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Romantic False Lead

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It took three years, but their romance finally pushed Victor and Padma completely out of the frame.
"Ron and Hermione" by captain-nana.
"Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie, this guy would be buried in the credits as something like 'Second Tall Man'."

This is the love interest's love interest; the person brought in, either for an episode or an arc, to date the one that the main character (or just a character) is in love with. The smitten character will be jealous, take an instant dislike to him (often being blind to what attractions he does have), and do whatever they can to sabotage the budding relationship. Usually, the character is either an alpha-dog Jerkass or a bland, boring milquetoast. They may also be the character's Always Someone Better or The Ace to really inspire the Green-Eyed Monster to take hold.

This is a hard character to successfully pull off, probably because they usually start out more as a plot device than a character. In many cases, they exist solely to create tension and keep the lovers apart, so there's a real risk that your Romantic False Lead, rather than proving a worthy rival to the main character's romantic interests, will simply end up being a rather flat, boring character who just seems to show up and occupy space between the two romantic leads. As a result, this can often risk the show falling into a Romantic Plot Tumor. Furthermore, except in rare cases the False Lead is unlikely to generate the same loyalty or sympathy as the main character, meaning that your audience is liable to just spend the time the False Lead's around loudly wishing for him or her to just go away (and possibly die) already so the two characters they're interested in seeing together can actually get together.

Characterisation can also be tricky. If the false lead is too likable, then the jealous character will seem like a selfish jerk who cares more about winning their beloved for themselves than seeing them happy — or alternatively, since 'perfect' tends to equal 'uninteresting' in the minds of many when it comes to fictional characters, a too perfect and nice character will just lose the audience's interest in comparison to the more flawed and interesting main character. Many writers go for making this character a complete jerk of a partner instead, but on the other hand, if this character is too unlikable, we'll wonder what the love interest could possibly see in them and lose respect for them. A third approach is to make them both, outwardly nice and internally a jerk, but this can be tricky to write. And in extremely rare occasions, the Romantic False Lead might be more interesting and likable than both main characters together, making the audience wonder why we're not getting a better story about this person instead.

When introduced for a short arc, often exists expressly for the purpose of contrasting their relationship with the Official Couple's, in order to show how perfect the "official couple" is for each other.

Sometimes to up the angst, the writer will go so far as to marry the love interest to the false lead. If this happens, expect the Official Couple to have a tawdry affair.

Occasionally, the writers step in themselves to engage in Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends. This is usually another trap in and of itself, as it is difficult to do so and not seem cheap, as happens with Derailing Love Interests.

It's not unheard of in Romance Novel series for the romantic false lead to end up starring in their own book later. These characters are usually the more sympathetic type, though sometimes Love Redeems for the jerkass ones as well.

Supertrope to Disposable Fiancé and Wrong Guy First (in this case, the decoy is a nasty piece of work).

Compare Hopeless Suitor, Romantic Runner-Up, New Old Flame, and False Soulmate. Also compare Temporary Love Interest where the relationship is unsuccessful because there is no Official Couple and that won't change. Often the focus of Die for Our Ship. See also Previously Overlooked Paramour, the Love Interest to whom the Romantic False Lead often gives way eventually.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Rex Splode from Invincible briefly dated the title hero's crush Atom Eve, sparking a long-standing rivalry between the two that has gotten very violent. Rex seemed like a complete Jerkass at first but turned out to be just a somewhat arrogant Ace. Eventually the two became somewhat reluctant friends. Mark and Eve did get together, but much later. Then Rex dies rather tragically in a Heroic Sacrifice to defeat a group of lesser villains that Mark could've handled easily...if he and Eve hadn't needed to leave the planet to fight a greater threat at the exact same moment.
  • Spider-Man:
    • Jill Stacy, Gwen Stacy's cousin. She was set up as a new love interest for Peter Parker after MJ's apparent death. When Mary Jane was found to be alive, Jill withdrew her advances toward Peter and her entire character is put aside.
    • Caryn Earle (Peters neighbor while he lived in New Jersey) briefly dated Peter until MJ return officially in his life. After, she disappears and is never mentioned.
    • The reporter Norah Winters during the Brand New Day. She was often flirtatious with Peter while they worked together, but later began dating Randy Robertson, son of Robbie Robertson, editor of the Daily Bugle.
  • Superman: Superboy 1980 #40 introduces Lisa Davis, a girl who begins showing interest in teen Clark Kent and even dated him briefly, sparking Lana Lang's jealousy. However, the then-current books featuring adult Superman had Clark Kent stuck in a love triangle between Lois Lane and Lana, so every reader knew that relationship was living on borrowed time. It does not help the accidental fact that Lisa was introduced so late in the game (only two years before the continuity reboot) that she was never integrated in the adult Superman stories, making it look like their relationship made absolutely no impression on Clark.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Liberty Meadows:
    • The ultimate story arc had female lead Brandy about to marry Roger (her fiancé for the second time), who is rich, handsome, and basically everything strip protagonist Frank (who, oh-so-coincidentally, sports the same first name as series creator, Frank Cho) isn't. Despite having already told Frank he blew his chance with her due to his wishy-washiness, she leaves Roger at the altar for Frank, in the first issue of the post-strip comic book.
    • There's also Frank and Jen. It falls apart when it becomes apparent that Jen's just screwing with Frank (she makes out with guys she doesn't even know the names of in front of Frank), and it all finishes with a very Squicky Double Standard Rape: Female on Male storyline.

    Fan Works 
  • Advice and Trust: Subverted. When Kaji babysits Shinji and Asuka for several days, Shinji is jealous because his girlfriend's former crush will be taking care of them, but Asuka reassures him that even though she still finds Kaji yummy she has gotten over it.
  • In The Boy Behind The Mask, while at first pissed at Hiccup for defeating her, Astrid then becomes incredibly spiteful towards Katla after finding out that Hiccup is already in a relationship with her, even going so far at to challenge her to a fight for the right to be with Hiccup.
  • A Codette World Tour: Alejandro and Gwen act as these to Bridgette and Cody respectively. As the eponymous couple become friends over the course of the story, they are both too busy pursuing their Romantic False Leads to notice their growing feelings for each other. But after Gwen hooks up with Duncan and brutally rejects Cody while Alejandro's evil true nature is revealed to Bridgette, the two start to fall for each other and ultimately become a thing.
  • Crimson and Noire: Similiar to Miraculous Ladybug, both Kagami and Luka become this in regard Adrien and Marinette shipping mentioned in the tag. The difference is that Kagami is dating Marinette while Luka dates Adrien.
  • A Crown of Stars: After the Third Impact, thinking Shinji could not protect her or would let her down again, Asuka briefly dated Hans, a subordinate of a warlord named Winthrop. When his boss sent him away she "voluntarily" went to Winthrop for protection. She spent over a year as his toy before he tired of her and gave her to his chief of staff, Colonel Jinnai. She spent two years with him before meeting Shinji again. After many, many ordeals and shared pain she and Shinji started to reconcile and try to have a real relationship. Hilariously Jinnai got mad when he found out, claiming he had been dumped by a slut despite Asuka being nothing but his toy and her telling him plainly she never liked him and she serviced him and his former commander because they would put a bullet in her head if she did not "behave".
  • Evangelion 303: Asuka was unknowingly this to Mandy. Mandy's girlfriend Jessika fell in love with Asuka - something Asuka was completely unaware of - and when Mandi found out after Jessika's death she was jealous, wrongly assuming that Jessika had been unfaithful.
  • HERZ: Kurumi. When Shinji was a high-school student she was after him. However it did not last long because Shinji could not forget Asuka.
  • In Learning To Bloom, Weiss has a crush on Neptune and agrees to date him. She also has a crush on Pyrrha but doesn't realize it at first since they're both girls and Weiss had never given any thought to liking girls. Weiss quickly falls out of love with Neptune but continues to date him. Pyrrha herself is reluctantly in a relationship with Jaune, despite only liking him as a friend. In the end both Weiss and Pyrrha recognize they're just hurting themselves by faking being in love with their boyfriends. They give in to their mutual attraction, break up with their boyfriends (who aren't that upset because they always figured there was something going on between the two), and begin dating one another.
  • In Moving On (Sherlock Holmes), Mark's romantic feelings for Anne serve to heighten the tension between Anne and Holmes; in contrast to most examples of a romantic decoy, Mark is a kindhearted individual, and later saves Holmes and Anne from the Barnslake Killer.
  • Played With in What Goes Around Comes Around (Miraculous Ladybug): Alya and Adrien both assume that this is Luka's role, and that Marinette only "settled" for him since her crush was out of reach. After her Secret Identity is exposed, Adrien's abruptly real keen to hook up with her, and Alya joins him in expecting Marinette to simply dump her boyfriend, much to her frustration.

    Films — Animation 
  • Barbie as the Island Princess goes against the "tradition" of making the other girl with an interest on the male lead a Jerkass Alpha Bitch. The arranged fiancée of the prince is a rather sweet girl who genuinely likes him, voluntarily steps aside when it's clear the prince and the Barbie princess would be much better and even helps take down her Evil Matriarch of a mother and the Big Bad of the movie.
  • The two types of this character are present in Corpse Bride. The title character Emily is an extremely likable fiancée, but so is the protagonist's living fiancée, the sweet Victoria. Ultimately, the first makes an I Want My Beloved to Be Happy decision. However, the film also has an evil aristocrat named Lord Barkis who is the rival for the affections of the living bride and the Corpse Bride's former fiancé, and he is the typical nasty form of the false lead.
  • The Curse of the Were-Rabbit: Victor Quartermaine is Lady "Totty" Tottington's suitor. At first it seems to be a case of Opposites Attract since he is an avid hunter while she is an animal lover, but it's later revealed that he's only interested in her wealth. Victor becomes jealous when Totty takes a liking to Wallace but when he learns that Wallace is the Were-Rabbit he sees killing the beast as a way of both proving his prowess as a hunter and eliminating his romantic rival.
  • Done in a deliberately silly way with Batman in The LEGO Movie, where Wyldstyle already has a boyfriend, and he's Batman. Batman is portrayed as abrasive, pretentious, and egotistical, and Emmett can't stand him - but whenever he appears to go too far and treat Wyldstyle badly, it's immediately subverted. Besides his eccentricities, Batman is very much a Nice Guy, and he and Wyldstyle eventually break up on good terms.
  • In Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, Melman the giraffe shouts an Anguished Declaration of Love for Gloria the hippo as their plane is crashing. Unfortunately, she was asleep and missed it. However, once they reach the wildlife preserve, Gloria finds herself attracted to the watering hole's resident hottie, Moto Moto. As it turns out, he's only after her for her looks, and when Gloria finds out how Melman really feels, she runs after him as he's about to sacrifice himself to the volcano.
  • South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut has an example with Gregory, who befriends Wendy Testaburger with his activism and sensitivity, hinting at a relationship much to Stan's frustration. After the day is saved, Stan learns that Wendy never actually cared for him that way, to the point of her saying "Fuck Gregory, fuck him right in the ear!"

    Films — Live Action 
  • In Across the Universe (2007) Molly is this, being Jude's girlfriend in England before he goes to the US to find his father and meets the heroine Lucy. Surprisingly, she's not vilified at all, and although Jude and Lucy's relationship is portrayed as a good thing, his cheating on Molly is not. In fact, Molly gets in the last word, ending up Happily Married with a kid on the way. She even gives Jude a short "The Reason You Suck" Speech about how he thought he could have both women. In the end Jude and Lucy get their happy ending, and we can only assume Molly and new husband Phil do, too.
  • Adrian, Elise's former and future fiance in The Adjustment Bureau. From her own recollections and the very brief screen time he receives, he seems like a nice enough guy, but as far as the plot is concerned, he's just an obstacle for Matt Damon to overcome.
  • Anyone but You: Jonathan is this to Bea—though she's actually not wanting him back while her parents are wanting him back with her—and Margaret is this to Ben—in that Ben does want her back and putting on his charade with Bea is for both to work the means to those ends. Bea and Ben end up together together in the end though of course. Then a Pair the Spares connection brings Jonathan and Margaret together as well.
  • The Awful Truth has two examples: longtime married couple Jerry and Lucy hit the rocks in their relationship. He takes up with Barbara, and she attracts the interest of Dan, a wealthy oil baron. In the end, they patch up their marriage and call off their impending divorce.
  • The Baxter is built around a subset of this trope, in which a straight-laced, stable, and slightly boring boyfriend is dumped for a more exciting and edgy suitor. The main character is a repeat offender who has been "the Baxter" in all of his previous relationships.
  • Charly (2002): Mark Randolph is Charly Riley's longtime boyfriend and he is very keen on marrying her. They live together in Charly's New York City apartment and share the same goals and worldview. Things change when she goes to Utah for the summer. She re-evaluates her outlook on life, converts to Mormonism, and develops feelings for a local man. Upon her return she tells Mark that she no longer feels the same way about him. She also kicks him out of her apartment because it's not appropriate for her to live with him anymore. Mark is confused but undeterred by this new development; he attempts to woo Charly back to him. But when he comes to understand that she truly has changed, he wishes her the best, and they part ways on good terms.
  • In the first scene of Darby O'Gill and the Little People, we see Sheelah Sugrue telling Katie what a good man her son Pony is, but Katie ends up with Michael instead.
  • In Daredreamer, Winston is initially infatuated with Cindy, who couldn't care less about him, before striking up a genuine romance with Jennie.
  • Edward Scissorhands: Jim is Kim's boyfriend at the start of the film. At first they seem to be an ideal match since he is a jock and she is a cheerleader. But Jim harbors a dark side which manifests itself more and more through the film which eventually causes Kim to break up with him. Jim does not take this well, and confronts his rival, Edward. When Kim tries to stop Jim from hurting Edward he strikes back at her. This causes Edward to finally act: he stabs Jim and throws him out a window to his demise in order to defend Kim.
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall features a particular well-rounded false lead in Aldous Snow, the rock star who stole the main character's girlfriend. While he's a somewhat obnoxiously hip, self-centered lothario, he's also quite charming, friendly, and has good taste. The main character admits that it's hard to hate him. Ultimately, his relationship with Sarah Marshall dissolves due to both of their hang-ups. The guy even got his own movie!
  • Gwen's fiancé Richard in Ghost Town is a handsome, wealthy philanthropist, and Dr. Pincus feels incredibly intimidated and guilty about competing for his girlfriend. However, Frank, the ghost of Gwen's deceased husband, points out that Richard doesn't make her laugh, and it turns out that she's just not in love with him.
  • Melanie in Hereafter has all the hallmarks of the love interest who helps George to deal with his abilities. Instead, she's an example of why he can't have a normal relationship. Then he ends up meeting a woman who just might be able to understand him...
  • Bruce in His Girl Friday is this for reporter Hildy, as her shady ex Walter tries to sabotage their relationship and win him back.
  • The Incredible Hulk has Leonard Samson. He's shown to be a very nice guy who even gives Bruce some psychotherapy in a few deleted scenes, and while there's no official breakup he seems to understand that Betty and Bruce are a real item and quietly stands aside. Of course, it helps that Samson is a character from the Hulk comics, being Bruce's therapist and another Gamma-powered superhero (though the latter part obviously wasn't in the movie).
  • In Lucky 7, the heroine bases her life choices on a plan her mother made for her before she died and one of the predictions her mother made was that she would marry her seventh boyfriend. When she meets a man she believes is The One after dating five other men, she tries to invoke this trope by picking a random man to be her sixth boyfriend so that the man she actually wants to marry can become the destined seventh boyfriend after she breaks up with her handpicked Romantic False Lead. However, she ends up genuinely falling for the man who was supposed to be just a temporary sixth boyfriend and the man she originally wanted to be her seventh boyfriend and true love turns out to be the Romantic False Lead instead.
  • Jonathan, the false lead in The Movie Hero is of the boring, uptight variety. Since the movie's protagonist is a Genre Savvy Fourth-Wall Observer, he refers to Jonathan as "The Doomed Fiance" and doesn't consider him a real threat.
  • The Julia Roberts vehicle My Best Friend's Wedding deconstructs this trope. Julianne believes that her best friend Michael's bride-to-be Kimmy is this, but realizes after her attempts at Relationship Sabotage blow up in her face and get everyone (rightly) pissed off at her that she's the true Romantic False Lead. And her rival gets the guy in the end, not her.
  • Another double example is found in My Favorite Wife, as Ellen returns from being stranded at sea for several years along with handsome Stephen, to find out her husband Nick is marrying another woman named Bianca. After much shenanigans, Nick and Ellen discard their respective suitors and reunite.
  • Averted in Out Cold, in which the protagonist's love interest is engaged to a nice guy in a wheelchair. In the end, the protagonist urges her to go with her fiancé, and she does.
  • In The Philadelphia Story, Tracy Lord has discarded her one-time fiancee C.K. Dexter Haven, and is days away from marrying George Kittridge, a salt-of-the-earth fellow made good. However, it comes out (with some help from Dexter) that Kittridge is really a Social Climber who cares about appearances more than he does about Tracy. At the last minute, Dexter replaces George at the wedding.
  • In Plan B, Laura is this to both Pablo and Bruno. At the start of the film, Pablo is dating her and Bruno is her ex-boyfriend who wants to sabotage their relationship to win her back but by the end of the film, both of them end up with each other instead of her.
  • In Purgatory, Dolly is set up as the romantic interest for Sonny, especially when she ends up in Refuge, but he ends up with Rose.
  • Return to Snowy River introduces Alistair Patton, the son of a banker, as Jim Craig's competition for Jessica Harrison's love - although Jessica's feelings aren't left in question for very long once Jim is back on the scene, after which point Alistair starts kicking puppies.
  • In Sky High (2005), Gwen Grayson is Will's romantic false lead, and not only that, but the main antagonist of the film. This is better-hidden than most, due both to Will's hookup with her not coming after any breakup with his intended partner and the fact that to figure it out before The Reveal requires paying attention to a number of seemingly-minor things she does that likely wouldn't be obvious on a first viewing.
  • Annie's fiancée in Sleepless in Seattle is a decent guy, but, as she begins to obsess over a man she's never met, she realizes she's not actually in love with the man she's planning to marry. When she explains this to him, he replies that he didn't want to be the person that she settled for,'' and they split up on good terms.
  • Mary Jane's astronaut fiancé in Spider-Man 2 is a good example, similar to Richard in Superman Returns. But despite the fact that he is a good guy (and a freakin' astronaut!) he is just helping get in the way of Spider-Man's love web. Of course, in the COMICS, John Jameson actually has superpowers (which turn him into a wolf and make him go BERSERK) and Spider-Man has fought and subdued him several times. It's likely he was planned to be a villain in one of the future movies that will probably never be made now.
  • Star Wars: Han Solo was this in the original plan for the original trilogy, with Luke and Leia as the endgame couple and the other Skywalker to be a completely different character. Due to Lucas's burnout and lack of interest in continuing the series (at the time) beyond Return of the Jedi, he simply made Leia be Luke's sister.

  • Harry Potter:
    • Ron and Hermione have this happen multiple times. In Goblet of Fire, Viktor Krum asks Hermione to the Yule Ball, sparking Ron's jealousy. In Half-Blood Prince, when Ron starts going out with Lavender Brown, Hermione retaliates by asking Ron's Quidditch rival Cormac McLaggen on a date.
    • Harry also has this happen to him a lot. First Cedric Diggory asks Cho Chang to the Yule Ball before him; afterwards, Cedric's death makes Harry's dates with Cho increasingly awkward. In later books, Harry becomes increasingly jealous of Ginny's boyfriends, specifically Dean Thomas. He also takes Parvati Patil to the Yule Ball and thinks that she "looks nice". It goes no further than that, but then again, he only asked her because he was so desperate for a date that he literally asked the first two cute girls (Ron needed a date too!) who were still available that he could find.
  • Lucy Dexter is one in the H.I.V.E. Series. Being the only person in the series who can relate to Otto's troubles with being a superhuman, they confide in each other despite several previous books of UST between Otto and Laura. Their relationship doesn't last long, however, despite having no actual problems between the two, because she is killed by Overlord two days after their first kiss. This only serves to screw up Otto and keep him away from romance for a while afterwards.
  • Warrior Cats:
    • Ashfur serves the purpose of having a one-book romance with Squirrelflight, who dumps him for Brambleclaw in the next book.
    • Spottedleaf with Firestar in the Original Series. Firestar was hopelessly infatuated with her well after her death, only for his true love interest to be revealed as Sandstorm by Firestar's Quest.
    • Bumblestripe. Romance between him and Dovewing was teased in The Forgotten Warrior where Dovewing preferred him as a mate over Tigerheart, but then Dovewing rekindled her relationship with Tigerheart in the next book and even wanted to have kits with him. Of course, in that same book, Dovewing ends up choosing Bumblestripe at the very end and dumps Tigerheart ... you'd think that'd make him a romantic lead but ... Dovewing breaks up with him in Bramblestar's Storm because she still loves Tigerheart.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's Thuvia, Maid of Mars, the story opens with the news that Carthoris's Cannot Spit It Out has resulted in Thuvia's accepting the suit of Kulan Tith. Unusually, she then gets kidnapped, Cathoris goes to rescue her, and Kulan Tith does not even feature until the very end when Carthoris gets her to his ship, where he can protect her and goes to leave, Thuvia begs him to stay though she knows she is dishonoring herself, and Kulan Tith steps aside.
  • Only in the book of Howl's Moving Castle, Miss Angorian was brought in for this purpose to make Sophie jealous and make her aware of her own feelings for Howl. Of course, it helps that Miss Angorian is actually the Witch of the Waste's demon.
  • Daddy-Long-Legs has two possible love interests for Judy, Jervis Pendleton and Jimmie McBride. It's twisted interestingly that it isn't apparent for quite some time which one is actually the false lead — a deliberate trick by the author, because the eponymous Daddy, who receives the letters which make up the novel, is really Jervis, unbeknownst to Judy. The author left the letters vague on the point of which man Judy preferred until the end of the book so that the reader, once aware of Daddy's identity, would understand why he wasn't sure how she felt about him.
  • Dot and Ned in Trixie Belden and the Happy Valley Mystery; Trixie begins flirting outrageously with the latter out of jealousy at how Jim is getting so cozy with the former.
  • An unnamed Navajo girl in Gives Light serves as this for the two main characters. Both boys think the other is interested in her. Both boys get jealous because they're actually interested in each other.
  • It's nicely subverted in I Shall Wear Midnight, when Roland's fiancee Letitia appears to be this, except it turns out Letitia is very likable and Roland and Tiffany were actually false leads for each other.
  • In Överenskommelser by Simona Ahrnstedt, both of the story's protagonists have one. Beatrice has Alexandre St Cyr D'Aubigny, and Seth has Lily Tremaine. But in the end, Alexandre and Lily hook up, leaving Beatrice and Seth free to finally get their happy ending.
  • Peter Cronstedt in "De skandalösa". Magdalena even considers forgiving him, despite that he had betrayed her. But he turns out to really be a jerk, and she eventually ends up with Gabriel (the male protagonist) instead.
  • Adrian from Vampire Academy, was developed as a romantic lead almost as long as Dimitri was. Rose even convincingly seems like she’ll choose him until Dimitri comes back to life again, where it's immediately obvious she prefers him over Adrian.
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses: Another incredibly convincing one in Tamlin. The entire first book in the trilogy does everything in its power to make Tamlin look like Feyre's unquestionable true love with the plot being a loose retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" that casts him as the feared but misunderstood Beast and Feyre as the Beauty who risks everything to save him and his people... but then the second and third books show him Jumping Off the Slippery Slope and his rival Rhysand, who initially seemed to be little more than a despicable villain, turns out to be a more suitable match for Feyre and they become the true Official Couple.
  • The Hunger Games: Gale is introduced as Katniss's good friend before Peeta enters the picture, but it becomes clear over the course of the second and third books that Katniss has fallen for Peeta and vice versa. And any notion that Gale still has a chance is torpedoed by his being responsible for the False Flag Operation during the climax of Mockingjay which not only kills hundreds of innocent civilians, but also Katniss's sister Prim, causing her to bitterly break off their friendship.
  • Looking for Alaska: Jake, the title character's boyfriend when the story begins, ticks almost every imaginable box relevant to this archetype: in college, in a band, much more handsome and more popular that protagonist Miles but not nearly as smart, and generally a rather two-dimensional, vacuous character (he doesn't even get a last name). Nevertheless neither Miles nor Alaska can think of a way to act on their feelings for each other without coming off as total assholes to him, so they're grudgingly content with letting the UST simmer for most of the story. And as if to ensure he's nobody's favorite character, the book's big Wham Episode ends up being indirectly caused by him.
  • The Empirium Trilogy: Harkan is set up from the beginning as a close friend and lover to Eliana. Once Simon enters the picture though, it becomes clear through the various ship tease moments that Eliana will pair up with Simon at some point. Harkan seems to die, and though Eliana does mourn his death, she likes to spar verbally and physically with Simon as a means of distraction, letting the both of them become closer. When Harkan reappears, he abducts Eliana shortly thereafter in order to force her to travel with him to Astavar. This betrayal turns Eliana against Harkan almost completely, effectively ending their relationship. They remain civil to one another and Eliana still feels some residual love for him, but whatever romance they once shared becomes a thing of the past.
  • Jaine Austen Mysteries: Scott Willis, one of the detectives from Killing Cupid, ends up asking out Jaine at the end of that book. Their relationship doesn't make it out of the end of Death by Tiara.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Austin & Ally Kira acts as one by dating Austin, while both Austin and Ally were struggling with their feelings for one another.
  • The Helen/Nikki relationship in Bad Girls was beset by false leads. The first — and arguably most irritating — was Helen's fiancé Sean, a drippy landscape gardener with a screw loose. When Helen ditches him, he shows up outside the prison and sets fire to his wedding suit. Nikki was briefly interested in a new inmate who turned out to be a paedophile. Also Helen's baffling decision to date Thomas, the thoroughly dull prison doctor. When he pulled an I Want My Beloved to Be Happy, there was general rejoicing. Even Nikki's ex turned up hoping for another go but was forced to do the same as Thomas!
  • Battlestar Galactica has a subversion; Sam Anders was supposed to be this for the Kara/Lee paring but the actor was well-liked and kept getting brought back. He eventually married Kara, and they slightly more miraculously stayed that way through the end of the series. He even developed his own storylines and fanbase and was made a series regular for season 4.
  • The Big Bang Theory:
    • Several obnoxious, dumb guys of the week were around for Penny before Leonard asked her out and she realized her feelings for him. Several of them were entirely off screen.
    • A nice little play on the trope came after they broke up. Penny started seeing Zack, a dense but friendly guy, but she quickly discovered she had a harm time dealing with his stupidity after dating Leonard. She later invited him to a New Years party only because her love life was tanking and was trying to find anyone to take her mind off Leonard. For his part Zack proved to be a nice, enthusiastic, even hilarious guy and long after he and Penny stopped dating he would show up as a Recurring Character on friendly terms with the cast.
    • On the Leonard side, he started dating Priya and it's well implied that he wouldn't have had the confidence to make that happen if Penny didn't make his self-esteem skyrocket, which certainly didn't help her situation that she can't date stupid guys anymore.
    • Leonard for his part also had Stephanie, an intelligent (if possessive) surgical resident whom he stole from Howard (not that Howard really had a chance). Despite the relationship going much better than expected for Leonard, Stephanie disappeared for no apparent reason from the show.
  • Played with in The Big Leap. Linus the sound guy is set up as one for Julia, who starts dating him a few months after her husband Kevin leaves her. She cuts him off when he passes off flowers from her family as a gift from him, then gets in a fight with Kevin backstage. However, she also gets a divorce from Kevin because even though he's stepping up to be a father it's too little too late, and they both know they can't make the marriage work.
  • The principal method of procrastination in Bones,:
    • Every romantic interest is portrayed as an interruption to the Booth/Brennan relationship. Brennan had Assistant Director Andrew Hacker, Jared Booth (referred to by Angela as 'Booth-lite'), the Botanist and the Deep-Sea Welder, and Tim "Sully" Sullivan. Booth had Tessa the lawyer, Cam,that Marine Biologist, and in season 6,Hannah Burley - who was met with a knowing scoff by both the viewers and every other character in the show. Booth and Brennan finally got together in the end of s6.
    • Angela and Hodgins had it as well. She broke up with Hodgins in season 4, then dated her college friend Roxie, then intern Wendell, then finally got back with and married Hodgins. He tried a Tindr-like app and had a few dates before reuniting with her.
  • The Brittas Empire gives us Michael T. Farrell III, Laura's sleazy, estranged, billionaire American husband, who magically turns up in Whitbury just as sexual tension between Laura and Gordon Brittas begins to take hold. Gordon is understandably pissed off.
  • In Brooklyn Nine-Nine:
    • Det. Amy Santiago has Det. Teddy Wells while Det. Jake Peralta has defense attorney Sophia Perez. It's played with, however, in that neither relationship lasts that long and ends for reasons other than the UST between Jake and Amy (although Teddy bitterly claims that Amy's unresolved feelings for Jake may have played more than a part than she's letting on, and it's heavily implied he's not far from the truth there). Jake and Amy don't fall into a relationship immediately after, either, spending several episodes afterwards slightly awkwardly and unconvincingly insisting that they've now Just Friends who have moved on from their earlier feelings.
    • In later appearances, Teddy practically becomes a parody of the "boring milquetoast" version of the trope; whenever he shows up, it's made immediately clear that he still carries a torch for Amy, resents Jake bitterly and tries to get her back at every opportunity (to the point where, on one occasion, he proposes marriage to her in front of his new girlfriend). It's also made clear that their last dating experience merely confirmed in Amy's mind how dreadfully, insufferably boring she finds him.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Angel immediately ends up in Cordelia's crosshairs. Luckily, Angel later confesses that he always found the noblewomen of his era (for whom Cordelia is the modern avatar) to be a horrific bore. Ironically enough, she became his actual Love Interest in Angel's own show.
    • After breaking up with Angel, Buffy meets this nice, friendly guy named Parker. Or so he seems—in actuality he's a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing who dumps her the night after they have sex, adding one more thing to her already huge pile of love and abandonment issues.
    • After Drusilla dumps him yet again, Spike returns to Sunnydale with newly-vampirized former Alpha Bitch Harmony on his arm as a new girlfriend. They... don't last.
    • In season 7, Buffy catches the attention of her new boss, Robin Wood, and they end up going on a date. By the end of the night, it's fairly clear to everyone involved that Buffy is still caught up in massive UST with Spike, in the wake of their former Destructive Romance.
  • The path to Caroline and Richard getting together on Caroline in the City was blocked by a steady stream of false leads. The false leads on Caroline's side (Del, Joe, Trevor, and Randy) were generally likable guys whose only real fault was that they didn't quite have the rapport with Caroline that Richard did. On the other hand, the big false lead on Richard's side, Julia (to whom he was actually married for a season), was bitchy and manipulative.
  • Castle (2009):
    • FBI Agent Will Sorenson from Season 1 is this for Beckett for only two episodes—the two having briefly dated in the past—and then after that, he's never seen again.
    • Detective Tom Demming became this for Richard Castle in regards to their mutual interest in Detective Kate Beckett in the second season. Unlike a lot of false leads, however, Demming is a genuinely good guy who really does like Kate for exactly who she is. Castle and Beckett are the Official Couple, however, so it was pretty clear he wouldn't last too long...
    • Season 3 had Dr. Josh Davidson—who rides a motorcycle—become Beckett's new boyfriend and fans disliked him even more. He was too perfect and too safe and there was instant annoyance at introducing someone that was so perfect for any woman who was not meant to stick around—and that she was thinking about ending things and him helping save the two of at one point convinced her not to, that absolutely didn't help. His final episode in the Season 4 premiere when he gives Castle a What the Hell, Hero? was the last straw for many and when Beckett finally ended things with him, they all hoped he'd never come back again (and with Caskett having their Relationship Upgrade at the end of the season, he never did).
  • Cheers:
    • Frasier Crane was originally intended as a simple false lead, being designed as an "anti-Sam" who was only meant to last a few episodes... but then the viewers found Kelsey Grammer funny enough that the producers decided to keep him around for twenty more years.
    • Jane Eldridge, who Sam briefly dates at the end of series 4, much to Diane's extreme upset. She's largely kind and supportive toward Sam, unlike with Diane where a large part of the relationship is the often-toxic belligerence the two have. Then at the end of season 4 Sam asks Diane out again, and Jane disappears, never to be heard from again.
  • Seasons 1-3 of Chuck are filled with this. Sarah insists on staying professional with their relationship, despite the intense Unresolved Sexual Tension between her and Chuck. As a result, Chuck goes searching for meaningful relationships. Lou the sandwich girl in Season 1, Jill in Season 2, and Hannah in Season 3. Sarah, meanwhile, shows interest in Bryce, Cole, and Shaw in Season 1, 2, and 3, respectively. Luckily, by the end of Season 3, Chuck and Sarah quit the pretense, and Season 4 keeps them together.
  • Daredevil (2015):
    • Karen Page is Matt's official love interest. But although she has a crush on Matt from the start of the first season, she gets more screentime with Foggy, who is also very much attracted to her. Towards the end of the season, Foggy loses romantic interest in Karen and gets back together with his ex-girlfriend Marci Stahl, allowing Karen's attraction to Matt to get more exploration in the early part of season 2 prior to Elektra's introduction.
    • Also during season 1, Matt briefly gets romantically involved with Claire Temple, but they mutually agree to end things prior to the end of the season. This is mostly so that Claire is freed to later hook up with Luke Cage in the first season of his show.
  • Played with on Dead Like Me: Daisy starts going out with a TV producer named Ray. Mason, while obviously jealous, tries to respect their relationship, at least until Ray is revealed to be an abusive jerk. However, when Mason tries to convince Daisy that the way Ray treats her is wrong, Daisy calls him out on this trope, saying he is just jealous. Ray is eventually killed off, but the show was cancelled before it was clear if Mason and Daisy would get together.
  • On Degrassi: The Next Generation:
    • Peter, the principal's sneaky, crude, spoiled brat of a jerk son was this to Emma. By season's end, however, she was back with Sean.
    • Season 6 gives us a variation with Mia, a teen mom who becomes JT's new love interest after his brutal breakup with Liberty. JT and Liberty still harbored feelings for each other and JT was all set to confess his feelings, when he was fatally stabbed. Mia eventually admitted that she knew all along that JT still loved Liberty.
  • The fourth series of Doc Martin introduces Edith Montgomery as Martin's New Old Flame from med school. She's more accepting of Martin's distinctive personality, a fellow doctor, and similarly unimpressed with most of humankind. However, despite being more personable on the outside, she has far less empathy and concern for her patients, so he leaves her.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In Series 2, Mickey Smith was reintroduced as an ongoing companion, seemingly putting the rapidly developing relationship between the Doctor and Rose into Anchored Ship territory (and indeed Mickey's first full episode as a companion, "The Girl in the Fireplace", placed the Doctor in a new, albeit temporary, romance). This ended up being a false lead as two episodes later, Mickey had left the TARDIS and the Doctor and Rose's relationship continued to deepen to the point where, at the end of the season, Rose became the first companion to zigzag around The "I Love You" Stigma.
    • Averted in Series 5. After several episodes of teasing (and one attempted seduction of the Doctor) by Amy Pond, Rory Williams is properly introduced as Amy's fiancee, resulting in an assumed Anchored Ship with regards to the Doctor and Amy. When Rory is erased from history, he appears to fit the trope (even though the episodes that immediately follow contain no substantial Ship Tease between the Doctor and Amy). Ultimately, however, not only is Rory revived, he goes on to marry Amy and become the Doctor's father-in-law over time, permanently averting the trope.
  • In Firefly, both Atherton Wing and Tracey Smith are featured in episodes purely to further romantic tension between Mal and Inara and Kaylee and Simon respectively. Both were found wanting. Another romantic false lead fell on the opposite spectrum of this trope and was written to seem more suitable than Inara for Mal with predictable results.
  • The first season of The Flash (2014) has Iris dating Eddie when Barry Allen was stuck in a coma. Although he quickly makes friends with Eddie after waking up, it becomes increasingly clear that he and Iris still have feelings for each other and that she may have never seen him as more than an acquaintance if they hadn't worked to take care of Barry. Eddie breaks up with her because of this, although he ultimately reconciles with her—right before Barry tries to go back in time to save his mother, which would negate the timeline where Eddie and Iris met. And even when Barry changes his mind and comes back, Eddie has to pull a Heroic Sacrifice to save him from Eobard Thawne.
  • Forever:
    • Isaac serves this role for Jo, giving her a fairly healthy rebound relationship once she's over Sean enough to try dating again. Unfortunately for him, his carefully planned, safe trip to Paris makes her realize she prefers Henry's more exciting approach.
    • Molly Dawes could be seen as this, but she seems rather to signal that Henry isn't ready to let anyone in until he's come to terms with Nora's betrayal and losing Abigail.
  • Frasier:
    • Donny and Mel, along with several other less significant figures in the long course of this Unresolved Sexual Tension storyline. These last two were fully fleshed-out characters (Niles even married Mel). Donny, however, had certain character traits that were very off-putting (and were exaggerated in his few later appearances after Niles and Daphne got together): being a stocky, swarthy, loud-mouthed Jewish lawyer obviously far too old for Daphne doesn't exactly help to build realism.
    • Niles was originally a Hopeless Suitor for Daphne, as he was married, and she didn't consider him her type. The subplot became so popular that the writers began slowly nudging the characters toward a real relationship.
  • Friends:
    • In season one, Rachel dated muscle-bound Italian Paolo (who was formerly the Trope Namer for this very page) while Ross looked on jealously. The writers lampshaded Paolo's role by having Chandler's mother, a romance novelist, refer to Paolo as "a complication you eventually kill off." In the second season, Ross dated academic Julie while Rachel looked on jealously. Since Paolo was a slow-witted pig who could barely communicate with Rachel while Julie was a sweet and lovely person, the writers hit one trap then the other. According to the nature of the Ross-Rachel relationship, pretty much every person either one of them dated for more than an episode after that point had elements of the false lead.
    • Ross' English girlfriend Emily at least seemed to be a generally likable false lead, and Rachel's last minute "I HAVE TO TELL HIM HOW I FEEL" seemed exceptionally selfish and petty (a passenger played by Hugh Laurie calls her out on it too). While she does indeed decide against telling Ross she still loves him and simply wishes him a happy marriage, Ross accidentally says her name when he's up on the altar, showing that he at least has some feelings for her. Later when Ross tries to reconcile with Emily, she too is turned into a selfish, petty shrew by forcing Ross to never see Rachel again and, when she can't have her way, turning her back on him (though the record should show this was not the original intention, as Emily had to be hastily written out far faster than intended due to her actress getting pregnant and wanting to return to England.)
    • Ross turned out to be the false lead for Charlie and Greg Kinnear's character. The part where he confesses his love and Charlie runs off with him plays like the end of a romantic comedy - except we weren't following the couple's love story, we were following her love story with the other guy (Ross). It's actually pretty hilarious watching Ross' face when he realises he's the false lead and not The Hero.
    • In series 5, Rachel inadvertently creates one for Chandler and Monica. Their relationship is secret and they're just Friends with Benefits... until Rachel sets up Monica with a very handsome male nurse called Dan, devastating Chandler. Dan's out of the picture by the end of the episode, but his role was to make Chandler and Monica face the realisation that their "goofing around" has taken them well beyond the friendship stage.
    • Also Richard in the Season 6 finale when he and Chandler both propose to Monica. Although he had been a serious Love Interest in the past, by this stage Monica and Chandler were blissfully happy, clearly meant for each other and the last season finale had Monica promising Chandler he, and not Richard, was the love of her life and she loved him more than anyone else before. Richard's appearance was clearly a (well-written) ploy to create drama and miscommunication. In fact, Monica didn't just choose Chandler over Richard, but when his proposal plans were ruined, staged her own proposal and asked him to marry her.
  • General and I: At the start of the series He Xia is in love with Bai Ping Ting and asks to marry her. It doesn't work out; they quickly become enemies and marry other people.
  • Glee:
    • The big one here in the Will/Emma romance, and that's Terri. Her only purpose on the show really was to keep Emma and Will apart. And it took almost all of the first season for Will to get rid of her, too.
    • Jesse plays with this, as it looked like he was around mainly to disrupt the Finn/Rachel pairing. However, the untimely death of Finn's actor meant that he got the girl in the end.
    • Quinn was this for Finn and Rachel, and Finn and Sam were sort of this for Quinn and Puck. Artie was also this for Santana and Brittany.
  • Good Morning, Miami is what happens when a major character is this. Predictably enough with characters who get fleshed out and given a lot of screen time, the writers fell into the "too likable" trap. The main character came across as a girlfriend-stealing asshole and the love interest came off as a bitch who didn't appreciate what she already had.
  • The writers of Gossip Girl openly admitted that anyone Blair or Chuck dates other than each other is nothing but a Romantic False Lead. This includes a prince whom Blair actually marries as well as both Nate and Dan (the other two male leads).
  • The Guardian had a false lead in the form of Brian, Lulu's fiancé. Atypically for this trope, Nick had the chance to seriously undermine his rival (he knew about Brian's infidelity) but didn't take it. He did try to persuade Lulu to choose him over Brian, but she went through with the marriage... and inevitably realized it had been a mistake.
  • When Jack and Martha split up on Home and Away, Martha had four boyfriends, Jack had one girlfriend (later wife), and all were obvious false leads. Jack's wife was sympathetic until her jealousy of Martha and some derailment turned her into a homicidal maniac. Martha's first boyfriend after their separation was an old friend of Jack who kept from her that he was married with children and wasn't prepared to get divorced any time soon. Her second was a much older sleaze bag who recruited her as a pole dancer. The latter two were much more popular, and even some Jack and Martha shippers would have been happier to see them actually move on than draw out the "off-again" stage any longer.
  • Mark Warner in House, married to Stacy, House's ex. Follows the trope exactly, right up to the tawdry affair. It especially sucks for House because Mark develops paralysis of his legs and Stacy stays with her husband, where, five years ago, House lost the use of only one leg, and Stacy left him. And while Mark is, by all accounts, a decent, dedicated husband, and House is really, really not.
  • Piper from House of Anubis was introduced into the show after Amber and Alfie had broken up. Alfie ended up developing feelings for her that she reciprocated, and their close friendship made Amber start to get jealous and realize just how much she cared for Alfie. Then, Piper decided to go back to her own academy, leaving Alfie without ever forming an actual relationship with him. Amber and Alfie would get back together at the end of the season. Piper was rather sweet to him and he loved her due to her kindness, making her an example of a genuinely nice false lead who just didn't get to stick around due to her personal character arc (and contracts, as she was just a guest, played by Jade Ramsey's twin, Nikita, as Patricia's twin).
  • How I Met Your Mother:
    • Being a story Ted Mosby is telling his kids about how he met his one true love, has plenty of these and every girl he meets is (however briefly) teased at potentially being the "mother." This was done as soon as the first episode, being about Ted falling HARD for a girl and the episode ends with the narrator saying "And that is how I met your Aunt Robin." Ted and Robin are Ship Teased for most of the first season (including some false leads for each other like Derek with Robin and Victoria for Ted) and when they get together they really do love each other, but there are constant hints that they had some fundamental issues that will prevent them from staying together. In the series finale, it's revealed that Ted's wife, Tracy, passed away six years before he told the story. The kids eventually figure out that their dad is actually telling them about how he fell in love with Robin.
    • Both main character Ted and Tony (who was described as a Jerkass until he came on-screen) fulfilled this trope with Stella. Ted is originally shown as the right guy for Stella, until the wedding day, when both her and Tony's true feelings are shown. Subverted not only in that Stella leaves Ted, but by Word of God that says she isn't the titular mother (who is the only woman Ted marries).
    • In later seasons, Quinn. Unless the writers plan to crush the dreams of most of the fans, it's just not going to work out between her and Barney. The finale of season 7 revealed Barney's bride to be Robin. In season 8, Ted dated Victoria again after she and Klaus have broken up. But they broke up again because Victoria knows that Ted still has feeling for Robin.
  • iCarly:
    • Griffin as Carly's love interest in "iDate A Bad Boy". Freddie suffers some severe Green-Eyed Monster and schadenfreude towards him, but doesn't sabotage their relationship beyond questioning Carly's choice to date him.
    • Brad doesn't even date Sam, but is basically a false romantic lead, because the entire plot of "iOMG" revolves around Carly and Freddie believing that Sam likes Brad.
  • Major Lilywhite in iZombie initially appears to be the Romantic False Lead — he's introduced as Liv's blandly "perfect" fiance, who she dumps immediately after becoming a zombie. Except he then has his life collapse around him before leveling up, becoming a badass zombie-hunter, and getting back together with Liv after the actual false lead, the handsome zombie musician Lowell, dies.
  • On Jesse, first Jesse's ex Roy (who turns out to be a cheater) gets between Jesse and Diego, then Diego dates a student from his art class (who turns out to be crazy) for a few episodes.
  • Jonathan Creek:
    • Jonathan's love interest Carla has actually married her false lead, a TV producer called Brendan, after Jonathan and Carla (who had previously been in a relationship) broke it off following a misunderstanding. However, whilst suffering through some definite UST with each other, Jonathan and Carla never actually fooled around with each other, and Brendan was characterized as being an essentially decent and likable man (if rather shallow and slightly foolish and oblivious) who seemed to genuinely care for Carla.
    • Hilariously subverted in one episode with a bloke who thinks he's this between Jonathan and Maddie, except Maddie was only using him to enact Operation: Jealousy. And what's more, thanks to the fact that the photo he provided the dating site was at least ten years out of date and he's got the personality of "the bastard son of Forrest Gump", it's a hilariously backfiring subversion for Maddie.
  • On The King of Queens, this is zig-zagged somewhat. Spence's ex-girlfriend, who he still has feelings for, is getting married in Memphis. Doug, Spence and the gang drive to Memphis in order to stop the wedding. Just as Spence is about to interrupt the wedding, a completely different guy says he loves her and they start kissing and leave her fiance at the altar.
  • The Middle:
    • Most notably, between Seasons 7 and 8, Axl started seeing a blonde airheaded girl named April and believes himself to be in love with her. Her lack of smarts and bad habits that branch from it drive the family crazy until Axl's mother Frankie finally confronts Axl about April being the utterly wrong choice and he refuses to accept it and shuts Frankie out of his life. He marries April in a desperate attempt to solidify the relationship and realizes how wrong the decision was. He continues to date her even after they get an annulment, but eventually realizes the fire has died out and that he has no choice but to end the relationship because he's not truly happy with her after all. It’s heavily suggested that Axl projected his feelings for his real love interest Lexie onto April because he was afraid of being rejected by her (while he wasn't happy with what Frankie said, he didn't protest it because he knew she was right). Axl finds out that Lexie actually does have feelings for him too though and they end up getting together not long after his breakup with April.
      • By the end of the second and final episode featuring Axl's pushy and demanding Season 1 girlfriend Morgan Edwards, he's eyeing another girl, meaning their relationship that didn't last was definitely not meant to.
      • The Season 8 episode "Exes and Ohhhs" where Axl ends things with April first begins with him trying to locate Lexie at a party after discovering she has feelings for him and runs into his three major ex-girlfriends: tomboyish Devin Levin; bookwork Cassidy Finch and "Weird Ashley" Wyman. What helps Axl come to the decision to tell April they should stop seeing each other is that he talks with each of his exes to see where things went wrong—and thus comes to a genuine understanding with each too. This ultimately establishes each and every one of them as an RFL where Lexie is concerned as well.
    • For Sue Heck specifically with her romantic arc with Sean Donahue, Aidan is introduced in Season 9 when he's delivering a sandwich to Lexie Brooks and Sue mistakes him for a "blind date" Sean was gonna set her up on—really it was gonna be himself—and while she discovers it wasn't supposed to be him, she and Aidan still get along too well. While Sue and Sean end up kissing around Christmas, Aidan wrecks it by showing up at New Year's and kissing Sue and because both he and Sue are so accident-prone, Sue while initially thinking they should break up begins to think he might actually be perfect for her. By Aidan's fourth appearance though—ten episodes after his first, Sue ends things with him and then severs ties for good.
  • Mr. Young: Virtually every guy Echo was with or showed a romantic interest in was only there to be an obstacle for Adam and his feelings for her.
  • NCIS:
    • The one depicted most sympathetically is Tony's season-long girlfriend Jeanne Benoit...until it was revealed that Tony was only dating her as part of a deep undercover operation to bring down her arms-dealer father, although it was implied Tony's feelings were genuine. Years later, she falsely accused Tony of murder to make herself feel better. Giving an innocent man a life sentence is apparently the best kind of therapy.
    • Abby's boyfriend dumped her for being too tall. In fairness, he was a dwarf. No, not that kind. Also a case of Real Life Writes the Plot as the actor who played him died.
    • Ziva's boyfriend Michael started killing people and drinking too much.
    • Ziva's other boyfriend Ray killed an innocent woman when hunting a terrorist and was completely unrepentant about the matter.
  • New Girl: Reagen with Nick in season 6. Jess realizes she's still in love with Nick in season 5 and spends most of season 6 being heartbroken over Nick's relationship with Reagen. Instead of being outwardly vicious to Reagen, she begins a friendship with her, even texting often and sending memes to each other. Reagen is show to be The Ace but her relationship with Nick fails as they want different things and Nick is unknowingly wanting someone like Jess. Most of their relationship was through Jess's perspective with her trying to help them work through their problems. Nick and Reagen's relationship solely existed to make Jess upset enough to leave the loft which leads to Nick and Jess's big reunion at the end of the season.
    • The show even acknowledges that Jess was the only reason they were still together.
    Jess: Am I the only reason they're together?
    Schmidt/Cece: Yeah.
    Jess: Am I the architect of my own nightmare?
  • In The Office (UK), Dawn's fiancé Lee is mainly notable for his total lack of notable characteristics. He was more objectionable in the Christmas Episode than in the main series, leading her to (finally!) hook up with Tim because she wants someone who appreciates her.
  • In The Office (US):
    • Katy (a.k.a. The Purse Girl), who Jim dated from the end of Season 1 to the second episode of Season 2. Even if you didn't know that Jim and Pam were the Official Couple, you'd know Katy wasn't long for this world - she's played by Amy Adams.
    • Though he certainly fits the trope, Roy wasn't presented as a completely bad guy. He was always friendly, but insensitive. And even though Season 3 made sure to put the nail in the coffin on him and Pam, Roy got a bit of character development that season that made him very sympathetic, except when he lost his temper.
    • Parodied when Michael believes that Carol is standing in between him and Jan while there isn't actually any chance of them together anyway. Well, that gets subverted later....
    • Angela has two false leads. Andy is the first one, and the trope is played differently than usual, with Angela being portrayed as the wrong one, by continuing her affair with Dwight. In a later season, she marries and has a child with a closeted gay congressman, and later it's revealed that the child is actually Dwight's. In the series finale, she and Dwight get married.
  • Shauna Mulwae-Tweep in Parks and Recreation repeatedly plays this role for several main male characters, where she gets friendly with the guy and makes his actual Love Interest realize her own feelings for him and she's promptly forgotten. She even lampshades it when she grumbles that she "can't even land the shoeshine boy" (Andy, who would later get together with April). It's deconstructed later on, as it's shown she's quite miserable as a result. She does eventually find happiness in the series' Grand Finale.
  • Done in an interesting way on Pretty Little Liars: Toby and Emily are both this for one another. They go to a dance together early in season one, and there does seem to be a little bit of genuine chemistry between them. Emily later comes out as a lesbian, however, and subsequently dates Maya and then gets involved with Paige in some way. Toby, meanwhile, gets involved with Spencer.
  • Psych:
    • Shawn's childhood sweetheart, Abigail Lytar, who rapidly became a classic false lead. Although she didn't wind up with Shawn, the writers did a good job of presenting Abigail as a likable, good person who actually went very well with her boyfriend. Eventually, though, they broke up on fairly friendly terms.
    • They also had one for Juliet, who was a fairly decent guy with lots of cash. He was pretty friendly with Shawn, which made Shawn all the more awkward about trying to get with Jules.
  • Revenge: By Season Three, it became clear that Daniel Grayson was this, either for Jack/Emily or Aiden/Emily. After Aiden died, it was obvious that the endgame pairing was going to be the former, though the show did try to psych out the fans by introducing another false lead in Jack's police partner Ben Hunter and briefly teasing the return of Daniel/Emily, before killing off both Ben and Daniel, leaving the path clear for Jack.
  • Saved by the Bell: There were several for High-School Sweethearts Zack and Kelly. While Zack wasn't pleased with Kelly's relationship with Jeff, Kelly didn't seem to comment on Zack's numerous love interests such as each Girl of the Week and Stacey Carosi. The Girl of the Week wouldn't appear in the next episode and Stacy had to leave at the end of summer. One episode even had a Romantic False Lead for Stacey when her old boyfriend showed up.
    • Sean was a great guy and good for Elliot, making JD's jealousy put him in a bad light. Sean however picked up on JD's feelings and called him on it, resulting in JD (for a while, anyway) respecting the relationship, albeit not too happily.
    • Kim seemed to be one for JD at first, though she was Put on a Bus. When The Bus Came Back she was revealed to have lied about something important and it ruined any chances of JD falling in love in love with her (not that he didn't try).
  • Mr. Big's second wife Natasha in Sex and the City. There followed a Tawdry Love affair, which ended badly for the wife - she caught Carrie in her apartment, and whilst chasing after her, ended up falling downstairs and breaking her teeth. One could also argue that Carrie's major boyfriends, Aiden and Aleksandr, whilst extremely fleshed out, were false leads for the Big and Carrie relationship.
  • Smallville probably deserves to be the reigning champion of false leads, having used them both effectively and annoyingly. Whitney Fordman, Lana Lang's boyfriend in season 1, fits the false lead to a tee, and was both sent away and killed off; Adam Knight in season 3 and Jason Teague in season 4 are perfectly charming love interests (and played respectively by Ian Somerhalder and Jensen Ackles, easy on the eyes) right up until they conveniently (for Clark) turn out to be baddies. Chloe and Clark had a brief relationship near the end of season one before she inexplicably broke up with him. Then Lana actually marries Lex Luthor, who could easily be seen as a false lead for the One True Pairing of Clark & Lana... while Lana herself and for a while, Oliver Queen, could be seen as playing Paulos for, respectively, Clark and Lois Lane — the show's inevitable Official Couple. Oh, and let's not forget the Girl of the Week and the occasional, and less fortunate Temporary Love Interest...
  • The second season of Spaced introduced Sophie as a love interest for Tim. Tim and Daisy's mutual attraction has always been understated and although we clearly see that Daisy is jealous, she does nothing to sabotage the relationship beyond some quiet muttering and veiled unfriendliness toward Sophie. Apparently the fanbase was torn about how to feel about the character; on the one hand they wanted to hate her for coming between Tim & Daisy, but on the other she was likable and cool... just before the end of the series Sophie was Put on a Bus and the series closed with some relatively - relatively, mind you - blatant implications that Tim and Daisy were getting together at last.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series ended up doing this with Yeoman Janice Rand for Kirk, unintentionally. Rand was to be set up as part of the Power Trio with Kirk and Spock, given her prominence in the credits, to create the traditional hero-love interest - best friend dynamic. The earlier episodes play it up, having Kirk hold her in a tense moment, and in The Naked Time he ends up raving about his attraction to her while under the influence of an inhibition-removing substance. There's the setup for a Forbidden Fruit romance due to the disparity between their ranks. Then the actress leaves the show, leading to the new and famous Power Trio of Kirk, Spock and Mc Coy. Given the popular fan perception of the Kirk Spock relationship...
  • On Deep Space Nine, despite being introduced — in an episode named after him, no less — as the former Resistance leader who goes on to become the Prime Minister of Bajor, the recurring character of Shakaar Edon turned into this trope in his very next episode, when he was paired up with Kira (eliciting Odo's secret jealousy, which the episode was all about). The fact that the relationship was unsurprising in the sense that the two characters had a lot in common and a history, combined with a lack of chemistry between the actors, helped to make him a typical false lead.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise played this trope somewhat in reverse, spending the first two seasons in full Ship Tease mode between Capt. Archer and Commander T'Pol, complete with occasional sexual innuendo (and an episode where T'Pol devotes her life in an alternate timeline to taking care of Archer), only to reveal that Archer was a romantic false lead and that the series instead intended to pair T'Pol with Trip Tucker, which played out during the final two seasons.
  • Saint from Sugar Rush qualifies as the more sympathetic version of the false lead. Although Sugar insists she isn't interested in Kim, her instant dislike of Saint and near continuous efforts to sabotage the relationship — one time she claims Saint came on to her, another she robs her shop — suggest otherwise. If it had continued for another series these issues might have been resolved, but alas...
  • Early on in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Kimmy and Charles received a lot of Ship Tease, to the point where they would eventually start a fling, but by the end of that episode, they break up, and Kimmy starts chasing after her real Love Interest, Dong.
  • Veronica Mars:
    • Leo in season 1, who was nice, well-liked by her father and a useful contact for Veronica... although it sure looked like she wasn't very invested in the relationship. Not to mention they hooked up just when her relationship with Logan heated up (after which she chose Logan over Leo without much hesitation).
    • Logan himself could be viewed as an example for Veronica/Duncan, which was clearly a destined pairing from the start of the show, and real life wound up writing the plot for Veronica/Duncan in so far as the chemistry between Kristen Bell and Jason Dohring was electric, the chemistry between her and Teddy Dunn was nonexistent which would have been oddly apt if they'd turned out to be siblings after all. Factor in that Dohring is ten times the actor Dunn is, and that fans just weren't interested in their pairing (and indeed, when season two got them together again, people were not happy that she wasn't with Logan anymore). Hence, Dunn was written out, and Veronica/Logan was made the Official Couple.
    • Season 3 has Piz, who may have been intended to become this trope (again, a nice normal guy who treated her nicely, was liked by her dad, etc.), but ended the season dating her. In the movie, she ended up breaking up with him and dating Logan again, which carried on into the revival.
  • The Walking Dead (2010) gives us Jessie, an abused housewife that welcomes Rick to Alexandria by giving him a haircut in late season 5. Rick develops an infatuation with her while dealing with severe PTSD and plotting to take over the community, he gets into a fight with her abusive husband and later kills him in front of the entire town. Him and Jessie share a kiss in episode 5 of season 6, but she dies soon after in episode 9 along with her two children. After that we have a time skip and Rick gets together with Michonne, who he shares a deep bond with and has been having Ship Tease with since season 3, in the very next episode, and they begin a serious and committed relationship.
  • The West Wing:
    • Jack Reese and Donna Moss. In season Four, Donna begins dating a military aide and guilts Josh into helping her get him. Josh is still in denial of his feelings for her but still undergoes an 'ew awkward' moment indicative of his deeper feelings for her. Regardless, Josh ultimately winds up alternating between sympathetic supporter and saboteur, depending on the situation. They break up when Jack is transferred and he uses Donna as cover to make spiteful comments about the White House.
    • Zoe dumps Charlie in favor of a young Smug Snake who is a French count. Charlie is very upset about it, although he manages to remain likable and sympathetic. It ends when Jean-Paul tries spiking Zoe's drink with Ecstasy, which has been replaced with GHB by some terrorist kidnappers.

  • The singer in The Jets' "You Got It All" views her former lover as such compared to her new one.
And you're all that he's not
Just look what I've got
'Cause you've got it all
Over him
  • Marillion has a curious but heartbreaking variation on the trope in "Cinderella Search", where the narrator is revealed to be the false lead:
    Exposing bedside manners on a work extension
    Awaiting development with paranoid Polaroid eyes
    Oh-oh, oh-oh, Polaroid eyes...
    The footman memorised the number, but the prince still holds both the slippers,
    and would you leave a palace for a bedsit and Canterbury Tales?
    Canterbury Tales...
    Maybe it was infatuation or the thrill of the chase?
    Maybe you were always beyond my reach and my heart was playing safe?
    But was that love in your eye I saw or the reflection of mine?
    I'll never really know for sure, you never really gave me time!
  • The CHiCO with Honeyworks song "Gimme Gimme Call" stars a girl who's Just Friends with two boys, realizes one or both of them may like her, and sets out working through which one turns out to be the false lead. Turns out: 1) she really is just a good pal, and 2) she's the false lead, because 3) the boys were gunning for each other throughout the song and succeeded.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Jimmy Jacobs had been trying to court the self-proclaimed "First Lady Of ROH" "The Lovely" Lacey, for sometime, only for her to suddenly start courting Colt Cabana, a Jerk Jock who was only interested in sex. Given this was ROH and Lacey was the object of his affection, crowd reaction quickly made Cabana into the baby face over the genuine love seeking Jacobs and angle's pivotal turn came with Colt dumping Lacey and telling Jimmy he would be better off without her as well. Against better judgment, Jacobs attacked Cabana and resumed his courtship of Lacey.

  • A near-Trope Namer, false lead Albiani in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. Not quite this trope. He is promised the hand of Amelia Grimaldi. But when she turns out to really be Maria Boccanegra, the daughter of the Doge, she is allowed to refuse him and ultimately marry her true love. The false lead doesn't go gracefully. He unsuccessfully tries to recruit an assassin and winds up poisoning Simon.
  • Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore: Rose chooses Richard when Robin makes an (enforced) Face–Heel Turn in the first act finale, and then goes back to Robin when he reasons his way out of having to be a Bad Baronet.
  • In Iolanthe, Phyllis casts off her fiancé, Strephon, when she catches him speaking to his mother (who being, unbeknownst to her, an unaging fairy, still looks like a young, attractive woman). She then agrees to become engaged to no less than two wealthy Peers ("one of you two, and I don't care which"), but goes back to Strephon when she finds out about his mother's fairyhood. The more general trope is used as well, though usually with either more subtlety (The Yeomen of the Guard, where Surprisingly Realistic Outcome occurs), or with it being Played for Laughs. In Gilbert's writing, where he doesn't feel the need to wrap things up so neatly, things can turn out very differently, though: For example, the story "An Elixir of Love" is basically The Sorcerer, except without the love potion being reversed at the end, which is arguably far more interesting.
  • The Desert Song inverts the usual scenario: Margot is about to marry the false lead Paul at the beginning of the first act finale, but the Red Shadow arrives with the Riffs and captures her.
  • The New Moon plays this mostly straight; the first act ending with Robert in chains and Margot declaring her love for Captain Duval with a reprise of "One Kiss," though it's really a ploy to let her depart on the same boat as Robert. In an earlier scene, Duval tries to compose a love song for Marianne in an effort that Robert repeatedly sabotages.
  • In Romeo and Juliet:
    • Count Paris Juliet's mother asks her if she thinks she can learn to love him, and Juliet doesn't deny it, and what we see of him indicates that he would have made a most suitable husband for Juliet had she not been besotted with Romeo.
    • There's also Rosaline who is an unseen character, Juliet's cousin who Romeo had a crush on at the start of the play, and was why Romeo was sneaking into the Capulet Ball, as he was to actually trying to see Rosaline. However after he spots Juliet at that same ball he instant forgets about her cousin altogether.
  • Stacee Jaxx in Rock of Ages shows up just in time to come between the male and female leads. Having sex with him sends Sherry Christian into a downward spiral, leaving her lonely and working as a stripper. But it all works out in the end.
  • Gloria Rasputin in Bye Bye Birdie, whose main purpose seems to be to raise Rose's jealousy to murderous levels. She's actually being paid to do this by Albert's mother, who wants Albert and Rose to be over.
  • In The Sound of Music, the Captain almost goes through with marrying Elsa Schraeder after Maria flees into 10-Minute Retirement expecting exactly that to happen, even though the children obviously would rather have Maria as their mother and, as Brigitta can tell, the Captain is fonder of her too.

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 
  • Choices: Stories You Play:
    • In The Junior, Nathan Sterling is initially set up as a love interest, but then he is revealed to be the Big Bad of the story, the president of a fraternity/prank club turned criminal organization.
    • In It Lives Beneath, you can get one romance point with Imogen's friend Kyle before he is killed off in the very first chapter.
    • In Across the Void, Prince Barlow is initially set up as a love interest, but then he is revealed to be part of the Void, a terrorist organization that wants to destroy the galaxy.
    • In Hot Couture, Hazel Nguyen is initially set up as a love interest, but in the final chapter, she reveals that she doesn't want a committed relationship.
    • In Blades of Light & Shadow, Book 1, Prince Aerin is initially set up as a love interest, but then he is revealed to have been corrupted by the Shadow Court and is helping its ruler, the Dreadlord return.
    • In The Phantom Agent, Rowan Salazar, the main character's previous partner and love interest, is gender customizable, and you can earn Charm points with them, but then they seemingly get killed off in the very first chapter. In Chapter 11, they reveal they faked their death and are now The Dragon, and just when they make a Heel–Face Turn, the Big Bad shoots and kills them for real in the penultimate chapter.
  • Exploited by Tamara from Double Homework when she briefly dates Dennis. No matter how much she insists otherwise, the protagonist comes to realize that Tamara is only dating Dennis to make him jealous. And once he does, he crashes their date, claiming Tamara for himself.
  • In True Love Junai Monogatari, Toshio gets upgraded from The Casanova to this if you choose Mikae Morikawa's path. If the MC actually gets together with her, she'll explain that she was this close to give into Toshio's interest and go out with him - but only if the MC, the guy she actually loves, didn't love her back.

    Web Animation 
  • Parodied by Homestar Runner in a short where Marzipan goes on a date with The Cheat, and both Homestar and Strong Bad team up to ruin the date. Their attempts fail miserably, actually enhancing the date, but in the end Marzipan decides she doesn't care for The Cheat anyway.

  • The entire cast of El Goonish Shive:
    • For example, Nanase is Elliot's girlfriend when Sarah admits her feelings for him. Elliot is conflicted, Nanase isn't. She acknowledges that she's been Loving a Shadow and dumps him so he can pursue Sarah, who genuinely loves him. Both traps are avoided... Nanase's a likable character, but Sarah is also likable and better suited to being Elliot's girlfriend. In a slight twist, Nanase stays friends with both of them, and this isn't the end of her role... In fact, she later comes to terms with the realization that she's a lesbian, and she winds up in a relationship with Elliot's bisexual female duplicate (long story), Ellen...
    • This gets subverted much later when Elliot realizes he loves Sarah like a sister and decides to downgrade their relationship to close friends. Sarah is fine with it for her own unrelated reasons. However, this opens this trope back up, as longtime friend Susan, newcomer Ashley, and wildcard Diane are all attracted to him. Ashley fits the trope best, as she swoops in and gets a date with Elliot within minutes of meeting him for the first time, while Susan is still busy trying to make sense of her feelings for him that have been developing over several months, but as the comic is still ongoing the question of who Elliot will end up with remains unresolved.
  • Missi from Misfile exists mainly as another obstacle to a potential romance between Ash and Emily. This is further complicated by the suggestion that she could have been Ash's love interest in her male life.
  • In Least I Could Do, a 2004 storyline featured Issa (the one woman Rayne can't bed but obviously wants to) dating Huck, who the others observe is basically a nicer version of Rayne from the country. Although things didn't quite follow the stereotypical formula, there was friction between Rayne and Huck, and Huck has not reappeared since.
  • Dominic Deegan had Neilen Everstar, a former co-worker of Luna's, who comes off as nice and friendly to Luna, but eventually his plans to ruin Dominic and Luna's relationship purely out of spite come out into the open.
  • In Punch an' Pie, Angela sees Jack as a false lead when her bi girlfriend Heather starts hanging around with him a lot. Turns out that not only were they not even considering each other that way, she saw all of Heather's friends like this.
  • Sluggy Freelance, with its epic Will They or Won't They? between Torg and Zoë:
    • Dex, Zoë's old crush, specifically at the point when he finally decided to start dating Zoë right after Torg realized his own feelings for her. Of course, this was set up right before the "KITTEN" slasher parody, so he wasn't a problem for the story for long. This did mean Zoë never got to realize what a jerk he really was, although she already should have done earlier.
    • Leo, Zoë's relatively normal boyfriend later on. Also a bit of a jerk in the end, as he was all right with Zoë's crazy stories about what happened in her life only until it turned out they weren't lies.
    • Angela, who was Torg's girlfriend for a while when he'd given up on Zoë. She ended up leaving because of all the crazy stuff that happened around him — or at least tried to, before ending up back in an institution when her cat traumas were triggered again. (She was in "KITTEN" as well, and in fact used to date Dex.)
  • Girl Genius:
    • Tarvek. He's a plausible enough rival to really put the wind up Gil, but the authors are pretty clear on which way the ship sails. The only way Agatha would end up with Tarvek would be if something irreparably split up Agatha and Gil. Also, as one character reminds Tarvek (as he's about to give up entirely and try to accept Gil as her One True Pairing), marriage among the nobility of Europe/Europa is about far more than just romance and love, there are important political factors and alliances to consider which mean Agatha may not have the option to Marry for Love. These same factors might just make Tarvek, who she still likes and cares for, a far better choice for her to actually marry than Gil.
    • Lars is a more straight example. Out of all of Agatha's potential love interests, he is the only one who isn't royalty, isn't a Spark and is more than a bit of a coward, but despite these handicaps he is devoted to Agatha and does anything he can to help her. From a normal literary standpoint, Lars' underdog status probably made him the top candidate for Agatha's affections. He dies less than halfway through the series.
  • Sakura is this for Walter in Dubious Company. Surprisingly, she is neither a Jerkass nor a boring milquetoast, but a pretty sweet gal. It's Mary and Sue that act as the Alpha Bitch and manipulate Walter's best friend, Tiren, into a Cat Fight with Sakura. Which leads to Walter realizing that something is wrong with Tiren and tries to stop the fight. Shortly after, the cast blinks back to Nowhere Island and get a strict lecture from Izor.
  • In Kevin & Kell, Zerdra Zenith is this for divorcee George Fennec. While serving as Hare Link's representative for a deal with Carrot Computers, and disguised as a rabbit, he meets Zerdra, a fellow fennec fox, and is in love with her at first sight, but learns that she hates other fennec foxes with the exception of Fiona. George then is forced to keep up the deception of him being a rabbit for as long as he dates Zerdra, even having Kevin's sister Danielle pose as George's daughter. This lasts until she finally breaks up with him due to having gotten over her hatred of her own kind. George impulsively decides to reveal himself as a rabbit, despite Danielle having warned him that this would kill any chance he had of getting back together with her. Zerdra punches George and sends him flying into the arms of Danielle, who becomes George's actual partner (or at least her counerpart from the human world does).
  • Dreaming Freedom: Jaehyeok is the first guy that is nice to Jeongmin, and is also one of her first friends. She quickly develops feelings for him, but then Juhyeon finds out and wins him over. They start dating and he turns against Jeongmin.
  • A Little Hint of Blue: While Fled is by all accounts a good boyfriend to Skara, he has the misfortune of being in a story where the audience already knows before he even shows up that she'll eventually end up married to Viney instead. Fled is even perfectly aware that a long term relationship isn't in the cards for him, which plays a role in their eventual breakup.

    Web Original 
  • Emily H The Viking Princess: In the later half of the story, Garth is seemingly built up as a romantic rival to Emily's boyfriend Samson, what with her also being attracted to him and describing him with as much attention to sexiness as she does Samson, but before the men can come into conflict, she and Samson marry, Garth is never mentioned again after that, and the story is abandoned.

    Western Animation 
  • Katara has a crush on Jet in Avatar: The Last Airbender, at least until she finds out his true colors. Even then, she was blushing every time the subject was brought up until his Heroic Sacrifice closed that particular possibility off for good, and she ends the series getting together with Aang. Interestingly, Aang shows little to no signs of jealousy towards Jet. It was Sokka (Katara's brother) who disliked Jet because he felt Overshadowed by Awesome.
  • Although he wasn't introduced for this, Mayor Pothole McPucker of Camp Lazlo became this when he returned to the show to get engaged to Jane, the love of Lumpus' life. Pothole is a tool through which the writers let out all their gross-out humor, making Lumpus a decent guy in comparison. Finally he confesses his love for her, but due to the dress he's wearing (don't ask) is mistaken for a woman confessing her love for Pothole. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Code Lyoko's William Dunbar has all the trappings of this trope. He is attractive without too many sympathetic traits, is definitely interested in Yumi, and excites her romantic interest for a time, but ends up more of a close friend in her view in the end. Ulrich definitely hates him from the beginning, however, and he is played as a rival for Yumi's affection (William even flat-out tells Ulrich that if he doesn't make a move on Yumi, he [William] will).
  • The Disney version of Doug had this in Guy Graham, a slightly older more narcissistic kid who had a crush on Patti Mayonnaise, much to Doug's chagrin.
  • Futurama:
    • Once again, when Leela dates a man who she believes is the same alien species as her. It turns out, though, that he's a shapeshifter and planned to marry four other girls on the same day!
    • Leela dates a wealthy and handsome man — the Mayor's aide, Chaz. He seems charming and kind if a little overbearing, and Fry seethes with jealousy. However, Chaz's self-obsession begins to tire on Leela and reaches a peak when it turns out he has used his money and connections to buy the whole of the ice rink for their date, ruining the plans of a coachload of orphans from the same orphanage Leela grew up in. She asks him to let the orphans on. He refuses. She realizes what kind of man he is and leaves him.
    • "The Cyber House Rules" features Adlai Atkins, Leela's childhood crush and plastic surgeon. He aids Leela with her self-loathing by giving her a second false eye to appear more "normal," despite Fry repeatedly insisting Leela not go along with it (both because he loves her as a cyclops and because he's jealous). Despite Adlai being an Indubitably Uninteresting Individual, Leela seems happy to be with a wealthy and charming man. She only realizes that Adlai isn't good for her when he refuses to adopt Sally, an orphan with a third ear, without giving her an operation to look "normal," which also leads to Leela realizing she was fine as a cyclops. For what it's worth, she also calls out Fry for cheering when she dumps Adlai.
    • Lars, from Bender's Big Score, actually does seem to get along quite well with Leela, much to Fry's chagrin. However, Lars does dump her at the altar for mysterious reasons, breaking her heart. The movie plays with the trope by having Fry come to terms with the fact Leela can be happy without him, but then Lars dies and turns out to be a doomed time duplicate of Fry, meaning Fry technically was the love of her life.
    • Downplayed with Colleen, from The Beast With a Billion Backs, is Fry's girlfriend and would be this for Leela, But she was only a little jealous of them.
  • In Hey Arnold!, practically every one of Arnold's love interests is one of these, as the show repeatedly implies that he and Helga belong together, despite what Arnold thinks. Most one-time crush characters, such as Summer from the episode "Summer Love," fall under this description, but two girls are particularly notable:
    • Ruth McDougal, the girl Arnold is infatuated with for most of Season One, is the understandable object of Helga's jealousy for the early part of the show. Arnold's crush on Ruth ends during a Valentine's Day date when he discovers her inability to carry on an intelligent conversation, while simultaneously having a wonderful time with a girl who turns out to be Helga in disguise.
    • Lila Sawyer, Arnold's longest crush. A sugary sweet country girl who Arnold develops feelings for, although she constantly reminds Arnold that she doesn't "like him-like him." Ironically, while Helga is jealous of Lila, her own actions are the only reason for Arnold and Lila ever even considering a relationship. Lila becomes aware of Helga's feelings for Arnold and coerces Helga into coming clean to her about her love for him. Near the end of the series, Arnold finally gets the message and gives up on Lila.
  • Pulled off very nicely on Justice League with Mari/Vixen, John Stewart's rebound girlfriend after Shayera/Hawkgirl temporarily left for parts unknown. Vixen herself is a rather nice person and plucky Action Girl who ends up befriending Shayera, even saving her life at some point, and Shayera doesn't make too much of a fuss at their relationship despite the unspoken, though sometimes blatantly hinted-at, tensions still existing (like when Shayera mentions that among her people, Murder the Hypotenuse would be the expected and accepted action on her part). By the end of the show, John Stewart's relationship with Vixen is treated respectably enough that, even when Shayera learns of her and John's future offspring Warhawk, John still refuses to leave Vixen (who is actually injured at that time) instantly simply because destiny says otherwise. He will instead wait for everything to happen between the three of them organically (and presumably post-series finale, if the fact that Rex/Warhawk is Shayera and John's Kid from the Future says something). Shayera, though logically not happy, more or less accepts his decision, and instead of complaining she goes have a talk with Batman (so he can tell her about Warhawk). The fifth season introduces Carter/Hawkman as Shayera's false lead, making the love triangle into a love square. This time, however, he's made into Shayera's Stalker with a Crush. After the events of the episode "Ancient History" which revealed the truth between the past lives of him and Shayera, he gives up on her and essentially encourages her to be with John.
  • Kim Possible: Drakken at the top of his game weaponizes this trope in So The Drama with "Eric" a.k.a. Synthodrone 901: a "made-to-order syntho-hottie". He drives Ron crazy with jealousy, but in the end, Ron and Kim get together.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • Asami, Korra, and Mako play with this throughout the run of the series. Initially, it appears that Asami is this to Mako, who is supposed to end up with the heroine Korra. At the end of season 1, it appears settled with Mako ending up with Korra. As Mako is extremely bad at handling either relationship, being unable to commit, Korra and Mako wind up broken up by the end of book 2, during which he also has another fling with Asami. While Mako remains a loyal ally to both Korra and Asami, in the end the two girls wind up together.
    • Bolin is technically one for Korra as well, as he was interested in her from the very beginning and went on a date with her, but no one in or out of universe (except poor Bolin) ever expected that relationship to last.
  • Miraculous Ladybug introduced two of them in season 2, Luka and Kagami, respectively targeting main characters Marinette and Adrien, who are an Anchored Ship stuck into a Two-Person Love Triangle. They seems to have simultaneously won them in the two part finale of season 3 but it does not last longer than the two part beginning of season 4 that follows. Realizing that The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life, Marinette and Adrien part ways with their respective false leads. Simultaneously again and over the course of the same day.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil:
    • Marco had too many to list. The most obvious was Jackie, whom he had a crush on since they were toddlers, whom he dates for awhile. He also became breakup buddies with Kelly. Janna and Hekapoo like flirting with him too. In the last couple of episodes, he finally ends up with Star.
    • Star has her own with Tom Lucitor, her on-and-off-again boyfriend, until the two amicably break up for good in Season 4, partially because Tom knows Star's true feelings for Marco. Unlike many examples, Tom and Marco are good friends themselves and both respect Star's choices. Before that, Star has a crush on Oskar Greason, but loses it by the end of the second season as she starts to see him not as a cool musician with "a record", but as the dopey weirdo everyone else sees him as.
  • Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts: From Benson's introduction, there are little hints that he might be Kipo's love interest. This even gets to the point where she confesses to him, but he turns her down because he is gay.
  • In Winx Club, Diaspro is this for Bloom/Sky. She is a princess betrothed to Sky from childhood, and despite Sky eventually falling in love with Bloom and breaking off their engagement, she continues to pursue him and is the cause of much of the drama between Bloom and Sky for the majority of the series' run.
  • Both Jean and Scott in X-Men: Evolution get their own false leads: Jean dates Duncan and Scott dates Jean's classmate Taryn, and then Taryn dumped Scott when mutants were revealed, not because she or he became a jerk, but for the same reason most of them lost their friends: He can, quite literally, blow up a building with his eyes. Duncan was an Alpha dog Jerkass type, who played the Bitch in Sheep's Clothing trope (while he made it clear he was a jerk, he treated Jean far nicer then he treats anyone else), and when they break up, let's just say he takes his jerkery to a whole new level.