Thursday, January 24, 2013

In Defense of Love Triangles

 
For a full definition, see TV Tropes.

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.

Yeah, this kind of drives me crazy (I say as I give my cat, Uma, a good neck scratch) 

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!
 
Damon approves.
Also Knightley.
 
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. 

23 comments:

  1. This is a great post! I also hate to admit it but I love love triangles and hadn't realized how many different variations there were until I read this post.

    After careful consideration I think I'm really partial to the "Love V's". You really must read TID by Cassie Clare, it is one of my favorite triangles!

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    1. TID is definitely on my list for this year. Love V's vs Love Triangles are a matter of taste, and both can be well done, I feel. But SERIOUSLY. I started researching love triangles and I was like, "These... are more complicated than I thought."

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  2. I'm with you on love triangles-- I like them a lot when they're done well. The love triangle for the sake of the love triangle is a trend I'd like to see die as soon as possible, however. The love triangle in the Hunger Games is one of my favorites because as you pointed out, it's about much more than just choosing a boy, but choosing between two different ways of viewing and interacting with the world. Well done love triangles can lead to some of the best stories.

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    1. You've hit the nail on the head with that "love triangle for the sake of a love triangle" thing. You can tell when it's just inserted into the story for no reason other than to be there. I agree with the fact that The Hunger Games is one of the best YA love triangles out there.

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  3. Sure I like love triangles, if they are tastefully done. Unfortunately, the book I am reading now, makes me want to poke my eyes out. Two girls are involved, one of them is 'slutty' the other apparently doesn't know she is beautiful and her best friend is in love with her and so is the slutty girls crush/guysheismeanttobewith but now there is another guy in the mix for the slutty girl so now its more of a pentagon right? Lol but no really.. It's a love hate relationship with the book probably because of that.

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    1. That love triangle sounds horrific. My apologies! Love triangles are dangerous beasts. If done incorrectly, they grow wild and toxic and all around baaaaad.

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  4. For me, I like heroes/heroines with honor. I don't view making out with both boys/girls in the triangle as particularly honorable. People who string other people along make me mad. Otherwise, great post, as always. :)

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    1. Really fair point. I run into that problem two with some characters stuck in love triangles where I lose a tiny bit of respect for the character-- but that really depends on the specifics of the story for me. I could argue that love triangles where the character is merely torn between two guys/girls but doesn't act on these feelings could be considered more honorable. In the end, the part of love triangles that I enjoy are the emotional aspects, not the physical. You know, where there's a REASON the character is being pulled in both directions, because it speaks to the plot/themes/character development, etc.

      Thank you for the lovely comment :)

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    2. *run into that problem TOO

      *bashes head against desk*

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  5. Love triangles if done well are very good plots to read. I think though, some authors get caught up in clichés and don't bother to think outside the box on how to be unique or tell a different story.

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    1. Yessss clichés abound in love triangles. They're becoming rote now. I think deep down the concept of the triangle isn't a bad thing (obviously, since I just wrote a whole post saying that I like them) but obviously there are some execution issues out there.

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  6. Like you, I am down with a good love triangle if it doesn't seem like it is just thrown in there for the heck of it. I am not ashamed to say that I am a love triangle done right lover.

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    1. High five, fellow selective lover of high quality love triangles! We should start a club. We should probably pick a better name for it, though.

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  7. I'm swear I'm NOT laughing out loud now!

    At first I was like Ack! not another "Love Triangles Post" but daaaamn!Lovin' the GIFs(Where do even find these,is there like some secret GIF treasure trove that I'm unaware of??)!

    Hilarity aside,well written post.One of my fave love triangles would be Juliette-Warner-Adam in Unravel Me.I think it all depends on how it is constructed,like you said the best ones are wear the protagonist has to choose between two people who have have completely different views.
    Thanks for sharing! :)

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    1. Thanks! And Juliette-Warner-Adam is probably my favorite current triangle, though I'm very fond of the one in Throne of Glass also.

      Re gifs: I have a folder on my computer full of gifs that I've saved/stolen from Tumblr and Google. Seriously, that's all! Most of them I find my Googling. THE INTERNET is the treasure trove!

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  8. Great post! I only despise love triangles if the heroine is annoying about it. As the Nightshade series progressed, Calla drove me nuts because she had already really made her decision, but was stringing the one guy along.
    I love this post and I'm definitely sharing. I agree with, "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."

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    1. The Nightshade series is a good example of a love triangle that doesn't work for me. Stringing a person a long just for the sake of stringing not only annoys me on a personal level, but just isn't compelling story-telling.

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  9. Personally, if I hear that a book has a love triangle or even insta-love for that matter, it doesn't discourage me from picking up the book - I always think that there are awesome ways both could work, and I'd just love to read about them. And there are books that've bought me over by having love triangles and insta-love. Although not so much of the latter, as expected. Having said that, nothing takes away from the book more than poorly constructed versions of each. So, there's that. I couldn't agree with you more about what love triangles can mean in a story and about how it is a person ultimately choosing who she/he wants to be himself/herself (I've yet to encounter a story in which the male chooses between two females) . I really love Cassandra Clare's love triangle in the INFERNAL DEVICES. Most of the ones that I don't really like, are ones in which you know so well who the main character is going to choose. I can't help but feel for the person who misses out but really needn't have.
    Anyway, just putting everything aside, choosing something like that can't be more difficult and I'm just glad I'm not a YA heroine. :D
    I absolutely love this post by the way.

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    1. Thank you! And yes, I'm frequently glad I'm not a YA heroine. I'm not good at handling that much romantic angst!

      And you're right. Execution is anything. You can get away with even the most loathsome tropes so long as you do it right.

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  10. My dislike of Love Triangles stems from my hatred of extremism. People right now are raving about angst and how wonderful angst is for no other reason than that it's angst. Best way to create angst? Love Triangles! If something is done well and serves a purpose within a story, be it substance abuse, pushy side-characters, or the dreaded Love Triangle, I have no problem with it. In fact, some of my favorite stories wouldn't work WITHOUT the Love Triangle: In Outlander, reluctant time-traveler Claire must choose between her husband back in her time and the man she's fallen in love with in the past. WONDERFUL story. In The Host, Melanie and Wanderer both love Jared, but Jared only loves Melanie while hating Wanderer. This is made interesting by the fact that Wanderer is inhabiting Melanie's body. Crazy good tension.

    In reference to Twilight: That was not a Love Triangle. Had there been some sort of response from Bella toward Jacob before the ridiculous vision of babies, I might have conceded, but this was mostly a case of the author falling in love with a character more than her actual protagonist.

    For a Love Triangle to be well received, it can't pull the reader from the story. If my thoughts are "Omg, I know Gale is your best friend, but Peeta loves you so much!" then cool! I'm game. If my thoughts are "Oh look, the author is trying to create tension," then there's a problem. So, I suppose Love Triangles are like guns, in a way. The gun itself is neither good nor bad. It is the intent behind the would-be shooter (author) that defines the situation at hand. Was the gun necessary? Or was it used to manipulate and wound the reader?

    Also, OHMYGOD!!!! Your spoiler... your SPOILER! They're... really?! Holy crapola! I wasn't going to read the story anyway, never really interested me, but now I'm definitely not touching it! Gah!!! Lol.

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    1. RE my SPOILER by giving you another SPOILER: You should read it. Everything gets straightened out by the end. Don't worry!

      Love your gun metaphor (despite how topical and politically charged it is, lol). That sums up my feelings pretty well.

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    2. O.O

      Omg, I'm a complete idiot. I didn't even think about the gun comment being a big topic right now. *face/palm* I really should think before I type. I find this is a problem of mine.

      Hmmmm, straightened as in not all is as it seems? I was never really interested in the series. I heard a lot of people complain about how long and detailed it is and it didn't really appeal to me. Since the movie coming out, (as happens every time a movie comes out based on a popular book) I'm getting more and more interested, but my first inclinations are usually right in regards to what I will like. Perchance do you have a review for TMI? I should probably check that out.

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  11. I don't necessarily think that love triangles are repetitive and what not. I think if something is written well even though it revolves around a love triangle then it wouldn't be a problem:)

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