in this universe, Car'das. Too few people who strive always to see only the good in others. I wouldn't want to be responsible for crushing even one of them.
      Car'das: And besides, you rather liked all that unquestioning adulation coming your way?
      Thrawn: All beings appreciate such admiration.
  • In Tim Powers' The Stress of Her Regard, Crawford's second wife Julia was murdered horribly on their wedding night. Years later, her Angsty Surviving Twin roleplays Julia very accurately for an extended period—and Crawford realizes that he never really knew Julia, and doesn't like what he sees of her now.
  • In two separate Sweet Valley High, Steven Wakefield falls for girls who look exactly like Tricia, his girlfriend who died tragically. Only for it to turn out that one isn't like her at all, and while the other one is, she eventually gets fed up and dumps him, declaring that she deserves better than being used as a substitute.
    • A familial version happened in one of the Sweet Valley Twins books where the twins' classmate Mary becomes attached to their mother and keeps making excuses to come over to the house to spend time with her. It's eventually revealed that Mary was kidnapped as a child and her real mother looked like Alice Wakefield.
    • Elizabeth and Jessica both had multiple stalkers for this reason, the most notable being William White in the Sweet Valley University series.
    • Also in Sweet Valley University, in one of the Thriller specials, Enid/Alex Rollins is stalked by a guy obsessed with the idea of Enid as she was in high school, rejecting her choice to change her name and live a different lifestyle.
  • Helen and Huntingdon both in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Helen thought Huntingdon was a better man than he was and that she could change him. Huntingdon thought Helen would be more submissive and docile.
  • The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign: Kyousuke repeatedly emphasizes that the White Queen is not really in love with him, but with an idealized image of him as the strongest human. He claims that if he were to actually have a relationship with her, she'd soon realize the illusion and kill him. This is one of the main reasons for his rejection of her (the other being that she's an Eldritch Abomination with no regard for human life, who murdered his adoptive family). However, sections from the Queen's viewpoint suggest that she does love him for who he is.
  • A recurring theme in the Vorkosigan Saga:
    • Elli Quinn refused to marry Miles Vorkosigan because she was in love with his alter ego Admiral Miles Naismith. She believes that Lord Vorkosigan is the "shadow", and that Admiral Naismith is his "real" personality that he is hiding from himself. Miles himself spends several stories wondering if she's right, and goes through several identity crises.
    • In Komarr, Tien Vorsoisson justifies all his bad actions as being to provide for his wife - and Ekaterin, listening to him bluster, finally realizes that even after all their years of marriage, he really has no idea who she is or what she wants out of life. She flatly tells him that he has been expending all that effort to please a fantasy version of her that only exists in his mind. A plausible alternative reading is that Tien projects his own greediness and insecurity onto Ekaterin, then uses that imagined version of her to justify doing things "for her benefit" - which results in her ending up penniless, widowed, and feeling like she betrayed her own honour.
  • One of the reasons why in Wax and Wayne, Marasi and Wax end up as Just Friends. Marasi grew up on tales of the legendary lawman Waxillium the Dawnshot (Wax is about twenty years older than her), and while she does get to know him better as a person, her crush on him was motivated by stories of him rather than the real him.
  • These Words Are True and Faithful: Sam accuses Ernie of treating him as "a blank slate onto which you could project all of your fantasies" during the post mortem on their relationship.
  • This is essentially Jacob's relationship with Jassamine in Wraith Knight. Jacob has a worshipful and even religious veneration of his lover as well as remembers her in the most flattering of lights. It becomes increasingly clear that Jassamine was a Manipulative Bastard and used him repeatedly to advance her own position before trying to politely pawn him off on some of her female minions when he became politically disadvantageous to love.
  • Isabella to Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. All Girls Want Bad Boys, until they turn out to be abusive bastards. And then it's too late, at least in that day and age.
  • You Know You Want This: Kristen Roupenian's short story "Cat Person" explores this with the relationship between Margot and Robert, who only meet in person a few times before they regrettably sleep together on their first (and only) date. Their brief romance is carried out almost entirely over text message, and their lack of real knowledge of each other allows Margot (and, seemingly, Robert too) to fill in the gaps with an ideal that shifts in response to stimulus over the course of the story, but in all cases barely resembles the real person.
    Every so often, over the next day or so, she would find herself in a gray, daydreamy mood, missing something, and she'd realize that it was Robert she missed, not the real Robert but the Robert she'd imagined on the other end of all those text messages during break.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrowverse:
    • Arrow:
      • Oliver and Laurel's romance seemed to be a case of this, though later seasons clarify that they did love each other — Oliver gave up on Laurel because he felt he was unworthy of her and couldn't give her the life she wanted with him, no matter how much they loved each other. Though Season 5 does imply Oliver's complicated feelings for Black Siren, Laurel's evil Earth-2 doppelgänger, is a case of this, as he is trying to find the Laurel that he loved in a woman that, while similar in appearance, is not her.
      • A more concrete example would be John Diggle's brief romance with his widowed sister-in-law, Carly. While they did have an attraction, it's implied that John's feelings for her partially stemmed from wanting more of a connection with his brother. That's why they broke up, as no matter how much they cared for each other, there was always going to be three people in that relationship, and they both deserved better than that.
    • The Flash (2014):
      • It's all but stated that Earth-2 Hunter Zolomon, aka Zoom, the Big Bad of Season 2, developed a Villainous Crush on Caitlin Snow because of her similarities to his deceased mother (as it's implied the beginning of their relationship was just him seducing her). When Caitlin calls him a monster, he flashes back to his mother doing the same with his father, right before said father killed her. This is why it's so easy for him to give up on her when she rejects him one too many times — it was a shallow attempt at forming a connection by a man who has only ever known hate all his life.
      • Iris West's relationship with Eddie Thawne had shades of this. While Iris did love Eddie, it isn't hard to see that she loved Barry more — it's implied that one of the only reasons why their relationship even got as serious as it did was because Barry was in a coma at the beginning of it (the other being that Iris was painfully oblivious to her own feelings for him). In fact, it was even part of how they got together, as Eddie covered Joe's shifts at the precinct so he and Iris could be with the comatose Barry, and Iris decided to thank him with a cup of coffee one day — things just spiraled from there. When explaining to Iris why he was breaking up with her, Eddie straight up tells her that (much like the John Diggle example above) there have always been three people in their relationship: him, her, and Barry. And as much as he would have liked to believe otherwise, he knows that when it really comes down to it, Iris will never choose him over Barry. He just thought he could love her enough to change that.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: After her disaster of a relationship with Angel left her heartbroken, Buffy was determined to be with a nice normal guy, and she thought she found such a man in Riley Finn. Her desire to see him this way made her oblivious to the fact that he loved his job as a monster-hunter soldier and how much he was dying inside when he had to leave it.
  • Cowboy Bebop (2021). Spike Spiegel fell in love with Julia, the singer who was the girlfriend of his best buddy Vicious, starting a deadly vendetta between them. Spike had to fake his death and go into hiding, while Julia became Vicious' trophy wife. Her years married to a Syndicate psychopath have forced her to become more ruthless and calculating, making her an entirely different person from The Lost Lenore that Spike pins after. In the final episode she offers Spike the chance to rule the Syndicate by her side, then shoots him when he rejects it, seeing him as a symbol of her innocent past that she has to cast off.
  • Deconstructed in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Main character Rebecca impulsively quits her stressful (but well-paying) job in New York City to move to the smaller town of West Covina, California... which is where her childhood boyfriend Josh happens to live (but she just needed a change of scenery, really!). Basically, Josh represents a time in her life when she was happier and more carefree, and Rebecca projects that desire for a happier life onto him in the hopes that getting back with him will fix her problems. Naturally, it doesn't work that way and Rebecca ultimately realizes that she has to address the real sources of her unhappiness and stop seeing Josh as a solution, especially because he has a large number of flaws himself, one of which being that he ends up trying to recapture his youth through Rebecca in the exact same way.
  • Dear White People: In the penultimate episode of Season 1, Troy calls out Coco on the fact that she doesn't even love him, let alone like him - she just loves the idea of him as a model leader.
  • Downton Abbey:
    • When Lady Rose plans to marry Jack Ross, an African-American jazz singer (in a relationship considered hugely scandalous for the time period), other characters believe that she is attracted to him mostly because she wants to upset her mother with the scandal. Jack seems to disagree, but he breaks off the engagement because he claims he doesn't want to ruin Rose's future.
    • After an ongoing downstairs love triangle between Alfred, Daisy, and Ivy, Daisy ultimately concludes that she didn't really know him as a person and her feelings weren't real. She wishes him well before he leaves Downton Abbey to become a chef.
    • Possibly the reason why Robert almost has an affair with Jane Moorsum, who bears a resemblance to his wife Cora.
  • In Frasier Daphne and Niles get together after seven years of UST, after which Daphne develops a weight problem, which a therapist speculated was due to anxiety over being unable to live up to the image Niles had built up of her (a fact seemingly confirmed by the fact that Niles remained oblivious to her rather severe weight gain). Frasier later speculates that Niles may also fear being unable to live up to being in a real relationship with her. The problem is resolved when the two of them make a long list of everything they hate about each other.
    Frasier: Yes, and how did you love her? From afar. You were never in love with her, you were in love at her. Now, you've been given a chance to experience her in a real relationship and yet for some reason, you're resisting it.
  • In the Friday the 13th: The Series episode "Femme Fatale", a director married the actress who played a Femme Fatale in one of his movies. Even though both of them are in their twilight years, he is still obsessed with the Femme Fatale. He uses the artifact of the week, a cursed film projector, to send women into the movie to take the place of the Femme Fatale who appears before him in the flesh. The women are forced to act out the role which ends in them being shot to death in the movie while the director makes out with the Femme Fatale. Everything comes to a head when the character convinces him to kill his wife, thinking it will allow her to exist in the real world for good. His wife turns the tables on him by faking her death and shooting him dead, coldly stating that he never loved her, only the "pathetic character [she] played." Even the Shadow itself grows disillusioned with the man since he only used her as a glorified sex toy.
  • Friends: In season three Joey and Chandler spend several episodes discussing how attractive Chloe, "the girl from the Xerox place", is. Their crushes end after they spend an evening hanging out with her and realise that all she ever talks about is Xeroxing things.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Sansa with Joffrey, a Draco in Leather Pants in-universe. She's entirely willing to overlook Joffrey's many, many flaws even when she sees them firsthand, all in the name of her fairy-tale romance. She finally snaps out of it at the end of "Baelor," but it takes her beau ordering her father's execution. Ned also points out to Sansa that because she's going to be Joffrey's wife, she needs to show at least the pretense of Undying Loyalty to him, regardless of whether he deserves it. And, well, Ned was right about this.
    • In a rare moment of clarity King Robert admits this to Cersei, noting that it's been so many years that he doesn't even remember Lyanna's face anymore but she was the one thing he wanted and he had it taken from him.
      Robert: You want to know the horrible truth? I can't even remember what she looked like. I only know she was the one thing I ever wanted. Someone took her away from me... and seven kingdoms couldn't fill the hole she left behind.
  • Gilmore Girls:
    • Dean's pursuit of Rory has shades of this. He consistently places her on a pedestal as his perfect girl, getting upset whenever she doesn't live up to his expectations. Dean's idealized image of Rory prompts him to have an affair with her when he is married to Lindsay, who he married while On the Rebound from Rory and divorces shortly after the affair comes to light. In season six, he breaks things off with Rory for good after realizing they really have absolutely nothing in common and he's really only ever been in love with the idea of Rory. Thankfully, by the time of the revival in 2016, he has moved on from Rory and is now Happily Married and has started a family.
    • Lorelai and Christopher have this on both sides. They were high school sweethearts who split up after Rory was born and spent her childhood pining after each other, but Christopher's unwillingness to commit leaves them unable to settle into a stable relationship. When Rory is in college, Lorelai and Christopher finally get together and impulsively elope, but after just a few months of marriage, they realize their relationship is nothing like they'd imagined and they just aren't right for each other, causing them to divorce shortly afterward.
      Lorelai: You've always been this...possibility for me. This wonderful possibility. But it's just not right. And I'm so sorry. I am so sorry.
      Christopher: Yeah. I guess I should've known, huh? It took me twenty years to get you to say yes.
      Lorelai: I need you to know that you're the man I want to want.
  • Gossip Girl: Dan falls in love with Serena before knowing her and it's constantly accused of putting her on a pedestal. As he gets to know her, his love for her also fades.
  • H₂O: Just Add Water: Bella has a crush on Will, but he's more interesting in his diving career and finding the truth behind his encounter with the Water Tentacle. He only starts returning her interest when he finds out she's a mermaid, which is something he forced out of her, and she catches onto it when he rejects getting to know her in favor of seeing her swim. The two of them end the series as a couple, but this aspect to their relationship never gets resolved.
    Bella: We could get to know each other a bit better.
    Will: I know you're a mermaid, what more do I need to know?
    Bella: ...Yeah, but that's not all I am.
  • House: Stacy Warner to the titular House. She loves the thrill and excitement of being with him and misses the way their relationship used to be before it fell apart. While House still loves her, he is the one to realize that all the reasons they broke up are still there and that he isn't able to change himself for her.
  • In I, Claudius, Julia has had an infatuation with her stepbrother Tiberius since they were children, which endures through her marriages to both Marcellus and Agrippa. She does eventually get to marry him after she's widowed for the second time,note  only to find he's a very bitter, unpleasant person. He also especially has it in for Julia herself, as his mother Livia forced him to end his happy marriage to Vipsania to marry her, seeing as she's Augustus's only child and therefore an extremely useful political tool.
  • Played poignantly in an episode of Jonathan Creek. At first, Robin Priest seems a bit of a lout for having an affair with an unpleasant blonde. However, it turns out that his so-called wife took advantage of a bump to his head and brainwashed him into believing that they were married. When The Reveal comes, it's clear that his immediate attraction to the blonde was simply because she bore a startling resemblance to his real wife, who—though dead—is displayed prominently in several portraits around his former house.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Subverted and Lampshaded in Kamen Rider Decade. When the group reaches Agito's World, Yusuke finds out that it has its own version of his Big Sister Mentor Yashiro, who died early in the series. Yusuke decides to leave the Hikari Studio group and stay in Agito's World with Yashiro, but he realizes that she has feelings for Shoichi (Agito) and helps get them back together before returning to the Studio. Lampshaded in Tsukasa's "No More Holding Back" Speech, in which he refers to Yusuke as "chasing a dead woman's shadow" but adds that he learned from his mistake.
    • In Kamen Rider OOO, Dr. Maki is implied to have been in love with his sister. He remembers her as a kind, sweet, loving woman and is briefly drawn to Chiyoko, who looks like her. Later, he's forced to confront the truth that his image of his sister is fake: she wasn't a very nice person, didn't really care for him, and planned to have no contact with him after her forthcoming marriage (which is why he murdered her.)
    • Kamen Rider Double:
      • In the Yesterday Dopant arc, Shotaro falls for a client named Yuko; but discovers she's actually Kirihiko Sonozaki's sister Yukie, and was using Shotaro in a scheme to avenge her brother's death and he didn't know the "real" her at all. He decides he does still have feelings for her, but he'll wait until she regains her memories, which she lost after the Yesterday Memory was destroyed.
      • Jun Kazu idolizes Saeko and imagines that when he creates "Utopia" she will rule over it with him. He learns that she's not who he thought she was when she defies him in order to save Wakana.
    • In Kamen Rider Gaim, Mitsuzane Kureshima becomes intensely obsessed with Mai, leading him to side with the Overlords and attempt to destroy Kouta in the belief it will make Mai fall for him; when he does not understand her as a person at all.
    • A more light-hearted example: Kazumi Sawatari of Kamen Rider Build is a huge fan of internet idol "Mii-tan." When he discovers her true identity as Misora Isurugi, he declares that he's in love with Misora and will win her heart; yet continues to see her as and refer to her as Mii-tan, apparently not realizing this is a character she plays.
  • In Law & Order, a middle-aged man falls in love with a young woman he met online. He is so in love with her, that the young woman convinces him to commit murder for her. Turns out, the young woman was Dead All Along and the man was being manipulated by the mother who was the mastermind behind the whole thing. He makes a deal with the prosecution to testify against her in court. Lampshaded before he takes the stand to testify:
    Middle-Aged Man: "I loved her more than you ever did."
    Mother: "You didn't even know her, idiot."
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • The SVU are hunting a suspect who kidnaps teenage girls and dresses them up to his ideal girlfriend. A long time ago he took in a teenage girl because she looked like the one he liked but left her when she grew too old for him.
    • The villain of one episode was a middle-aged loser who was still obsessed with an Uptown Girl he had a crush on in college. At his trial, the DA puts a woman who has the same name and was in the same rich girl sorority on the stand and not only does he not realise that she isn't the supposed love of his life, it's revealed the woman he was obsessed with was murdered years ago and he had no idea.
    • Non-romantic example: Elliot deeply cares about his children, but, due to being largely absent from their lives, he loves the idea of them more than who they actually are. For example, he still calls his teenage son by the juvenile nickname he hasn't used for years and is shown to know virtually nothing about his personal life or aspirations to join the military rather than go to college. Also, he is completely unaware of his college-aged daughter's bipolar disorder or her self-medication with drugs, alcohol, and sex. Several episodes focus on him learning more about his kids and their flaws.
  • Mr. Robot: Tyrell loves and is obsessed with Elliot only because of his skills and talent and the fact that he is the leader of the society taking down E Corp. This makes him believe that he and Elliot are gods when in reality Elliot wants nothing to do with him and is creeped out by his advances at him.
  • The Comte de Rochefort, the main antagonist of series two of The Musketeers, has this as his motivation. He is obsessed with Queen Anne, to the point of dressing up a prostitute to pretend to be her, and planning to take over the throne of France so he can rule together with Anne. He has very little idea of what Anne is like as a person (believing her to be rather less resilient than she actually is) and deludes himself into believing that she is in love with him when in reality she sees him as an old friend and mentor figure.
  • Lightly deconstructed in the New Girl episode "Halloween":
    Nick: I fell in love with you the first time I saw you. That's crazy. I didn't even know you! It was just this idea of you. And then it just wasn't what I thought. And what's up with the way you kiss? It's like reverse CPR. It's like you're—
    [Amelia slaps him]
    Amelia: Hey, I'm not an idea of a person, I'm an actual person!
  • In an episode of The Orville, Gordon becomes infatuated with a long-dead woman after discovering a recording of her on her phone in a time capsule from 2015. He extracts the data from the phone and creates a simulation of her, and falls in love. He insists that because the simulation is based on the memories and feelings of a real person it is a sentient, living person despite his friends repeatedly reminding him that it is not and the woman he loves has been dead for centuries. When his simulated girlfriend gets back together with her ex, Gordon deletes him from the program, only to find that her personality has completely changed from the person he fell in love with because he essentially edited out a huge part of her life. This breaks the illusion for him, realising that she is just another program he created.
  • In The Other Kingdom, Astral initially loves Tristan from afar, and her main motivation to become human is in the hopes that she can get to know him as a person to see if he feels the same way about her.
  • In the BBC's version of Robin Hood,
    • After Marian's death, Robin begins a relationship with Isabella who bears a slight resemblance to Marian.
    • Likewise, Kate's feelings for Robin seemed to be based more on hero-worship than any particular regard for him personally, and had the show not been cancelled, it's likely that she would have been paired up with newcomer Archer instead.
    • There's also Much, who falls for Kate despite the fact she treats him poorly. Fan speculation is that she simply reminds him of Eve, his Season 1 love interest, who also had distinctive blonde hair.
  • Smallville:
    • This is heavily implied to be the basis of both Lana's love for Clark (dead parents) and Lex's love for Helen, his string of failed romances, and his eventual obsession with Lana (dead mother Lillian). In addition, Lana calls Clark out for loving the image he's built up of her over the years to the point where he was blaming himself for her very illegal, very felonious activities (kidnapping and torture, and eventually felony murder).
    • Chloe Sullivan has a similar situation with Davis Bloome in Season 8, where he's clearly a Clark substitute.
    • Lex's love for Lana and Helen aren't the only things that are placed in this light; many of Lex's relationships take this form. His fascination with Kara is likely due to wanting Clark to be honest with him about his alien heritage. Also, his idolization of his mother came from the years of physical and emotional abuse from his father; however, while his mother was probably too sickly to physically abuse him, she definitely could be just as vicious as Lionel was, emotionally.
  • Special Ops: Lioness: Cruz obliquely tries to tell Aaliyah, who's fallen in love with her, that she doesn't really know her at all, as Cruz's an undercover operative sent to kill Aaliyah's father.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Geordi has a real problem with this.
    • In "Booby Trap", Geordi creates a simulation of one of the engineering designers, Dr. Leah Brahms. While working with her to solve the problem, he falls in love with the simulation. This produces very awkward moments when, in the later episode "Galaxy's Child", he meets the real woman, and finds she is nothing like her projection. It gets worse when Leah finds her holographic incarnation from the earlier episode and accuses him of invoking her image to produce a holographic love toy.
    • Geordi suffers complete Aesop Amnesia in "Aquiel" when he needs to watch the personal communications of a missing Starfleet officer named Aquiel and quickly falls in love with her. When she shows up alive, he starts ingratiating himself to the real woman without first telling her that he knows all about her from her private communications.
  • Supernatural: It's pretty easy to see Dean's relationship with Lisa as a case of this, seeing as he decides to have a long-term live-in relationship with her after seeing her three times in ten years. Dean's actor has stated that Dean was more in love with the idea of having a long-term relationship, an adoptive son, and a stable home than he was with Lisa herself.
  • Sweet/Vicious:
    • Ophelia calls Kennedy out on this, regarding Jules and Nate. Throughout the series, Kennedy seems blissfully ignorant to Jules plight and what Nate did to her, in favor of focusing more on her relationship with Nate, and her sisterhood with the other Zetas. When the truth gets to her, Kennedy believes Nate's "cheating" confession, over Jules admitting she was raped, and is a lot quicker to forgive Nate than she is with Jules. When Ophelia confronts her, she tells Kennedy she must have known the truth but ignored it in favor of keeping the Status Qou. Ultimately, Kennedy sees through Nate when he lashes out at her for not trusting him, reconciling with Jules and supporting her in her case against Nate.
    • Ophelia's mother, Bobbi has this problem too. It's mentioned throughout that despite Ophelia being a trust fund baby, she has a troubled relationship with her parents for her rebellious attitude. One episode has Ophelia infiltrating the Kappas - of which her mother was a former president - and has to take up a valley girl persona to integrate with them. Bobbi Mayer is thrilled to hear Ophelia is joining her old house, and seems to genuinely bond with her throughout the episode. Once the Kappa's are exposed and dismantled, Ophelia drops her "Kappa persona", prompting Bobbi to leave, indicating that Bobbi cared more about who she wanted Ophelia to be, more than Ophelia as a person.
  • The Walking Dead: It is rather clear that Rick's infatuation with Jessie Anderson in Season 5 is a case of this. His attraction to Jessie came out of nowhere and comes off as him projecting his perceived failures to protect Lori on to Jessie. She is a vessel for his perceived failings with his dead wife and a second chance to do for this woman what he feels he could not do for Lori.
  • Westworld: The backstory of the Man in Black, which set him on the path to becoming the villain he is now, is his first visit to the park as William, where he fell in love with the "Host" android Dolores. After becoming fugitives and going on an adventure, he lost her, then spends months scouring the artificial world looking for her. Eventually, he finds her back where they first met, having already been reprogrammed and engaged in the same Love at First Sight arc with another Guest that he experienced before. Basically, the sci-fi equivalent of falling in love with a prostitute or stripper.

  • "I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)" by John Mayer features Mayer singing to some unknown woman, warning her that he is nothing but trouble and will only lead to heartbreak. He drives the point home with this verse:
    Who do you love?
    Girl I see through, through your love
    Who do you love? Me or the thought of me? Me or the thought of me?
  • Candle by Lunik:
    dreaming all day long
    you're too perfect to be real
    did I just make you up how I wished you to be?
    dreaming with the curtains closed between shades and candlelight
    was it all just in my mind and now I'm losing it?
  • "Shadow" by Maria Mena is a good example of this trope in reverse: Trying hard to be someone I don't even know/ I feel like a shadow/ walking behind who you think I am/... / thought I'd light me bright and new/ but my candle burnt out long before you. Likewise, Boston's "A Man I'll Never Be."
  • Conceiving You by Riverside is about eventually giving up the actual person to love the shadow.
  • "Ten Years Gone" from Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin
    'Vixen in my dreams, of great surprise to me; in the midst I see your face the way it used to be''
  • "Behavior" by Steel Train.
    A pretty girl.
    Followed her around the world.
    And when I caught her she said to me:
    "Look, at love, it's nothing but a shadow.
    Where you saw, a heart, that was hollow.
    Look, at you. You've been chasing shadows."
    And then I woke up.
  • "Her Pretender" by Off Course. Though it does turn out okay in the end since the singer sticks around as "her someone else" long enough for her to see him as himself.
    Like an illusion surrounded by fantasy
    A lover’s confusion; she only sees what she wants to see
    I guess I’m just an imitator soon to be
    The love I feel was never meant for me
  • "Love Through Her" by The Weeknd
    Am I going crazy?
    Do I need some therapy to get shorty out of my mind?
    Girl, my head is racing
    Heard shorty's been needing the rest of my mind

    Am I making love to you through her?
    Am I make love to you through her?
    Am I making love to you through her?
    Love through her (love through her)
  • "Shadow Lover" by Mary Jane Girls is about exactly this
  • A track from Rush's Clockwork Angels involves the narrator falling in love, only to realize when he is rebuffed that he had created an idealized woman in his mind and then attempted to graft his delusions onto a real person; he admits this was not the first time he has done this. The song is even called Halo Effect.
  • "A Forest" by The Cure, from Seventeen Seconds (Album), if interpreted metaphorically, has the protagonist looking for a girl who is supposedly lost, only to find out she "was never there". He then realizes, lost himself, he just ran "towards nothing", which we assume is not the first time in his life.
  • The song "Flawless" from The Neighbourhood is about the singer falling in love with an idealized, 'flawless' girl that he starts a relationship with... and then falls out of love with when he gets to know her and realizes that she's human and flawed the way everyone is.
  • Poets of the Fall's "Carnival of Rust" has singer Zoltar, a decaying automaton stuck in his fortuneteller's booth, desperate to leave the Carnival. It's clear that his pleas and demands for love from his latest customer stem from self-interested Wishful Projection. He taints her Tarot reading by declaring her "The Star," his Messiah Figure, instead of recognizing her as a person in her own right, and as a result, his affections go unreciprocated.
  • "Who's That Girl" by Robyn
    Who's that girl? That you dream of
    Who's that girl? That you think you love
    Who's that girl? What if I'm nothing like her?
  • Inverted in The Veronicas' "Everything I'm Not"; a girl decides to leave her boyfriend because he's forcing her to be someone that she isn't.
  • "Slow, Love, Slow" by Nightwish has these lines:
    I wonder
    Do I love you or the thought of you?
  • "Dream Boy" by Waterparks is all about this.
    Awsten Knight: It’s about being built into something, based on an idealised version of you – an unwarranted one, at that – where people look at you as a certain thing...they put what they need you to be into their heads. It’s built into this thing that you cannot live up to, and it’s ultimately going to lead to disappointment – on their end, and my end, because it doesn’t feel good to let people down. But that’s just what happens. Pop banger, dude!
  • "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia refers to "him" (the imagined lover) and "you" (the actual person) as separate people. Per the chorus: "Illusion never changed / Into something real."
    I thought I saw a man brought to life
    He was warm, he came around like he was dignified
    He showed me what it was to cry
    Well, you couldn't be that man I adored
    You don't seem to know or seem to care what your heart is for
    But I don't know him anymore
    There's nothing where he used to lie
    The conversation has run dry
    That's what's going on
  • Tears for Fears: This is the meaning behind "I Love You But I'm Lost", as Roland Orzabal explains:
    This song is about the haziness, the blurred lines within a relationship, the sense of having someone and losing someone in the same instant; like putting your arms around that person only for them to instantly disappear into vapours, the idea or ideal of someone who is impossible to pin down or own.
  • Ariana Grande: "in my head" is about how Ariana invented a version of a man that wasn't reality. The opening is a voicemail from a friend of hers that describes this phenomenom:
    Here's the thing: you're in love with a version of a person that you've created in your head, that you are trying to but cannot fix. Uh, the only person you can fix is yourself. I love you, this has gone on way too long. Enough is enough. I'm two blocks away, I'm coming over.​
  • "What A Fool Believes" by The Doobie Brothers is about a man meeting up with a woman he once knew, around whom he has built a fantasy that they were once in love and could be again. Although she is polite and kind, it is obvious that she barely remembers him and doesn't feel the same way.


  • Cyrano de Bergerac: One of the core points of the play is that Roxane doesn’t love Christian nor Cyrano, she is in love with their Shadow Archetype: An entity who has all the positive traits of both suitors, but none of their defects, a true shadow. It may also be questioned whether Cyrano or Christian is actually in love with Roxanne or just enamored of her golden beauty and wit.
  • In J. B. Priestley's Dangerous Corner, pretty much all the characters' unrequited affections for each other turn out to be this. The entire play is based on how none of them really knew or understood each other for who they were.
  • Into the Woods: Both the Princes fall into this with their respective maidens (Cinderella and Rapunzel). Tellingly, their I Want songs are all about their desire for what they have set their hearts on and the pain of not yet achieving it, more so than the actual women in question - they are briefly content after marrying their brides, but soon enough become bored of actually having them, and their eyes begin to wander to new challenges. To a lesser extent, Cinderella is also guilty of this; being with her Prince was more a dream of escaping her wretched conditions than anything about him specifically. Perhaps best summed up in Cinderella and the Prince's final words to each other upon their relationship's inevitable collapse:
    Prince: I...shall always love the maiden who ran away.
    Cinderella: And I the faraway prince.
  • Les Misérables had Éponine sum up this trope best with "And I know it's only in my mind: that I'm talking to myself and not to him... I love him, but only on my own."
  • In On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Mark Bruckner falls in love with Daisy Gamble by discovering her eighteenth-century incarnation, Melinda Welles.
  • In The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge, Pegeen Mike falls in love with Christie Mahon, despite knowing little about him, because the one thing she thinks she knows inspires her to imagine him as an adventurous, romantic figure, the "playboy" of the title. When it turns out that the one thing isn't true, she turns against him. The irony is that, partly inspired by her interest in him, Christie has blossomed over the course of the play into just such an adventurous, romantic figure as she imagined — but she doesn't realise this until it's too late to get him back.
  • Romeo and Juliet: Romeo begins the story utterly heartbroken that his one true love Rosaline has dumped him. The minute he sees Juliet, he is utterly infatuated with his new one true love. Some interpret this to mean he, being very Hot-Blooded and brimming with all kinds of intense emotions (he is 16 after all), is too needy or in love with the idea of being in love. However, such an interpretation is not popular because it destroys the notion that the play depicts love at its most ideal.
  • Subverted with Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; at one point, Todd starts wondering what his daughter Johanna (whom he has not seen in 15 years since she was a baby) is like, and ultimately concludes that he can't really care about her. Played disturbingly straight with Anthony for Johanna (he seems mostly enamoured of the idea of rescuing her from her evil guardian); possibly also Mrs. Lovett for Todd.

    Video Games 
  • Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair:
    • Effectively what Kazuichi's crush on Sonia amounts to. He's convinced she's a Princess Classic, which in his mind, makes him her Knight in Shining Armor. In practice, he barely knows a thing about her and is constantly surprised when she shows aspects of her personality that don't fit in with his image of her (though that's not to say he dislikes them). For her part, Sonia is quite aware of this and considers him an Abhorrent Admirer.
    • Ironically, Sonia's crush on Gundham also has elements of this, since she is attracted to his Chuunibyou attitude because she is a Nightmare Fetishist... but it's made abundantly clear in-game (especially in Hajime's Free Time supports with Gundham) that this behaviour is a mask Gundham cultivated when he was young and relentlessly bullied, being an Endearingly Dorky Friend to All Living Things at heart, meaning that Sonia has feelings for who Gundham is pretending to be. She certainly doesn't know him well enough to suspect he killed Nekomaru and when she attempts to beg Monokuma to spare his life, Gundham scolds her for doing so. It's doubly ironic as Gundham is not so different from Kazuichi in that both of them behave the way they do thanks to their troubled childhoods.
  • Destiny 2: Intentionally done by Cayde-6. His logs describe his wife and son's personalities when he was a living human, but the last entry of The Man They Called Cayde reveals they're all lies. He knows they existed, but remembers nothing about them, and constructed false memories of them to cherish as a way to keep himself sane and on the side of good.
  • In Disgaea:
    • Etna's contradictory relationship with Laharl is the result of this: she adored his father, but hated his mother. She admits in her diary that when Laharl came along, she had no idea whether to love him or hate him because of it.
    • Laharl himself is attracted to Flonne, and it's mentioned that she reminds him of his deceased mother.
  • Invoked in Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening; one side-quest involves finding a mortally wounded soldier who asks you to find his wife and tell her that he died trying to make the world a better place. Velanna rather caustically remarks on the inanity of this declaration, and the player has the option to do the same, an attitude borne out by completing the quest and discovering that his wife was having an affair. If you call her out on cheating on her husband while he was out risking his life for her and the rest of the world, she turns the tables by saying that on the rare occasions he was home he seemed to treat her more as an abstract symbol of what he was fighting for than an actual person with thoughts and feelings of her own. Her reaction to his death is not really the pain of losing a true loved one, but more the impersonal sadness of knowing that a brave, idealistic man had died in the line of duty.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot: In the DLC Trunks: The Warrior of Hope, after Future Trunks defeats Androids 17 and 18, he meets a man who was hopelessly in love with 18's beauty even though he only saw her on the news and never met her in person (he constantly followed the Androids' path of destruction to try to meet her, but always arrived just after they left an area). Now that she is dead, he plans to kill himself. Trunks trying to explain she was evil doesn't dissuade him. Trunks gets Oolong to shapeshift into 18 and talk him down, which works mostly because Oolong botched the transformation, convincing him that 18 wasn't as attractive as he thought.
  • A story which can be read in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, titled "Palla," tells the tale of a mage who falls in love with a long-dead woman depicted fighting a monster in a statue. Of course, it doesn't turn out like he thought it would. Palla turns out to be the name of the monster. Guess who comes back to life?
  • Fate/hollow ataraxia: Ayako Mitsuzuri's little brother Minori has a crush on Sakura Matou and is jealous of Shirou Emiya for having Sakura's affections. After a talk with him, Shirou finds out Minori doesn't know anything about Sakura and just likes her because she is pretty and he has an image of her being perfect when in reality Sakura is far from it.
  • Final Fantasy VII:
    • Aerith latches onto Cloud so quickly because he reminds her a lot of her first boyfriend, Zack. Zack was Cloud's best friend and Cloud (unknowingly) picked up some of his traits and even bits of his memory after his death. It's very, VERY complicated.
    • However, if Aerith is Cloud's date during the gondola ride at Gold Saucer, her dialogue seems to imply she's begun to see past Cloud's facade, how different the two actually are outside of surface mannerisms, and that she's "[searching] for [him]" and "[wants] to meet [him]," to Cloud's confusion. Ultimately, Aerith might have started to fall for the real Cloud while suspecting certain things were off about him.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War:
      • If she's paired up with Horse Archer Midayle, Pirate Girl Briggid will straightforwardly tell him that she's not sure if he loves her for herself or because she is the older twin sister of Adean, the White Magician Girl he used to love, and Midayle will have to disabuse her of such a belief. She exhibits a similar fear if she's paired up with archer Jamuka, whom Adean helped to have a Heel–Face Turn. Again, Jamuka will reply via saying that he loves only her now.
      • It's very strongly implied in one of the mangas that Arvis, a man with big Parental Issues, may have fallen for Deirdre because she reminded him of his adored mother Cigyun. For massive irony, Deirdre was his half-sister... and they shared the same mom. Whoops.
    • Zig-Zagged between Ingrid and Glenn in Fire Emblem: Three Houses. In Ingrid and Felix’s, Glenn’s younger brother, support conversations, the two of them get into an argument about Ingrid’s feelings towards Glenn. Felix tells her that the Glenn she fell in love is a romanticized version because of how he gave his life to save Dimitri from the Tragedy of Duscar, and that he was a completely different person from the brother that he knew personally. Ingrid in response calls him out, for not being appreciative of Glenn for upholding his honor and duty as a knight.
  • Hyrule Warriors: Cia develops feelings for Link, the Hero of Hyrule because she observes his various past lives for years. Due to her loneliness, she perceives him as being her ideal soulmate and grows jealous of his connection to Princess Zelda. After her corruption by Ganondorf, she attacks Hyrule with an army to conquer and claim Link, not able to comprehend what he's actually like or that she's made herself his enemy.
  • A non-romantic variant can be seen in Kings Quest (2015). After his son Alexander is kidnapped as a baby, King Graham spends the next eighteen years searching for him, and meanwhile developing an idealized concept in his mind of the kind of relationship they'll have when they're finally reunited. But when Alexander does at last return to his family, he's not at all the person Graham has always assumed he'll be; he's a magic user and doesn't really share many of his father's interests or passions. A big part of their conflict throughout Chapter Four is caused by this.
  • Little Busters!:
    • Late in Haruka's route, she becomes very worried that she doesn't love Riki, she just thinks she does because she's so broken and insecure that she'd be reacting this way to anyone who showed genuine affection towards her. Riki says that he doesn't care and loves her anyway.
    • In Mio's route, she rejects Riki's Anguished Declaration of Love because she believes he only feels pity for her and is mistaking that for love. She's wrong, obviously.
    • Sasami's route involves her realizing her feelings for Kengo weren't necessarily love, but rather an admiration towards him. Once she realizes this truth, she actually feels relieved when Kengo admits he doesn't reciprocate her feelings.
  • Lucky Me, Lucky You, a free visual novel by ebi-hime, centers around this. The protagonist, Nanami, has just been dumped by her girlfriend, and her best friend Ryo tries to cheer her up with a night of ice cream and...watching porn. One of the movies contains an actress called Misae Morishita, who was Nanami's first crush. After discovering that Misae is from the same area as Ryo's grandparents, Nanami impulsively decides to visit in order to find Misae and confess her feelings. Meeting Misae in real life drives home to Nanami that the person she was crushing on was just a persona from the beginning, and that the real Misae can't live up to her fantasy.
  • Mega Man ZX has Prairie falling in love with Girouette. She later admitted that it was because Giro reminded her of someone she knew in the past. Prairie is strongly believed to be Alouette of the Mega Man Zero series, and Giro is a (rather blatant) expy of the eponymous character that Alouette looks up to and idolizes.
  • Mystic Messenger: Yoosung idolized his cousin Rika and was hit hard by her suicide. If the player character pursues Yoosung, he begins comparing her constantly with Rika which causes Zen and Jaehee to worry that he only sees the PC as a Replacement Goldfish for Rika. In his good ending, he overcomes this. In his bad endings... not so much.
  • Noel The Mortal Fate: Jillian idealizes Noel, to the point she's devastated once she becomes a terrorist and not her "Ideal Noel" anymore. In Chapter 5, Noel lampshades that Jillian fails to understand how she thinks, what motivates her, or how her time seeking revenge on Burrows has affected her.
  • Persona:
    • Persona 2: Innocent Sin:
      • Lisa is infatuated with Tatsuya from the word go, but it's clear that it's a shallow fantasy - the popular pretty girl who wants the "cool loner" for a boyfriend. Over the course of the game, Tatsuya is shown to be a loner because he's been hurt by loss and reluctant to open up to anyone again, but Lisa genuinely falls in love with the good person hiding behind the loner.
      • Hanakouji and Eikichi do the same with each other, though Eikichi's fantasy of Hanakouji is more from not having seen her for years, and her fantasy of him is actually a more shallow and immature person than he turns out to be. The reality of one another turns out to be far more fulfilling.
    • Persona 4: Yukiko is an Aloof Dark-Haired Yamato Nadeshiko at first glance, which attracts dozens of boys who buy into the prospect of having a classical Japanese beauty as a girlfriend. In reality, Yukiko is a shy girl with a love of stupid humor, horror, and strange thought processes, all of which contrast with her proper appearance. One of the boys guilty of believing the fantasy appears in Chie's Social Link and complains about seeing Yukiko being cheerful because a not-gloomy Yukiko clashes with his fantasized version of her.
    • Persona 5:
      • Morgana's crush on Ann, which begins when he sees Kamoshida's sexualized "Princess Ann" cognition. From that point on, he starts calling the real Ann "Lady Ann", tries to act like a chivalrous knight around her, and believes she'll be into him if he manages to become a human. Because the plot never takes his crush seriously, Morgana has no chance of even getting Ann to respond like he wants her to, and can only sigh in defeat if Joker romances her.
      • Played for Laughs with Yusuke, who's overcome by Ann's beauty when first meeting her and begs her to be the model for his next painting. When the topic is brought up once more near the end of his Social Link, he says that after learning of her true (abrasive) personality he could never see her in the same light. It takes Ann a moment to realize what he meant.
  • Pokémon Scarlet and Violet has a platonic variation in the Teal Mask DLC. Kieran idolizes the ogre that the rest of his village shuns, because he views it as strong and independent. As a Shrinking Violet with a Big Sister Bully, he wishes he could be like that himself. It turns out that while Ogerpon is much nicer than the villagers assumed, she's also very lonely and wants to have someone to spend more time with. As such, she ends up choosing the player character to be her trainer instead of Kieran, because they spent more time with her. Due to his Sanity Slippage, however, Kieran continues to ignore this and concludes that he just needs to get stronger in order to get Ogerpon away from the player.
  • Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, Harry's been dead for years and Cheryl is the patient. The Harry you've been playing as is the shadow in this equation; either he was physically manifested by Cheryl or it all took place only in her mind. Probably (hopefully) not a romantic version of this.
  • In Super Danganronpa Another 2, Kanade Otonokoji was a yandere for her twin sister Hibiki. However, it's made abundantly clear that Kanade doesn't care about her as a person, and in fact actively resents her. She fetishizes her sister because she's a malignant narcissist who simply sees Hibiki as a reflection of herself to play with, and instead of accepting her sister's shortcomings she decided to erase them by grooming her into an Empty Shell.
  • Tales Series:
    • In Tales of Symphonia, the Big Bad has shades of this towards his sister, Martel. He may have loved her as his sister when she was alive, but after she was killed he promptly jumped off the slippery slope and committed numerous atrocities - including splitting the world in two and setting up the Church of Martel to breed the perfect vessel for his sister - to get her back. When Martel is briefly resurrected, she chews Mithos out for this and tells him this isn't what she wanted but instead a twisted interpretation of her last wish. When she leaves again, Mithos is furious and demands Colette return his sister. When Colette protests that Martel just wants the suffering to end, he purposefully misinterprets what she says and flees to Derris Kharlan rather than face that the reason his sister was never successfully brought back to life was that she didn't want to be. This is in stark contrast to Martel's fiancé, Yuan, who opposes Mithos in the shadows so he can fulfill her real wishes and let her finally rest.
    • An variation occurs in Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. Marta falls head-over-heels in love with what she falsely believes Emil to be, clearly ignoring Emil's actual personality. When he calls her out on this in a moment of frustration, she draws back and realizes that, no, Emil really isn't like her fantasy. Then she ends up falling for Emil for real.
    • Part of the plot of Tales of the Abyss is that the lead, Luke fon Fabre got Identity Amnesia as a result of being kidnapped seven years ago. His fiancee Natalia is desperate for him to remember their Childhood Marriage Promise and focuses on that over everything else, including the fact Luke finds her annoying. It gets more complicated when The Reveal comes out. Natalia's Character Development, thus, nearly entirely revolves around her moving past this trope.
  • Shrowdy, the villain of A Vampyre Story, has a history of kidnapping women who resemble his mother. All of them made some mistake, did something that made Shrowdy realize they were people of their own. All of them can be found in the same pit... what's left of them.
  • Umineko: When They Cry:
    • George Ushiromiya is in love with Shannon, who's a shy and demure Meido. However, Shannon is really just an alter ego of Sayo Yasuda, who's actually incredibly troubled and is planning a Murder-Suicide on a massive scale.
    • An even more disturbing example is with Kinzo Ushiromiya. After his beloved mistress Beatrice Castiglioni's Death by Childbirth, Kinzo's grief made him delude himself into believing that their daughter Beatrice Ushiromiya was her reincarnation, which only got worse as Beatrice Ushiromiya began to resemble her mother even more as she grew older. Naturally, she couldn't understand or return her father's obsessive feelings for her, but this didn't stop him from eventually raping his own daughter thanks to projecting his feelings for her mother onto her.
  • Zero Escape: In Virtue's Last Reward, this is essentially why Tenmyouji has pursued Akane for so long after escaping from the Nonary Game in Nevada, despite the fact that the search destroyed his life. It isn't until the "End & Beginning" epilogue that he finally acknowledges (to his deep sadness) that the innocent Akane he once knew no longer exists.

    Web Comics 
  • Best Friends Forever: By chapter 23, Vincent finally confesses to Louis that his feelings for Ted are this. He has tried to compare other men to Ted in his mind, but realized that this is unfair to everybody, as he isn't really with Ted, and is much more in love with the idea of having a relationship with Ted and the mental image of a perfect Lovable Nerd he has of Ted rather than Ted himself.
  • Go Get a Roomie!: This is Roomie's reason for not wanting anyone to fall in love with her; she's afraid people only love the Manic Pixie Dream Girl image she prevents and be bored and disappointed with the real person with regular flaws. She takes a big risk with Lilian who falls completely in love with all of the person Roomie is.
    Rooomie: I'm sorry I'm not the person you thought I was -
    Lillian: You're so much more.
    Roomie: Oh God, fuck me.
  • Haruna sees Onii-san as a replacement for her dead fiance Mamoru in Experimental Comic Kotone. However, later strips show that, while she may have originally felt that way, as time went on she fell for Onii-san for real.
  • This turns out to be the major source of conflict between Misho and Marena in Keychain of Creation. Misho refuses to have casual sex with Marena. He wants more than that. Marena wants that too, but won't commit to anything more until she's sure that Misho sees her as she is now, not as she was a millennium ago when she was Misho's First Age Lunar consort.
  • One arc of Least I Could Do has Issa introducing the guys to her new boyfriend, who bears a very strong resemblance to Rayne. The other guys notice this and wonder among themselves if she realizes this, as Issa has adamantly resisted Rayne's advances for the last decade or so.
  • Ménage à 3: Sonya takes up with Gary because she thinks that he’s a sex god and that her sleeping with him will make Yuki wildly jealous. When Gary turns out to be a sexually inexperienced nerd, and Yuki proves too depressed to get angry, Sonya drops Gary. Which said, all that time, she’s never denied that her real obsession is with Zii — which may be another, subtler instance of loving a shadow. In fact, most of the “deeper” relationships in the comic seem to feature elements of the trope; for example, Erik loves Zii as a cool rock chick, DiDi loves Kiley thanks to a dim-witted misunderstanding of something she said, and anyone who so much as looks at DiDi has their brain addled by lust.
  • In Namir Deiter, Cedric convinces himself that he's still in love with Tipper (his high-school sweetheart, whom he broke up with). Tipper tells him point-blank that he's in love with the girl she used to be and she's changed drastically since then. Not to mention she's engaged to someone else. Cedric doesn't take no for an answer. From Tipper OR her fiancee, Charles. It doesn't end well. Then again, Cedric has always been portrayed as a flake who tends to react first and think when forced to.
  • Whale Star: The Gyeongseong Mermaid: Poor Haruko can't get it through her head that the version of Uihyeon she loves, the sensitive young student who used to live in her home, is gone. Nevertheless she keeps trying to reach out to him, hoping he'll eventually like then love her back. He finally breaks off their engagement for good.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal applies this trope to Charlie Brown's infatuation with the Little Redheaded Girl. His reaction when she inevitably doesn't live up to his idealized fantasy provides the trope image.
  • Played for Laughs in the xkcd strip "Nighttime Stories", when Cueball sees a girl reading by flashlight outside his building, and eventually plucks up the courage to go out and ask her what she's reading. It's Xenocide by Orson Scott Card, and when he learns she likes it better than Speaker for the Dead or Ender's Game, he goes back inside, apparently without another word.
    Cueball: And to think I loved her.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Arcane has a more familial example: What ultimately causes Jinx to embrace being Jinx is that her older sister Vi loves who she used to be as Powder and not who she currently is, making her decide that compared to Vi unconditionally loving her when they were children, the Vi of the present can't love her unless Jinx goes back to the way she used to be, which she cannot.
  • Bob's Burgers: Happened in "Can't Buy Me Math". When Tina and Darryl pretended to be a couple, she told him how to act as her boyfriend. Afterwards, she thought she’d developed feelings for him. He pointed out that she’d only really developed feelings for the person he was acting like, which was him just following her instructions and nothing like who he really was.
  • The titular character from BoJack Horseman does this to basically everybody who is nice to him or helps him to focus, he tends to over-idealize someone and ignore their flaws as long as they are by his side, often ignoring to even getting to know them properly. This is particularly done to Charlotte, a doe he met 20 years before the series starts a few times who was his best friend's girlfriend at the time, who left to go to Maine. He never really got to know her deeply, but grows to believe she is his last chance to happiness and wonder What Could Have Been. This is ultimately thrown in his face when he goes to find her in New Mexico, just to find out she is a Happily Married mother of two. When he finally declares himself, she Lampshades this: they never were really close, they never got to know much about each other, and they haven't seen each other in 20 years, so why would she choose him over her family?
    • Preceding this was his blow-up fight with Wanda, who lampshades it thus.
      Wanda: You know, it's funny. When you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.
    • And in Season Three, he gives this advice to a Runaway Bride he'd accidentally inspired with his speech about the importance of finding a soulmate.
      Tanisha: I love Karen, but does she complete me?
      BoJack: Tanisha, nobody completes anybody. That's not a real thing. If you're lucky enough to find someone you can halfway tolerate, you sink your nails in, and you don't let go, no matter what!
      Tanisha: So, what? I should just settle?
      BoJack: Yes! Thank you! Exactly! Settle! Because otherwise, you're just going to get older, and harder, and more alone. And you're going to do everything you can to fill that hole with friends, and your career, and meaningless sex, but the hole doesn't get filled. And one day, you're going to look around, and you're going to realize that everybody loves you... But nobody likes you. And that is the loneliest feeling in the world.
  • An episode of The Pirates of Dark Water called "A Drop of Darkness" had the older Cray, who had once dated Ren's father. She threw a fit and left him when she caught him having a picnic with another woman. Ren looks like his father, so when Cray regains her youth, she tries to recapture how happy she remembers being. Either Ren marries her, or his friends meet messy ends.
  • Cyclops seems to have this for the missing Jean Grey in Wolverine and the X-Men (2009), not helped by her lack of characterization.
  • Kid Flash's constant flirting with Miss Martian on Young Justice (2010) had shades of this, as did Miss Martian's own relationship with Superboy (on both ends). Although at the end of the first season, it turns out that Superboy is the only person who really knew Miss Martian, rather than her "Hello Megan!" personality, even if she didn't realise it.
  • Doughy Latchkey in Moral Orel develops a crush on his teacher, Miss Sculptham, after she calls him "son" - something his actual parents don't. Aside from her clearly not being interested in a child, she just takes advantage of him to get free expensive gifts. When he realizes that their relationship is not mutual, he stops giving.
  • In Danny Phantom, one episode makes it clear that the titular character's mother Maddie would have never been happy with Vlad Masters, his Arch-Enemy, who use to be college friends with Jack, Danny's father, and Maddie, by showing an alternate timeline where Maddie married Vlad. Vlad is shown to be a control freak, controlling his wife's movements and preventing her from pursuing her passion in ghost hunting, while Maddie is still in love with Jack — who in this reality, took Vlad's place as the first halfa. This is because Vlad is in love with the idea of having Maddie rather than Maddie herself; hence, in the canon timeline, he is a Hopeless Suitor who has no chance with her, regardless of her marriage with Jack.
  • Harley Quinn (2019): What attracted Harley to the Joker was envisioning him as a man traumatized by an abusive childhood and who needed her for love and comfort. It's until after her relationship with him ends that Harley learns the story Joker told her about his father beating him wasn't even his but Ivy's. Soon after that, Harley realizes Ivy is the one she truly loves.
  • In Hey Arnold!:
    • In the early episodes, Arnold had a crush on an older girl named Ruth McDougal. She never really became an active player on the show; Arnold simply admired her from afar. In the Valentine's Day episode, he finally has a chance to talk to her and realizes that she's kind of a Brainless Beauty, making him lose interest.
    • In the episode "Preteen Scream", Phoebe has a crush on a singer named Ronnie Matthews, falling in love with his beautiful singing voice and heartful lyrics, until she wins a contest to meet him in person and finds out he's actually a shallow jerk who didn't even write or sing his own songs and can't get her name right. She gets mad at Helga for teasing her about having a crush on him, but Helga points out that Phoebe was the one who begged her to come with her and was the one who was gushing about how great he is in the first place. When Phoebe admits she was stupid for falling for his act, Helga tells her anybody can be suckered in by a pretty face and they head home while making fun of Ronnie.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: In "Sleepover", Marco admits that he's unsure about whether he has a crush on Jackie because of who she is as a person, or because he has put her on a pedestal in his mind.
  • Steven Universe:
    • Greg is clearly in love with Rose Quartz, a nigh-immortal humanoid alien. However (as shown by the Whole Episode Flashback "We Need to Talk"), early in their relationship, he realizes that she can't tell the difference between loving humans and being in love with a human, and becomes concerned about whether her affection for him is one or the other. Rose, for her part, may not even be aware that there is a difference until Greg confronts her about it, which marks a turning point in both their relationship and Rose's own Character Development.
    • Broken down a bit more explicitly in "Love Letters." Jamie the mailman sees Garnet rising from the ocean and instantly becomes infatuated with her, writing the titular letter and professing his love to her (in the rain, no less). After both Garnet's blunt rebuttal and Connie and Steven's attempt to let him down easy go awry, Garnet sits down with him and explains that it just isn't possible for him to be in love with her so quickly (they'd said all of two sentences to each other) because love is about knowing the other person and accepting their flaws, and he was just so swept up in the drama of Hollywo- Kansas that he had himself convinced infatuation was love.
  • An old Merrie Melodies short called "Ding Dog Daddy" features a hapless dog, who shares the voice of Goofy, eager to find love. After being cruelly rejected, he falls for a female dog he calls Daisy and faces down a vicious guard dog just to be with her. What he's unable to realize is that Daisy is actually just a metal statue of a dog, and his delusion persists even when "she" is picked up by scrap men to be melted down for making munitions.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: While Lila appears to believe that her feelings for Adrien are genuine, it's heavily indicated that she's more interested in the idea of Adrien — namely, a wealthy and popular Pretty Boy who she can turn into the perfect doting boyfriend — than in the reality of Adrien as a person, and reacts badly when Adrien says or does anything to break her illusion, as best seen in "Chameleon" (she accuses him of being self-righteous in his attempt to befriend her despite knowing she's a compulsive liar). By contrast, Marinette and Kagami were both won over by his kindness, and even Chloé has known him since childhood — all three of them, to varying extents, know the real Adrien far better than Lila would even want to.
    • Technically, this applies to all of the girls who've shown interest in Adrien, as he considers Cat Noir to be his true self (not that any of them know that), and his Purity Personified image is largely cultivated to please his Control Freak father. Lila's just more extreme than the other cases.
    • Kagami becomes a more obvious case in "Lies" - she gets irritated with Adrien's apparent Acting Unnatural for his portrait, not realizing that to him, "acting more like his real self" translates to "acting like Cat Noir". Needless to say, Adrien figures out that she prefers the mask to the real him, and their relationship collapses.
    • The episode “Kuro Neko” heavily implies that even Marinette herself isn’t immune to this, at least not entirely. Adrien has to use a new persona for his superhero identity and replaces the carefree jokey Cat Noir for a more serious, professional Catwalker. Ladybug is so smitten with this version of him that she can’t even focus on the job with him around. The problem is that “Catwalker” is more of an exaggerated version of the Purity Personified mask that he wears in public than an actual person, so essentially, Ladybug is more in love with an ideal version of her partner (which is basically Adrien to the max) than she is with Adrien’s real self.
  • For a non-romantic version, Shadow Weaver's twisted, manipulative pseudo-parental affection for Adora in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power largely ignores what Adora is actually like. In "Shadows of Mystacor", Shadow Weaver insists that Adora is a cunning, ruthless, cutthroat warrior who belongs with the Horde, while the actual Adora is The Hero for a very good reason. Inverted in grimly ironic fashion with Catra, where it's more like Despising A Shadow; Catra actually is the cunning and ruthless person Shadow Weaver thinks Adora is, but Shadow Weaver is focused entirely on building up Adora and she can't see Catra as anything other than a wastrel who exists solely to drag Adora down.
  • Totally Spies!: In the second appearance of the villainous mime Jazz Hands, Sam goes undercover as the mime Miss Spirit Fingers to find out what his latest plan is. Turning people to mimes. Again. Jazz Hands falls head over heels for Miss Spirit Fingers, even after he learns Sam was working against him -but he chooses to believe Miss Spirit Fingers is a buried part of her personality, rather than a completely invented persona created to trick him. It's both sad and creepy.
  • Deconstructed in the Family Guy episode "Run, Chris, Run." Chris gets elected to Homecoming King by his peers...but it turns out the only reason they did it was out of pity. Chris goes into denial, but when he sees them nominate a dead girl as his Homecoming Queen, a girl who got herself killed by driving while on PCP, he realizes that they only like the idea of helping a disabled kid like him, and not who he actually is. He angrily chews them out and storms off.
  • The Owl House plays a platonic version of this for horror. Philip Wittebane used to have an older brother named Caleb, who he murdered for falling in love and having a child with a witch. The Grimwalkers — of which Hunter is the latest iteration — are his attempts at creating a "better version" of his brother that would serve as his right hand man during his rise to power as Emperor Belos. However, all Belos wants from Hunter is complete obedience and subservience, which he cultivates through manipulation and abuse, meaning that the moments where Hunter acts most like Caleb are the moments where he's not around Belos. Word of God clarified that "Caleb" has been reduced to an abstract concept in Belos's mind, and he cares so little about Hunter's actual wellbeing that when Hunter discovers that he's a clone and brokenly asks Belos what happened to the previous ones, Belos tries to kill him on the spot, and later tells Luz that he'll have to make another one thanks to her.

    Real Life 
  • Considering how infatuated and in love Dante Alighieri was for Beatrice, more than a few people mistake her for having been his wife, not helped by some works inspired by the Divine Comedy like Dante's Inferno in which Beatrice is actually depicted as his wife. In reality, they were never in a directly romantic relationship, and even according to Dante himself, they only had met a sparse few times across their entire lives, and they both ultimately ended up marrying different people. This didn't stop Dante from idealizing her as the peak of purity, beauty, and love, the version of Beatrice that appears in The Divine Comedy.
  • Rita Hayworth complained of this. "Men fell in love with Gilda, but they wake up with me."
  • Henrik Wergeland when he courted and tried to win his first crush Hulda Malthe. On some poetic level, he seems to have understood it, and plays the trope straight in the poems he wrote on the subject. The poems are cosmic visions, to say the least, showing that the poet Lampshaded his position by literally trying to grasp for stars. He inverted it later when he met the girl he eventually married, Amalie Sofie. The poems he wrote to her are filled with flowers — a lot more obtainable in Real Life.
  • Due to his role as Edward Cullen in The Twilight Saga, Robert Pattinson amassed a significant "fanbase" of scarily obsessive young girls and middle-aged women. He once took one, who had been particularly zealous in her stalking, out to dinner and spent the entire time complaining about his actual, real-life problems. He never saw her again. It's hard to have sexy vampire fantasies about an incredibly human man.
  • Medieval Historian Dr. Eleanor Janega proposes that this Trope is fundamental to the whole theory of courtly love.


Video Example(s):


"You've Betrayed Me"

In the heat of their fight, Ollie accuses Stan of Being "Hollow", saying that Stan had only ever cared about their studio-mandated partnership and never about him as a real friend.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / LovingAShadow

Media sources: