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Eponine: He was never mine to lose.
She is beautiful. She is sweet. She is sincere. So why can't she get the guy already? The Unrequited Tragic Maiden is a female character (usually, though Rare Male Examples aren't unheard of and have been on the rise in the last years) that seems to have all the perfect characteristics to make her the ideal romantic interest or even The Ingenue of the story, but alas, for some reason the object of her affections does not view her as such. Usually this is because she is overshadowed by another female character who has captivated the heart of the guy (often because she DOES speak up about her feelings), placing the Unrequited Tragic Maiden on the sideline only to be seen as a friend or ward.
No matter how painful her yearning for love is, the Unrequited Tragic Maiden never truly achieves her happily ever after with the one she loves. She endures it all, probably with a sad smile, and sometimes has a tragic fate. She is the poster child of Unrequited Love Tropes. In the end she will often sacrifice herself or her happiness to make sure her beloved is happy. A lucky one might be able to find a Second Love or have enough Character Development to fully let go, however.
As for the fans, she tends to attract different reactions. Many will cheer for her, but often they will believe that she's entitled to the one she likes because "she loves him/her so much" and they see the guy/girl as a "prize" for her, therefore they'll demonize said person for not falling at her feet. At times, however, the Maiden will be reviled and hated because she'll be seen as dumb and spineless and not enough of a good character, for having intense and unrequited feelings for someone else that she doesn't give up right after realizing that she won't be loved back. If there are other prospect love interests around, things will get even uglier - if the target of the maiden's feelings has another girl she likes, these fans will call that lady a "whore" or a "bitch" for daring to "steal" the person away from the maiden; and if the maiden has a someone else pining after her, SHE will be hated for not immediately having that person as their Second Love.
Compare to Hopeless Suitor and Romantic Runner-Up, who is the brother/sister of this trope but usually with a less tragic end. May wind up becoming The Lost Lenore after death if the person they loved grieves for them, blames themselves for her death or else only discovers that he loved her until it is too late. Contrast to Green-Eyed Monster, in which is more prone to sabtoge and a devious nature unlike the (mostly) docile nature of the maiden. This is starting to become a Discredited Trope (since romantic portrayals of female characters are becoming less dependent on the male characters) or, lately, a Deconstructed Trope (as some modern stories point out how this relays in a not very realistic view of romance)
Anime and Manga
- Princess Tutu plays the trope quite interestingly, since both The Heroine AND the Anti-Villainess can be seen as this:
- Ahiru/Duck is a female duck who loves Mytho and, thanks to Drosselmeyer, gets the chance to become a human girl and Princess Tutu to help him recover his emotions. However, if he comes to love her and confesses, she will disappear, PLUS Mytho seems to like Tutu romantically but loves Ahiru more as a friend and nothing less/more.
- Rue/Princess Kraehe is at first sight The Vamp who serves the Big Bad, but turns out to be a Dark Magical Girl who genuinely loves Mytho but is trapped in her role. Technically she is Mytho's girlfriend, but he doesn't seem to really pay attention to her either and treats her quite badly when she contaminates his heart.
- At the very end, the story focuses on both young women and their spots as these... and it turns out Drosselmeyer was manipulating them and others so he'd have the tragedy that he wants so badly. On one hand Ahiru realizes that her Mytho-related feelings were born more out of admiration than romance, falls in love with Mytho's best friend Fakir and decides to give the dance of her life to end Drosselmeyer's plans; on the other Rue gives Mytho a completely sincere Anguished Declaration of Love that unlocks his actual feelings for her (and Ahiru herself praises Rue and says she wouldn't be able to do that!), is rescued from a Cruel and Unusual Death by Mytho, and ultimately becomes his princess.
- Beatrice from Umineko no Naku Koro ni may qualify, depending on which versions of reality one believes.
- Pictured above: Sayaka Miki from Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a blunt deconstruction of the concept. An extremely naive and idealistic girl, she is in love with an Ill Boy named Kyousuke and decides to use her Wish to heal him... but very soon, her super idealized and unrealistic point of view begins to fall apart. When Mami finds out about her intention to heal Kyousuke in exchange for Magical Girl-dom, she warns Sayaka (and by extension, Madoka) that using one's Wish for others can be a terrible idea (since Mami thinks that deep down Sayaka's doing it for herself and not for him). When Sayaka still becomes a Magical Girl and has Kyousuke healed, Kyousuke not only has no idea of what she did for him, but NOT fall at her feet... and as shown in the picture, another girl (Sayaka's close friend Hitomi) is the one who dates him -- because, unlike Sayaka, she was honest and straightforward about her desire to be with him.. Poor Sayaka's world comes crashing down as a consequence of this AND many other things, and she ends up becoming a Witch.
- Shirley Fenette from Code Geass. And right when it looks like she may have the chance to get Lelouch's love... BAM! Wrong words in front of a very troubled Yandere, either bullet or knife wound to the gut, pool of her own blood, Dying Declaration of Love and tragic death in front of Lelouch.
- Played with in Ano Hana. Meiko aka Menma suffers a tragic death right after hearing Jinta aka Jintan deny having a crush on her. In reality, he returned her feelings while she was alive, and still liked her even when she was a ghost.
- For such a short story, Natsu e no Tobira has two of these for The Protagonist, a Pretty Boy named Marion Fiesse:
- The first is Ledania Francoise, a quiet and gentle young woman who holds secret feelings for him, while all the boys in town have crushes on her. Marion protects her from some of these boys but doesn't return her love, and when Ledania does tell him about it, he's already in love with Sara and rejects her.
- The second is... a Rare Male Example: Claude, one of Marion's school friends. Claude claimed to have feelings for Ledania (and seems to be good friends with her) but in reality his love is all for Marion, and for worse he's strongly implied to be drug-addicted. When he gives Marion a disastrous Anguished Declaration of Love with a side-dish of Attempted Rape, a terrified Marion hits him, and Claude is found dead in the river the day after; Marion is devastated and heavily blames himself.
- In Inuyasha, Kagome Higurashi may be Tsundere for Inuyasha, but deep down she fears that he'll never fully get over Kikyou and she'll end up as this for him. A villain (the Baby) tries to use these feelings of love and inadequacy to their advantage, subjecting her to a series of cruel Breaking Speeches where he tells her that she will NEVER be anything but this and hoping it'll be enough to make her pull a Face-Heel Turn. This forces Kagome to re-examinate her thoughts on both Inuyasha and Kikyou, and then she realizes that her jealousy is not the best feeling but it's normal from a human, and that she loves Inuyasha no matter what. She then SCREAMS at the Baby to leave her the Hell alone and stop messing with her.
- In Kannazuki no Miko, Chikane turns out to have one: her personal maid, Otoha Kisaragi, who has loved her ever since she entered the Himemiya family's service as a young girl.
- Played with in regards to Hinata Hyuuga from Naruto. Everything pointed out at her being one for the titular character, what with him having a huge crush on Sakura and, while caring a lot for Hinata, not seeming to view her as more than a very close and dear friend... even after her Anguished Declaration of Love and almost being killed by Pain immediately aftewards, which sent Naruto into the MOTHER of all the Unstoppable Rages.. But the epilogue showcased her and Naruto Happily Married with children, and later the Naruto: The Last movie interestingly switched things around: due to his past and own self-esteem issues, Naruto did like Hinata a lot from the start, but unconsciously refused to see these feelings as actual romantic love since he believed himself to be unworthy of her.
- In Detective Conan, several female victims/accomplices/Sympathetic Murderers fit in here. Additionally, Ran's best friend Sonoko used to believe that Ran would become this to Shinichi and that's why it took her a while to accept him as Ran's love interest.
- Hiroko Asahina is this for Ayato Kamina in RahXephon. With one of the most tragic deaths possible, even.
- The Sailor Moon manga, some of the musicals and the second anime (Sailor Moon Crystal) all but scream that Setsuna/Sailor Pluto is this towards King Endymion, the husband and partner of her beloved Queen Serenity of Crystal Tokyo.
- Please Save My Earth: In the Moon past, Enju was one to Gyokuran (who was in love with Mokuren) while Shusuren was this to Enju herself. In the present, Enju's gender flipped reincarnation Issei retains his past self's love for Gyokuran's reincarnation Jinpachi, whereas Shusuren's reincarnation Sakura loves him...
- Cardcaptor Sakura has Li Meiling as a feistier example of this trope, right down to crying her heart out on Tomoyo's lap when she realizes Syaoran loves Sakura. She gets over it, though, and vows to support the boy she loved and his happiness.
- Fandom often tends to peg characters of both genders as this and use it in their fanwork, if they're part of a Fan-Preferred Couple but do not get the guy/girl. While some of them CAN be canonically seen as such, the fans tend to exaggerate it. Other fans portray the one who gets "in the way" of their preferred ship as this trope, usually having someone else comfort them and sweep them off their feet to help them "get over" their hopeless love.
- Ever since the Grand Finale of Voltron: Legendary Defender had Shiro marrying his implied Number Two Curtis and sunk the immensely popular Shiro x Keith ship, many fanworks regarding the pairing tend to portray Keith as a weepy, pining mess whose life was practically ruined by not becoming Shiro's actual Love Interest.
- Other Voltron fanworks portray Pidge as this this for either Lance (who is canonically in love with and begins a romance with Allura, with Pidge being one of several shippers on deck) or Shiro (whom she sees as a surrogate big brother and admires as much as she does Matt). While a case can be made for her having a crush on Shiro in fanon, her life's goals revolve around her family and later learning to have friends rather than finding true love.
- One particular Bleach fan liked to insist Orihime was this for Ichigo and that she needed Ishida's love to "get over" him because he was destined to be with Rukia. She ended up killing Orihime off forever in her stories when canon proved her wrong.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender fans who ship Zutara but are still sympathetic to Aang paint him as the male version of this trope.
- Toph had a crush on Sokka in canon, but fics deepen it into a full-blown case of unrequited love with Toph pining sadly away for him.
- In the sequel series Legend of Korra, Lin fans believe she's this for Tenzin despite the two having broken up ages ago and Lin, despite being pretty Tsundere to him and to Korra, showing no actual interest in having him back.
- Tomoyo Daidouji in Cardcaptor Sakura was a clear case of I Want My Beloved To Be Happy and a staunch Sakura/Syaoran shipper in canon. Fanfic, however, makes her into a weepy pining mess over Sakura, resenting Syaoran and in some cases even killing herself over not getting the girl.
- Marron Glacé of Sorcerer Hunters becomes this in some fanworks, over his own brother. Granted, he does have a serious case of Big Brother Worship that borders on a romantic crush at times, but still.
- Depending on which Misu sister Carrot is being shipped with, the one he didn't pick will become this trope. Tira more often than not fills the role, though, mainly so the author can have her cry her heart out and Marron sweep her off her feet to comfort her.
- Nuriko was canonically in love with Hotohori for a large portion of Fushigi Yuugi's plot, to the point where he began the story as the local Crazy Jealous Guy and was a jerk to Miaka over Hotohori preferring her. But he is shown getting over it with time in the series (heck, not only he's pretty much Miaka's best friend among the Suzaku Seishi, but he is a Big Brother Mentor to Houki, the woman who eventually marries Hotohori according to the novels and the OAV based on them!), whereas in fanfic he's forever weeping his heart out over Hotohori not noticing his feelings. Sometimes the trope is subverted when he gets his guy, other times Tasuki is the one to comfort him and get him over his hopeless crush.
- While this was more or less canon for Riley Matthews in Girl Meets World season two, Maya/Lucas shippers would take her canon lingering feelings for Lucas and make her out to be a whining, moping child over them despite the fact that in canon, she willingly let Lucas go and chose to ignore her feelings because she valued Maya's happiness more than anything.
- A few Fire Emblem Awakening fics turn Henry, of all people, into this trope. One fic has him pining hopelessly after Ricken but keeping his mouth shut while Ricken gets closer to Nowi and ends up fathering her future daughter Nah. He angsts constantly over this and ends up committing suicide by leaping off a cliff.
- Sumia also gets this treatment in Chrom/Avatar fics, despite her crush on Chrom being only implied and very much downplayed compared to her friend Cordelia's canon unrequited love.
- Some Fates fics that pair Oboro with other guys than Takumi paint her as Takumi's UTM. Her canon crush on him can easily be returned, but if she marries someone else her feelings for him only come up once (her support with Hinata, who makes sense because the three of them have been tight for years). In fics, she wangsts endlessly about Takumi "ignoring her" until her Second Love sweeps her off her feet.
- Any of Eliwood's potential brides could be portrayed as this in Blazing Blade fandom. If it was Lyn or Fiora, she would usually get her guy, but if it was Ninian she would usually be forced to accept that Eliwood loved someone else and that her feelings were hopeless. Considering the Eliwood-based ship wars in fandom, this is not surprising.
- While Priscilla is this canonically for Raven, fanfics flanderize the hell out of it to make her whole life revolve around angsting about how Raven belongs only to Lucius and is not hers to touch. Never mind that in canon she understands that their Childhood Marriage Promise was only a game, and that all she really wants is to know he still loves and cares about her.
- Depending on shipping preferences, either Erinys or Silvia was this for Lewyn in Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War fandom. Sometimes both, if the writer married him off to Tailtiu.
- In the original story of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, the mermaid rescues and falls in love with a prince. While the prince cares for her, he marries a different girl whom he believes had rescued him AND was already in love with. The mermaid does have a chance to turn back into one but it involves killing the prince, which she refuses to do; then, she turns into seafoam as the sun rises. In a revised version she is rewarded for her sacrifice with a new life as an air sprite, during which time she will earn a soul (mermaids don't naturally have them) and go to Heaven.
- The Lady Of Shalott (once pictured above) from Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem of the same name which is based on the Arthurian Legend character Elaine of Astolat, who pined after Lancelot (who, of course, only had eyes for Guenivere) and eventually died of a broken heart.
- Rebecca of York to Ivanhoe, due entirely to the fact that she's Jewish. She warns Ivanhoe not to fall for her at their first meeting and does a graceful I Want My Beloved to Be Happy bow out at the end allowing Rowena and Ivanhoe to be together and devotes the rest of her life to doing good works. Notable in that even the author preferred Rebecca and Ivanhoe.
Live Action Television
- Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was this for a while, pining away for Xander, until she got a boyfriend of her own. And then realized a lesbian or a lesbian-leaning bi and got a girlfriend, Tara.
- Lavinia Swire from Downton Abbey, who overhears a talk between Matthew and Mary about how he loves Mary but feels in-debted to Lavinia... and few afterwards she falls victim to the Spanish flu, asking Matthew to be happy with Mary. Naturally, Matthew feels extremely guilty for all of it.
- Giselle from the ballet of the same name. In some versions, Giselle falls in love with Albretch, but Albretch is engaged to Bathilde. After dying of a broken heart, Giselle becomes The Lost Lenore.
- Ophelia from Hamlet might be seen as one, since Hamlet's act made her believe that he did not love her.
- Eponine from Les Misérables is in love with Marius and does everything she can to help him, even though he is in love with Cosette and only views Eponine as a friend.
- Namine from Kingdom Hearts is drawn to Sora and wishes she were Kairi. And as her Nobody, she can be said to be Kairi in one or another way.. In the end, she wants Sora and Kairi to be happy and merges with Kairi thus destroying her own identity and existence in some ways.
- Fire Emblem has a few of these due to most characters being given multiple romantic partners:
- Fire Emblem Akaneia zigzags it. First, Catria from the Whitewings is stated to be one to Marth (who's engaged to Caeda), but it's downplayed since she doesn't seem to really think of it a lot. Second, Catria's sister Palla plays it totally straight towards Abel, the Love Interest of their other sister Est. Thirdly, Princess Nyna DID have her feelings requited by Camus the Black Knight, but they became Star-Crossed Lovers and she got into an Arranged Marriage to Prince Hardin, and then shit started hitting the fan and she became this trope.
- Path of Radiance has Titania, second-in-command and Team Mom of the Greil Mercenaries. It's revealed in her Supports with Ike that she grew close to and became with enamored with Ike's father Greil while training under him, but she pushed away her feelings for Greil when she discovered that he was already married with children. It should be no surprise that she (along with Ike and Mist) is hit the hardest by his death at the hands of the Black Knight (to the point that she breaks down into tears in their A Support when Ike thanks her for taking care of his father in his final years). She does have Ship Tease with Ike, Boyd, and Rhys in Radiance, but ultimately ends up single by the end of Dawn.
- Blazing Sword has a Double Subversion in Priscilla. She does have a number of possible lovers she can Support with, but due to her status as nobility, she will ultimately end up in a Star-Crossed Lovers situation -- with all but one of them (the magician Erk, who has peerage only due to his tutelage under Pent, the Count of Reglay)
- Sacred Stones has a rare male example in Prince Lyon, who is in love with Eirika but lacks the confidence to confess to her or pursue a relationship. He's only able to tell her so at the end of her route... as he dies in her arms.
- In Awakening, Cordelia is head-over heels in love with Chrom. Problem is, she also firmly believes that she has no chance with him, and therefore he is THE guy she cannot marry. Still, she can potentially fall in love with other men (the Male Avatar included) without too much hassle... In the Bad Future, however, her daughter Severa mistakenly thinks that she still pines over Chrom and tries to confront her over it, leading to a huge fight. Cordelia dies the next day in battle, and Severa never gets over it..
- Fire Emblem Fates has the Ninja Maid Flora, who is hopelessly in love with the Battle Butler Jakob and will die in an extremely tragic way in the Birthright path.. She cannot even have supports with him -- though she CAN marry a Male Avatar. It's also been speculated that Scarlet might be this for Prince Ryoma - still, she can also marry the Male Avatar. And dies tragically in Conquest and Revelations.
- Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia: the Canon Foreigner Faye, a Girl Next Door who is Childhood Friends with Alm, Celica and the Ram village boys, and can join Alm's quest out of love for him. However, Alm's One True Love is Celica, and in their supports he politely but firmly turns Faye down. Faye accepts it and never holds it against Celica, but her ending states that she never gets over him.
- Defied by a potential Rare Male Example, the Camp Gay archer Leon. He's secretly in love with his best friend Valbar and is perfectly aware that he's not likely to return his love (especially since Valbar is a Crusading Widower), but he doesn't angst about it and implies that he's perfectly okay with just having said feelings and being close to Valbar forever. If Valbar lives to the end, he opens a shop and they stay close for the rest of their lives; if Valbar dies, Leon plays the trope straighter via becoming a well-respected military instructor but never getting over him.
- A way to see Princess Edelgard von Hraesvelgr from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, if the Crimson Flower / Black Eagles / her route isn't chosen. Especially in Silver Snow/Church of Seiros/Rhea's path and/or Verdant Green/Golden Deer/Claude's, since after being definitely beaten she tells Byleth to kill her personally and, as s/he lowers her/his sword to strike her down, she says that her biggest wish was to walk forward by his/her side.
- There were rumors among Dragon Quest V fans that said Bianca, The Hero's Childhood Friend, would be this if she wasn't chosen as his bride in the original game, with the remake dialing it down. In reality, she at most remains single but does not have her life ruined if she's not the Love Interest.
- Raven from Rune Factory 3 will become this if Micah gets close to her, then ends up marrying someone else. This is why so many players just marry her instead of going for another girl.
- Pearl from Steven Universe can very easily be seen as being this for Steven's Missing Mom, Rose Quartz, who she was deeply in love with because she made Pearl feel like she was "everything". This and several other factors left Pearl seriously messed up, and after at least 14 years she still reels from Rose's death. It takes her quite a while to find a potential Second Love.