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Second-Act Breakup

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"Aw, young love. Always so melodramatic."
Rafael, Rio

Alice and Bob are the two subjects of a rom-com. They've met in a manner most cute, had a few laughs, done an obligatory Falling-in-Love Montage and look all set to book the church, synagogue, registry office, volcano or what have you.

Then, about 60 minutes into the 90-minute movie, there's a sudden wacky misunderstanding where one of them is Mistaken for Cheating. Or Alice realizes her enemies will come after Bob to get to her, and she has to Break His Heart to Save Him. Or The Bet Bob had made that he was using Alice to fulfill is revealed to her. Or maybe they just have a sudden disagreement in their taste of music and both storm off in a huff.

Cue about 20 minutes of moping and trying to move on before they both realise that all they want to do is wait for the other to get out of the bathroom (or maybe join them in there) for the rest of their lives. Depending on the circumstances of the breakup, one person (usually Bob) may need to grovel before they can be forgiven. Then cue the tearful reunion.

See Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure for the platonic version of this trope. Compare with Break-Up/Make-Up Scenario and Third-Act Misunderstanding. See also Proxy Breakup.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Fushigi Yuugi pulls out one of these every ten episodes. At least. In a 52-episode series.
  • Sailor Moon features a second-season break-up when Mamoru has prophetic dreams that compel him to leave Usagi for her own safety. They only get back together in the last few episodes.

    Fan Works 
  • The Black Prince: Harry and Eggsy break up in chapter 25. While the fic is unfinished, a one-shot sequel was published where they are together, so presumably if the fic was finished they would have gotten back together.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Andhadhun, Sophie breaks up with Akash after finding out that he was only pretending to be blind (unbeknownst to her, he has at this point been blinded for real by Simi) and being led to believe by Simi that she and Akash are having an affair.
  • At Midnight (2023): Alejandro and Sophie break up when they visit his family, as his father goads Alejandro until he refers to Sophie as a "tourist" (meaning just one of his meaningless flings), which deeply offends her. The ensuing conversation has them both questioning whether they take the relationship seriously or not. They only make up at the very last scene in the film.
  • Happens in Back to the Future Part III between Doc Brown and old west schoolteacher Clara Clayton. Notable as it's part of a science-fiction comedy movie trilogy that doesn't normally dwell on such things; and that despite the breakup happening over a misunderstanding, no one was really at fault — it's just really hard for someone living in the old west to believe someone who tells them he's a time-traveller from a hundred years in the future.
  • Extremely common in sequels where the lead couple had their Relationship Upgrade at the end of the first movie. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is a good example of one where it happens even though the breakup is completely pointless and has no effect on the plot.
  • Don Jon:
    • Barbara breaks up with Jon halfway through the movie over him lying about his porn addiction.
    • Jon also mentions this happening in all romantic movies.
  • Bromantic example: in 50/50 (2011), protagonist Adam breaks up with best bud/comic relief Kyle because it looks like Kyle is just using Adam's cancer as a chick magnet/ganja pass. Luckily, Adam stumbles upon Kyle's collection of well read books on how to help a loved one with cancer, complete with copious margin notes, and they make up.
  • In I Love You, Man the bromance and main storyline feature this. The main character separates from his fiancee for a day or so, but the main Second Act Breakup is between the main character and his new friend.
  • In Knocked Up, Allison breaks up with Ben half-way through the movie as she thinks they are not made for another, due Ben at that point still being an irresponsible jobless manchild and Allison herself dealing with the heavy stress of her pregnancy overturning her life. Needless to say, they reunite at the end.
  • Happens in the prime minister David and household staff member Natalie in Love Actually. He saw the American president kissing her on the cheek, thinking Natalie was never interested in him. It wasn't until he saw the Christmas card from her, saying that she was his that he realized that she returned his feelings. Cue him trying to find her house to apologize and her happily accepting it and them making up by kissing at the back of the school's stage. Only for the curtains to rise.
  • Subverted in Neighbors; Mac and Kelly have the stereotypical argument where Kelly ends up leaving him with their daughter. The very next scene the two quickly make up.
  • Perfect Addiction: Sienna and Kayden are temporarily driven apart after they've started dating in the second half of the film.
  • Role Models has Paul Rudd's character break up with his girlfriend in Act I, but both of the lead's are "dumped" by their Little Brothers in Act II.
  • Tragedy Girls treats Sadie and McKayla's temporary falling-out when the fame begins to go to Sadie's head as a breakup as a result of their Pseudo-Romantic Friendship.
  • The X-Files: I Want to Believe has a weirdly low-key example. Scully and Mulder break up, sort of, but they both seem rather unsurprised to find that they can't really stay away from each other for long, and at the end not only is there no groveling, they don't really even apologize and make up — they just quietly go back to acting like it never happened. One gets the impression that they've done this before and while they were both upset, neither of them really thought they were going to stay broken up.

  • The book of About a Boy subverts this by having Rachel react with amused tolerance when Will reveals that Marcus is not really his son. The movie plays this trope straight while using most of the same lines spoken in a different tone.
  • Secret Vampire: Poppy and James are closer than ever by the second act, with Poppy being confident in James' ability to transform her into a vampire. However, things unravel due to a misunderstanding between them and Poppy's brother Phil; after Phil catches James and Poppy exchanging blood and mistakes it for...something else, he tries to warn James to stay away from Poppy, knowing of his reputation as a player. To get Phil off his back, James lies that he's just trying to comfort Poppy and doesn't think of her in that way. Consequently, when Phil catches them again he tells Poppy that James is using her; due to being mentally unstable and confused from the transformation process, Poppy believes Phil and casts James out of her life. In addition to throwing a spanner in the lead couple's burgeoning romance, it endangers Poppy, as if she doesn't complete the transformation she'll die...or as James fears, will turn into a ghoul, a far worse fate.
  • In the second book of The Twilight Saga, Edward leaves Bella for her safety and she zombies out for ten pages that are literally blank.
  • The Night Huntress books have two; midway through the first book, Bones leaves Cat until she can figure out how she feels about vampires. At the end of the first, leading into the second, Cat writes Bones a Dear John letter.
  • November 9: During the third year, Fallon and Ben decide they will try having a relationship, with Ben even saying he will move to New York for Fallon. However, Fallon realises this won't work because Ben needs to be in California to help support his sister-in-law and soon-to-be-born nephew after his brother's sudden death in a car accident, while she can't just leave her life in New York. Rather than explain this, Fallon tries to sneak off in the middle of the night, greatly upsetting Ben when he catches her. Ben assumes that Fallon simply doesn't love him, while Fallon assumes Ben will eventually understand why they can't logistically be together just yet. By the next year, Fallon has realised how much Ben means to her and has moved back to California to be with him, only to learn he's since gotten into a relationship with his sister-in-law.
  • In The Valley of Horses, Ayla and Jondolar undergo a temporary break-up when Jondolar finds out about Ayla's past and shows his prejudice against the Clan. In The Mammoth Hunters, Ayla and Jondolar have problems for most of the book which come to a head in the middle when Ayla agrees to meet someone else. If it weren't for the fact that Ayla and Jondolar go through most of The Plains of Passage until they have their fight, making it more of a Third-Act Misunderstanding, the series would have used the exact same plot point three times in a row.
  • Of Fire and Stars: In the sequel Dennaleia and Mare break up over a misunderstanding that results from Dennaleia's uncontrollable magic. They get back together later.
  • Presidential: Emily temporarily breaks up with Connie toward the end of the book due to her compromising with the Republicans so she can ban certain automatic weapons in hopes of preventing mass shootings, in return for giving up universal healthcare. Given she's a doctor, Emily feels very strongly about the latter (but the former too, as her parents were shot dead).
  • Sorry, Bro: Toward the end of the book, Nareh and Erebuni break up temporarily when the former is outed, denies she had been with her desperately to avoid social stigma while having lied as well about having a fiance. Nareh breaks up with her fiance, comes out and later apologizes to Erebuni, with them getting back together after this.
  • Inkmistress: Asra briefly ends her new relationship with Hal after learning he'd lied to her. They get back together though before too long since Asra forgives him.

    Live Action TV 
  • 7 Yüz: In "Biyolojik Saat", Gökçe breaks up up with Metin following his reaction to a personal revelation: she's unable to have children, which was Metin's primary reason for seeking a wife. He instantly regrets his attitude, recognizing that his real love for her is much more important than chasing his vision of a picture-perfect family.
  • Taking a leaf out of the Sailor Moon playbook, Roswell ALSO had a contrived, time-travelling break-up in its second season to keep Max and Liz apart. Hooray for romance in the 90s!
  • In How I Met Your Mother, Ted and Robin became a couple at the end of Season one. Season two focuses on their relationship and issues that hindered it. Eventually they concluded that because of their differences, they are not meant for each other and in the Season two finale, they revealed to Barney that they broke up.
  • Classic example in the Hallmark Hall of Fame TV-movie, Fallen Angel. Terry and Katherine originally met as children, but she was too little to remember him. Circumstances bring about their reunion as adults, but he doesn't mention their knowing each other previously until after they've fallen in love and he's ready to give up his city life for her more rural one. She takes the omission as a form of lying/betrayal, and angrily storms off. He returns to the city, but eventually has pined for her so much that he walks out of a board meeting and flies back, asking for and receiving her forgiveness.

  • Older Than Steam : French playwright Pierre Corneille (1606-1684) on of the most prominent comedy writer of the 1600's, second only to Molière, sums up his writing technique :
    "In my comedies, I almost always establish two lovers happy together. I then set up some deceitful situation that allows them to turn against each other, and finally reunite them by dispelling the very situation that was keeping them apart."
  • Happens in the third act (out of four) of La Bohème because Rodolfo knows he cannot care for his girlfriend, the fatally ill Mimi. He accuses her of cheating on him or wanting to cheat on him, justifying this idea by saying he caught her looking at other men, so they will break up and she will not feel obligated to live with him in squalor and the cold, which is exacerbating her condition. She returns to Rodolfo in the fourth act very close to death. Beta Couple Marcello and Musetta also break up (again) in the third act due to Musetta's flirting with other men - they end the fourth act with a Maybe Ever After.

    Video Games 
  • The Fenris romance in Dragon Age II has one literally in Act 2, right after Fenris and Hawke consummate the relationship, when he freaks as this causes him to quickly regain and then lose his memories of his life before his scars, leading him to walk out on Hawke. Depending on the player's actions toward Fenris after said incident, it can actually be permanent.

    Visual Novels 
  • Galaxy Angel: Moonlit Lovers has one in Chapter 2 of Ranpha's route. A series of misunderstandings in regards to Chitose, the newest member of the Angel Wing, lead Ranpha to break up with Tact. At first, Ranpha mistakenly assumes that Chitose is poor and wanting to help her, coupled with watching a romantic movie where the main heroine pulled a I Want My Beloved to Be Happy with the man she loved and a poor girl, led her to think that Chitose needed Tact more and tried to pair them together. After that is cleared up, she confesses to being worried that she may be too demanding in their relationship, until Tact proves that he's willing to do anything just to be with her.
  • In Melody, when Bethany pays the protagonist a visit and introduces herself to the title character as the protagonist's “fiancée” (not his ex), Melody stops talking to him for a few days, fearing that there might still be something there between him and Bethany. It’s only an intervention from Sophia, who secretly arranges for the protagonist and Melody to meet, who salvages their relationship.
  • Ambrosia and Arsenik play along with this trope almost perfectly in War: 13th Day. They're getting along swimmingly until Night blackmails Ambrosia into giving her body to him in exchange for her lover's safety. She agrees but, feeling like it would be cheating, breaks up with Arsenik. Of course, he later finds out and is understandably livid. Like a true gentleman, he decides to defend her honor on the battlefield.

    Web Original 
  • In Dino Attack RPG, shortly before the mission which led to the discovery of the Dino Island Laboratory, Amanda and Rex broke up. Not due to any misunderstandings or anger between them... but because they both accepted that their relationship couldn't go much farther when they were completely different species. Luckily, this was resolved by the end of the mission, since a freak accident in the lab caused Rex and Dr. Rex to switch bodies, so now Rex and Amanda are both the same species and free to continue their relationship.
  • Alien Abduction Role Play is an audio play about a female alien who falls in love with the human abductee she is working with. The problem is, said human is also setting her predatory instincts off, even though she would think that her species should have evolved beyond such things. She eventually decides it's not worth pursuing a relationship with a species that she has an irrational desire to eat, so after imprisoning herself in the medical cell, tells the human that she wants to break up until she can figure out what is up with humanity that is causing her to go feral.

    Western Animation 
  • Happens in the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Beach." At the end of the second act (the party), Zuko pisses Mai off so much that she breaks up with him. They make up at the end of the third act (the campfire), and refreshingly, there is no groveling.


Video Example(s):


Like Oil And Water

Vi rebuffing Caitlyn's offer to help in the pouring rain is meant to resemble them "breaking up" even though their relationship hasn't properly started yet, with Vi claiming it was never meant to be due to the social inequality between them.

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / GrayRainOfDepression

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