Love triangles

In recognition of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d write today about a subject that’s lately become a bit of a pet peeve for me: love triangles/vees.

There are two things that bother me about such setups. The first is that there is always going to be a loser. The girl will pick one of the guys (or the guy picks one of two girls, or whatever the particulars of the V), and the other guy will have his heart broken. I hate reading about broken hearts. I end up empathizing way more with the heartbroken guy than with the guy who got the girl, even if I was rooting for the latter guy. It ends up spoiling the whole romance plot, because there can be no happy, really.

Which kinda ties in to the second thing that bothers me. During the whole courtship phase, before the girl picks one or the other of the guys, she’s leading them both on, and there are kissing/make-out scenes with both. So here, 1) does she really not have a preference between the two guys as to which she likes better? Because when I was a teen, I definitely had a hierarchy of guys. I may have had a crush on multiple guys, but if they were all to approach me (dream on!) I’d definitely have had one I crushed on most and would have pursued him exclusively.

And 2) why does she not feel crippling guilt while she’s busy making out with one guy behind the other guy’s back? If that were me, I would not be able to get into the moment because I’d be too busy thinking "two days ago I was kissing OtherBoy and oh god what if he found out about ThisBoy or ThisBoy finds out about him, I’d be in such deep crap" (because I never swore as a teen. truth) "and they’ll end up both hating me". It would be that desire not to hurt anyone’s feelings (including my own) that would mean I’d pick one guy from the outset. Bear in mind here, she’s not pursuing two guys, they’re pursuing her and have made their interest known. So it’s not like she’s picking a guy blind as to whether he’ll like her back.

I mind less triangles that develop when one of the two competitors is out of the picture for a while. But I do still expect that if the girl believes the first guy will be returning, she’ll refrain from fooling around with the second guy. If she thinks the first guy’s gone for good, well… I’m willing to accept a broken heart when he returns, in that instance. It’s my one exception.

Anyway. Maybe that’s just me. Obviously love triangles work for a lot of people, or they wouldn’t crop up so regularly in books. ;)

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8 responses to “Love triangles

  1. this is exactly the reason love triangles bother me. I keep thinking “Girls are not that fickle! Or are they? Am I not normal? What is life?”

    Ok, maybe not the last one, but if I were being pursued by two guys, I would choose one, and say “sorry dude” to the other.

    • Hee. I kinda wonder that sometimes, too, when I’m thinking things like this – are there really girls like this out there? Am I the oddball? Unfortunately, I’ve never really known any stereotypical girls to be able to say.

  2. Well, it’s not just girls, but yes, there are both fickle girls and guys out there. ;) However, I think its perfectly possible to have strong feelings for more than one person and not want to choose or worry about making the wrong choice and losing the other one only to have things not work out with the first one, or whatever. Especially as a teen when it’s all confusing and you don’t know what’s right. And it’s not necessarily a sneaky under-the-table thing – both guys might know about it, and if she hasn’t made a commitment to either one, or, better, has made it clear that she can’t commit yet, there’s no requirement/expectation of exclusivity. Plus it’s never so simple and black-and-white (or shouldn’t be in a good book. ;)) There are always complicating factors. You like both Guy A and Guy B but you really prefer Guy A but your family hates him and they’d ostracize you if you picked him and well, you like Guy B too so maybe you should go with him. Or maybe Guy A made a big sacrifice for her and she feels like she owes him, even though she wants Guy B. Maybe she’s putting off making a choice because she doesn’t want to hurt either one. Or she likes them in different ways – the classic being that one’s the safe, nice guy, the good guy, who deserves it, and one’s the badass, sexy guy, who your character is more drawn to but knows is not the ‘good’ choice. Ranger and Morelli, right? Or the vampire/boyfriend whose names I forget in Sunshine. And come on – who doesn’t like the Ranger and Morelli plot? It builds tension and interest. Conflict is what makes the story, after all. Plus that’s what life is about. And it’s a situation to which lots of readers can relate.

    I like “V” instead of triangle. It’s never actually a triangle. Unless one character is gay, then it would work out, but I have thus far never seen that plot.

    • Clearly you feel somewhat strongly about this. ;) I guess what you say is true, though. I know I’ve got unusually strong morals/empathy for others [I can’t even bring myself to kill video game NPC enemies if they’ve said they yield, for instance, and they’re just tiny bits of pre-programmed data. (I did by accident once. I felt terrible for like ten minutes.)] So maybe I’m overanalyzing everyone’s thoughts and emotions in these situations and maybe they’re not as emotionally invested as I think they are. I’ve never been someone to throw kisses around casually (partly, I think, because I’ve never been popular enough to even have enough interested guys to consider it, and partly because a kiss has always meant something to me). Maybe that’s the core of my issue with the love Vs, actually… I bet if these girls were just going out and having enjoyable evenings with each of the guys, like they were close friends, in order to test out the waters before settling on one, I’d have no problem with them splitting their interests; but as soon as kissing’s involved something greater is implied.

      The thing about Ranger/Morelli and Mel/Con is that in both instances the woman had clearly already chosen one person, and they knew they had this person already, and they felt suitably guilty/confused over their interest in the other guy. I can accept that; I’m sure we all have moments where we’re already attached but we meet or know someone attractive/interesting and can’t help feeling a pull.

  3. Well, I there are all kinds of different situations, and that’s what I’m saying, I guess – that it’s not black-and-white. And that in writing, that kind of thing can add tension and conflict that the no-obstacles life-is-easy happy ending doesn’t provide. It doesn’t necessarily have to end badly, i.e. one guy gets the girl and the other guy gets shafted and is miserable the rest of his life. I recommend ‘The Rebel Angels’ by Robertson Davies for a good life-is-complicated love-triangle-esque situation, and good resolution. I recommend anything by Robertson Davies anyway for good characters who are really human.

    • I’m usually a big proponent of nothing-is-black-and-white, but… I just can’t get behind it on this one. I mean, a guy robs a bank, and he does it because he just lost his job and he’s got a young daughter who’s fighting some potentially-fatal disease and needs these treatments to have any chance of survival but he has no insurance anymore and the medical bills are atrocious (this is the US), and yeah, your heart goes out to him – but that doesn’t make robbing a bank right. The characters of Mira and Keith in Magestone are based on this premise, in fact.

      But I really don’t see a way for a girl to lead on two guys (or a guy two girls, or whatever), with emotional making-out (at least is portrayed in YA, because everything with teens is emotional) and not expect someone’s heart to get shattered at the end. The only way for someone’s heart not to get shattered is for a fourth person to enter the scene and sweep one arm of the V away… and that’s cheating, that’s deus ex machina. Either that, or one arm of the V realizes he’s not that interested after all, but that’s kinda cheating, too. The apex of the V can’t count on either thing happening. So she’s got two boys crushing hard on her, and she’s out there kissing both and leading them on (with or without knowledge of the other boy, doesn’t matter, they’ll still hope/believe she likes them best), and assuming the boys’ feelings don’t change, there is no possible outcome to her decision to choose one over the other than to break one boy’s heart. And the more you build them up, the more painful the fall, so better to do it right at the start before anything happens.

      So, sure, in fiction there are ways for the love V to work out so no one gets hurt, and some authors have done that well, but that’s not my point. My point is that the apex character doesn’t KNOW that whatever plot development will happen so the second love interest doesn’t get hurt – all s/he can reliably expect is that they’ll both continue to crush on him/her and s/he’ll have to choose one in the end and break the other’s heart. Counting on a plot development to swing in and save you from breaking someone’s heart is selfish, and not guaranteed besides.

  4. Well, you’re throwing a bunch of assumptions in there: 1) your character knows that both are genuinely interested in him/her (surely not a guarantee for most teenagers, even if they have expressed it out loud, which isn’t generally the case – I remember teen romance being a careful game of not coming on too strong and trying to gauge if the other person is interested; plus even if they’ve told you or otherwise made it clear how they feel, you don’ t know if their interest is superficial or genuine); 2) your character understands the emotional ramifications of different outcomes for the others involved (again, you’re talking about teenagers, with little to no experience in love/romance. And teenagers or otherwise, do you really know they’ll both be heartbroken? most teenagers are still struggling with self-esteem and not so self-assured as to think they’re god’s greatest gift to the opposite sex and might reasonably think the other one won’t be too upset and will just move on and find someone new if things don’t work out. Which is often the case for young people whose feelings are more hormone-driven than carefully established. Also – is it actually true that they will be more hurt after being “led on” [particularly if the character is upfront about explaining their conflicting feelings]? would they feel better being rejected out of hand, or would they be glad to know the character’s feelings for them? to have that experience with them, however brief? I can give you a real life example of that one.); 3) your character is capable of ignoring his/her heart to obey his/her mind (again… teenagers. Do they have the strength of character yet to do the right thing when faced with a difficult choice – to know that saying no and causing pain now could save grief later? to deny their own feelings for the greater good? to keep their head in the right place and not get swept off their feet in a romantic moment?)

    Regardless, people aren’t perfect – they don’t always make the right choices, or know what the right choices are – and there’s always more at work (in real life, anyway) than the basic situation you described.

    Anyway, I get the impression you’re talking about a specific situation from a book you recently read or something that you object to. ;) I can’t really comment on that circumstance.

    Re: your book, I would say Mira and Keith are just sadistic/psychopathic/evil. The guy robbing a bank to save someone’s life probably feels awful about it (and I certainly wouldn’t condemn him for it. In fact if he’s out of other options I would say it is the right thing to do.) Mira and Keith are clearly perfectly okay with what they feel they have to do, and even enjoy it, so you can’t sympathize with them.

    • I didn’t reply to this at the time, apparently. But you make a lot of good points about teenagers and their emotional and mental maturity. It’s true I was writing it as a result of a book I’d just read at the time that had a prominent love V, and I was feeling all frustrated about it. (Still do.)

      The funny thing is, in this current novel I’m working on (Secrets) the character has turned out to be a lot more angsty than Ryanne (who was very sensible and down-to-earth and emotionally steady). Character personalities are rarely a conscious decision, they just sort of happen as I’m writing and the character reacts. And a lot of her angstyness has me remembering my high school years with a lot more clarity than I’ve though of them in …well, a long time. And also part of that is that I knew as I was starting to write Secrets who she’d end up with at the end of the story, and what the role of this other person was. And there’s still that, but as I’m going along there’s this love V starting to form, despite all my intentions for the characters and dislike of love Vs. Ack! I think it’ll work out okay in the end, and it’s not a full love V. But still. Will be thinking about all your comments above as I write it so I can avoid irritating the people who dislike love Vs. (Like me.)

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