Harry: Wow, the transformation is astounding!
[the aliens all applaud]
Dick: I haven't done it yet!
Alice and Bob are in a relationship, but Bob knows something's wrong, to the point where he decides it's better to just end things. He could just sit Alice down and tell her, "You know, this isn't working out. I don't think we should be together anymore."
So Bob tries to get Alice to break up with him first, usually by engaging in unattractive behavior.
Reasons for this vary. Bob might know the relationship has to end, but he doesn't want to be the bad guy, especially if what's turning him off could be seen as shallow or insignificant by others. He might genuinely want to spare Alice's feelings, and figures that she won't be heartbroken if she's the one who initiates the breakup. He might realize that he's not the one she belongs with, and does this to make her see that. He might be afraid of what her father or big brother might do to him if he dumps her. Hell, he might be afraid of what Alice will do to him if he dumps her. If they're married, they might have a prenup that makes it desirable for Bob not to be the one to request a divorce. Or perhaps they aren't in a relationship to begin with: Alice could be an Abhorrent Admirer who keeps chasing after Bob trying to get a date, or a Self-Proclaimed Love Interest who insists they are already dating and refuses to accept any claims to the contrary, and Bob thinks this will get her to leave him alone for good.
Almost always backfires, especially if played for comedy. Acting like a disgusting slob will only cause Alice to feel incredibly flattered that Bob feels like he can act so "comfortable" around her, at which point she will usually start behaving similarly. Acting like a Jerkass will only reveal that Alice secretly has a thing for bad boys. And so on and so on.
In more serious works, discovering this trope in action will result with the wannabe dumpee labeled a Dirty Coward. Unless it turns out that he's Dating Catwoman in which case the fear is justified. In comedic works, expect Bob to either resign himself to being stuck with Alice, or realize that he actually loves her and wants to be with her after all, only for her to then dump him for some other reason (bonus points if it's his normal behaviour that finally turns her off).
Happens in real life, and let's leave it at that.
- Godai tried this with Kozue several times without success in Maison Ikkoku.
- Fairy Tail has Erza encounter Jellal shortly after the 7-year Time Skip, leading to an Almost Kiss scene before Jellal suddenly shoves her away and claims to have a fiancee. When his new teammates call him out on his lie, he admits that he doesn't feel that he deserves Erza (who knows that it was a lie, but accepts Jellal's hesitation to further their relationship).
- Ranma ½ had Ranma trying to do this to Ukyou in the "Secret Sauce" arc by pretending to be even more coarse and callous than he actually was. She saw right through his pathetic acting.
- Karin: Karin can't get Dogged Nice Guy Winner to understand that she's not interested in him. So she tries going on a date with him and acting like a total demanding bitch so he will lose interest. It doesn't work.
- Sgt. Frog: When Karara started crushing on Tamama, he acts very crude and coarse, getting the others to back him up by talking about all his faults. ...This also doubled as Brutal Honesty, as he does have all the same flaws they were "lying" about, but he didn't realize that he was telling her exactly what was really wrong with him.
- Yuno tries this in Future Diary, since she comes to want Yukiteru to hate her.
- Benio Hanamura from Haikarasan Ga Tooru deliberately screws up with her Yamato Nadeshiko training so her arranged fiancé Shinobu Iijuin and his family will put an end to an engagement that she really, really doesn't want to go through note . It fails since Shinobu himself is a Nice Guy and keeps forgiving everything... and upon realising this, she ends up falling for him as well.
- In The Wallflower, Ranmaru tries to break off an marriage meeting with a young lady his parents set him up with. He decides the best way to get out of it is to get the girl to hate him and chooses to do this by copying his roommates behaviors (or his interpetations of them anyway) this manages to backfire when the girl in question, Tamao, manages to point out the good things about each and every one of them.
- This was the entire plot of the movie How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Well, Andie's half of the plot, anyway. Ben's half consists of doing the exact opposite (being charming enough that Addie falls in love with him). Watching them manipulate and sabotage each other at almost every turn is...interesting to watch.
- The ending of Some Like It Hot has "Daphne" trying to do this to Osgood
"Daphne": Osgood ... I'm a man!Osgood: Well, nobody's perfect!
- In Melinda and Melinda, one of Woody Allen's worse movies, the plot is told twice, once as a comedy and once as a tragedy. In the comic version, Will Ferrell plays a husband who desperately wants to break up with his wife to run off with the eponymous Melinda, but can't think of an excuse to. He walks in, preparing to tell his wife that he was dumping her...only to find her in bed with another man. Will Ferrell immediately demands a divorce and leaves happier than he'd been the whole movie.
- The Graduate: Benjamin, under orders from Mrs. Robinson, tries to get her daughter Elaine to lose interest in him by taking her to a strip club on a date.
- A rather tragic version is mentioned in Dogma, when one of the Mooby's boardmembers apparently got his girlfriend drunk at a party and arranged for another guy to sleep with her, just so he could dump her without himself looking bad for it. She ended up committing suicide over her "betrayal of trust".
- This is also the plot of nearly every Jeeves and Wooster novel. Bertie is a preux chevalier (French for "valiant knight") who can never say "no" to a woman and constantly gets engaged to women with less-than-appealing personalities as a result. Jeeves usually ends up doing something amazing to solve both Bertie's problem and the problem of the week at the same time.
- Ron Weasley tries this with Lavender Brown in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince after she becomes insufferably clingy. Although he didn't try to make her dump him by being gross or offending or something, he just ran away from her. In the end, Lavender does break up with him after she finds him together with Hermione.
Harry: And speaking of getting shot of people, will you stop pretending to be asleep when Lavender comes to see you [in the hospital wing]? [..] If you don't want to go out with her anymore, just tell her.Ron: Yeah...well...it's not that easy, is it?
- Done repeatedly on Seinfeld. Tactics included suggesting a threesome, cheating, nosepicking, smoking and asking for a prenuptial agreement (the last three were with the same woman). Sometimes it worked, but more often than not, it backfired.
- George Costanza also had the same rotten luck using similar tactics in an attempt to get fired from his job with the Yankees in order to be able to take a better job with the Mets. Even publicly insulting his boss just earned him praise for refusing to be a Yes-Man. And when he does do something that gets him fired, Mr. Wilhelm barges in at the last second claiming it was all his idea and George was Just Following Orders. When Wilhelm is fired instead of George, he happily reveals that he was also considered for the same Mets job George was.
- Richard on Caroline in the City tried nosepicking, too. It backfired miserably when the intended dumpee became gleeful at the prospect that Richard was comfortable enough in their relationship not to hide his disgusting habits around her... and consequently felt no shame about now trotting out her disgusting habits.
- Meredith thinks Derek is doing this at one stage in Grey's Anatomy, when he flirts with her sister. It turns out he does want her to dump him, but it's because she's always walking away from him and then coming back, and he loves her too much to leave her when she's a bitch to him. This is a bit rich, though - I mean, who had the secret wife here, huh?
- One episode of My Name Is Earl had Earl get back together with a clingy girlfriend. After realising she was emotionally needy (and not wanting to tie her down too much), Earl tried to get her to stand up for herself by acting like a complete dick so she'd move on and find someone else. He resorts to having her find him in bed with another woman, which still doesn't get her sufficiently annoyed, before he talked to her about what he was doing.
- In another episode, Catalina has entered into a Citizenship Marriage with Randy so she could leave Guadelatucky and go back to Camden. Randy has had a crush on this Spicy Latina all series long, and he is very excited about consummating the marriage. Catalina, however, finds Randy repulsive. So (on the advice of Joy), she makes herself purposely unappealing by not shaving her armpits, getting sweaty, rubbing onions and dead fish on herself, and not brushing her teeth...and making mention of Randy's parents having sex. It actually works too! ...Except that Randy was such a sensitive lover that it made her fall in love with him, while he's now disgusted with her.
- Drake does it in Drake & Josh, when he finds out his girlfriend is the daughter of his Sadist Teacher and had an Annoying Laugh. Said teacher has been going easy on him lately because he makes her daughter happy, but threatens to treat him even worse than before if he ever breaks up with her, so he tries to make her break up with him instead.
- Niles Crane did this to get his second wife Mel to divorce him so he could finally get with Daphne, the love of his life. However, there's a twist: not wanting to suffer the social embarrassment of her husband leaving her for another woman a few days after marriage, Mel is the one who engineers the Please Dump Me ploy to make it appear that Niles is the worst husband ever and that she is the innocent, devoted wife who is driven to divorce. She blackmails Niles into compliance (promising a "quick, simple divorce" in return) and in true Springtime for Hitler fashion her attempts to make him look bad horribly backfire.
- Blue Ranger Lucas tries this on Nadira in Power Rangers Time Force. It's particularly problematic because her Papa Wolf Overprotective Dad is the Big Bad. They get back together after her HeelFace Turn.
- Believing that his female roommate is attracted to him, Joey on asks Ross and Chandler for advice on how to repel women (suggestions were explaining one's jokes, making rimshot noises, and talking about science.)
- During one of Chandler's relationship crises, Phoebe accuses him of trying to do this. Joey then asks "You know about that?"
- Salute Your Shorts had an episode where Budnick fell in love with Dina, and reformed his ways to go out with her. But because All Girls Want Bad Boys, Dina wasn't as attracted to him when he wasn't a rebel, and the other campers found the "new" Budnick even more obnoxious than the old one. To get their jerk back, Dina had to push him away.
- In Wizards of Waverly Place, Alex does this to get rid of Dean, but it backfires when he wants to help her get herself together. Finally, she blurts out the truth and he agrees to dump her anyway.
- Done in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.
- In Misfits, Curtis tries this on his girlfriend Sam. Even though hes the one doing the dumping, he has to do it in such a way that will make her furious rather than sad (for reasons too complex to go into lets just say it involves defence mechanism superpowers and Time Travel). In his desperate attempts to provoke the desired reaction, he accuses her of having "weird tits" and "nasty snatch-gunk", and claims to be impotent, gay and terminally ill. None of it works. In the end, its Curtis trying to justify his actions with a quote from a Spider-Man movie that makes her hate him and want to break up.
- Hannah Montana: Oliver pretends to be obsessed with aliens to get Joannie to dump him. It almost works, but Oliver eventually subverts this trope and breaks up with her himself.
- After drunkenly proposing to Dorothy in Men Behaving Badly, Gary tries to make her call it off with ridiculous conditions:
Gary: ...and you must consent to any sexual act, even if it involves... enormous vegetables!
- Subverted in the end, as it turns out Dorothy was just stringing him along (of course upon learning this, Gary gets offended and manages to argue his way into her wanting to marry him again).
- This is the justification many caught-in-the-act suspects on Cheaters give when pressed about why they're cheating. Apparently, they don't want to really break up the relationship, but are fine spending lots of time pissing off their partner...
- In The Vampire Diaries Caroline breaks up with Matt by starting a jealous argument about him talking to another girl, which she already knows that he hates.
- In the Canadian Kid Com Majority Rules! the Girly Girl Fashionista of the main character group dresses like a stereotypical nerd with a snorting laugh and has a Burping Contest with a male friend in order to put off a guy who has a crush on her without hurting his feelings. The guy is Genre Savvy enough to know exactly what she's doing and says that she made her point perfectly clear, so he gives up on pursuing her.
- 3rd Rock from the Sun: In the third season premiere Dick is assigned a "wife", Janet, who's also the niece of the Big Giant Head. As a result Dick can't send her back to the home planet without getting in trouble. He instead decides to drive her away by acting like a boorish slob, which mostly involves channeling Stanley from A Streetcar Named Desire, but can't follow through and immediately apologises for being mean to her. Janet eventually leaves after Dick explains to her that they don't have to be together just because the Big Giant Head said so.
- In Japanese Mythology, some versions of the Princess Kaguya tale state that several noblemen asked for her hand in marriage. She knew that she'd never be able to marry either of them since she had to return to the Moon, but she also knew that she couldn't afford to openly blow them off without getting herself and her parents in trouble, so she took a third option and gave each potential husband pretty much impossible to fulfill quests as conditions. Some tried to cheat their way out, but the Genre Savvy Kaguya wasn't fooled.
- Sam Kinison had an entire bit about this, though given his sense of humour, he suggests getting hooked on various hardcore drugs.
- Subverted if the player romances Morrigan in Dragon Age: Origins. She does this, even going so far as to beg the player to say he doesn't love her, not because she doesn't have feelings for him, but because she's scared to death she might.
- During her romance in Baldur's Gate II, Viconia spends a little while trying to make the player character hate her when she realizes she's not exactly wearing the pants in the relationship (and might be falling in love).
- In Penny and Aggie, Karen advises Stan on what to say to drive Michelle away. However, he considers her advice—"Start ordering for her at restaurants. Ask...for a diet salad, and put a little emphasis on the word 'diet'"—too cruel even for the Jerkass he is at this point in the story.
- For weeks after her return from Hollywood, during which she fell for, kissed and nearly slept with another girl, Sara delays telling Daphne it's over. When she notices Daphne glaring at Sara's best friend Penny over her aristocratic behaviour, Sara thinks, "Don't make a scene, Daph. Make a scene, Daph," suggesting that part of her longs for an excuse, that doesn't involve confessing her borderline-infidelity, to dump her. Some time later, when Daphne and her childhood best friend Fred (who's also gay) share a platonic kiss during a party game, Sara sports a noticeably jealous look, but denies feeling that way when Daphne calls her on it. When she does finally get up the nerve to break up with Daphne, Sara confesses that she had been "trying to send a clear signal" but decided not to throw a fit about the kiss because she realized she was being "a brat and a coward, waiting for an easy way out."
- Alan from the webcomic Avalon drew this out for three years with Helène. He had initially dated her due to her popularity, but quickly regretted it due to her being extremely clingy, but he also didn't want to hurt her too badly. Eventually, his best friend Joe tells it to her straight, and it turns out she knew this whole time that Alan was no longer in love with her, but she convinced herself that he still cared about her and they could make this work. Knowing that he'd been trying to break things off with her convinces her to finally stop trying and let him go.
- Invoked and discussed in xkcd in the strip "Overqualified".
- TV Go Home has Nathan Barley, who in one episode of his eponymous show "Cunt" tried to let his girlfriend down gently over a six month period, an endeavour which eventually results in his happy and lively girlfriend being sectioned (for non-Brits, hospitalised against her will under the Mental Health Act). The additional text from this entry makes absolutely no bones about the cruelty and selfishness of this.
- In the "American Dad!'' episode "Pulling Double Booty", Hayley starts dating her father Stan's body double Bill, but Bill takes advantage of their similarity to nearly sleep with Stan's wife Francine, provoking Stan to kick him out. Afraid to admit to Hayley that Bill was cheating on her (as Hayley enters an Unstoppable Rage when she is dumped), Stan poses as Bill and decides to be utterly obnoxious so as to make Hayley do the dumping. It doesn't work, but he ultimately ends up sharing some more loving moments that Hayley wasn't aware of, pleasing Hayley enough that she doesn't care when Stan actually dumps her... at least until she realizes that she's with her father, and not Bill.
- Done in 6teen, because he was her boss's son, and she didn't want to be fired. Doesn't work, but it winds up that the reason it doesn't work was because he also thought he'd get in trouble for dumping her.
- Johnny Bravo did this when he realized his Mail-Order Bride was a hefty Swede girl, taking her to wrestling matches and other nontraditional dates to scare her off, only to find she loves the guy. Then he realizes he loves that she's not ashamed of her interest, then he went back to his own self to impress her, only to get dumped.
- In an episode of F is for Family, Greg has a very simple way to doing this: he confesses to his wife that he's gay. Unfortunately, she's so in denial that even as he's literally begging her to divorce him, she just tearfully yells at him to stop "being silly."
- Played for Drama in Duckman, when he starts going out with a hideous woman with a wonderful personality, she eventually gets cosmetic surgery so they'll no longer draw negative attention. This makes her into a practically perfect woman that Duckman feels undeserving of, ending the episode with him deliberately not picking up the phone when she calls him, to spur her on to meeting a man who's better suited for her.