Love triangles, eh? Let’s just say I have a complicated relationship with them. Not as complicated as being in a love triangle, but complicated nonetheless.
So many times they just don’t work for me. Whether it be the incessant whining (looking at you America Singer) or the back and forth who will she chose in the middle of a war (looking at you Miss Juliette Ferrars) or the downright toxic half side of the triangle that people still think are in the running for unknown reasons (looking at you Darkling stans), it’s safe to say that I don’t often vibe with them. (What I do vibe with, apparently, is the overuse of parentheses and run-on sentences, but we’re going to ignore that.)
So, that begs the question: what makes a compelling love-triangle?
But before we dive into the really deep life questions (as stated above), let’s talk about what makes a not so hot love triangle. I’m stressed and tired and taking this question from the more negative side because aggressively typing about it is oddly stress relieving. Fight me.
UPDATE: I wrote this a couple weeks ago and some parts are so aggressive, erm passionate, for literally no reason. I guess therapeutic click clack moo-ing works…
Please note, I will be talking about relationships (and love triangles!) in a bunch of different series. There are details about relationships, but I did my best not to spoil anything too major.
When the main character has to chose aka incessant whining
If there is one thing I can’t handle when I’m indulging in some good ole escapism, it’s 200 pages of woe is me, I have two hot people simping over me! Whoever will I choose?? No. I just can’t handle it. We get it, you have a superiority complex and issues making decisions. Play Rock Paper Scissors, flip a coin, pick a number between 1 and 10. I don’t care how you decide, just pick already.
It is my personal belief that Miss America Singer is the biggest culprit of this sort of love triangle. Not only does she ooze with not-like-other-girls energy (ick) but she spends three books — THREE BOOKS!! — going back and forth in a merry-go-round of death. I can’t do it. And in this case, it shouldn’t even be a hard choice! Hmm I wonder who you should choose??? The simping prince or the man who is the literal human form of toxic masculinity?????
On the other hand, when the main character doesn’t have to choose a side, the urge to commit light homicide goes wayyyy down. Take Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales for example. Hands down one of my favorite books of the year, yet it features a love triangle. What made it work?
Darcy, the main character, didn’t sit around and twiddle her thumbs trying to pick a side of the triangle. She has her own character arc and her own problems and the entire story isn’t reduced to the love triangle and the love triangle only. The love triangle is most certainly there, but it is not a driving plot point for neither Darcy nor the book itself.
She had been pining for her friend, Brooke, for quite a while before the other love interest was even introduced. Add the icing to the love triangle cake is that in the end the triangle works itself out without Darcy having to choose. Brilliant done. When a book has a love triangle, this is what I want.
When there is a literal war going on, but somehow the love triangle takes center stage #priorities
Yes, I get it. Sometimes a bit of drama is fun. Maybe you prioritize it over doing your math homework on time, or maybe over engaging in small talk or something like that. But to prioritize your drama over a literal war??? Seriously? Make it make sense.
I mean, Shatter Me gives off more soap opera energy than it does dire dystopia revolution energy. In the grand scheme of the trilogy (plus the eighteen billion other books that are also in that series), I literally do not understand how Juliette made herself the main character of a war. She has these super cool powers and could smoothie-ifiy your brain in like two seconds flat, yet her biggest concern is a love triangle??? I just can’t.
The whole love triangle taking center stage also applies to the Hunger Games. It’s on a much smaller scale, but my issue with the love triangle in the Hunger Games is actually the readers reducing the book to a love triangle, not Katniss.
That being said, I find that I don’t mind the love triangle being a show snatcher as much when it comes to contemporary. Not to diminish the struggles of contemporary lit characters, but for the most part their decisions aren’t life or death. I don’t want their whole character arc to be reduced to a love triangle, but I can handle it (to some extent at least) if it is somewhat of a driving force in the novel.
The downright toxic half side of the triangle that people still think are in the running for unknown reasons
Hi! Yes, I like the relationships I read about in books to not be toxic. Thank you.
When one side of the triangle is sorely underdeveloped
Part of what makes a love triangle so interesting is what I fondly refer to as the “not knowing who will they pick seesaw back and forth.” Catchy name, right? The point is, when one side is the equivalent of an undercooked brick, I’m not invested and it’s just plain annoying.
Another good example of this is John Ambrose from the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series. Man never had a chance. I mean, he was the better option (in my humble opinion), but he never got any chance for good development. His only role in the story was to be a drama-instigating-pawn in Lara Jean and Peter’s relationship. I’m asking for an equilateral or isosceles triangle in terms of development, not a scalene.
Cool For the Summer is a great example of this. While this story was told in the Now/Then format, and had the potential to have the development it needed, one side of the triangle still fell flat. I felt so much more invested in the Lara/Jasmine side of the triangle because they had more emotional connection and development. Chase on the other hand, didn’t, and I could make myself care about him. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the love triangle could have been much better executed.
Love triangles as a plot device to “test” the relationship
Introducing a love interest for the sole purpose of “challenging” and “strengthening” the relationship of the main couple is a hard no. If you can’t come up with a better conflict for the ship, please don’t write another book. Or brainstorm some more for something else?? Do something, anything, other than introducing a side of the love triangle to stir up drama. I’m begging you.
This example still makes me want to blow angry dragon smoke out of my nose (and it’s been months since I read it), but the Stalking Jack the Ripper Series does it in Escaping From Houdini. All I wanted from that book was for Thomas and Audrey Rose to slice and dice some bodies together, solve crime, and live happily ever after. But apparently, as corroborated by the absolute word arson Maniscalco commits during the entirety of the book, that was too much to ask.
Enter the character nobody wanted, Mephistopheles. Man just reeked of slimy-ness and wrecked unnecessary havoc the entire time. He was such an unnecessary addition and the fact of the matter is, I would have loved Escaping From Houdini had there not been a love triangle introduced. The plot could have stood on its own without the unnecessary relationship hurdle.
When love triangles get in between friends
I do not need pettiness between friends. I love it when there are chaotic, fun, supportive friendships. Where they will drop everything and be there in an instant or literally defend each other to the deaths. This is very much a me thing, but whenever one of the plot points revolves around conflict between friends, my insides shrivel up a bit. Especially when the conflict between friends is a love triangle.
Kate in Waiting is the most recent example of this I’ve read. I will admit, I was a bit hesitant about starting this one because I knew there was a love triangle. It was literally advertised and in the synopsis. But I was told there was good humor, so I ignored my reservations and dove right in.
I don’t regret reading Kate in Waiting. The humor delivered and my inner theater kid was thriving. However, the love triangle wasn’t it. It was the main conflict between the two friends and dragged on wayyyy too long. I think I could have handled it had it not dragged on so long or if there wasn’t so much back and forth between the friends.
And thus concludes this long (somewhat rambly) post about love triangles. On very rare occasions I like them (looking at you Perfect on Paper), but the vast majority of the time I do not. I do tolerate some (looking at you Cool for the Summer), but at the end of the day I can’t say that love triangles are anywhere near my favorite trope.
What do you think of love triangles?? Do you like them, dislike them, or somewhere in between?? What books feature some of your favourites?? Least favourites??