[Think Aloud] – #8 – The Diminishing Utility of Love Triangles

Think Aloud explores book-related discussions encompassing reading, writing, blogging, and perhaps newsworthy content. The focus is to push the boundaries, stretch the mind, and encourage dialogue within this community. Let’s all think out loud.

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Table Topic:
The Diminishing Utility of Love Triangles


Abstract:

There are three things in life you cannot escape: death, taxes, and love triangles. You only dislike two of those three—so what have you?


Thoughts:

You might be one to appreciate love and romance in books—heck, you might even love love itself—but when protagonists have multiple suitors, things typically step into the arena of trite storytelling. And don’t worry; part of me gets irked by these unrealistic friendship/relationships/boat-ships too. Let’s be honest: love at first sight does not (and should not) substantiate immediate ship-worthy status. Or maybe it does, and if so, I’m in a long term relationship with ramen and poutine. (Mmm…artery clogging goodness.) So let’s be honest (again): dangling two alternatives does not validate you as a catch. If anything, it makes you look pretty shitty (sorry, not sorry) for throwing around the big-L word as if it holds zero meaning (and no, it’s not lasagna—that’s just my ex). Not to forget that the fickle beast of literary emotion is always exponentially heightened to accept these bite-sized morsels of love to the extent that I facepalm when these moments of romance are gleefully eaten.

There is nothing prudent about being enamoured by superficial attraction; especially if you’re all-in with the emotions and the feels after 15-seconds of meeting them. (lolwut??). This isn’t to say that you can’t be consensually non-monogamous; nor does it mean that nothing comes out of something. Most love shapes don’t have the honest agreement that it’s simply about “having a good time”. If it did, there wouldn’t be those melodramatic scenes of betrayal and jealousy and blah. The issue of romantic inclinations and needing to be defined by relationships wouldn’t exist because these are just paths untaken. Or are they?

In all the glorious sadistic or masochistic feelings enjoyed by protagonists to discover (or rediscover) love, readers should not dismiss what this shapely romance trope is at its core. I mean…what is a love triangle but an option; a freedom of choice for the protagonists, a position of envious doubt for readers to sympathize with, or even a struggle of conflict that drives the subplot. We can all love to hate the situational implausibility of such deliberate sigh-worthy problems of having two (or more—oh god please not more) doting alternatives. Yet having the power and freedom to know who you are in embracing indecision is strangely empowering to imagine; and perhaps even more wonderful to live by in this increasingly introspective world.

But that’s where things get tricky.

We take this bona fide freedom of fictional choice and turn it into something unlikeable because of how onerous the experience becomes. Between the lacking execution, often unrealistic writing, and the overt indecision that marks the redness of the reader’s forehead as they [repeatedly] bash their head on the nearest surface, it is this that justifies the diminishing utility of love triangles.

It becomes tedious real fast because readers will scrutinize these characters to fit into imaginary boxes to validate their ship (unless you’re pro-polygamy and accept all kinds of love—then more power to you). And though these categories are fairly malleable from one book to another, they will always be influenced by a mishmash of the readers’ character and the characters’ character—and all the values and morals and ethics and everything in-between. So while you travel through moments with each corner of the triangle, remember that even if the outcome (or the path to it) isn’t to your liking, it is still one that can be true. You can chirp how the romance was written but the intent remains fundamentally sound.

Black or white, coffee or tea—you live through your own love-shapes too—and only you should value the merits of choice. So if there’s one thing that you should walk away with from this preachy read it’s this: characters should remain open to possibilities that enter their lives that may not always fit the categorical boxes they define for themselves. And perhaps to a lesser extent, so should readers. A story can’t tell you how elements ought to be valued, but it can present the possibility of it. That is the strength of love triangles; to present a faultless possibility where you decide for yourself.

Afterthought Prompts:

Maybe you can refute all this shenanigan, but you tell me (one, some, all of them):

1) How often do you find the romance edging towards a love triangle? Why do you think that is? Has it become formulaic?

2) What are some things that you irk you about love triangles? (Is it how it’s written? Unrealistic? Maybe you’re a monogamist?)

3) Or maybe love triangles add dramatic flair to the story—so what do you enjoy about them and its value?

4) Does your opinion of these triangles get clouded by its execution? Or are there other reasons that I didn’t mention?

5) Concerning the age-group of reads (YA/NA/Adult), are these romance shapes more predominant in one over the other, or will they always be visible in all age groups?

Think aloud.

Cheers,
Joey


Post Inspiration:

This section can help you better understand how I come about these topics. I see love-triangle bashing so often that I felt compelled to question its dislike and open up the dialogue of seeing more than just poor execution; that it’s grounded in being a choice. That there are people who don’t even have that (choice) which I preach.

(I’d like to thank Savindi and Elyssa for beta reading my crazy. If you’d like to beta read my nonsense or have ideas of what I should rant about…let me know!)

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20 thoughts on “[Think Aloud] – #8 – The Diminishing Utility of Love Triangles”

  1. I think love triangles are realistic in a certain sense. You could fall for two completely different people that certain qualities you admire. In another sense, it can be completely unrealistic–especially when it relates to insta-love.

    I think love triangles are more prevalent in YA, but I wouldn’t know, since I don’t often read other markets.

    Like

    1. Love triangles + instalove cause me to enter the territory of rage and complaints; especially when the protagonists choose the one they just met over the other one. I’ll advocate for characters deserving the love they want to have but most of the reads I’ve been through that mix instalove+LTs have no backbone and feels so superficial.

      I will just stop myself there before I go on haha.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that as a reader a lot of judgment on love triangles is going to be determined by the author’s execution of it. If it is being utilized purely for the added drama/tension for the protagonist and there isn’t much else going on, then the reading tends to become flat and boring. On the other hand I think that love triangles can be utilized well, but there has to be a lot of believable build up leading to the moment where the protagonist makes their decision. Ultimately, it all comes down to the writer’s execution of it.

    Great post.

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    1. It’s pretty hard to say what is definitively “good” execution since we all hold varying merits of it. What I do wish there was more of is the two suitors in a standard triangle just saying “screw this, I’m out” after being dangled for 400 pages of nonsense. Or even the choice being none of the above and the protag simply valuing the experiences of what has happened and moving forward. But alas, there is so much formula and emphasis on making a ship happen that these are also rare occurrences.

      Like

  3. I will be quick to admit that I take love triangles in with an eyeroll, a sigh of frustration, and a growing need to throw dart magnets at my refrigerator. And I complain about them. A lot a lot.

    This is coming from someone who squees a lot about romance and fangirls quite a bit.

    That said, some of the books I’ve picked up that have LTs (or more than two options) have become personal favorites of mine, and this could probably be due to how the triangle or square or mish-mash whathaveyous is executed. I do find it’s easier for me to deal with when the triangle doesn’t drown the story with its triangle-ness, because in all honesty, unless the book is primarily a romance, the hero/heroine has other shmat to do. Like, I don’t know, deal with the zombie apocalypse or save the world from an escaped dark god or something.

    So do I think love triangles detract from the story? Usually, yeah. Are there exceptions to this rule? Definitely. Am I going to read books with them regardless of how formulaic the triangle is? Oh yeah.

    (On a related note, I do find it amusing that I get more annoyed with love triangles in YA fiction than I do in most fantasy fiction. YA fantasy is a mixed bag, I suppose, but I find a lot of the YA fantasy I’ve read stick to story or a monogamous relationship, and the triangles in a few of them tend to take two steps back from the main story.)

    Okay, need to stop rambling now.

    Like

    1. Rambles are always accepted here.

      It’s troubling when LTs hijack the plot without even knowing it happens since its almost formula for one of the suitors to be near-baddie etc and then everything meshes together into a blob of drama. I find this most true with second installments in trilogies. It’s like the lull in plotting is an excuse to pander towards one relationship or the other or stirring the drama-llama pot. But I guess most people enjoy their ship wars–so perhaps its slightly warranted.

      YA fic, specifically YA contemporary with LTs, is just begging for there to be LTs. Even YA sci-fi is pretty notorious for this too. But at least there’s some semblance of “oh-shit-world-stuff-ending-now-save-” even if part of the writing (I feel) caters to its audience in having an acceptable relationship. Because God forbid a group of friends just remain friends while saving the world is taboo…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great discussion topic!
    1) How often do you find the romance edging towards a love triangle? Why do you think that is? Has it become formulaic?
    I try my hardest to avoid books with romance in it because A. I don’t like reading about romance – I’m there for the fantasy, the battles and the sci-finess! – and b. because it is becoming the norm to have a love triangle in it

    2) What are some things that you irk you about love triangles? (Is it how it’s written? Unrealistic? Maybe you’re a monogamist?)
    Most love triangles are set in YA books so of course it’s rather insta-lovey and the characters (as you mentioned) can through the l-word around way too soon and stuff and it’s like they don’t rationally think or anything – even when I was 14/15 I had more brains and these YA characters and 16/17/18 and I was really careful about when I said the l-word and who I’d date and stuff.

    4) Does your opinion of these triangles get clouded by its execution? Or are there other reasons that I didn’t mention?
    You’re defo on to something here; the execution can make a big difference as to whether the love triangle (and the romance in general) is done well or not but also comes down the characters personalities and their choices too =]

    5) Concerning the age-group of reads (YA/NA/Adult), are these romance shapes more predominant in one over the other, or will they always be visible in all age groups?
    I think they can be visible in all age groups but I feel with adult; the execution and the characters can be more tasteful whereas in YA it’s a ‘O i’ve got raging hormones and no brain; I’ll date you!’ sorta thing.

    Like

    1. Thanks for the solid reply!

      1) So much content now has the conflict-conflict being alongside the romance-conflict that they do sort of merge together along the way. I guess what sells sells!

      2) The representation of YA romance is definitely a hit or miss. But I guess you’d have to remind yourself that there teens who are products of Nickolodeon/MTV that throw that L-word around so easily and lack basic rationality. It’s scary to think they exist…really.

      4) Choice is a major thing I was trying to validate in this post about romance shapes–so I’m glad that you mentioned this. We concern so much of our hate with love triangles and how it’s [poorly] written (whatever that may entail) that we don’t often question most of their other actionable choices that drive the plot. But whenever there’s an alternative (which is always) there’s always going the choice of these triangles! A dilemma of a lifetime is what it is.

      5) Pretty spot on! If there’s one thing I’ll add is that I’m glad part of the rise in YA popularity is its ability to meddle in NA/Adult topics in small doses. Who knows how LTs will be represented in the future for younger audiences!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoy love and romance in books, but NOT love triangles. I really hate those. (mostly, because the auhors make both/all suitors all likable and stuff and I like SHIP all the ships and then the MC picks one… and I just feel so sorry for losing “team”…ahhh, I absolutely hate when that happens)

    I say, let’s go with three/foursomes! :D:D

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    1. BUT WHEN YOUR TEAM WINS…IT’S THE BEST FEELING EVER. PLUS, THERE MUST BE A LOSER FOR A WINNER.

      How does a polygamist hate on love triangles? That’s new. If you think about it, love triangles does exist everywhere because every relationship is a possibility but maybe not currently in the existing reality that the character is in…but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible (and why should we limit ourselves to what’s written in ink?!)

      FOOD FOR THOUGHT.

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  6. I will admit that, when I’m adding a book to my list, I make sure there isn’t a love triangle. I pretty much hate them and they are my biggest pet peeve in books. Unless they are done in a spectacular way, and that is rare. CoHo can and has pulled it off. But normally it frustrates me to no end, so I avoid those books. When I have enjoyed a love triangle in a book, it’s because I’ve been warned ahead of time that it’s done tastefully, so I wouldn’t get frustrated about it. Having book friends give me a heads up is always nice. 😉

    Great topic!

    Like

    1. You’ll always find a way to throw in that CoHo haha.

      Love triangles are tedious indeed and while I agree that they often read as shallow, I think readers might be putting too much emphasis on what isn’t there (unless it is a romance novel with a plot driven on said triangle) and focusing too much on romance being the glue of conflict that needs to be resolved. It’s curious to me that we’ll throw so much hate at these lame situational struggles of person A or B exist whereas we don’t often question their “other” choices as the story is told (why action A instead of B? etc). It makes me question whether or not we have some masochistic fascination towards love shapes.

      I probably didn’t word that correctly LOL.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I can understand those cringe-y feelings!

      It’s interesting that you mentioned “both guys” (although I’m assuming that you literally mean both guys in the triangle) as if it has become the norm in love triangles. Granted, however, that it’s understandable since most of these relationships pander to their readership.

      Like

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