It seems that storytellers have always had a fascination with adding romantic connections between various characters in their stories. Often, these occur at the same time, making love triangles or other related shapes. In soap operas, these can look like love explosions, because there is apparently so much of it to go around. 😛
In recent years you can’t throw a stone without hitting a novel (especially young adult) containing involved love triangles. In fact, it’s a massive story arc in many movies and TV shows too.
Today I’m going to tell you why this annoys me. And I bet there are a lot of you who share my sentiments, but if you don’t, please bear with me. You all know the setting. The brave and beautiful heroine is fearless and will do anything in her power to save her family/city/world. She’s fast on her feet and can make difficult decisions under pressure. Sometimes, she instinctively knows what to do to save the people she loves. She’ll even sacrifice herself, if needed. She’s amazing, right?
Except for one thing. For the life of her, she cannot choose between her best friend and the broody guy. Or her boyfriend and his brother. Or the super nice guy and the womaniser. And then, to top it all off, she’ll tell both the guys at some stage that she loves them and then, gallantly, they’ll fight for her.
In real life, love triangles happen, I get it. Sometimes, people have feelings for more than one person at a time. I also get that giving a character a weakness or personality flaw is important to make them more relatable. But this? This is annoying, not relatable.
I know tons of people who pick a person and spend the rest of their lives with that one person (I’m one of them). And they manage that without ever falling in love with his brother or *insert person here*. I also know a lot of people who fall in love and don’t spend the rest of their lives together, but when they move on, they manage to move on without pining for their ex for the rest of their lives. People are capable of having monogamous and long lasting relationships – without developing feelings for other people -, whether it be marriage, dating or living together.
When I meet a character in a novel who is in love with two or more people at once, I instantly dislike her. I think she’s stupid and indecisive. She doesn’t come across like the person who can save the world with her quick wit and actions, because she can’t even pick a guy. How can I trust her judgement? I also think she’s a bitch, because she strings two guys along for as long as it pleases her, fluttering her eyelashes and saying ‘I love you, but I love him too’.
Which brings me to the guys. It happens that I feel sorry for one of the two, or even like one more than the other, sure. I always think they’re idiots all the same. Because they’re too stupid to move on to someone who deserves them. Because neither of them has enough self-worth to stand up for themselves. Because honestly.
The character I’ve created for you is female and heterosexual, because these characters usually are women/girls. The scenario obviously applies to all kinds of relationships between all kinds of people. This is just the typical example in books. The irony is that if she were male, she’d be a womaniser or be called worse names. ‘Douche’ comes to mind. Why is it OK for a girl to dangle multiple guys by their heart-strings, but if a guy does the same he’s an ass?
Here’s the truth. In real life, stuff like this doesn’t fly.
If someone came up to me and said ‘Hey, I love you, but I love this person too and now I need to choose between you,’ I would help with that choice real quick. By walking far, far away. I wouldn’t fight for that person, because heck, that person didn’t fight for me. If someone did that to one of my friends/family members, I’d be furious on behalf of the friend/family member. I’d advise them to dump said person and find someone better. Wouldn’t you?
Let me tell you something about love. It’s difficult. It’s profound and beautiful, sure. It’s life-changing and fulfilling beyond words, without a doubt. There are unicorn-glitter-farts and marshmallow-melt-rainbows and the butterflies and the mushy stuff, absolutely. But love is difficult. It requires a massive amount of work. Your garden blooms in spring, but if you stop watering it in summer, it dies. Love is the same.
When you decide to build a relationship with someone, you’re taking on a big job. Falling in love is the easy part, keeping the love takes dedication. You need to be there for that person, even when you don’t want to be. You need to be able to say you’re sorry and accept apologies, even when it’s inconvenient. You need to accept even the ugly parts of the other person and you need to be honest about your ugly parts. You’ll be vulnerable at times and have your partner be vulnerable in your presence. You see what I mean here?
These love triangles cheapen real love, in my opinion. Because that heroine of that novel thinks that love is only worth having as long as she doesn’t have to offer anything for it. Once she gets bored or hurt or she doesn’t want to face him after their big fight, she falls into the other guy’s arms. Nobody believes her when she declares her undying love to either of the guys, and I seriously believe the guys don’t buy what she’s saying either. Guy B is just kind of biding his time with her until the inevitable breakup comes around and she goes back to guy A. And then… wash, rinse, repeat.
It’s unfair to all of the involved parties and, like with cheating, someone always gets hurt.
Do I want to watch this heartbreak unfold in a story? No. In the past few years, I’ve seen it so many times that I’m tired of it. How about a character who manages to grow a meaningful relationship with one person, instead of flings with two?
I get that there are famous love triangles in literature. Just off the top of my head, The Great Gatsby and Doctor Zhivago come to mind. I also think that if you reach the level of F. Scott Fitzgerald, you can write whatever the heck you want. Otherwise? Lay off it already.
In my first trilogy, I had a love triangle of sorts. I felt that this was something I had to include in my writing, because so many authors, editors and writing coaches recommend it. In fact, it’s almost a given formula for success, especially in the young adult genre. It’s an easy tool to help develop characters without moving the plot forward and there are a lot of other reasons why it’s recommended that writers include triangles. Since that was the advice at the time, I figured it had to be done, but I gave it my own spin.
*YOU MIGHT READ A MINOR SPOILER IF YOU READ THE NEXT PARAGRAPH*
While the heroine was never untrue to the guy she loved, another man was in love with her. She didn’t act on that, because she had already chosen her guy long before the story started. This pair managed to grow and maintain a meaningful relationship, that stood the test of time, while the other guy found himself in the process.
*SPOILER-THING OVER :P*
In my new series, I’m doing the same kind of thing again, because I believe it adds tension to the story, without damaging the integrity of my characters. I may be wrong, but I personally prefer it to a damsel who can’t choose a guy and stick to it. I like to see the couple I’ve been rooting for make it to the end. You know, without one or both of the people involved falling into someone else’s arms.
I don’t want to read that stuff and I bet a lot of people feel the same.
We need more heroines who can make choices and face their consequences. After all, a heroine who can save the day while maintaining her IQ, physical strength and a relationship with one person is sexier, stronger and worth more respect than one who can’t pick a boy/girlfriend.
Tell me what you think about this!
Have a good one,