What happens when someone writes something in defense of love triangles? I have an existential crisis, that’s what!
People grow, hearts change, desires/dreams/expectations shift. Sometimes we are tempted. Sometimes we lust. Sometimes we are completely honest and true to one person, and other times we think we know who that one person is, only to meet someone else later who makes us question everything.
The truth is that love is complicated […]. Finding The One can require detours, wrong turns, mistakes, backtracking, and the navigating of a very, very complex web. Or, if you’re lucky, the route could be a relatively well-marked, one way street. I love stories that effectively capture both.
In the end, I guess I’m saying I support love triangles, lines, quadrilaterals, webs, you name it. I also support temptations and doubts and inner turmoil on the main character’s end. So long as the romantic tension feels natural in the context of the story–honest and real to the character’s emotional state and growth–I’m a fan.
Erin Bowman, In Defense of Love Triangles
Why Do I Cringe When I Hear “Love Triangle”?
If I’m completely honest with myself, I wholeheartedly agree with Erin. When done well, I don’t always hate love triangles, (Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly trilogy, anyone?). So why do I feel such dislike, dare I say hate, when they’re referenced in casual conversation?
Even Erin wants to know why YA readers are so wary of the term (she later says that she thinks it might have to do with mislabeling the term):
[…] what, exactly, might be rubbing readers the wrong way when it comes to love triangles? Is it any story in which the character has two potential partners? If so, why? Because it’s not convincing? I’ll admit it’s difficult to write a solid, believable, and unpredictable love triangle, but they do exist.
So, as any diligent student does when asked a question, I put on my thinking cap. Why do I have such a strong dislike for love triangles? Why does my skin get itchy and my eye start twitching whenever I read a book blurb that hints at a possible love triangle?
And then a lightbulb went off.
Every YA novel I’ve ever read that featured a love triangle, featured it in the EXACT. SAME. WAY.
The Struggle for Power
Every YA love triangle focuses on the person in the middle: the person who’s torn between two possible love interests, two possible futures. The person who, ultimately, is holding the fates of two other people, in the palm of their hands. The person with all of the power.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I do know that I didn’t always feel like I had a lot of power when I was single. Insecurities, doubts, fears – I experienced them all.
Being the person asking someone to choose them? The one with a broken heart after being rejected? Now that is a story I can relate to!
The Other Side of the Story
So for me to believe in a love triangle, for it to relate to my experience, I need to see it from a different perspective. I need to read from the point of view of one of the options. To see a protagonist who’s destiny is out of their hands, who’s completely helpless; a protagonist who’s stripped of their power. I need to see a protagonist struggle with knowing that the person they love is with someone else, laughing and enjoying another’s company, and not thinking about them.
As much as we would all like to be the ones with the power, that’s not always the case. And with many current YA novels only ever showing the situation where the protagonist has all the power, authors are forgetting about a huge group of people who don’t know that experience.
So why do love triangles rub me the wrong way? Because most love triangles are only telling one side of a multi-layered story.
What do you think? Do you think a fresh perspective on love triangles could rekindle your love for them?