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Stringing the Hopeless Suitor Along

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You just want attention, you don't want my heart
Maybe you just hate the thought of me with someone new
Yeah, you just want attention, I knew from the start
You're just making sure I'm never gettin' over you
Charlie Puth, "Attention"

Alice's unrequited love for Bob is, well, unrequited. She's trying to move on, but there's one big problem: Bob won't let her. Bob insists he wants to be Just Friends, but his actions suggest something else. He may be consciously undermining any relationships Alice tries to get in. Bob may want Alice around in case he's On the Rebound. Bob may have an Unrequited Love Switcheroo that turns out to be false once Alice agrees to be with him. Or maybe Bob's the Master of the Mixed Message, so being friends makes it hard for Alice to move on.

For whatever reason, this will lead Alice to demand Bob love her or leave her alone. Bob, however, prefers to Take a Third Option. Bob wants Alice in his life — he just doesn't want a romantic relationship with her, so he blocks her from having a romantic relationship with anyone else. Bob may launch an Operation: Jealousy to win Alice back if she falls for someone else, but once he succeeds he'll find himself uninterested again.

Compare with The Obstructive Love Interest, in which Bob wants to be in a relationship with Alice, but he is getting in his own way. Contrast with I Want My Beloved to Be Happy, in which Bob agrees to let Alice go, so she can be happy with someone else.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • One chapter of Ayakashi Triangle suggests Matsuri is unintentionally stringing along Soga. Since he was turned into a girl, Matsuri's presence has constantly sexually flustered Soga. Despite failing to understand Soga has become attracted to him, Matsuri gets confusedly upset when Soga (temporarily and magically) manages to keep his composure even when staring at Matsuri's bare chest. Matsuri takes it as a challenge to deliberately embarrass Soga—which he succeeds in too well because the spell wore off.
  • Chainsaw Man: Makima strings Denji along all through Part 1 to keep him loyal to public safety, teasing him just enough that he'll continue his Quest for Sex that she promises to fulfill if he defeats the Gun Devil. Makima really never had any plan to consummate a relation with Denji, as she just views him as a means to her real objective—the Chainsaw Devil he had merged with.
  • Domestic Girlfriend: Protagonist Natsuo has been in love with his homeroom teacher Hina for some have many of the boys in her class. As a teacher, she refuses to enter a relationship with any of her students. Despite this, she "jokes" that Natsuo would be the exception, and also shows more interest in his personal activities than a teacher should while referring to him as just a "child" when he tries to make a move. This prompts a frustrated Natsuo to have a one-night-stand with a random girl his own age that he meets at a party.
    Then by a random twist of fate, it turns out that the girl, Rui, and Hina are not only sisters but that their mother is marrying Natsuo's father...making them his step-sisters. Then things start to go even further downhill. Even after one of the major obstacles between them (the married man Hina was having an affair with) has been removed, Hina refuses to start a relationship with the boy that is now both her student and her stepbrother. Despite this, she still strings him along with vague hints at her true feelings such as loudly masturbating and reacting with jealousy when Rui begins acting on her crush for Natsuo and kisses him. The latter event prompts Hina to move out into her own apartment...and she gives Natsuo a key, allowing the two of them to finally begin acting on their feelings in secret.
    While this goes on, Natsuo becomes the person stringing along and lying to Rui, who has fallen for him and is still unaware of his feelings for Hina. By the end of the series, everybody in that triangle has done this at one point or another: Rui does it when she breaks up with Natsuo during a long-distance period, but still accepting him flying over to comfort her; and ultimately Natsuo does it to Rui by agreeing to annul their engagement because of their respective feelings for Hina. It all works out in the end for Natsuo and Hina, while Rui is satisfied with having a child by him.
  • KamiKatsu: Working for God in a Godless World: Yukito finds it necessary to act manipulative even to his friends. In Bertrand's case, he does what he can to make her emotionally dependent on him, up to hugging her when she's upset. He may not have intended to seduce Bertrand specifically, but does nothing to dissuade her from falling in love, even though Yukito has no interest in sex or romance.
  • Ranma ½: Ranma has multiple Hopeless Suitors. While he'd probably be happy if Ukyo found someone else and rather Kuno and Kodachi leave him alone, he's once shown to prefer the only-slightly-less-troublesome Shampoo keep after him. When she starts giving Ranma the cold shoulder (because of a cursed object, unbeknownst to him), his pride cannot take the loss of a beautiful woman loving him, so he does everything he can to win her back.


    Comic Books 
  • In Dark Night: A True Batman Story, about Paul Dini's real-life mugging and recovery, Dini describes what he thinks is a date with his "girlfriend" Vivian, but she makes it clear that she is seeing other guys and that she sees Paul as Just Friends. Still, she tells him she's glad he's not dating other women, so he can be available when she needs him. As she's telling him this, he has an Imagine Spot of The Joker giving him a Pie in the Face.
  • Gambit: In his 2012 series, Remy has to work with his former love, Rogue, along with a girl with whom he recently became involved. Throughout the mission, Rogue is extremely hostile towards both Remy and his girlfriend. When Gambit calls her out on her behavior, she says it's because she still loves him. The tension between the two prompts the woman to leave Remy, and both he and Rogue continue stringing each other along until they finally wed in 2018.
  • This was a common plot in Silver Age stories about Jimmy Olsen and Lucy Lane. Lucy disdained all Jimmy's efforts to woo her, despite dating him on and off (depending on whether she could find anyone else), but as soon as some other girl made a move on him, she would become extremely jealous. This resulted in the "success" of the relationship being a Yo Yo Plot Point.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Luann, this was Luann's behavior towards Abhorrent Admirer Gunther in high school. She had no interest in dating him, but she enjoyed the ego boost his obsession gave her. As soon as it looked like he liked someone else (or even worse, if someone else liked him) she would get jealous and possessive of Gunther. As soon as that other person was out of the picture, she would go back to rejecting Gunther's every advance. She eventually outgrew this though, and Gunther went on to have normal relationships with other people.

    Fan Works 
  • The Champ: Despite never really being interested in his girlfriend from high school, Franciso keeps stringing her along.

  • Soul Hunters: In the revamped version, Yuuri does this unintentionally. While he does want to win Wolfram back, he still comes off as ignoring or rebuffing him. And when he tries to initiate something, such as trying to hold Wolfram's hand or pull off an Operation: Jealousy, Wolfram sees it as a continuation of Yuuri's usual hurtful behavior.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Babysitter: Killer Queen: Melanie has taken to stringing Cole along while openly dating other boys in front of him. It's ambiguous if she has any lingering affection for him, because her two big reasons for doing it are the ego boost she gets from having him attracted to her despite everything, and needing him to stay a virgin for the Virgin Sacrifice she's planning. She's noticeably ticked off when it becomes clear that Cole's affections have turned to Phoebe.
  • Bicycle Bride: Beena is supposed to marry Bubba, whom she finds deeply unappealing. So his best friend's grandmother offers him the chance to ogle some beautiful girls hanging out at a swimming pool, who lead him on for a bit before shoving him into the pool and leaving him there.
  • In Delirious, Laura continually flirts with Jack and hints at a possible relationship because Jack is the head writer of the Soap Opera Rachel stars in, and she wants special treatment. Once Jack finally recognizes this, he writes Laura off the show.
  • In Grand Canyon, Mack sleeps with his secretary Dee, despite being married. Mack doesn't do it again, but he does continue flirting with her. At the end of the movie, Dee quits her job and calls Mack out for stringing her along.

  • Gone Girl has a particularly extreme version; even after getting married to Nick, Amy strings Desi along for years, turning him into her Stalker with a Crush. Amy justifies this to herself as having a backup plan for her backup plan, without realizing just how much Desi has come to resent her for this kind of treatment...

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Musical Episode, "Once More With Feeling", Spike's song "(Let Me) Rest in Peace" is about his suspicions that Buffy is only stringing him along, exploiting his feelings for her so that she can feel desired.
  • On Grey's Anatomy, Owen treats Teddy this way. After years of leading Teddy on, Owen finally decides to be with her, but only after Amelia rejects him. When Teddy learns this, she finally seeks a total break from Owen — only to discover she's pregnant with his baby. Teddy gets a job at Grey Sloan Memorial and begins dating Dr. Thomas Koracick, so Owen tries to break them up but insists he's okay with Teddy dating, just not that guy.
  • How I Met Your Mother: This is the theme of the episode "Hooked":
    • Ted realizes that he's being strung along by a girl who has no interest in him both because he's a good "backup" and because he does favors for her. He then realizes that he's also stringing along a girl for the same reason, and the woman stringing him along is a Hopeless Suitor for a guy whom she dotes on.
    • Robin realizes she's stringing along a pudgy guy from her work because he does her favors. She tells Ted she'll let him down once he finishes this load of laundry.
    • Turns out Lily has been stringing along her high school boyfriend for over a decade. In this case, it's less about selfishness and more about weakness and pity; she can't look into his puppy dog eyes and say "it will never work out period go away bye."
  • On Melrose Place, Michael tries to undermine every relationship Jane gets in, despite cheating on her constantly when they were married. Jane wants Michael to either be a faithful husband or let her move on, but he wants to do neither.
  • Smallville:
  • On The Sopranos Season 1 finale, "I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano", Carmela calls out Father Phil for using his pastoral role to attract spiritually-minded women and getting them to invite him over for pseudo-dates in order to fulfill his need for sexual tension.

  • "Oops! ... I Did It Again" by Britney Spears describes this from the perspective of the person stringing the other person along.
    I think I did it again
    I made you believe we're more than just friends
    (Oh baby) It might seem like a crush
    But it doesn't mean that I'm serious
  • "Attention" by Charlie Puth is about his ex-girlfriend, who follows him at parties and comes on to him, but turns him down as soon as he wants to hook up with her.
  • "You Keep Me Hangin' On" by The Supremes is about an ex who claims he wants to be Just Friends, but he spends just enough time with her to prevent her from moving on.

  • "Dancing Through Life", from the musical Wicked, features Glinda/Galinda doing this to Boq to get him to ask out Nessa to the dance as a favor.

    Video Games 
  • In Catherine, anyone who's fallen prey to the nightmares has been deemed guilty of causing this to a woman (regardless of whether they've done this maliciously or not). For example, in Vincent's case specifically, it's the stagnation in his relationship with Katherine, where he's been dating her for five years and does love her and wants to stay together with her, but is too afraid to take the next step, despite the hints she's been dropping for him.

  • In Jupiter-Men, Jackie has no interest in Rick Chang, her Abhorrent Admirer who is also a Barbaric Bully. But his family's wealth means that he throws wild parties that Jackie loves to attend. As a result, she doesn't tell him "no" and continues to let him believe he has a chance, so she can keep getting invited. This is discussed by Arrio, who points out that Rick will never get the hint if Jackie continues being lukewarm around him. Arrio also feels betrayed by Jackie's willingness to party with the guy who picked a fight with him and tried to beat up Quintin, her twin brother.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Adventure Time episode "Burning Low", Finn accuses Princess Bubblegum of doing this to him for trying to interfere and turn Finn away from dating Flame Princess. In reality it was due to PB being concerned about FP's powers going wild if the two of them were to kiss. Not helped by Jake misreading the situation and PB not really choosing her words carefully
    Princess Bubblegum: Finn, sometimes you want someone and you want to kiss them, and be with them. But you can't, because responsibility demands sacrifice.
    Finn: What are you trying to say?!
    Princess Bubblegum: I'm trying to say that you're a hero, Finn. You're my hero. So I'm glad you understand why you can't be with Flame Princess.
    Finn: UGH! Bubblegum I can't DO this anymore!
    Princess Bubblegum: What?
    Finn: NOW you like me!?
    Princess Bubblegum: Finn what are you talking about?
    Finn: PB I was— (struggles to spit it out) I was in love with you, okay!? And you didn't love me back! Now I'm ready to move on and it's like... you're gonna build me up all over again! Well I'm DONE! I'm done...
  • On The Simpsons episode, "Homer Scissorhands", Milhouse, tired of Lisa's rejections, finds a girl who returns his affections, and Lisa gets jealous. After Lisa unwittingly causes the girl to break up with Milhouse, he calls Lisa out on this. This being The Simpsons, where Status Quo Is God is strictly enforced, Lisa goes back to being uninterested in Milhouse the very next episode.
    Milhouse: You don't want me to be with you. You don't want me to be with anyone else. How miserable do I have to be before you're HAPPY?!


Video Example(s):


Clark Lampshades His Stringing

Clark, high on Red Kryptonite, admits he's knowingly stringing Chloe along.

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