Do love triangles ever work out well? I mean, really? Sure, it’s all delicious angst and tortured looks at the beginning, but eventually, it all ends in either tears, death, or falling in love at first sight with a ridiculously named newborn. (Er, perhaps that last one isn’t so common, but still. IT HAS BEEN KNOWN TO HAPPEN.)
Allow me to share my theories of specific geometry fail:
1) THERE ARE NO LEGS TO STAND ON IN THIS TRIANGLE.
Often a triangle (or a quad or whatever fancy permutation of coupledom you have) isn’t legit because the person at the apex of it—and let’s face it, it’s usually a heroine, there’s very few male-and-two-female triangles I can think of—is not truly torn. Their affections are not divided between two separate but equally important . . . Mr. Pointies.
Prime example: Remember the previous Battlestar Galactica post when I told you my OTP (one true pairing), Starbuck and Apollo, both married other people? Let’s revisit that, shall we? So, our pilots have been dancing around their UST (unresolved sexual tension, for the uninformed) for ages, when the fleet finds a cylon-free planet. SCORE! Our kids get drunk, abandon their significant others and wander off into a field together to get down to it finally, complete with shouted declarations of their love into the night skies.
But the next morning, insecurity and doubt get the better of Starbuck and she runs off and marries Sam, the boy-toy sports star she was frakking around with (but swore she wouldn’t marry the night before). In turn, Apollo proposes to Dee, the pleasant communications officer he was about to move in with (but conveniently forgot about when he put the moves on Kara the night before). The show jumps ahead a year and a half at that point and . . . a lot of other bad stuff happens (imprisoned and brainwashed Kara! depressed and FAT Lee!), until finally our kids reunite with a bloody, brutal boxing match where they finally collapse into each others’ arms in front of the whole fleet AND THEIR SPOUSES. And then they embark upon a brief but intense affair (where supposedly all they ever do is make out, but, uh, let’s say strains credulity is an understatement here).
This storyline, which takes up a chunk of the middle of season 3, is referred to as “the quad of doom” by the show's creators and fans, and the whole thing comes off as pretty contrived, honestly. To me, this isn’t really a triangle (or quad), because Kara, who is clearly the pivot point, isn’t really making a choice at all. She’s not choosing Sam, she’s only choosing not Lee. Further evidenced by the way she completely ignores Sam except for booty calls for the rest of the show—until he gets gravely injured near the finale. (Long story, Kara has Dead Guy Issues™.) So, it’s hard to even call this a real triangle. And as for the quad part of it, Lee seems to have even less interest in his spouse than Kara does in hers, until he almost loses his wedding ring and collapses in a puddle of guilty emo sobbing and swears to reform. (Yeah, Lee has his own subscription.)
But BSG is just one example; you see this uneven balance of affection all the time in fiction. I mean, did anyone really think shirt-deficient Jacob ever stood a chance against that twee sparklepire Edward?
2) THE BRUSSELS SPROUT DEFENSE™ IS WEAKSAUCE. Occasionally in discussions of love geometry, when someone is trying to futilely sway you to their side of the ship wars, they will suggest that one of the possible triangle pairings is “a healthier relationship” than the other. To which I say: please keep your Weight Watchers point-counting out of my fiction. Let’s face it: when it comes to drama, healthy relationships are usually pretty boring relationships. Great stories thrive on conflict. This is one that my OTP gets charged with pretty often too. That Dee and Sam, because they are less volatile types and are willing to pretty much turn the other cheek—despite being humiliated and cuckolded for everyone to see—are the more stable partners for Lee and Kara. So, sure, there’s no punching, but there’s also no passion. And who wants that? Plus, being a doormat and/or an enabler isn’t really all that “healthy,” now is it? A true “healthy” relationship would make the protagonist want to be a better person, wouldn’t it?
There’s also an unfortunate side-shoot of this example where sometimes the storyteller sets up one of the love interests to be such a saintly martyr—reinforced by other characters’ dialogue or the protagonist’s own internal monologuing—where it becomes a question not of love but of who “deserves” to win the protagonist’s heart. Which is always a squicky concept because it equates your protagonist as a trophy to be won if our sainted hero just accumulates enough Weight Watchers good karma points.
I mean, Suzanne Collins, I loved The Hunger Games and I’mma let you finish and all, but if you had Haymitch tell the incredibly awesome and kickass Katniss—or worse, Katniss tell herself—one more time that she could never ever be good enough to be worthy of pining, wimpy Peeta’s love . . . Cripes. (Also, you din’t need to suddenly be playing Gale for a villain that way in Mockingjay, dawg. You on notice.)
3) IF YOUR NAME’S NOT EGGO, NOBODY LIKES A WAFFLER.
Often, with really popular and long-running series, the heroine dithers around endlessly about her choice. This is great for merchandising as fans take up campaigns for their favorites (those Team-so-and-so shirts just fly off the shelves!), but can get seriously stale for the audience. How many times are you gonna have to hear the pros and cons of each potential suitor? How much whiplash will you get as the heroine snaps back and forth between them like a rubber band?
Playing it with uncertainty usually works okay when the heroine’s a teenager because figuring out who you are and what you want in life is a staple of the coming-of-age tale. But when it’s an adult woman at the center of the triangle? It gets into some uncomfortable territory. Because Stephanie Plum not being able to decide between Joe Morelli and Ranger—SEVENTEEN BOOKS LATER—just makes her seem sort of selfish and immature, right? Being an adult means making choices and hard decisions. Stranding your heroine in a no-man’s land of wishy-washy because she doesn’t know her own mind just makes her look foolish—and may make people tire of your series.
So how do you feel about love triangles? Which ones do you adore—or hate? Has anyone gotten this trope right?
Love triangles image uploaded by mthaeg at Flickr
Brussels sprout image courtesy of tibchris via Flickr
Tara Gelsomino is a reader, writer, pop culture junkie, and internet addict. You can tweet her at @taragel.