I know what you're thinking. Love triangles.
It seems like 8 out of 10 YA books nowadays have love triangles in them. Understandably, we are all love triangle fatigued. I'm going to let you in on a little secret here that you probably couldn't figure out from the title of this post: I like love triangles.
I mean, not automatically. I don't read the backs of books that say "TWO BOYS, TWO LOVES, ONE MARY SUE, ONE CHOICE" and go "Love triangle! Definitely buying it!" And some triangles I've come across kind of make me want to punch absolutely everyone involved. Some seem to be inserted into the plot merely to appear timely, since YA love triangles are all the rage. And sometimes they are so organic to the story-- sometimes they underline the themes so well, or are done so originally-- that you can hardly fault them.
"Hardly" being the key word there. Obviously some people hate love triangles no matter what. You are not in the wrong if you do. There's a lot to dislike about love triangles, particularly when they become involved with my own personal YA kryptonite: instalove. But that's a post for another day.
There's also a double standard when it comes to love triangles. Most (not all, obviously) pro-love triangle people think the ones where the girl protagonist is trying to choose between two guys are acceptable, because of all the tangly feeelings and confusion and whatnot. But if a guy (usually NOT the protagonist) is trying to choose between two girls (one of who probably is the protagonist), people see him as a prick. Then there are the fun people who think, because a girl is torn between two guys, she is a trampire.
But that could lead me in a whole other direction about how stringently we should judge fictional characters, but again, that's another post for another day.
Sometimes, sympathizing with a love triangle is really hard.
But still, I love them. It all comes down to agency. I love it when characters need to make choices. And really good love triangles are not just about a romantic quandary. Really good love triangles signify something deeper. YA is all about making those mistakes and figuring out what directions you want to go in in life, and I think love triangles perfectly exemplify that. In some cases, the protagonist is torn between two suitors who personify battling concepts that that the protagonist is wrestling with (e.g.: Katniss vacillating between Peeta and Gale, who represent two totally different ways of dealing with oppression, different forms of humanity, different forms of what love-conquers-all can mean).
Yes, this can be used as a marketing ploy to sell thousands of Team Peeta and Team Gale t-shirts a la Twilight (which is also a love triangle I can defend, thematically, though I definitely have a whole host of issues with it). I am not a proponent of the nastiness that can occur from Shipping Wars (Chair and Dair fans, I'm looking at YOU, you vile heathens. Boy am I glad that's done), but I do love the devotion that shipping can inspire in fans.
|I have been known to squeal when certain beautiful TV vampires|
kiss certain handsome TV vampires.
Here is a fantastic quote from author Carrie Ryan that basically says what I'm trying to say way better than I ever could:
"To me, that’s the essence of a love triangle — each man is a viable choice for the heroine but each speaks to a different part of who she is. The heroine isn’t choosing between two men, she’s choosing who SHE wants to be and that will dictate who the right match is."
Do we need more originality in our YA love triangles? Absolutely. 90% of them include some variation of "Beautiful but unassuming girl is torn between dreamy good boy and hot-as-sin bad boy", even though sometimes this variation really works for me (see both Shadow and Bone and Shatter Me/Unravel Me). Perhaps there should be more books where the main character is the one competing with another person for the love interest's affections, rather than being the object of the triangle.
This is proven to be significantly less popular, however, particularly when a girl is competing with another girl for a boy's affections, because then we kind of all want to call the Other Girl a skank and banish her to Siberia. Again, I'm not a fan of judging characters for their sexual/romantic choices, but I understand why authors don't choose to write about this triangle very often.
|Naturally. You both have eyes, after all.|
That's why I'm all for the non-traditional formations, like that nasty bit of business found in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Hermia loves Lysander. Lysander, luckily, loves Hermia. Demetrius loves Hermia also, but she does not love him. Helena loves Demetrius, but he barely even knows who she is. To quote Seth Cohen, it's a love rhombus.
Or there could be non-traditional love triangles in which NO ONE is happy. Say X is in love with Y, Y is in love with Z, Z is evil soulless demon who loves nobody. Or X loves Y, Y loves Z, Z loves X or Q or maybe his horse or his mother, I don't know. Or even better, you read a love triangle where bits of the triangle are of the same gender, like that fun messy nonsense that is The City of Bones SPOILERSPOILER (Clary loves Jace, Jace loves Clary, Simon loves Clary, Simon is the most friend-zoned friend to ever be friend zoned, Alec loves Jace, Alec is the other most friend-zoned friend to ever be friend-zoned, OOPS Clary and Jace are brother and sister, never mind, pain everywhere) SPOILERSPOILER.
I myself happen to prefer the triangles that are truly triangles, rather than "love V's", as author Malindo Lo defines them. Basically, a triangle means that all three people in the tangly little love snarl have relationships. Take, for example, the Triangle of Doom in The Vampire Diaries (I haven't read the books, so I'm going off the TV series here): Stefan and Damon are vampire brothers, and they are both in love with Elena, she of the beautifully shiny hair. This is made much more interesting (to me) due to the fact that Stefan and Damon also love each other more than anything (even though they also want to kill each other sometimes. It's complicated). Or Will, Jem, and Tessa in The Infernal Devices trilogy, which I also haven't read but fully intend to. Or Celaena, Dorian, and Chaol in Throne of Glass, which I completely adored. Or, to get all classical on you, Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot: the original Triangle of Doom.
I like it when my tangly snarls are truly tangly and everyone loves everyone else (or everyone hurts everyone else). I prefer this form of triangle to triangles were the two suitors have no relationship to one another at all, or ones where it is patently obvious which suitor is going to be chosen (see Matched by Ally Condie).
I also love original resolutions to love triangles. Sometimes I'm just like, "Choose them both, Elena! Run off to a free love compound and switch Sexy Salvatores every other night!" I also love those Kelly Taylor "I choose me!" moments. We surely don't get enough of those in YA.
So obviously, I think love triangles are going a little stale, since the only way I could defend them was to argue they should be totally revamped. But multiple romantic possibilities for a heroine is not automatically a bad thing. Even Jane Austen did it. Emma was torn between Mr. Knightley and Frank Churchill; Elizabeth had to figure out whether it was Darcy or Wickham who was more deserving of her love; both Elinor and the horrible Lucy were in love with Edward; Anne loved Wentworth, but he was flirting with Louisa even though he maybe-loved Anne but Mr. Elliot also kind of wanted to marry Anne (that was a mess); Fanny loved Edmund but Edmund loved Mary and Henry loved Fanny and Mariah loved Henry (that was an even bigger mess). But the more romantical entanglements, the merrier, I say!
For further research, here's a great post from author Diana Peterfreund arguing that Twilight does not actually contain a love triangle with also some brilliant insight into Buffy. I actually kind of agree with her now regarding the Forksian Fellowship, though ultimately I say the Bella/Edward/Jacob deal still has triangular aspects.
So, love triangles. Love 'em? Hate 'em? It depends? Tell me your thoughts, your Ships, which triangles you want to burn with fire, and whether seeing the words love triangle in a blurb make you instantly put the book down or instantly pick the book up.