A lot of people have been hating on the love triangle recently (for good reason) but the thing is when they’re done well there is nothing better. Conversations and arguments get heated where love triangles are concerned and people have to pick a team (even going to the extreme of wearing t-shirts declaring their side). Families and friendships have been ripped apart and that kind of passion should not just be dismissed because we’ve been oversaturated… that said we have reached the point where I want to grab people and scream: it is possible to have a dramatic romance without a love triangle.
The generic romantic lead is facing a dilemma; they must choose between two romantic partners (it’s a tough life). They are being pulled in conflicting directions and if the audience were looking down from above it would resemble a triangle with three distinct points. Basically as TVTropes puts it: “A is in love with B, but B is in love with C, resulting in wacky hijinks. Alternatively, A and B are both in love with C, who is torn between the two and must make a choice.”
Really there are as many different kinds of love triangles as there are stories but the basics remain the same. There are three characters (sometimes more but then it gets complicated) and as they say three’s a crowd, so they compete until only two remain (like a romantic Hunger Games that is only slightly less violent). Depending on the story, the third wheel might get a last minute consolation romance but usually they are just forgotten once happily-ever-after has been achieved.
The love triangle has copped a lot of flack in recent years, mainly because of it’s prevalence in YA fiction, but just because we’ve been over saturated doesn’t mean that we should dismiss this trope entirely. When it’s done well there is nothing better. Let’s face it, shipping wouldn’t be the same without love triangles… heck shippers tend to create love triangles where there are none. The problems happen when it is forced into a story simply for the sake of having a love triangle.
Here’s the thing about love triangles – they only really works when both options are legitimate choices. In romantic comedies nothing kills the tension more than when option number 2 is actually a dickhead because then they were never really an option. And in a series there is a tendency to bring in a third party to create tension between the lead romantic pairing, which is generally just annoying because it’s pretty clear that the third party is not going to win and chances are the character will be assassinated in order to reunite the official couple.
At the core of this trope is a choice – but it’s not just about a character choosing between two potential romantic partners it’s about a character choosing between two parts of themself. That’s why people get so attached to these stories because they represent a fork in the road and that’s why they only work when both directions could be right. It has to be a real dilemma because otherwise it’s just a gimmick that’s annoyingly predicable.
There is nothing wrong with a bit of predictability; in fact that’s often what makes genres like the rom-com so satisfying to watch. But even though it’s usually pretty clear who is going to win, if the competition isn’t worthy then the victory isn’t sweet. The more equality within the triangle the more interesting it is, when two points are really close together and the other one is miles away… that makes for a really weird looking triangle.
Then there are all the problematic issues with gendering in this trope, sexism runs rampant, especially when there are two girls competing for a man’s affections. One of the girls is almost always vilified in the extreme whereas two men are more often than not best friends (part of an epic bromance) making the triangle more equilateral… it’s also a slash fans dream. In fact two men competing for the same woman is often assumed to be representative of a latent homosexual relationship (it says a lot that two women competing does not have the same connotations… because clearly everyone really wants the dick).
Look I understand why people are so skeptical about love triangles nowadays, we have reached the point of oversaturation especially in stories involving teenagers. It’s almost like they don’t think a romance is worthy if it hasn’t been tested by a third party but let’s face it, it probably has more to do with the fact that they want to be able to sell team t-shirts. At this stage what we really need is some interesting romances that doesn’t rely on this trope… and of course I wouldn’t mind seeing someone completely turn it on its head.
Before dismissing this trope entirely remember all of those epic love triangles that are so fantastic that people are stilling talking about them. Think about Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot or Rick/Ilsa/Victor from Casablanca Duckie/Andie/Blane from Pretty in Pink. What about Noel/Felicity/Ben (Felicity) or Jack/Kate/Sawyer (Lost) or Tim/Lyla/Jason (Friday Night Lights) or my personal faves Dawson/Joey/Pacey (Dawson’s Creek)? There are way too many fantastic (and less than fantastic) love triangles to list but I think you get the idea.
Great love triangles have the ability to divide nations and you can’t deny their entertainment value (even if it’s just from listening to people stoically defend their opinions – everyone’s a shipper where love triangles are concerned). While I definitely a agree that this trope has been overused – there are other ways to create dramatic tension in a romance – when done well there is almost nothing better than an angst-ridden love triangle (it’s worth it for the ship wars).
I’m going to finish this discussion of the love triangle by pointing out that fandom has come up with a simple solution where no one gets left out… a one true threesome (OT3). Who says threes a crowd? Sometimes the triangle is so equilateral that without one of its points it would fall flat. Then there’s only one thing left to do… threesome!