The lyrics of the 1976 hit song “Torn Between Two Lovers” by Mary McGregor captures the agony and the ecstasy of my favorite romantic dilemma: the love triangle. What is it about the love triangle that rouses such passion, both in the fictional characters embroiled in them, and in us, the readers?
While contemplating this post, I asked my friends about their favorite love triangles. Not surprisingly, everyone had an opinion, though it was often followed with the question, “Wait—is that technically a love triangle?” Geometry has never been my strength, so I consulted Wikepedia for some parameters. This is what I found: “Two main forms of love triangle have been distinguished: there is the rivalrous triangle, where the lover is competing with a rival for the love of the beloved, and the split-object triangle, where a lover has split their attention between two love objects." Either way, it makes for great story-telling, which is why the love triangle has been a staple in books going all the way back to the Old Testament (Remember Jacob gets tricked into marrying Leah although he is madly in love with her sister, Rachel?) and more recently, of course, in Twilight. Below, a look at a few of my favorites in between:
The Classic Triangles
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton: Oh, poor Newland Archer. He’s a perfect New York gentleman in the height of New York’s Gilded Age, all set for a proper life with perfectly lovely May Welland; until he meets her intriguing, highly improper cousin, Countess Ellen Olsenska. His is an gut-wrenching choice, made all the more difficult by the strict mores of the time. (That’s what makes classic triangles so fantastic!)
Wings of the Dove by Henry James: What a tangled web they weave: This turn of the century novel tells the story of Kate Croy and Merton Densher—a young couple who can not marry because they are both broke. Then along comes rich Milly Theale, a young American who has tons of cash but little time; she’s gravely ill. She also has a crush on Merton. And so Kate hatches a plan: Merton can marry Milly, then inherit her money when she dies and then the two of them can marry and live happily ever after with the cash. Of course, things don’t quite work out as planned.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence: One of the all-time greats: Connie Chatterley has quite the dilemma. She’s married to Cliff Reid, an aristocrat who loves her, but who has become impotent. What’s a girl to do? She has an affair, of course. The other man is a rugged, brutish games keeper named Oliver Mellors. In the end, will she choose commitment and security with Cliff, or impoverished passion with Mellors? It’s a tough call (as all the best love triangles are!)
A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore: This historical romance features one of my favorite triangle set-ups (introduced to me at age ten by Luke, Holly, and Robert on General Hospital). The husband is missing and presumed dead, the wife remarries, and years later, the husband shows up. (This triangle is also a major story line in Homeland). In this version, Sophie, the Duchess of Calton, is happily married to childhood love Garrett. But when Garrett goes missing in the battle of Waterloo never to return, she is left alone to raise their unborn child. She eventually marries Tristan, who becomes the new Duke. One day they are having sex…and Garrett reappears! What’s a girl to do?
Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin: Do not covet thy neighbor’s wife … or your best friend’s fiancé. This is a lesson learned the hard way by Rachel White, when she falls into bed with Dex, who is engaged to her infuriatingly entitled best friend, Darcy. Although Rachel’s actions should have had us seeing red, most readers of this novel (which launched the bestselling career of its author) found themselves unabashedly rooting for Rachel to win the heart of the randy cheat, Dexter.
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory: Two sisters fighting for the love of a king? Bring it! First, we have alluring but innocent Mary, just a young teenager when she catches the eye of Henry VIII and finds herself smitten. But she is thwarted by a formidable rival—her older sister, Anne, as beautiful as she is devious. Theirs is the love triangle of all love triangles with the highest stakes: one of these gals will literally lose her head.
In closing, I leave with you with some advice should you ever find yourself ensnared in a love triangle of your own: In the immortal words of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”
I’m sure I’ve left some biggies off of this list. So what are your favorite love triangles?
Jamie Brenner grew up in Main Line Philadelphia on a steady diet of Judith Krantz, Jackie Collins, and Aaron Spelling. Her latest novel, The Gin Lovers (St. Martin’s Press), is now out in paperback. Jamie writes erotic romance under the name Logan Belle, including the trilogy Blue Angel (Kensington), Bettie Page Presents: The Librarian (Pocket Star/Simon & Schuster), and the upcoming Miss Chatterley. Jamie lives in New York City. For more, please visit www.jamiebrenner.com or follow her @jamieLbrenner.