Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Love Triangle

Good Lord. It's everywhere. If it isn't the MC it's a subplot. I hate them. Hate 'em, hate 'em, hate 'em.

I'm trying to figure out what is appealing about the love triangle. Obviously, many women/romance readers dig it. Two strong heroes fall all over themselves risking life and limb to protect/save/rescue the foolishly spunky gal who's up against more than she bargained for. Is it incredibly romantic to have a heroine with two wonderful specimens of masculinity pining over her while she wrings her dainty hands in indecision? She knows she's hurting them both but she simply can't choose because...why, again? Oh, yeah. She can't bear to hurt one of them. What?

Let's flip it. Two lovely ladies hotly pursue a male protag who loves them both. They compete for his affection. In the spirit of the trope, let's go with the most adorably feminine counterpart to fisticuffs and rescue of the heroine. One bakes him her state fair winning coconut chiffon cake. The other joins the DAR to buddy up to his mother. The first one strikes back by learning how to hunt. (She is just adorable hoisting that rifle up like she might really shoot something. Aw.) The other takes up fly fishing and learns to create her own lures. Would ya look at that? She's so good at it she starts her own online business selling lures.

So does this make the hero a tragic figure torn between two soul mates? No. It makes him an asshat who's stringing along two women at once. And the women both deserve him because they are idiots.

Maybe that's why the love triangle annoys me. It's vaguely misogynistic somehow, like women are too flaky to make a decision and go with it but we expect men to know their own minds and hearts. On the other hand, Hamlet couldn't make a decision and I didn't like him either. Guess I just don't go for wishy-washy.


  1. I wouldn't go so far as to say misogynistic, but it certainly is anti feministic in that it perpetuates the idea of the male as the dominant figure in a relationship.

    In the woman-two-men situation, two male figures yield their power to the woman. In the man-two-women situation, the man retains the power but uses it to take advantage of two women instead of just one.

    On the flip side, two men competing for a woman seems more OK because we are used to men competing for prizes. But that makes the woman into an object to be won. Meanwhile, women competing for anything is still something that western society is getting used to, so in the love triangle it seems more like they both have no self esteem rather than both having a competitive streak.

    All that said, it is a legitimate conflict that arises in everyday life where one person has two suitors and has difficulty choosing the right path in life. That can be the basis for good drama, clownish comedy, or insipid mental bubblegum.

  2. I did not like dating more than one woman at a time. Too much work, too confusing. How these people juggle all of those personalities is beyond me.

    There's a seeming love triangle in the book I read last night. She's strong, but young enough to be unsure of what she really wants and unaware of her "allure". Both the boys seem to know what they want - her - but don't communicate it very well.

    That I can buy - the whole 'just waking up to love and I don't know what the heck it is' theme. Take that and translate it to 20-somethings (or older) and you get emotionally stunted characters.

    But it does take time to figure out what love is and sometimes people go for what they think is love because it fits the fairy tale or the version they grew up with. In a lot of cases, neither of those are realistic.

    But yeah. I hate the insipid stupidity of their actions and the implied power imbalance. Most of the real life triangles I've seen involved one woman and more than one man. The beating of the chest and all that ritual comedy was worse than in books.

  3. @ Pete: That is a really interesting point you make about competition being expected from men and discouraged in women. I think most successful pop lit is peppered with gender roles that are the societal norm-to-ideal. When gender roles blend they do it with a counter. The woman may be a martial arts expert but she keeps her hair waist length and looks amazing in formal dress. The man can be a great cook, but he's probably a fireman and uses down time at the station to perfect his culinary skills.

    In most movies or even television shows, women compete for men to comedic effect. Men compete for women to dramatic effect. In other words, we would laugh at women who behave like men and go after the person they want.

    @ Sarah: I'm down with that scenario, too. A younger person who isn't savvy enough to recognize clumsy overtures is forgiveable, even endearing. A little hesitation when making a choice is also okay. Regetting your choice later, when you can see you made a mistake, also okay. But chronic inability to choose is plain old annoying. In real life it would be selfish and weak and IMHO no man I'd be interested in would put up with it. I certainly wouldn't be one of the two women doing back flips competing for a man's affection, either.

  4. Maybe they're in so many stories in literature because they kick off such high intensity--highs and lows. They breed drama and misery. Plus, how many true triangles are out there? Most of the time it's something holding a character to one person while being drawn to another. A tipping triangle, perhaps. (Why am I suddening having images of geometry? Begone, foul polygons!)

  5. @ Jason: foul polygons. Snort!

    I absolutely believe you can be tied to one person and drawn to another. Otherwise, affairs would never happen. You still have to choose, though. Otherwise, THREE people remain in miserable limbo for the duration of one person's selfish desire to experience the best of both the others.

    As a matter of personal taste I don't care for it. The intensity, drama, and misery seem pointless to me. The end result is three people are destined to be miserable so long as one is too selfish to take a chance and make a decision.

    A-HA! That might be it. The root of my dislike for the whole concept is the cowardice in the character who refuses to choose. I like to read about people who have strong characters and convictions, even the bad guys. Indecision is a cowardly attempt to duck the consequences of your choice.