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Romantic Runner-Up

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"The day Maura Tierney decides to stick with Fletcher is the same day Fletcher: 1) gets his car impounded for speeding and a number of unpaid parking tickets; 2) gets thrown in jail; 3) breaks through security in an airport; and 4) steals an airport vehicle, delaying a flight and endangering lives. Cary Elwes lost to that guy."

You know, there isn't really anything wrong with this guy. He just doesn't measure up for some reason. Somebody else can make the jokes he tells a little funnier. He could use a little help in the wardrobe department. He loses a lot of women to the taller, more handsome, more suave guys (and/or the bad-boy types). Or, maybe he has all of those qualities, yet somehow isn't quite Mister Right Enough for the leading lady, who prefers the Protagonist's flaws.

The reason this character shows up so often in stories is likely to make a statement about the mysterious ways of love and about how the chemistry between two people is something that cannot be predicted. This message is a little undercut by the fact that certain people seem to be exactly the type to be cast as second-runner in a romance. Perhaps the chemistry is not so mysterious, after all.

Note that although this trope largely applies to male characters, it can occasionally affect female characters as well, particularly in Love Triangle relationships where there're two women and one man. In these cases, the exemplar of this trope is usually the "Betty" of a Betty and Veronica matchup.

Sometimes called "The Baxter" (but not Ted Baxter) from C.C. Baxter of The Apartment, a sad sack who actually gets the girl. The Michael Showalter movie The Baxter deconstructs the concept. Compare Hopeless Suitor, Romantic False Lead, Unrequited Tragic Maiden, and No Sparks. See also Did Not Get the Girl and Everything but the Girl when it's The Protagonist who is the romantic runner-up.

Note that since this trope involves the resolution of love triangles, SPOILERS AHEAD!

Please don't use this trope to bash Official Couples that you don't like, too.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Cardcaptor Sakura:
    • Sakura and Syaoran are both in love with Yukito at the start of the story, but Yukito ends the story with Sakura's brother, Touya. At this point, it can be considered a subversion, since Sakura realized she had no romantic interest in Yukito a bit prior to their relationship started and Syaoran fell for Sakura after they captured all Clow Cards.
    • Tomoyo is in love with Sakura, but she much prefers the Better as Friends and I Want My Beloved to Be Happy approaches, and is, towards the end, happy to help Sakura and Syaoran get together.
  • Dr. Tomoaki Araide in Case Closed. Dude's handsome, soft-spoken, rich,... and he happens to have a romantic interest in a young girl named Ran, who has been smitten with the Guile Hero Shinichi/Conan already for years. One of the OAV's shows what would likely happen if Shinichi never found a way to become normal... Araide would lose even then, since Ran would rather be alone than without Shinichi. Thank Gods it was All Just a Dream...
  • In CLANNAD, every girl not named Nagisa falls into this trope. If it wasn't already blatantly obvious to viewers from the very beginning of episode 1, a massive Ship Sinking scene occurs in episode 18, which makes it very clear to all of the other girls which one of them Tomoya really cares about.
  • In Corsair, Aura, a plucky (if naive) girl had been planning to marry Canale for a very long time. Though Canale really respects and cares for her he does not want to pursue a relationship for reasons even other than the obvious, and he ends up with the jerkass Fetishized Abuser instead, who is something of an adopted sibling to Aura, just to rub it in.
  • Hilda from Cross Ange is a female example, who seems to have become this after failing to win Ange over Tusk, who not only got to kiss Ange first, but also deflowered her. While Ange does at least give Hilda a kiss and reaffirms that she needs her, Ange still marries Tusk at the end of the series.
  • Kotori is another female example from Da Capo. Many of the characters mention that she's popular, she's a good cook, smart, and she likes spending a lot of time with Junichi. Many characters also comment that those two would be a good match for each other. But unfortunately for her, Junichi's jealous sister Nemu doesn't like him spending time with any girls but her.
    • Sakura is another example. She even fought with Nemu at first, but eventually gives him up at the end of the first Season.
  • Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School: Juzo becomes this when Chisa ends up as the one the love of his life, Munakata, falls in love with.
  • Yamcha of Dragon Ball may be the quintessential example. In fact, he combines this trope with Romantic False Lead, because he was explicitly set up with Bulma after the end of the first big story arc conclusion, when the dragon was summoned. However, fast forward to Dragon Ball Z, & Bulma dumps him, & then gradually warms up to Vegeta of all people, who had been a villain actively threatening the planet in the previous story arc.
  • In Dragon Quest: Your Story, Nera Briscoletti is a beautiful, kind-hearted, rich lady. Yet still, despite having a more overt crush on Luca compared to the game, she ultimately convinces him to back out of their engagement after picking up on how close Luca really is with Bianca.
  • Eleanor of Emma: A Victorian Romance is a female example. There's nothing wrong with her, it's just that William had already fallen in love with someone else.
  • Inuyasha: Houjou is unbelievably and relentlessly nice to Kagome, and even though the few dates they try out are disastrous, he doesn't give up. However, his name isn't in the title, so of course he's doomed to providing lots of unnecessary medicine while she runs off to save the world with Inuyasha. Fortunately, he doesn't seem to mind much.
  • Kiznaiver:
    • Of the love triangle between Sonozaki, Katsuhira, and Chidori, the end game is Sonozaki/Katsuhira, leaving Chidori as this.
    • Of the love triangle between Nico, Tenga, and Chidori, the end is left open over who will end up with whom, but considering that Tenga had fallen for Chidori and she started developing feelings for him after the events of the show, as well as Nico openly stating she will value their friendship over any possible romance, it's likely that Nico ends as this.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2016), Shad hits it off with the amnesiac Ilia well enough that an eventual romance becomes a likelihood...and then Link barges into the tavern to continue that Rescue Romance he and Ilia were evidently having. Ilia is the actual runner up in all this, losing to Midna.
  • Yuuno Scrya from Lyrical Nanoha. Nice guy, helpful, supportive; he was the one who gave Nanoha her calling but relationship-wise it just didn't go anywhere and Word of Gay states that Nanoha ended up with Fate instead.
  • Female example: Anju Kitahara in the Marmalade Boy anime. Marmalade Boy has actually more than one example (Ginta, anyone?), but Anju is the one who fits the most.
  • Shouta from Momokuri is this to his best friend Rihito. Rihito has always been popular, and while Shouta's far from a bad catch, he's just not quite to the level of hot-guy Rihito. Even Shouta's Childhood Friend Yuzuki, who everyone in the entire series has described as either being in love with him or not realizing she's in love with him, winds up dumping him for Rihito in the end.
  • Reito of My-HiME for Mai. Mai strongly considered him at first but ended up with Yuuichi in the end.
  • Subverted in Paradise Kiss. Hiroyuki Tokumori was in a love triangle with Miwako and Arashi, ending up as the loser. He also was Yukari's first crush, but then she fell for George. In the end, though, Yukari and George break up, George goes abroad... and Yukari marries Tokumori.
  • Dr. Itsuki of RahXephon, anyone? Haruka initially dated someone else before the Mu arrived, then she dated Itsuki in college. Haruka's actual true love turned out to be Ayato, and they were separated literally by time and space before Itsuki ever dated her...
  • Ranma ½ has one for either member of the main couple:
  • Deconstructed in Rosario + Vampire with Kurumu (a succubus). It's fairly clear how heartbreaking it is for her to not be the girl to get Tsukune. It gets worse because in this universe, Unrequited Love is a bad thing for a succubus.
  • Kentarou Nara from the anime/manga School Rumble. Oddly enough, he was originally going to be the main character of the show but was nonetheless relegated as a side character with little screen time or role in the story.
  • In SHUFFLE!, every girl, especially Kaede becomes this once Rin chooses one near the end.
  • Misty from Vandread falls into this trope. She never really had a chance since she was introduced in Season 2, and her romantic rival, Dita, was a part of the ship's crew, and they didn't want to see her miserable (nor did she want to ostracize them any further). so she painfully gave up pursuing Hibiki, and while she tries to play off her pursuit of him as "being bored", she later goes to the park alone to cry.
  • An odd example is Kyougo Monou from X/1999. He did get to marry the girl he loved, Saya, and even had two children with her (Fuma and Kotori)... but he remained as the Romantic Runner Up since he knew Saya loved him but not that way, as she was in love with her best friend Tohru and married Kyougo mostly to fulfill her destiny.
    • Ceres, Celestial Legend features a similar situation where Yuuhi readily accepts his romantic loss to Aya's Mysterious Protector, Tooya. In the end, however, Tooya tells him that he's dying and won't live more than two years, so he asks Yuuhi to take care of Aya and their soon-to-be-born child once he's gone.
  • Kija and Jaeha from Yona of the Dawn seem to recognize right away that they are this, and actively don't act on their slight romantic affections for protagonist Yona. She's still very fond of them, and both of them are kind and handsome, but Yona simply doesn't view them in a romantic way.
    • Ironically Hak, the person she does end up falling for, also believed himself to be this for years due to her longstanding crush on Su-won. Needless to say, he subverts this and becomes her Second Love.

    Comic Books 
  • In Supergirl (Volume 2) Philip Decker dated Linda Danvers for a while and their relationship appeared to go full steam ahead... until Linda broke up with Phil because he was keeping things from her, and shortly after she met again Dick Malverne, who she was still in love with.

    Fan Works 
  • A New Hope (Danganronpa): Chiaki has feelings for Hajime, who's already very close with Mikan. In Chapter 54, she admits her feelings and says she doesn't mind being "Player 3" if she has to. It's ultimately Subverted when Hajime assures he it won't come to that; he loves her just as much as Mikan. Ultimately, the three of them end up together.
  • What Goes Around Comes Around:
    • Played With; Adrien and Alya both incorrectly assume that Luka is one of these. Sure, Marinette seems perfectly happy with him, but clearly they're not meant to be together! Adrien is Chat Noir, after all, and with Marinette revealed as Ladybug, he's convinced she's meant to be falling into his arms. Alya repeatedly 'reassures' Marinette that she doesn't have to stick with 'second place' anymore, ignoring how much she's irritating her 'bestie' by pushing her ship.
    • Adrien also invokes this to justify and dismiss how his relationship with Kagami fell apart, claiming that she was only ever his 'second choice'. Plagg calls him out on this, pointing out how horribly he treated both girls, including the fact that he was actively pursuing and flirting with Ladybug even while dating Kagami.
  • This Nearly Was Mine revolves around Frederic Horshoepin filling this role for Octavia, who's dating Vinyl Scratch.
  • In Medicinal Lullaby, Naruto eventually hooks up with Sakura, leaving Hinata to grow increasingly bitter over winding up as this.
  • Advice and Trust:
    • As far as it is known, Chihiro Tanaka is not a bad girl -albeit persistent and meddlesome-, but Shinji loves Asuka in spite of all her flaws.
    • Rei is Shinji and Asuka's friend, they would do anything for her and they would never hurt her. But when she confesses she loves them both, they are too committed to each other to consider a three-ways relationship (not that she would interfere anyway).
  • A Crown of Stars: Rei to Shinji. She is not a bad person and she cares about him, but Shinji loves Asuka, not her. Unfortunately she is too jealous to realize and understand Asuka loves Shinji back, and her jealousy is creating troubles right when they need her help.
  • Evangelion 303: Saburo was immature, sometimes overbearing, a borderline stalker and he did many dumb things and hurt people as he tried and failed to get Kaworu back... but he was not a bad person. He was just unable to control his emotions and let the past go. He also thought he was protecting Kaworu from heartbreak by interfering between Rei and him. When he realized that was not the case he gave up.
  • HERZ: Kurumi was not a bad girl per se (at least if you do not count how she got Shinji hammered in order to sleep with him), but she was not Asuka. Shinji loved Asuka for her beauty, brains, bravery, and fierceness, and being the only person could understand him, and he needed her badly.
  • A Perfect Match?” opens with Ash feeling bitter as a result of this as Misty left to join Rudy at the Trovita Island Gym, feeling as though her choosing to stay with Rudy so quickly proves that Misty never even cared about him as a friend and was only ever with him to get her bike replaced.
  • Sailor Moon V makes Rei one of these for Darien. Serena is fully aware of this, and feels sorry for her friend.
  • In Hellsister Trilogy, Brainiac 5 is handsome, intelligent and well-meaning; however, Supergirl finds she can't love him back the way he wants to be loved and ends up falling for dashing but abrasive Dev-Em instead.
    Brainiac 5: The woman I've wanted for most of my life is upstairs now, making love with a man who has nothing of what I have to offer, and I have nothing of what he has to offer. The worst part of it is, I can't even hate him. He's probably good for Kara. The battle's done, to the victor belong the spoils.
  • Total Drama Comeback Series: Not only did Cody lose Gwen to Trent in canon, but in the first story he winds up losing in another Love Triangle, this time with Beth to Justin. This leaves as the only Gen 1 male single at the end. Fortunately, the writer throws him a bone in the sequel, where he's the axis in a love triangle between Eva and an attractive OC.
  • X-Men 1970: Angel is handsome, chivalrous, good-natured and rich. He believed he had a very good chance to win Jean Grey's heart until he realized she loved their neurotic, shy teammate Cyclops. Then Warren decided Scott and Jean were meant to be together and stepped out of the way voluntarily.
    Angel: "At one time, I was convinced I was in love with her. So was Scott, so, I guess, was just about everybody there. I swept her off her feet a couple of times, figured I'd have a clear field with her. Turns out she and Scott were meant for each other. So I tried hanging in there for a while, but I eventually gave it up."

    Films - Live-Action 
  • Actor James Marsden has quite the Baxter career going, playing blandly nice guys who fail to get the girl one way or another in Superman Returns, X-Men Film Series, Enchanted, The Notebook...
    • He does get the girl in Superman Returns. Strangely enough, that film casts Superman as the Baxter. In the first hour, at least. In the end, he still loses, Lois pretty much states that they're done as a couple and she's going to pine for Superman, because she really loves him and he is the father to her son.
    • And he gets a girl in Enchanted too — just not the one he was originally looking for.
    • And in 27 Dresses, but he's more of a Deadpan Snarker there.
    • And in X-Men, where Jean even marries him. Suck on that, Wolverine!
  • Ralph Bellamy in just about any movie where he's not playing Franklin D. Roosevelt. Were TV Tropes around in the '40s, he'd be the Trope Namer. Movies in which he Did Not Get the Girl:
  • (500) Days of Summer is interesting in that one of these is the main character and it is about the fact that while he was completely in love with her, she wasn't at all in love with him(which isn't a spoiler). The key theme is the difference between his expectations and the reality of the situation.
  • The Michael Showalter film The Baxter is a parody from the perspective of one of these guys.
  • Sam in Crossing Delancey is one of these, but ends up winning the girl anyway.
  • Cary Elwes's character from Liar Liar.
  • My Best Friend's Wedding is entirely built around Julia Robert's character fighting not to become this. She doesn't get the guy, but hooks up with Rupert Everett at the end. Awwww!
  • The classic Bollywood film My Name is Joker is the tale of a Sad Clown who spent his entire life being rejected by women in favor of someone else.
  • Dan from Over Her Dead Body.
  • This page describes the entire existence of James Norrington from Pirates of the Caribbean — even though he is played by Jack Davenport, he cannot compete with Will or Jack. Even in Dead Man's Chest, when he was dirty, drunk, and hot as hell. Poor fellow.
    • Technically Jack Sparrow too, as he also loses Elizabeth to Will in the third film. This is less tragic though because while Norrington genuinely loved Elizabeth and eventually made a Heroic Sacrifice to save her from Davy Jones, Jack's relationship with her was more Played for Laughs and he ended up getting a new love interest in the fourth film anyway.
  • Plan B subverts this trope with Pablo. Bruno mockingly calls Pablo a "nice guy" after seeing him dating his ex-girlfriend Laura and when he asks Laura after seducing her back into bed with him if she loves Pablo, she just says that he isn't crazy like Bruno is which implies that she's with Pablo more because he's a 'safer' choice than because she truly loves him. All of this seems to be setting up Pablo as the blander Romantic False Lead who'll ultimately lose out to Bruno for Laura's affections... except that when Bruno befriends Pablo as part of a Relationship Sabotage plan, he learns that Pablo is far from a boring person to talk to and is very easy to like. So easy to like, in fact, that Bruno ends up falling more deeply in love with Pablo than he ever was with Laura and gives up on his initial plan to win Laura back in favor of hooking up with Pablo, thus making this probably the only example of this trope where the apparent Romantic Runner-Up not only wins, but does so by winning the heart of his romantic rival.
  • Ben Stiller in Reality Bites.
  • Walter in Sleepless in Seattle. This is a guy who was about to get married, and basically gets dumped for some guy who lives on the other side of the country and whom his fiance has never even met.
  • Julian in Something's Gotta Give. Diane Keaton dumps the much-younger, suave doctor Keanu Reeves for Jack Nicholson. Sad Keanu, indeed.
  • Warlock III: The End of Innocence: Jerry is in love with Kris, whom he's known for years, but she already has a boyfriend (Michael). The Warlock promises him Kris' love in an effort to corrupt him, but he actually manages to hold out the longest of her friends rather than betray her. What finally causes him to give her up is the Warlock showing him that Kris previously believed him to be a joke.
  • Speaking of Trope Namer Michael Showalter, how about Coop from Wet Hot American Summer? Katie's speech to him at the end basically epitomizes this trope:
    Katie: Listen, Coop - last night was really great. You were incredibly romantic and heroic, no doubt about it. And that's great. But I've thought about it, and my thing is this: Andy is really hot. And don't get me wrong, you're cute too, but Andy is like, * cut* . From marble. He's gorgeous. He has this beautiful face and this incredible body, and I genuinely don't care that he's kinda lame. I don't even care that he cheats on me. And I like you more than I like Andy, Coop, but I'm 16. And maybe it'll be a different story when I'm ready to get married, but right now, I am entirely about sex. I just want Andy. I just wanna take him and grab him and fuck his brains out, ya know? So that's where my priorities are right now. Sex. Specifically with Andy and not with you. But you're really nice. Everyone thinks so. And I still totally wanna be friends.

  • Earth's Children has a few characters who lose their potential love interests to someone else.
    • Joplaya is the runner-up for her childhood crush Jondalar, who marries Ayla and never even realised Joplaya loved him romantically. Joplaya doesn't begrudge Ayla for it and they actually become good friends; she also goes on to marry Echozar. It's just as well, as Joplaya and Jondalar are unknowingly half-siblings.
    • By the end of The Mammoth Hunters, Ranec is the runner-up to Jondalar, for Ayla, who cancels their wedding last minute. She even states that she may have been able to love him, if she hadn't met Jondalar first. He's bitter about it because he loves Ayla, but ultimately accepts there's nothing he can do to change the situation and wishes Ayla happiness. Ranec admits that deep down he suspected Ayla's heart truly lay with Jondalar, but hoped that with enough time and effort she'd come to return his feelings.
    • Also in The Mammoth Hunters, Vincavec loses Ayla's affections to Jondalar, though he wasn't so much in love with her as he was attracted to her beauty, talents and the status she could bring him. He was at least completely honest about this to Ayla when he proposed, but she wanted to be with someone she truly loved.
    • S'Armuna was the runner-up to Marthona, her best friend at the time, for Joconan. She didn't take it well at the time, cutting them both off and moving far away with no contact for years, though she came to regret this years later. Upon learning that Joconan died only a few years after mating Marthona, she also appears to realize that she would've lost him either way, so there's little point continuing to be bitter over it.
    • Marona to Ayla, for Jondalar. They nearly got married at one point, but Jondalar changed his mind and decided to go on a long vacation instead. Part of Marona hoped she might have a shot of rekindling things with Jondalar once he returns from his journey, but it's immediately obvious to her he hasn't exactly been pining for her given he shows up with Ayla and announces their engagement. It's to the point where even though she succeeds in seducing Jondalar in the sixth book, it's still made blatantly obvious that he'll always prefer Ayla.
  • Simon Lewis from The Mortal Instruments, Clary chooses Jace instead of him, although he doesn't seem too affected by it in the long run.
  • Frank in the Outlander series has the unfortunate distinction of first losing his wife in a magic rock, and then, just as he's getting over her, getting her back only to find that she's still in love with the guy she married in the 18th century.
  • 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.
  • Stefan in Redemption Cairn by Stanley G. Weinbaum. In terms of heroic qualities, he is more or less equal to the protagonist Jack, and they both have I Want My Beloved to Be Happy attitude towards Claire since each of them is certain she loves the other one. She chooses Jack, but rejects Stefan, as the latter recalls, "as gently as possible".
  • Len Levy not only doesn't get Jessica Darling in Second Helpings (or the later books in the Sloppy Firsts series), he loses her to his best friend.
  • Sam from Charlaine Harris's The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries books. He's her employer, and first indicated her interest when she got into her first serious relationship with another man. They're just good friends by now.
  • Nicci of the Sword of Truth is a female example. Though she eventually becomes the closest confidante and magical advisor to her love, she remains the No. 2 woman in his life.
  • Jacob Black of The Twilight Saga. Specifically in New Moon when he was still nice to Bella till she showed he would choose Edward over him, after that he started to get all Alpha Male on her trying to get her grounded, kissing her by force and later by emotional blackmail. In the end, he managed to get Bella to admit she loved him, but she still loved Edward more.
  • This is part of Demandred's backstory in The Wheel of Time, and is apparently why he ended up as a mass-murdering evil general.
    • In particular, it's massive RPT MASSIVE resentment of his status as second fiddle to the Dragon. Almost as smart, powerful, handsome, etc, etc. IIRC, he wound up playing for the side of evil so he could finally be superior.
  • Ashfur in Warrior Cats, when Squirrelflight passes him over in favor of Brambleclaw. This does not bode well for his mental health...
  • Worldwar gives us an unusual example regarding the character Barbara Larsen. She starts the series Happily Married to Dr. Jens Larsen, a scientist working on the Manhattan Project, but when an alien race attacks Earth Jens is sent on a top-secret mission that requires him to cross the United States by bicycle to avoid drawing attention. In the meantime, Barbara meets a friendly and forward-thinking soldier named Sam Yeager, and the two become friends with no intention of going any further (Sam knows she's married and respects that). Then they get caught up in an alien attack and end up having Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex, but are deeply ashamed with themselves afterwards. They try to stay Just Friends, but then Barbara finds out she's pregnant and is wrongly told that Jens has died, so she and Sam get married. Naturally, this is the point where Jens turns up alive and well, having carried himself on with thoughts of returning to his loving wife. Barbara ultimately stays with Sam, which is just the latest example of Jens being a Butt-Monkey and helps drive him off the deep end, ultimately getting killed by the army when he tries to betray humanity to the aliens as revenge for everything he's suffered. Decades later when Sam tells the story to his son Johnathan, he fully admits that he sees himself as this trope, recognizing that Jens was a good man before he lost it and thinking that Barbara only stayed with him because he got her pregnant.
  • Subverted with Ciaphas Cain: On discovering Mira has gotten affianced to the local planetary governor, it's all he can do not to do handsprings for sheer joy of getting rid of her in a way that doesn't leave her sending assassins after him. Even better, she doesn't want him at the wedding as she doesn't want a Hero of the Imperium (who just saved the system from a genestealer/ork infestation by singlehandedly exploring a space hulk) upstaging her.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Zack Allan in Babylon 5 with regards to Lyta Alexander.
    • Even more heartbreaking is Lennier with regards to Delenn. They both think the world of each other, but Lennier gets Overshadowed by Awesome in the form of Sheridan. This ends horrifically when Sheridan gets trapped in a life-threatening situation and Lennier has his first "blink at the Abyss" moment in his entire life and leaves him to die. He turns back within seconds, but Sheridan is rescued by that time, leaving him with having just tried to assassinate the president of the Interstellar Alliance. He steals a fighter and flees a very confused Sheridan, who returns to Delenn to find a note from Lennier confessing the whole thing. Delenn - who never realized Lennier was in love with her - forgives him instantly, Sheridan is implied to get over it within the next day or so, but Lennier 'never forgives himself for that moment of weakness.
  • Billy Keikeya on Battlestar Galactica.
    • For that matter, Apollo as well. Sure, he steals Dualla from Billy but then it turns out he really wanted to be with Starbuck, who instead goes for handsome, kind-hearted jock Anders. He eventually tries to get over her but it doesn't work and he gets separated. But Starbuck's dead by that point, or at least appears to be, and things get way hectic when she comes back. Then Anders is revealed as a Cylon, but the revelation doesn't break Starbuck and Anders up as one might predict. And then, Dualla shoots herself. To top it all off, when Anders dies, Starbuck, who's Not Quite Dead, disappears again. Sucks to be Apollo.
    • Which is hilarious because in some ways Anders also fits. While, yes, he does actually get to marry Starbuck, it's implied a number of times that she would rather be with Apollo (and Anders knows this). At one point, she basically out-right states that the only reason she hasn't left Anders for Apollo is that she doesn't believe in divorce.
    • In the original series, Athena seems to be this for Starbuck.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Xander qualifies for this trope on multiple occasions. Buffy rejects him for the more romantic Angel. Cordelia ultimately also winds up with Angel after breaking up with him. Willow, after pining after him for the first two seasons, ultimately chooses Oz over him. Even Anya sleeps with Spike after breaking up with Xander. Inverted when Buffy does begin to develop romantic feelings for Xander — and Xander rejects her for her little sister, Dawn (who had a crush on him and he rejected her).
    • Spike. And on a century-plus streak going at it, despite numerous metamorphoses, whether he be human, rabid young vampire, sarcastic and surprisingly sane old vampire, chipped reluctantly-good vampire, soulful good vampire, soulful bad vampire, or all-out champion of good. The irony being that most of the time he's losing out to Angel or Angelus, probably because while Angel was taking levels in badass he was getting hit by Badass Decay so hard the trope had his name for a while. Finally averted in the season 10 comics, where he and Buffy start dating, and even the brief appearance of Angel couldn't break them apart.
    • Riley Finn, who loved Buffy, but she didn't love him back. The interesting thing is that Riley is otherwise more the Prince Charming type. The problem is that Buffy is... well, take your pick: a) just interested in him because he's the 'normal' guy, b) not Angel.
    • Willow suffered from this, too, as she had a crush on Xander during Seasons 1 and 2, only for it to go unrequited, as he was more focused on Buffy and Cordelia at this point. It was only during Season 3 that they expressed mutual attraction for each other.
    • Oz lost out on Willow's affections to Tara in "New Moon Rising".
  • Tom Demming from Castle is a mix of this and a Romantic False Lead, as while his arc is only a few episodes and he exists, essentially, to wake Castle the hell up, he is a genuinely good guy who really does care about Beckett and seems to make her happy.
  • This was Frasier's original reason for existing on Cheers. He was meant to appear as a recurring character in the third season as a Love Interest to Diane, as a way of providing conflict between her and Sam. This eventually led to the two getting engaged and having a wedding in the season finale, one that Diane eventually runs out of. Still, while Diane didn't run out to reunite with Sam initially, she does end up rekindling her romance with him later on, while Frasier forms a relationship with Lilith.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Mickey Smith is decent, okay-looking, just an average guy with a hot girlfriend...until some guy with a leather jacket and a nice ride sweeps her off her feet.
    • Zigzagged between Martha Jones and the Tenth Doctor. Gorgeous, funny, extremely intelligent, and brave, Martha falls in love with the Doctor almost immediately. Which the Doctor realizes - it's just that he still misses and loves Rose. No wonder Mickey and Martha end up married.
  • Given a twist in the final season of Frasier in which Frasier is the bland nice guy who gets the girl while the more exciting boyfriend doesn't. Aspects of this trope are played straight by the boyfriend Frank, who is overall an extremely nice and friendly guy and a committed environmentalist.
  • Friends:
    • David, Phoebe's on-and-off boyfriend, showed up once again in season nine and proposed. Phoebe promptly rejected him for Mike Hannigan, whom she ultimately married. To add insult to injury, the writers went out of their way to point out that the inoffensive David was a penniless failure by this point.
    • Also in the Season 6 finale, Richard for Monica, when she picks Chandler over him. This is rather ironic as Richard in-universe is considered the perfect guy and an Always Someone Better to Chandler. However the writers make it very clear that Monica moved on from him and it's Chandler, with all his neuroses and insecurities, who is the love of her life.
  • Fringe: Poor Lincoln Lee. Let's recap: in the original timeline red-verse, he is in unrequited love and friend-zoned with Fauxlivia. This doesn't seem to change after the Season 4 reboot of both universes. In the rebooted blue-verse, he has a flirtation going with Olivia, who seems interested. Until a handsome, snarky stranger shows up who's actually her true love from an erased timeline. To add insult to injury, her choosing to remember Peter means she won't even really remember that she and Lincoln had a mutual attraction. However, after his much cooler alternative universe-counterpart dies, he decides to cross over for good and stick to Fauxlivia. Towards the end of the last season, when Olivia crosses over one last time using her cortexiphan-induced powers, it's revealed that they married and had a son.
  • Gilmore Girls:
    • Dean. He may have been Rory's first-ever boyfriend, but he eventually loses her to Jess and Logan as the series progressed.
    • Christopher, but not for lack of trying. By season 7, Christopher has undergone a heavy dose of Character Development and is much more successful and stable than when he was introduced, but he and Lorelai have long since outgrown each other and their one serious go of it goes down in flames. Lorelai even tearfully tells him he's "the man [she] want[s] to want" but ultimately, it "was always supposed to be Luke."
  • Glee:
    • Sam unfortunately ends up being this. First, Quinn cheats on him and ends up choosing Finn. Then, he briefly dates Santana until she dumps him for the bully Karofsky, not knowing that they are acting as each others' beards. Then after a long term relationship with Brittany, she dumps him and gets back together with Santana a couple months later.
    • Artie was this after Tina dumped him for Mike.
    • The Quinn/Finn/Rachel love triangle had Rachel and Quinn alternating the role of runner up. The most notable instances were in season 2. Finn and Rachel broke up, leading to him and Quinn getting back together with Rachel still pining for Finn. Then Finn dumped Quinn because he was still in love with Rachel, making her the runner up.
  • On Haven, Duke is this in the Love Triangle between him, Audrey, and Nathan. There isn't anything about him that Audrey finds unattractive or makes them incompatible. He even asks her out and she accepts, though she bails (for work reasons). She just falls hard for Nathan, and when it comes out that they have some sort of Love Transcends Space Time thing going on, the Love Triangle naturally fades out of the story line. In a surprisingly mature take on the Love Triangle trope, Duke sees the writing on the wall pretty early on, but he doesn't do anything to change it—recognizing that the choice is Audrey's and that he can't make her choose him. His lingering feelings come up a few times after Audrey has solidly chosen Nathan, but they turn more sororal after Duke gets his own Love Interest in season four.
  • Joy Mercer on House of Anubis so very much. It gets to the point where even when Nina was gone, Fabian refused to date Joy, as he believes they should be just good friends and nothing else.
  • How I Met Your Mother:
    • The show deconstructs this trope in the episode "Shelter Island". Ted sees himself as the Dogged Nice Guy, and even invites fiancee Stella's Jerkass ex-boyfriend Tony to their wedding. Only when she leaves him at the altar does he realizes that Tony was actually the romantic lead of that particular love story, while Ted is the Romantic Runner-Up.
    • When Tony later writes and sells a movie script based on the events, Ted is pissed off and humiliated because he doesn't even get this characterization in the movie. Instead, the character based on him is an outright villain who goes around kicking dogs and doesn't even care about the female lead; he just wants to keep her away from her soul mate for laughs. The worst part is that the character, Jed Mosely, even refers to himself using Ted's real name during a Jerkass "Do you know who I am?!" rant.
  • Part of the rivalry between Jack and Sawyer for Kate's affections in Lost. Jack is a very good guy, skilled, likable, and an excellent surgeon. Sawyer is dangerous, charming, and mysterious as well as almost entirely unlikeable. Ben points this out to Sawyer telling him that, on the island, he's the dashing adventurous bad boy while Jack is the bland doctor. Off the island, Sawyer is a two-bit ex-con and Jack is the respected, well-educated Doctor.
    • Later during Season 5, Sawyer ends up forming a relationship with Juliet (who had previously realized that she was essentially a Romantic False Lead for Jack). However, the sexual tension between Sawyer and Kate remains, and Juliet continues to worry that she will be this to Kate, this time for Sawyer. In the end, Jack ends up with Kate, and Sawyer ends up with Juliet.
  • Boomer of the little-known children's show Maddigan's Quest. Even before the series, Garland saw him as more a goofy friend than anything, and after Timon shows up, he's got no chance. Even when Timon turns into a human cockroach, Garland still prefers him. I mean, ouch.
  • Lancelot from Merlin has such low self-esteem that on realizing that Arthur is in love with Guinevere, gives up on his own romantic hopes without a fight or even checking with Guinevere herself to see what man she preferred (and at that point, he would have almost certainly been her first pick).
  • Sam Cavanaugh of Moonlighting, whom Maddie Hayes outright admits would be perfect for her — if she weren't already madly in love with her wisecracking, strip-poker-playing, flirtatious, seemingly devil-may-care partner David Addison, with whom she has the kind of romantic and sexual chemistry frequently blamed for forest fires.
  • Brian Krakow in My So-Called Life may be the ultimate Deconstruction of this trope. Especially since he gets his own runner-up in Delia Fisher, and shows you exactly what the real-life consequences of at least two tropes, and a complete and utter crushing deconstructive subversion of a third.
  • Zach was this to Seth in The O.C. with regards to Summer. A nice guy, son of a congressman, confident, mature, and yet just not quite what Summer really wanted. The implication when he was Put on a Bus was that he went into business with George Lucas, so maybe it all worked out in the wash.
  • Between her roles on The Office (US) and Parks and Recreation, Rashida Jones seems to be building a career on playing this character.
  • Stuart McRae was a very good version of this in Road to Avonlea. It made perfect sense for Felicity to want to marry him - and for her to dump him after it turned out that Gus was still alive.
  • Harvey Kinkle in the later seasons of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. After he himself dumped Sabrina after finding out she is a witch at the beginning of season 5, he kept returning to appear in the show throughout seasons 5 to 7 and kept dropping hints that he still was in love with Sabrina. But only in the very end, he gets the girl back.
  • On Schitt's Creek: Ted, in Season 1 and 2, is the broken-hearted runner-up when Alexis chooses Mutt. However, after Mutt and Alexis's romance burns out and Mutt is Put Ona Bus, the story takes a turn and Alexis realizes she made a mistake with Ted. When Mutt returns for an episode, he becomes the runner up as Alexis won't sleep with Mutt because she loves Ted.
  • Subverted in Sex and the City Steve looked like he would be this for Miranda, and they even broke up for a while. But in the end, his sheer averageness was just the kind of stability she needed.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: This has happened to Bashir twice. Leeta dumped him for Rom, whom she marries. Later on, after Jadzia is gone, Ezri tells him that if Worf hadn't come along, Jadzia would have chosen him.
  • Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries: Both Katherine and Elena prefer and have chosen Stefan over him. Is always second best to Stefan in regards to love and romance.
  • Artemus Gordon ends up this way at the end of almost every first season episode of The Wild Wild West. Having helped save the day (and usually the girl) most of the time, he turns to talk to either her or Jim West and finds that the girl is now in Jim's arms. From the second season on Artie's luck gets much better.

  • The narrator of "I'll Be Around" by The Spinners.

    Professional Wrestling 


    Video Games 
  • In A Knight's Devotion, Haku falls for the protagonist during Lute's path, bringing the two of them into conflict at points when Haku's frustration with Lute's denseness boils over.
  • Be My Princess: On Glenn's route, Yu ends up the runner up. Unlike other VN examples, this continues to be a point of contention between the two men.
  • There are two on Homare's route in Class Trip Crush. His classmate and self-appointed rival Takashi develops a crush on the protagonist, which given Takashi's awkwardness serves mostly to bemuse her and give Homare something else to snark about. Nagisa also expresses an interest in the protagonist at a couple of points during the route, but when he finally gets the chance to make an overture in her direction, Homare immediately makes it clear in no uncertain terms that she's already spoken for, and Nagisa backs down gracefully.
  • Dandelion - Wishes brought to you -: Heejung never seems to consider her college friend Heejae as a potential romantic option. In fact, he only confesses his feelings to her if the player failed to properly romance any of the other guys, making it a Bad Ending.
  • Dreamy Days in West Tokyo:
    • Ichigo is the most obvious case on routes other than his own, but all five of the main guys have been in love with the protagonist more or less forever (although some of them are more aware of their own feelings than others).
    • It's illustrated especially clearly on Reiji Uraga's season 2 route; Rei hints to the protagonist several times that any of her friends would fall over themselves to date her, and he takes undisguised glee in taunting the boys for missing their chances during his Super Happy Ending.
  • Enchanted in the Moonlight:
    • In the epilogue of Miyabi's story line, Chikage outright asks the protagonist to leave Miyabi and be with him instead. She doesn't of course. Miyabi doesn't hold a grudge over it.
    • Kyoga on Chikage's route. He would very much like it if the protagonist chose him over some cold-blooded tengu, but eventually comes to respect her choice.
  • In Your Arms Tonight:
    • Koichi ends up in this role in Ginnosuke's route, realizing only too late how much he values the protagonist as his wife.
    • Genji ends up in this role in Soji's route: he very much wants to rekindle his previous relationship with the protagonist, but after twelve years without hearing from him, she's moved on, and by the time Genji makes it clear he's serious, she's already falling for Soji.
  • Kissed by the Baddest Bidder: Takahiro in Eisuke's route. He gets as far as inviting the protagonist out on a pseudo-date and makes an impassioned plea for her to choose him as the more stable of the two men. This being Eisuke's route, she obviously doesn't.
  • In Junpei's route in Kiss of Revenge, Nurse Saomi develops an interest in him, but he only has eyes for the protagonist. The protagonist tries to set them up together, with no success for obvious reasonsnote .
  • Love Letter from Thief X: Tatsuro is the Unlucky Childhood Friend in every route other than his own.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Mass Effect: Dr. Michel has feelings for Garrus but will lose to a female Shepard who romanced Garrus in the second game, and even if the player does not romance him, he'll end up with Tali if Shepard didn't romance her.
    • Given the many ways one can play their character, almost all of the series' party members can be subjected to this if Shepard decides to romance one character in either of the first two games and end up with someone else in Mass Effect 3.
  • Ozmafia!! lets you change routes after starting one, leading Caramia, Kyrie, and Axel all possibly ending up as this if you start on one of their routes and then transfer to another's.
  • Speakeasy Tonight: Vince develops feelings for the protagonist in Donovan's route, but she puts an end to their flirting once she realizes that she's serious about Donovan.
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords: Visas Marr becomes this if the Exile romances the Handmaiden.

    Web Comics 
  • Erfworld has Jillian, who has three people in love with her. After she leaves two behind to go after the third, one of them asks the other why he didn't go with her.
    Jack Snipe: Hm, well... Could I ask the same of you, then, [Wanda]? Could it be the same answer? I mean, I wouldn't have minded so much counting myself among Queen Jillian's trophies. But I wouldn't much have enjoyed placing, oh...thirdish among them. I would say she left with the one she really came to take. It seems there is Ansom, and then there are ancillaries. And where is the glory in being a spare?
  • In El Goonish Shive, both Susan and Diane end up as this when Elliot starts dating Ashley.
  • In Punch an' Pie, Heather's mother describes Heather's ex-boyfriend as squarely fitting into this trope (he hasn't been seen, though). Angela's ex-boyfriend from the prequel had a lot of these traits but doesn't quite fit the trope.

    Western Animation 
  • Cooper from Ben 10. In Alien Force, he shows himself as a caring, humble, and really intelligent kid who has a deep crush on Gwen. However, she never showed any interest in him (she even tried to avoid him many times) and always chose Kevin over him every time he appeared. This trope was taken to the extreme in Ultimate Alien during the first season finale. Cooper had a fast growth and became a big teenager who was pretty much a palette swap of Kevin (only blonde). He worked hard to make sure Gwen's plan of stopping Kevin was a success and even defended her when Kevin almost killed her, yet all he got in the end was a thank you and a kiss on the cheek from Gwen, followed by seeing her giving Kevin a big kiss on the lips.
  • Cupid from Ever After High seems to be headed this way. Dexter is oblivious to her crush on him, probably because he's too head over heels for Raven to notice. Raven reciprocates the feelings, and while they aren't official yet, all signs seem to be pointing in that direction.
  • In Gargoyles, Brooklyn has some bad luck. First he fell for Maggie (mistaking her for a female gargoyle at a time when they believed Demona was the only one left), but she was freaked out by him and ultimately wound up with Derek/Talon. Then he's clearly depressed when Angela chooses Broadway over him (Lexington having bowed out of the cock fight for some reason). Word of God and the official comic continuation eventually throw him a bone, however, when he meets and marries Katana.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • Mako. While he did fumble up his relationships with Korra and Asami a lot over the first two seasons, one could argue that in Book Four, he was mature enough to finally hold a relationship. In the end, however, he ends up as a good friend to both Korra AND Asami. He's also the runner-up to both as the two, in the Grand Finale, have a Relationship Upgrade.
    • For some delicious irony Korra and Asami are able to bond and become closer over their shared bad experiences with dating Mako.
  • Blythe Baxter from Littlest Pet Shop (2012) had Josh Sharp falling into her arms as he swoons with her, even though he loses her each time she leaves him, hoping to go back to her room, resulting in a major heartbreak, due to the song Keep on Loving You by The Donnas.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: In Kagami's Season 3 résumé, she was specifically designated as an obstacle between Marinette and Adrien; that season ends with the two dating Luka and Kagami, respectively, only for Season 4 to immediately break both pairings up. From that point on, both barely appear beyond occasionally acting as Sixth Ranger part-time heroes... or, ironically, acting as Shippers On Deck for their exes.
  • Tom in Star vs. the Forces of Evil. He spends most of seasons 3 and 4 (ie nearly half the series) as Star's boyfriend, but they break up right as final story arc begins. 5 episodes later (and less than a day in-universe), Star and Marco become a couple and remain together through the finale, even bringing about the ending via The Power of Love.
  • Pearl in Steven Universe was in love with Rose Quartz AKA Pink Diamond for thousands of years and was her right hand during the war for Earth. When they settled on earth permanently, Rose would sometimes date humans but Pearl never truly paid much attention as Rose would inevitably outlive them due to gems being effectively immortal. Everything changed when Greg Universe came along and they fostered a relationship deeper than any other Rose had had before. Ultimately, Rose chose Greg and gave up her physical form to bring Steven into the world. Pearl would become one of Steven's caretakers from then on but still pined for Rose and her relationship with Greg remained tense up until "Mr. Greg" where the two reconciled after her song "It's Over Isn't It"
    Pearl: You won and she chose you...and she she loved you and she's's over isn't it... why can't I move on?

Alternative Title(s): The Baxter