Suitor #2 appears to be flawed. If he's rich, he's not as rich as Suitor #1. If he's handsome, he's not as handsome. He could be many years older than our heroine. He often has the kind of personality that makes him hard to get to know.
So naturally, our heroine picks Suitor #1. And she's happy, for a while. But then things go horribly wrong.
Maybe Suitor #1 leaves town for a while and returns with a fiancee. Maybe his parents persuade him that our heroine isn't good enough for him. Maybe our heroine has money problems, or family problems, or health problems, and Suitor #1 uses them as an excuse to break things off. Maybe he keeps coming up with excuses to put off the marriage (Unable to Support a Wife, for example). By his actions, he has shown himself to be the wrong guy.
Just when our heroine despairs of any help, who arrives in her hour of need? Suitor #2! He doesn't expect our heroine to fall in love with him, but he helps her anyway. He just wants his beloved to be happy.
Why does the young woman choose the wrong guy first? Because if she picked the right guy first, there wouldn't be a plot.
In many cases, Suitor #1 may be the local bad boy, because... well, you know. If a character can never choose between two suitors, then this is a case of Betty and Veronica instead. Compare First Girl Wins. This same general plot can work with the genders inverted so that it's the Wrong Girl First.
This trope is often used by fanfic writers in a Die for Our Ship scenario, where Suitor #1 is portrayed as abusive and cruel (regardless of him/her ''really'' being like that or not) in order to justify having the young woman/young man run into the arms of Suitor #2.
- Three events in Peach Girl are within lumping range of this trope, but in the first two, the demonstration of wrongness is false, and the third isn't so much Wrong Guy First as it is Less Right Guy First.
- Inverted by Haruna of High School Debut. She initially falls for Fumi, a perfect example of Suitor #2, but instead ends up with Yoh, textbook example of Suitor #1.
- In The Tower of Druaga, Fatina falls for The Stoic bad boy Neeba in The Aegis of Uruk, but after Neeba and Kaaya's betrayal, develops feelings for Neeba's younger half-brother Jil. But this trope is subverted in the end in that Jil never gets over Kaaya and the two eventually make up, leaving Fatina as a romantic loose end once more.
- In Rose of Versailles Oscar pines for Fersen for years...before she realizes she truly loves Andre.
- Boys over Flowers plays this trope nearly perfectly during the series.
- In Yona of the Dawn Yona spent years pining after Soowon until he murders her father and orders for her to be killed for witnessing it. She is saved in the knick of time by Hopeless Suitor Hak, who she eventually falls for as the series goes on.
- In Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, M.J initially nurses a crush on the daring Super Hero Spider-Man, but after an awkward date with him eventually comes to the realization that she's actually in love with her geeky algebra tutor Peter Parker. Anyone who is familiar with the Spider-Man mythos will tell you the irony inherent in this little set-up.
- M.J also goes through something similar with charming-but-manipulative Harry Osborn, although mainly because Peter has started dating Gwen Stacy instead (hint: the romantic entanglements the teenagers in this 'Verse go through are complex indeed), but eventually breaks it off with him. In something of a reverse, Harry actually is in love with her, but M.J isn't in love with him and feels it would be unfair to string him along.
- In Disney's Frozen, this is the signature twist of the story. Upending years of Disney Princess stories that stick close to Love at First Sight, this film reveals that Prince Hans is anything but good for Anna, and only in it for himself. Indeed, the very concept of Love at First Sight is attacked by pointing out that it is foolish to give your heart to someone you've only just met. How it all plays out must be seen to be appreciated.
- Elsa actually lampshades this: "You can't marry a man you just met."
- Happens a lot in chick-flicky Romantic Comedies. Examples include:
- Sweet Home Alabama, where the main character almost ends up marrying her initial suitor, only to fall back in love with her old flame.
- Bridget Jones' Diary; Bridget initially pursues her boss, professional cad Daniel Cleaver (against her better judgement), and resists pursuing right man Mark Darcy as she believes he had an affair with Daniel's fiancee when, in fact, it was Daniel who had an affair with Mark's wife.
- Hope Floats. Here the initial decision is made pre-movie, but she's unceremoniously dumped on live television after he reveals he's cheating on her. The rest of the movie is about her moving back home and rekindling an old flame (while her daughter still idolizes her now-ex...with eventually tragic results.)
- Major part of the plot of Jab We Met. The two main characters meet on a train and through a series of misadventures end up going on a road trip throughout India together. Although Aditya falls in love with her fairly quickly, Geet... already has a boyfriend. She loses interest after said boyfriend unceremoniously dumps her after she traveled all that way to see him.
- Koi... Mil Gaya. The two main characters are rich girl Nisha and mentally disabled Rohit who become friends after Nisha learns about Rohit's disability and they both hide and protect the stranded alien Jadoo. However, Nisha's childhood friend Raj wants to marry her and has the approval of her parents despite being a vicious bully to Rohit. Rohit is later given powers by Jadoo. This causes Nisha to fall in love with him and she terminates her friendship with Raj permanently.
- Also in one of the love stories in Salaam-e-Ishq. It's a white girl, falling in love with a Hindu man, who loved her back and pretended their relationship was real. But when push came to shove, he decided he was going to marry a proper Hindu girl, arranged marriage, and not a foreign chick who doesn't even speak their language. The resolution is lovely.
- Noni is as happy as she can be with Kid Culprit in Beyond the Lights before Kaz comes along, which, as she's suffering from severe depression, isn't saying much. Her relationship with Kaz overlaps with Kid Culprit and it becomes pretty clear to her that Kaz is the better guy- leading to her swiftly ending things with the rapper. She DEFINITELY made the right choice!
- In The Last Dragon Chronicles Sophie is David's Wrong Girl First. He ends up falling in love with Zanna instead, but they stay friendly enough.
- Jane Austen loves this trope:
- Persuasion may be unique among stories for having a Wrong Guy First scenario where Suitor #1 and Suitor #2 are the same person, with eight years' growing-up in between.
- In Sense and Sensibility, Mr. Willoughby dumps Marianne Dashwood for a rich woman. Marianne eventually marries Colonel Brandon. Elinor, for her part, is in many ways the right woman in Edward Ferrars' Wrong Woman First scenario; the two fall in love, but are prevented from acting on their feelings by Edward's rash earlier engagement to the opportunistic Miss Steele. Miss Steele eventually dumps Edward to marry his younger brother, who becomes heir to the family fortune after Edward's mother disowns Edward, ironically because he refused to break his vow to marry Miss Steele. This allows Edward and Elinor to act on their feelings and marry.
- Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice is initially charmed by the smooth-talking Wickham, before Mr. Darcy exposes Wickham's true nature and wins Lizzy's heart. In a slight variation from form, Mr. Darcy is a much better catch than Wickham in every way: he is far wealthier, well-connected, young, handsome, kind — pretty much perfect, as many a fangirl will tell you — he just lacks Wickham's natural charisma and comes off as stoic and unfriendly — which, due to Values Dissonance, only earns him more points with modern fangirls. As Lizzy herself puts it, "One has all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it!"
- Emma and Frank.
- Anthony Trollope:
- In The Small House at Allington, part of The Chronicles of Barsetshire, Lily Dale picks Adolphus Crosbie over John Eames. Adolphus breaks their engagement to marry Lady Alexandrina de Courcy.
- In The Prime Minister, one of the Palliser novels, Emily Wharton marries Ferdinand Lopez, who only wants her for her money. After his death, she marries the man who truly loves her, Arthur Fletcher.
- In Can You Forgive Her?, two women go through this. Glencora loves the abominable Burgo but ends up marrying the solid Plantagenet. Alice initially loves her cousin George, but after he goes through a wild period breaks it off and becomes engaged to bland but respectful John Gray. Mrs. Greenow doesn't really fit this trope.
- Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy also has this, although it gets even more complicated with the addition of Suitor #3, who's not quite as graceful towards Suitor #1 as Suitor #2 is.
- Done twice in The Gardella Vampire Chronicles. Victoria has three love interests within the books. She marries Phillip, who gets vamped and she has to stake him. Later she has a fuckbuddy-type relationship with Sebastian but is obviously going to end up with Max.
- The plot of New Moon is this to letter - perfect prince Edward leaves Bella and sincere I-Want-My-Beloved-To-Be-Happy poster guy (for this book at least) Jacob happily sweeps up the ashes and befriends her. Subverted in that Wrong Guy First comes back in the end...
- In Harry Potter, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny all date at least one person before getting together with their future husband/wife. At the age of seventeen/eighteen.
- In Great Expectations, Estella marries the abusive Bentley Drummle, Pip's rival, to spite Miss Havisham. He is later killed in a horse-riding accident, and in the Revised Ending (in the original ending she remarries with a different man), she reunites with Pip in a Maybe Ever After scene.
- Nicole Baart's trilogy beginning with After The Leaves Fall plays around with this a lot. In "After The Leaves Fall", Thomas is the wrong guy for Julia and Parker would seem to be the right guy...until she becomes pregnant with his child and he leaves her. In "Summer Snow", a new right guy, Michael, comes in...and in the final book, "Beneath The Night Tree", Michael becomes the wrong guy, and a regretful Parker returns, revealing that he was the right guy all along.
- In The Hunger Games, Gale is the wrong guy, and Peeta is the right guy. However, Peeta is the kinder and more charming of the two, and Katniss doesn't want any relationship at all initially and is also doubtful about Gale to begin with.
- In P. G. Wodehouse's Hot Water, Packy is engaged to Beatric at the opening — she thinks she can make a man of culture out of him — and Jane is engaged to Blair Eggleston, who writes very literary novels. They both get out of them.
- In Anna Karenina, Kitty initially turns Levin down in favor of Vronsky, who immediately forgets her when he falls for Anna. Eventually, Kitty reconsiders her initial choice and she and Levin get married and presumably live Happily Ever After.
- Happens quite frequently in Agatha Christie's novels, where two of the suspects fall in love... until one of them is revealed to be the murderer.
- Gossip Girl has that in a way: Blair chooses Nate (the good guy) over Chuck (the bad guy) even though the former cheated on her with her best friend (whom he was actually in love with) and the latter was always there for her and showed a hitherto-unknown human side when he started to like her.
- Friends, in the Backstory, features Rachel choosing Chip instead of Ross (she reveals in the Pilot that she knew about his feelings so it's not an oblivious choice). The former cheats on her, the latter eventually (as in many years later) becomes the love of her life.
- Monica has two wrong guys first: To be fair both of them, one a Cool Old Guy and the other a Self-Made Man, were good guys any girl would be lucky to have, they just weren't good for Monica. (Richard was unsuited at a different stage of his life, while she and Pete were Too Much Alike.) Meanwhile, her best friend, neurotic, commitment-phobic, relationship-screw up Chandler hinted he had feelings for her in a few times, which she took as a joke. They finally fell in love and were Happily Married for years.
- Discussed in How I Met Your Mother. In season eight, Future Ted says that a man will always make one final, horrible mistake before meeting the woman he'll marry. This manifests in the present when younger Ted decides to start dating his Stalker with a Crush a few months before he meets the Mother at Barney and Robin's wedding.
- 90210 features a variation of this trope: after years of being a troubled promiscuous drug-addict, Adrianna realizes Navid loved her all along and only cared for her happiness, and becomes his girlfriend even though she's pregnant with another guy's baby. Later on, she leaves Navid for a rich handsome jock, only to be left empty-handed as Teddy didn't want a relationship anyway.
- In Lois & Clark, Lois very nearly marries Lex Luthor, of all people.
- Double subverted in an episode of The Twilight Zone. A young woman has two suitors, a rich one she doesn't care for and a poor one she does. The poor one asks her to run off with him. Her future self later chases her younger self on horseback, begging her not to marry the wrong man... the poor one, who turned out to be a money-hungry bastard and ruined her life.
- In "The Vampire Diaries", Elena loved Stefan first and though that she would always love Stefan. She cared for Damon but didn't develop feelings for him until the end of season 2. To make it even better, her feelings for Damon become even more obvious at the beginning of season 3 when Stefan leaves with Klaus, switches his humanity off, and once again becomes the monstrous killer that he used to be. Damon then becomes her confidant and a method of comfort. Later on in the series, they date and are most likely the series endgame.
- In Republic of Doyle, Rose's first husband was a con artist. She found the right guy after he went to jail.
- In Glee, Rachel chooses bad boy Jesse first. No one was surprised when he treated her like crap after he got what he wanted out of her which was reuniting Rachel with her biological mother. Who is also Jesse's choir director, who told him to do it. He still egged her, though, which was definitely the asshole thing to do. Later she and Finn (who has been teased all season long) get together.
- In Vicar Of Dibley, Geraldine falls for David's brother, the cad, Simon. She ends up marrying the accountant Harry.
- There was a male version on Skins, with Chris initially going after Angie, his psychology teacher. As you can expect with a Teacher/Student Romance, it didn't end well. So he ended up with his best friend, Jal, who was willing to be there for him. He did consider going back to Angie for a time, but ultimately realized Jal was the best choice.
- Parks and Recreation:
- In the first season, Leslie had a crush on Mark, which stemmed from a brief fling they had some years before the pilot. Mark, however, was the local Casanova and held no romantic feelings towards Leslie whatsoever. Eventually, Mark was Put on a Bus and replaced by Ben Wyatt, whom Leslie would go on to happily marry in Season 5.
- Ann goes through several wrong guys before she found happiness. She began the show dating Andy and then broke up with him to go out with Mark, who had become a Ladykiller in Love with her. By the end of the second season, he was even set to propose to her before she dumped him, and Ann's reasoning for that was that while Mark was successful and mature, he just wasn't quite interesting enough. She later dates Chris, but when that fell through, she began going out with a revolving door of paramours, and even briefly went out with Tom for a period of time. Eventually, after several ups and downs, Ann gets back together with Chris.
- Ann herself was the Wrong Girl First for Andy, who spent most of the time after she broke up with him trying to win her back before finally giving up. He would go on to find long-lasting love with April.
- Ron went through two disastrous marriages (the first to a cold and domineering ice queen, the second to a nymphomaniac; both were named Tammy) before finding true love with the down-to-earth and sensible Diane.
- Scarily played straight in an episode of Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction which has a young woman going to a match-making service. The elderly woman running the business has a son who she feels the woman may be interested in, but she ends up with a seemingly charming man, who one day as they're out driving and ostensibly run into some car trouble, decides to rape and murder her. After attempting to flee from him on foot, he catches up with her, only for the son to almost materialize out of nowhere, find them and fight off the attacker. They end up together after that.
- The Flash (2014): This exact situation is why Joe West refused to give Eddie Thawne his blessing when he asked for permission to ask Iris West to marry him. Joe knew she was really in love with best friend Barry Allen, and knew that if she married Eddie, she would eventually realize she married the wrong guy. Eddie himself contemplated this and it factored in his decision to break up with Iris. Iris herself, however, doesn't care if the one she's meant to be with is Barry, as, at the time, she only had eyes for Eddie. Ultimately, all of this is rendered moot when Eddie commits a Heroic Suicide in the Season 1 finale to stop Season 1 Big Bad and his descendant, Eobard Thawne.
- Reba McEntire's "One Promise Too Late" has a milder version, where the guy the heroine married isn't so much wrong or bad as less fulfilling than the one the singer meets later. To the woman's credit, she says, basically, "I can see you're my soul mate and I'd be happier with you - but my husband's been good to me all these years, and I won't betray him now." So, Downer Ending with character.
- "Unanswered Prayers" by Garth Brooks: His old high school flame was the one he prayed for, but if the prayer had been answered, he wouldn't have met the real love of his life.
- "Til the Right Man Comes Along" by Tina Turner is about a woman who meets a guy at a club and immediately realizes he's not "the one" but is good enough until the right man comes along.
- In Cyrano de Bergerac, Roxanne falls in love with handsome, well-intentioned but vapid Christian because Cyrano (thinking he doesn't stand a chance with her and Playing Cyrano) wrote Christian's love letters for him. Really, it was Cyrano she was in love with all along.
- Averted in, of all places, Romeo and Juliet. Juliet never gives the obviously richer and parentally-endorsed Paris a thought. This ends badly, and, at least according to the standards of the time, she probably should have married Paris. But then the families would still be feuding, so yeah...
- Of course, Romeo himself was pining for Rosaline before he became enamoured of Juliet. What makes Rosaline so wrong? Well, she's a Capulet, and she's entering a convent.
- Hedda Gabler, by Henrik Ibsen, has an inverse version in the backstory: Eilert Lovborg was a Dogged Nice Guy to Hedda before he fell in love with Thea Elvstedt. Hedda supplies a tweaked example: she got married to George Tesman, who is incredibly stupid (in an intellectual sort of way), and thus, for her, the wrong guy. She gets some severe Unresolved Sexual Tension with both Eilert (the right guy) and Judge Brack (the even wronger guy). In the end, Eilert accidentally shoots himself and Hedda becomes a hero.
- Happens after a fashion in Brief Encounter by Noël Coward (and the 1945 film adaptation). Laura and Alec's many happy hours spent together make it clear that each is the other's true soulmate. However, both are already married, Laura to the kind yet bland Fred, and after they are nearly caught on the brink of consummating the affair, they decide they must part ways. At the end of the play, Alec takes a job in South Africa and Laura returns to Fred (who seems to know what has been going on but accepts it).
- Same Time Next Year is essentially built on a twisted dual version of this.
- Henry of Nan Quest, to the extreme. He's the first character Nan meets face-to-face, and it's a silly, romcom-like introduction at that. He's also an innocent Pretty Boy who entered the hotel at the same time as Nan and protects her at numerous points. So obviously they're soulmates, right? Nope! He's a serial killer who was trying to manipulate Nan into lowering her guard. In a subversion, there is no "right guy" — Nan ends the story with no Love Interest.
- Sam in Danny Phantom already harbored a crush on Danny throughout the entire series, but the first boy she dated and kissed (legitimately) was the Fauxreigner Gregor, an Ultra-Recyclo Vegetarian Goth like her. Naturally, it was love at first sight (although part of the reason is that at this point, Danny was unreachable romantically for her—his heart was still set on Valerie and/or Paulina). She finds out though that he's really just a con artist who wanted to get in her pants. She goes back to crushing on Danny and as bonus points, Danny starts realizing he likes her.
- Used in the plot of "The Way We Was" in The Simpsons: Marge goes with Artie Ziff to the prom, but afterwards, he reveals himself as a total self-centered sleaze who initially attempts to force himself on her. After slapping him in the face and eventually leaving him in disgust, she realizes she cares for Homer instead.
- In the first season of The Legend of Korra, Mako is faced with choosing between Korra and Asami and chooses Asami. This doesn't work out for various reasons and he becomes an official couple with Korra by season end. This turns out to be a subversion though as they're broken up during season 2.