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Issues & debates

Two’s company, three’s a crowd: Is the Love Triangle trope overused and tacky or just misunderstood?

Written by Caitlain Horan

We’ve all seen them before whether you’re reading a book or watching a television programme, the love triangle has become a staple in most of the media we now consume and there doesn’t seem to be any escape from it. You’ll know the ones I mean; character B and character C are both madly in love with character A, and are fighting over the right to be with them meanwhile I’m sat over here rolling my eyes at the predictability of it all. Most of the time the love triangle is brought in by writers in order to shake things up and add a bit of drama to a relationship that they believe has started to go stale, which is normally the point in which I put down the book or turn off my TV. Over the years there have been plenty of occasions where I’ve been put off the thought of watching and reading the latest releases at the slightest indication of a love triangle being used, whether it is a small or large part of the overall narrative for me it has already been spoiled.

The resurgence of the trope came after the massive success of the Twilight franchise films from 2008, since then it’s become quite rare to read a YA book that doesn’t have some love triangle elements included. There must be something about this trope that has allowed it to be such a considerable part of our culture over the past decade, especially so heavily within the literature aimed at growing minds. For writers it’s an easy way to create suspense, and as we have seen on countless occasions over the years it has worked. Twilight and The Hunger Games, the dystopian trendsetting films released four years later, provoked so many debates and discussions from their fans that created a whole new rhetoric, splitting their viewers right down the middle and into ‘teams’. It began with the divide into Team Jacob vs Team Edward with endless amounts of merchandise available in order to shout your allegiance to the world, it was in fact a brilliant marketing ploy that could probably still cause a fair amount of drama if brought up again with the now older audience. The Hunger Games attempted to capitalise on this success, though Team Gale vs Team Peeta never quite had the same impact, the divide of opinions was still there for the fans of the series. It’s clear that the main appeal here with the constant use of the love triangle is the suspense of the question of who will the protagonist end up with, once they’ve got you hooked then you’ve got to spend more money in order to ‘stay tuned’ and find out.

“For writers it’s an easy way to create suspense, and as we have seen on countless occasions over the years it has worked”

In theory if the love triangle was applied correctly it would be an interesting trope, it does after all have links as far back as ancient Greece in the Oedipus myth (yes, I know), but often when we do see it in use it is in fact hastily crowbarred in and bogs down the narrative taking away from the better storylines and characters. Veronica Mars was an unfortunate victim of this, suffering from feeling inorganic as Veronica became less of a character but rather an object of affection for Duncan and Logan, which was in essence the show’s entire plot. By having a central character ping ponging between the possible love interests it is putting them into a situation in which their individual personality no longer matters and strips them of the characteristics that make them engaging, in these situations the love triangle fails because one or sometimes all of the characters involved are more interesting as individuals than as a collective within the trope. Done right having the protagonist interact with these two very different people could reveal more sides to their personality and having that play off two fully crafted love interests who are complex and believable will build the suspense over the question of who will be chosen as it really shouldn’t be an obvious decision, especially if you want to keep the audience’s intrigue. However, often the love triangles that we see over various media platforms are simply flat and uninteresting because it is clear who will be chosen in the end. It seems to have gotten to the point that writers feel that it is necessary to include love triangles in order to fit into the current climate of YA rather than writing them for any real literary purpose.

“By having a central character ping ponging between the possible love interests it is putting them into a situation in which their individual personality no longer matters and strips them of the characteristics that make them engaging”

What also needs to be considered here is how dangerous this discourse is for the young and impressionable minds that these narratives are aimed at, in most of the presented situations the love triangles offer little variation from a heterosexual ‘norm’ and more often than not feature a girl at the centre. The person in the middle who is being ‘loved’ is forced to decide between two people, a decision that means someone always ends up getting hurt and offers no real closure or respect for any of those involved. This paves the way for female stereotypes to be used and abused, girls like Twilight’s Bella Swan flip-flopping around because she doesn’t know what she wants and thus can’t make up her mind only casts a further bad impression for young people. Though the unhealthiest part in all of this is for our younger generation to dream and aspire to have two people loving and fighting over them, it is an unrealistic expectation that could ultimately cause them to believe that if they don’t find themselves at the centre of a love triangle then they are not worthy of being loved.

To be quite brutal, the love triangle is not a clever, original or successful trope anymore and is a huge potential to cause more harm than good. To quote The OC’s Seth Cohen “The triangle is not a friendly shape, okay? Its pointy. It’s got edges. Triangles hurt people.”

“The triangle is not a friendly shape, okay? Its pointy. It's got edges. Triangles hurt people.”

Seth Cohen

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