Thursday, July 5, 2012

Unpopular Opinions: Love Triangles

All right, guys. I just have to say it.

I hate love triangles. 

But Caitlin, you ask, aren't you kind of obsessed with various depressing French musicals that feature love triangles - like Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, and A Tale of Two Cities?

Yes. This is true. Apparently my distaste for love triangles does not extend to classic novels that are sung prettily to me.

But in terms of YA novels, I find love triangles to be incredibly annoying. I'm really tired of seeing them, and after the success of Twilight and The Hunger Games, I see them a LOT.

I think they bug me for a couple of reasons. One is that it is almost always a girl who has two guys after her, rather than a guy who can't choose between two girls. I find this vaguely unsettling. I'm not sure if it's because that formula seems to play into the really annoying "boys don't read" idea or if it's because it seems to suggest that two guys fighting over a girl is normal whereas two girls fighting over a guy is not. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I get the impression that a lot of love triangles are sort of meant to be fantasy scenarios for girls, where the main character is just so undeniably sexy that guys can't help but fall for her, thereby letting the reader put herself in those shoes. Whereas my impression of portrayals of girls fighting over guys is a situation that is much more vapid and catty on the part of the characters vying for the attention of the protagonist. I might be reading too much into that. But it just makes me a little uncomfortable.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good romantic subplot as much as the next single college girl, but this recent slew of ALL the love triangles seems like overkill. They seem to play into this idea that I've seen in modern media that there are no such things as friends anymore. A girl can't have a guy best friend; he's secretly in love with her and hates the guy she's had a crush on her whole life. The number of love triangles I've seen, you know, everywhere, suggest to me that the only kind of love involves kissing people. Which is silly. Friends and family are huge parts of teenagers' lives (and, well, everybody's lives!) and that kind of love is no less legitimate than romantic love. 

Another main reason that love triangles bug me is that I think they detract from the plot of the book. I think a lot of romantic subplots work because they support the main plot in some way or other. But I think there's enough romantic drama involved in a character thinking "I like him, does he like me? No, I think he hates me, oh wait, he's in love with me too! Now what do I do?!?" without having that magnified by two. That was something that irked me about the Hunger Games series; if you listened to people discussing the books before Mockingjay, you might think the only thing happening in the story was whether Katniss would end up with Peeta or Gale, rather than what would happen with that little revolution they were in the middle of. I think Katniss' debate over how she feels about Peeta supports the main plot: he's a fellow competitor in the Games, and their love, pretend or otherwise, has a huge effect on their survival. Whereas whether or not she is in love with Gale does not have as much, if any, effect on how the actual story unfolds.

I feel like love triangles often drag romantic subplots closer to the realm of main plots, which I find annoying. Love stories are great. But I want to read about the MAIN plot - I want to see how the revolution is going. I want to know if the characters are going to come through their dangers in one piece. I want to be hanging on the edge of my seat, frantically turning pages to see if they triumph or fail in whatever it is they set out to do.

And yeah, I want to see if they fall in love. That's just not my main priority. So, I'd be pretty happy if the love triangle obsession calmed down a little bit.

Unless, of course, that love triangle is contained within a depressing musical set in France. Then you're good.


  1. I think in some cases, having love triangles can actually serve a purpose. One example I'm thinking of is Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (although I can't really go into it too much without getting spoilery - the rest of the world just needs to catch up already!).

    Although I'm writing a love triangle right now, I do have to say, it's sort of annoying how romanticized love triangles are. In real life, love triangles are messy and complicated, and that side of it never really gets shown in books.

    Also, we see the girl torn between two hot guys - with no other real defining characteristics aside from either being a "nice guy" or a "bad boy" or whatever. I realize these are books written toward a teenaged audience, and those are the sorts of things teenage girls gravitate toward (or at least that's what I gravitated toward when I was that age), but I wish there was more, so that girls have a good example to follow - how about guys who respect girls because they're smart, and strong. Guys who really, truly challenge the girls - not just with snarky remarks, but intellectualy. Basically, guys who treat girls like people, not just objects of desire. (I'm looking at you, Twilight.)

    I swear I didn't mean to write an essay :)

    1. Sure they can - I've just found that most, for me, detract from the plot more than they add to it. It's quite possible that someone else reading the same book would feel completely differently about the presentation of a love triangle in it. And I'll have to check out Shadow and Bone - it's been on my TBR list for forever, I really need to get round to it!

      And yeah, characters definitely need to have more in them than the "nice guy" or the "bad boy." Just because something's written for teenagers doesn't mean we should pander to them! (This also doesn't mean not including romance at all, I just think it's a bit silly to have things drawn out in such plain lines so frequently.)

      And yes - guys treating girls like people (and vice versa) ftw!!!

  2. ALL THE AGREEMENT. Seriously. I mean, as I think you know, I'm not really one for romance in general, but I can enjoy it if it feels real and true to life. So many love triangles are just NOT that---as you said, it seems like they're often there simply for teenage female fantasy gratification. Which is not a good reason in and of itself. And overall, I'm just SO TIRED of being able to predict that when a physically-attractive and/or charismatic young male appears in a story, he's a potential love interest (and no, making the FMC take an instant dislike to him does not in any way throw us off the scent).

    So I guess I'm not anti-love-triangles specifically. I'm just anti-love-triangles-(and-romance-in-general)-done-for-the-purposes-of-gratuitous-titillation.

    Also, I agree 110% with Stephanie about the necessity of making love interests complex, interesting characters in their own right. "Guys who treat girls like people"---yes please!


    1. Haha, honestly, if a really attractive male character walks in and the FMC takes an instant dislike to him, I'm MORE certain that he's going to be the designated love interest. Which is also something that bugs me. Sometimes, you just are annoyed by someone. That doesn't necessarily mean you secretly love him!

  3. YES. SO MUCH THIS. I like love triangles on occasion but only when they're done well and I feel like both characters have a legitimate chance. Like Tessa/Will/Jem in INFERNAL DEVICES. I hate love triangles for the sake of them. And love triangles between a guy the girl's been dating for a long time and "the mysterious new guy." Though, those can be done well too.

    I'm torn on the best friend thing. On one hand, I'm a sucker for a good "boy's had a crush on girl best friend his entire life but she just doesn't see it" story. On the other hand, I'm really sick of the idea that girls and guys can't be best friends without there being more there.