Love Triangles: Why? - A List

| Friday, May 31, 2013

Angry Jacob is like, super tired of everyone whining about love triangles.
Today's Tune: Unbelievers

Everybody likes to whine about love triangles in YA. Myself included, let's be real -- you guys know I love to write about them even though I don't especially like them. I feel they're often wedged in for added drama and not pulled off with much success. HOWEVER: I have read love triangles I enjoyed and that functioned very well, and the reality is that love triangles are popular in the YA category (and other categories) for real, psychologically and sociologically sound reasons.


Why Love Triangles?

1.) Probably most importantly: they sell books. Agree with it or not, but they are popular fare for consumption. For their own reasons, readers enjoy them. So they're there.

2.) Digging a little deeper: a good love triangle is not about Hot Person #1 and Hot Person #2. A good love triangle is about choice. Relationships and love are very human things, and our literature has long reveled in making a metaphor of it. Matters of the heart are directly tied to our passions and emotions. Different potential partners represent different paths for the protagonist. One may represent her past, the other her future. One is a metaphor for giving in to revenge and destruction (Gale), the other represents finding peace and healing in his own way (Peeta). It's not just about making out, guys. We can see love as a metaphor in other fiction, so why are we blind to it in YA? Because YA dares to incorporate girly feelings instead of serious man-pain?

3.) More on choice: it's not a secret that YA is most popular with young women. Young women often don't get much choice in love, sex, and relationships. We're fed a constant narrative of "wait for your One True Love to find you" and "be a sexual gatekeeper" and "heterosexual monogamy within these strictly defined terms or else SLUT SLUT SLUT." There's still an element of possession with many young men (and older men, really). Hell, a guy doesn't even have to be dating a girl to lay claim to her -- friendzoning, anyone? So, is it any wonder that young women find enjoyment in living in a world where they get to choose? Where they can be attracted to more than one guy and it's okay? Where they can have sexy feelings that aren't immediately shut down? I very rarely see anybody complaining that male protagonists get to get it on with multiple ladies, but apparently we still like to slut-shame and belittle "indecisive, whiny" little girls.

4.) Because YA often includes sexual awakening because it's about adolescence and coming of age, and part of a sexual awakening is learning what you want in relationships and in bed (or not). So yeah, sometimes it's about not knowing whether you want one thing or another because you haven't quite figured out what you like yet. I have known many a person who has discovered that they're into certain kinks or types of people because they discovered those feelings in books first. Also: not everyone knows for a definite fact that they want the package hetero marriage-and-kids deal at 16 years old. AND THAT IS OKAY.

5.) Consider whether you're really bothered by the "useless" love triangle, or if you're just being unduly critical of the young female protagonist. Or, alternately, the woman who wrote the novel. You may be automatically hand-waving like, "pssshhhh no way, I just don't like things that suck," but I'm serious. Really lower your social filters and consider whether you'd feel the same way about the situation if it were a man writing about a boy choosing between two girls who wanted all up on his business.

And look, I feel you completely if you want to talk about the misogynistic elements present in novels featuring love triangles. You want to talk about how the female characters are still disempowered? Or that certain male leads get really rape-y? LET'S TALK ABOUT THAT. But I'm not going to talk about wah wah wah love triangles are always 100% yucky and horrible and serve no purpose, because that's not true.

Blah blah blah, TL;DR, here's the gist: SO WHAT THAT THERE ARE LOVE TRIANGLES. You don't like them? I don't like them! I still manage to find books to read! And I don't begrudge other people for being into a selection of love interests! Not my bag, but so what! Play on!

et cetera


{ E.J. Wesley } at: May 31, 2013 at 7:24 AM said...

Great post, Steph! It's not hard to understand why readers are jaded by the +1 fad as there's just so many books featuring the triangle, but--as you've pointed out so excellently--it's also not hard to understand why it's a fad in the first place.

The love triangle plays to secret desires (being wanted by many) and primal emotions (jealousy) for sure. :)

{ Stephanie Ingrid Sarah Kristan } at: May 31, 2013 at 8:08 AM said...

"I'm not going to talk about wah wah wah love triangles are always 100% yucky and horrible and serve no purpose, because that's not true."


{ Phire } at: May 31, 2013 at 8:14 AM said...

Not to mention love triangles (or rectangles or pentagons) have been a thing for as long as we've been telling stories. Helen of Troy, anyone? Anna Karenina has at least two love triangles that I remember, Madame Bovary is literally her flitting from one triangle to another. Romeo and Juliet/Midsummer Night's Dream, Les Mis, Phantom of the Opera, Count of Monte Cristo, Sound of Music, Gone with the Wind, Gatsby, etc etc etc. But no one seems to complain that Dumas and Hugo and Fitsgerald and Shakespeare are too ~*whiny and indecisive*~.

For the same reasons that tri-pods are stable, three characters make for interesting conflict. (I may have invented that bit about the tri-pod metaphor.)

{ Lynn M } at: May 31, 2013 at 8:40 AM said...

I love a good love triangle story done well. There is a lot of inherent conflict and angst involved in having to make a choice between two good options, and making that choice is a part of growing up, which is what YA is all about.

My problem comes when the love triangle is used as evidence to prove that an otherwise generic, uninteresting heroine is actually really desirable. The writer needs to demonstrate to me by showing me the heroine's desirable traits that she's worthy of a triangle. Then we're good to go.

{ Krispy } at: May 31, 2013 at 1:08 PM said...

As usual, a very insightful post! I generally don't like love triangles because I feel like they're so rarely done WELL, but I do like them when they are - as you put it - a metaphor for choice and self discovery. That's pretty much the real point of love triangles to me; they should reveal and challenge things about the main character (and even the society) and they should help deepen character development. They should be a source of conflict as well, but I hate when it seems like the triangle is in there for the sake of conflict rather than pulling double-duty as it should. Also, can we please have more love interests who are more than just Love Interests and are also Characters?

{ glamourweaver } at: May 31, 2013 at 6:55 PM said...

I think it really just comes down to how well written they are. Too often they're just contrived barriers to the obvious One True Love to overcome. Those circumstances I fully admit, bore me to tears.

Other more interesting examples include cases without a clear solution - like in the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare, where she set everything up in the traditional aforementioned model, but then proceeded to deconstruct the "One True Love" narrative altogether. Holly Black called it "the Kobayashi Meru of Love Triangles".

On the other hand, another option is to deconstruct the romanticized nature of romantic conflict altogether and focus on how it mostly involves people hurting each other - that too can be very interesting.

It's just when things are reduced to competitions (especially one with a clear prebroadcast winner) that I lose interest. The whole construct of Teams and Endgames that have grown post-Twilight-fandom I think is a really unhealthy way to look at love.

{ Jim Dean } at: June 3, 2013 at 5:55 AM said...

Great post! I'm not a fan of love triangles generally as I've read too many which, as glamourweaver says above, seem to be competitions with clear 'obvious' winners.

When done right, though, they can be fantastic! Some of my favourite books of recent years to feature strong love triangles include Keris Stainton's Emma Hearts LA, Daniela Sacerdoti's Sarah Midnight series, and Jandy Nelson's The Sky Is Everywhere, all of which avoid this for the most part.

{ Aoede } at: June 3, 2013 at 10:32 AM said...

Heterosexual love triangles bore me to tears because they are 1) heterosexual and 2) prone to disgusting displays of possessive jealousy by two or more participants. (Depicted as hot, of course, if the jealous one is male, and bitchy if she's female.)

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{ Phillip Smith } at: September 26, 2013 at 4:06 PM said...

I disagree with your assertion that people would be more accepting of a male protagonist in a love triangle with two girls. There are really too few books with that premise (that I know of) in order to determine how people react to it.

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