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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.

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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, but he's blocking her from having a romantic relationship with anyone else. Bob may launch an Operation: Jealousy to win Alice back, but once he succeeds he'll find himself uninterested again .

Contrast with The Obstructive Love Interest, in which Bob wants to be in a relationship with Alice, but he is getting in his own way. Also 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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Examples

    Anime & Manga 
  • Domestic Girlfriend: Protagonist Natsuo has been in love with his homeroom teacher Hina for some time...as 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.

    Comedy 

    Comic Books 
  • In Dark Night: A True Batman Story, about the 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, 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.

    Film 
  • 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.
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    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 a 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.
  • On Smallville, both Lana and Chloe accuse Clark of doing this. Clark genuinely wants to be in a relationship with Lana, but he keeps her from getting too close because he doesn't want her to learn his secret. But with Chloe, this trope definitely applies. This is lampshaded in the episode, "Crimson", in which Clark, high on Red Kryptonite, crashes Lex and Lana's engagement party. While under the influence, Clark admits that he likes to keep Chloe hanging on, but that he genuinely wants to be Lana.
  • 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.

    Music 
  • "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.
  • "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.

    Theatre 
  • "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 him.

    Western Animation 
  • 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?!

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