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The Diminishing Utility of Love Triangles
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?
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.
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?
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.