Feb 12 2013 12:30pm

(Not So) Bizarre Love Triangle: The Timeless Thrill of the Love Triangle

The Age of Innocence by Edith WhartonThe 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 movieWings 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!)

Today’s Triangles

A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer HaymoreA 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 movie imageThe 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.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Clarabell
Not at all a fan of the love triangle. It's rarely even sided and it's unlikely to be a question you can't answer for yourself at most a quarter way through the novel. Edward and Jacob? Never really in question. Elizabeth, Darcy and Wickham (please...).

I prefer the idea of a love 'line' with scores or obstacles along the way :-)
Rakisha Kearns-White
2. BrooklynShoeBabe
The Age of Innocence is one of my favorite love triangles and I was rooting for Newland to break tradition and go with the Countess. I also thought he was also a scaredy cat for not having the cajones to break tradition.
Jamie Brenner
3. jamieloganbrenner
@BrooklynShoeBabe The movie breaks my heart every time I watch it!
Heather Waters
4. HeatherWaters
I tend to pick a side a passionately stick by it when it comes to triangles, so I'm trying to think of ones that have really, honestly had me torn.

Lisa Kleypas's Sugar Daddy was good because I thought both Gage and Hardy were pretty great hero material (which was further proven when the loser of this particular triangle got his own book).

YA books are so into love triangles right now that I actually find it refreshing when one of those series DOESN'T have one, like Veronica Roth's Divergent.
Jamie Brenner
5. jamieloganbrenner
@redline Totally agree about Sugar Daddy and almost included it in this post! Thanks for bringing it into the conversation.
Carmen Pinzon
6. bungluna
I find it strange that we have so many m-m-f love triangles nowadays but I haven't come across a single f-f-m one. I read a lot of Latin lit. when I was a teenager, and the theme of the man married for propriety's sake but in love with an unsuitable woman was often included. I'm not a proponent of this, just curious as to why it's not more prevalent.
Jena Briars
7. CutMyTeethOnKleypas
The only time I was HOOKED into a love triangle was with The Host by Stephanie Meyers (and that's not even a romance - more of a YA action/sci-fi - really it's like a sci-fi, but the love triangle was incredible). Heroine with one body (but two minds/spirits/souls) - split between liking two heroes. It was crazy. That's about the most I could handle. If it was in my romance, I didn't like it. Not even really a fan of it in erotic lit either. *shrug*
Jamie Brenner
8. jamieloganbrenner
@bungluna I don't see a lot of f-f-m love triangles but I wrote one in my erotic novel Blue Angel (written under pen name Logan Belle).
9. Isabel C.
Yeah, I'm not a giant fan of the love triangle either. Especially the Scarlett O'Andrews Half-Elven thing where each of your potential moral paths is represented by a hot member of your preferred gender, because wow your life is grim and bleak. ;)
10. Janga
I'm not generally a fan of the love triangle in romance fiction. I make an exception for those like A Hint of Wicked and Sugar Daddy where the loser gets his HEA in a sequel. Julia London's A Summer of Two Wishes, which has a plot similar to Haymore's but in a contemporary setting, haunted me--even though the heroine chose the husband I was rooting for. I was so-o glad that Wyatt got his HEA eighteen months later in A Light at Winter's End.
11. Lori M.
I love all of Sophie Oak's Nights in Bliss collection! But if I had to choose a favorite it would be Two to Love with Callie/Nate/Zane.
12. ladynat@hotmail.com
I love love triangles. I always pull for the loser character or as I've come to call them that poor sob. They pop up a lot in Asian mangas, anime, and live action. Someone mentioned that they don't see a lot of f-f-m triangles. I can think of 2 last year our Korea. Heartbreaking and beautiful. Rooftop Prince starring Micky Yuchun (JYJ) is wonderful. Micky stars as Prince Lee Gak who is suppose to marry Bu Yong as children but ends up married to her sister after her sister "accidentally" burns her. Flash forward several years Bu Yong and Yi Gak are friends and the Prince is in love with Hwa Yong. When Hwa Yong mysteriously dies, Lee Gak goes on an adventure that changes the way he looks at the world and Bu Yong. I cried so much watching this one.
Love Rain staring Jang Guen Suk and Yoona (Girl's Generation) is a tale of heartbreak and betrayal that spans two generations. Beautifully done and heartwrenching. I laughed, I cried, I fell in love with all the characters. This one follows the what seems to be a common belief that one love triangle is good a bunch of them would be better. mmf, ffm, mmf, ffm

Both series are available on HULU fully subtitled by the good people at dramafever. I highly recommend them and a bunch more to anyone who loves a good love triangle.

Of course if we are going to mention bizarre love triangles. Can I just mention the brief but widely comical love triangle from Mercedes Lackey's Winds series in which Princess Elspeth falls from the Darkwind at the same time as her long lost cousin the powerful mage (i am totally blanking on his name. time reread) falls for him. The jealousy. The teasing. So so funny.
Jamie Brenner
13. jamieloganbrenner
@ladynat Thanks for the introduction to Love Rain. Sounds very compelling. Definintely will try to find it.
14. ShellyE
One of the best love triangle stories EVER is Treading Water by Marie Force. It's a F-F-M triangle, and you care for the characters so much you dont want any of them to be unhappy.
15. JDeGroot
Opal Carew did a fantastic job writing Twin Fantasies. It had a believable story line and I totally got swept away by both brothers. Loved how it ended.
16. Angelgidget
The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare has my hands-down favorite triangle of all time. The heroine, Tessa, initially falls for the mysterious and brooding Will, but due to circumstances, he must reject her. But realizing he loves her, he seeks out a way to undo the circumstances that hindered him. Meanwhile, his best friend and brother-in-arms, Jem, falls for Tessa and begins to strengthen his friendship with her (unaware of what transpired between Will an her) . Friendship turns to romance, and the thing that makes it so complicated is that there is only one person the young men love more than Tessa is each other.
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