17/03/2014

The Dangers of Pointy Love Triangles {The Birdie Musings}


Love triangles can be pointy-edged fiends, stabbing our hearts and poking at our patience. What makes some appealing and others eye roll-inducing annoyances? Can love triangles ever truly be successful?

Since most triangles seem to be between one girl and two guys (more on that later), those are the kinds I'll be examining. And to help our analysis, I've popped love triangle stories into four handy categories:

1. The Distraction. The 'other guy' is nothing more than a plot device, who clearly never stands a chance. It's obvious from the beginning who the main character will choose. Especially prominent if the 'other guy / girl' is introduced in the middle of a series.


       


2. The Underdog. The guy who was never originally billed as a love interest, suddenly becomes one. Or a love interest that was never taken seriously climbs up the ranks and takes the win.

     


3. The Yo-YoThe main character can't decide between the two because she clearly doesn't love either of them enough loves them both so much. Those with the patience are left wondering, throughout the series, how it's all going to go down.



4. The Bad-Ass Independent. When the main character decides that she is better off alone, waves goodbye to her vying men, and walks off into the sunset on her own, feeling stronger and better for it.

How hilarious that I couldn't find any examples for this ending. I even enlisted the help of my Twitter folks and they struggled alongside me! It seemed the only examples in YA / contemporary were those where we'd have to really loosely define the term 'love triangle'.

More interestingly, the couple of valid examples thrown my way were from adult books. There's something to be said for the fact that YA novels seem to be lacking strong, female protagonists, who are able to exist outside of their relationships.

For me, this perpetuates the idea that young women can't be independent and that, in order to be happy, they need to find a boyfriend and fall in love. In books written for teens and young adults, this ain't paintin' a pretty picture.

Which actually got me to thinking about how in YA triangles a lot of emphasis is put on the chosen relationship having an everlasting love (feel free to break into song here). The characters that eventually end up together promise eternities and it's strongly implied they're in it for the long run.

Now, I'm not saying I don't like a happy ending, but I'm noticing a pattern in the increasing focus on the 'FOREVER AND ALWAYS' aspect of triangles. 

Take Twilight, where Bella chooses Edward and they get married, have a kid and will literally be together forever, because they will live forever. The other guy is ruled out by imprinting on her daughter, which basically isolates Bella from any male she isn't related to. 

It's also worth noting how rarely we see love triangles with two girls and one boy. This could be because romances tend to be aimed toward the female market and this wouldn't appeal to the masses. But the more I thought about it, the more I could see a lot of other underlying reasons.

In these triangles, the woman always has the pleasure of playing the part of The Seductress, trapping men and pitting them against each other. She toys with their emotions and is unable to decide who she wants. Because, don't you know, women are so fickle and indecisive.

Even today, there are still a lot of old-fashioned stereotypes and attitudes floating around. So could the lack of love triangles with a male protagonist be because they're not necessary, because men, more than women, are seen as free to do what they like?

There's the idea that men don't have to settle down, but women must make a choice and choose just one man to spend the rest of their lives with. And that decision must be final and everlasting (which is really evident in love triangle stories).

So, are you a fan of love triangles? Can you think of some that have worked well? And why do you think there are no endings with young heroines walking off into the sunset alone? What message do love triangles send?



 



Allie is a Pimm's-obsessed reader, who dreams of road tripping over America, learning to surf & becoming fluent in all the languages of her heritage (which, sadly, does not include Elvish). If she's not reading or blogging, you can find her catching up on Teen Wolf, or reigning supreme with Scrabble/Mario Kart. Stalk her on twitter, instagram or goodreads.


28 comments:

  1. I could argue with you on Fallen though. I haven't read the final book, but um, it's still very clear who Luce loves and I haven't had a doubt in my mind since the first page I read two years ago. lols you were right in your tweet that this got a little "a speech for feminism" that's ok though because most of us feel the same way based on all the discussions I've seen. Nope, not a fan of them. I do have to say that the only ones who work for me (by the end of it) are (clearly) the ones where my team wins. The books where one of the love interests dies though? like wtf? Why? Even if it's the other guy who I'm not rooting for, like.. WHYYYY? Let him have his HEA with someone else or idk. It just sucks. I think the message is love conquers all and who doesn't want to kiss and cuddle with someone by the end of the series? So I think that's the reason? I can't really speak for authors, but this is my vision. I have seen the defence on this topic as "options are good" I mean. Options? YES! Back and forth? Can we please not?! Anyhow, great discussion, my friend!

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    1. Fallen is actually the only one here I haven't read - I was just basing my assumption on the synopsis. Thanks for pointing that out though :) I've removed it!

      I'm not disputing HEA endings inclusively! I don't mind an ending with kisses and cuddles, but I want one that doesn't put so much pressure on a girl having to plan out her entire future at sixteen, and for that entire future to be based around who she's dating.

      Also, it would be so awesome to be able to have a book where we have a female MC realising that she doesn't NEED to be in a relationship to be happy, since so many love triangle books act like whichever guy she chooses is the one who is responsible for her happiness for the rest of her life.

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  2. Oh, Allie, I fell in love with you a little more.

    Here's the thing: I despise love triangles. Truly. I'll read them very carefully, and even when I do, am a pretty harsh critic. I've never found one that I love enough to say: okay, I'll remember this one. NO! Hate them all!

    I think your reasons here, and the argument, is valid. I have nothing more to contribute than an 'amen sistah'. *bows out*

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    1. Love triangles are such a poor plot device and a sad attempt at fantasy fulfilment. And then the fact that they're always so poorly written only adds to it. The girl never comes across in a good light and one of the love interests is always vilified in the end, so the so-called 'choice' she has to make becomes so obvious :/

      I'm glad you agree! I was worried people might think I was beyond left field

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  3. You made excellent points! My take on why love triangles are so popular is because of the market in fandoms. With Twilight we saws a huge base of merchandise catering to 'Team Edward' and 'Team Jacob'. Love triangles make money because marketers know that the fans love to express who they ship and badda bing, they've made millions just selling t-shirts.

    Isn't that sad that we can't think of ONE young adult novel with a love triangle with an independent woman? It really does send a message to young girls everywhere that ultimately you need a guy to make you happy. Really great post, you brought up a lot of interesting ideas. :)

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    1. It really is so sad and, more than that, so DISAPPOINTING. Especially since a lot of these books are written by women. it's sad that female characters in novels by female authors can't seem to be independent / strong, without a boyfriend. In fact, in a lot of these books it's the boy who ends up 'making' the girl strong in some way.

      I'm glad you enjoyed the post! :D

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  4. this post just screams honesty. I agree with all your categories for defining love triangles but i have to argue in Throne of Glasses case i think in the first book it was one of those "Hey i may like you, or you but hey i may also not! I don't know yet" but then the second book comes along and it's prety clear who owns whose heart. Also can i point out that love triangle goes in my "best love triangles ever" category? It felt like a real love triangle at one point and i was honestly so confused which say Celena would go (oh and infernal devices goes here too & the shatter me series) don't shoot me. LOL.
    I remember we were trying to come up with examples of female characters where girls leaves and doesn't end up together with one of the boys and we just couldn't think of one. I think that's just sad too. i really wish we could get a book where that happens. maybe i'll write one. LOL
    Lily @ Lilysbookblog

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    1. To be fair, I haven't read the second book in Throne of Glass yet, so I'm just going off of assumptions from the way the first book laid the groundwork. If you're saying that the second book clarifies things AND this is one of the best triangles you've read then that makes me absurdly happy. (Trying not to shoot you for liking the Shatter Me ending :P)

      If you write one, I'd buy it! It'd be nice to have something like that on my bookshelf lol

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  5. Oh sigh, I totally agree with you. The entire fact that women seem to need to be dependant on dudes in books drives me bonkers. Half the time I'm rooting for the girl to go have a life away from the dodgy guys she's picked up. NEITHER ARE GOOD ENOUGH FOR HER. We live in an age of accepting literally anything, right?! But it's like books are sticking the stone-age ideas of you-must-have-a-lover-at-all-times and it's frankly a bit odd. I've read plenty of books with 2 boys and 1 girl, but they're definitely NOT the norm. I do wonder, sometimes, if it's that the author is fantasising about her teenage years and having 2 guys vying for her attention? lol xD Because in truth, there's usually a gaggle of girls all liking the same dude (and he's usually oblivious). At least, in highschool it can be like that.

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    1. YES! Sometimes neither love interest is at all 'worthy' and both relationships are just so unhealthy. But in books it's as though if she doesn't choose either of those boys then she'll be alone forever, because obviously they're the only two guys in the world :/

      I definitely think triangles are about some kind of wish fulfilment. Which is definitely sad! And I totally agree how it was normally a bunch of girls running after one guy in secondary schools, so it's interesting the more 'realistic' triangles aren't explored as much, and instead we have two boys with an unhealthy obsession with one girl and her swooning over how possessive they are :/ So weird.

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  6. Ohhh this is fun. Okay, I do dislike love triangles, but not all of them. Mainly the ones that aren't there, like you said, as a plot device. If it's a normal relationship, the slow burn romance, friends first, etc I'm okay with it. But, not an obsessive all consuming you-die-I-die Romeo & Juliet style. So. Annoying. And completely destructive.

    I'm going to admit my shame, I actually loved Twilight, I know, I know. But I was 15, which proves your point that the age range they're aimed at is not setting an example. At that age, I loved the crap out of those type of books. It's cringe worthy.

    So, I totally agree, it's not setting a good example, or even a realistic one, because of course every girl is going to have two guys after her, always. Besides that, relationships aren't always make or break, they're not perfect, and half the time, well most of the time, they don't even last that long, definitely at that age. I really don't get it either, why would you want to depend on a guy and not be dependent on yourself? You can be perfectly fine on your own.

    I can't think of any that end up on their own, but there are some badass characters that hold their own outside of a relationship, and ones that don't turn into such a girl when they're in a relationship, so I'm okay with that. Problem is, you just have to find them and they're very very good at hiding.

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    1. I just fell in love with you a bit because of this comment!

      You're right, relationships aren't always make or break and they're not always 'forever', so the fact that these things are pushed so much in YA books is unrealistic and just annoying. What's wrong with portraying a typical teen romance? Why does it have to be an all or nothing 'I'd die without you' kind of romance?

      There are definitely some books with kick-ass female leads out there, but in a sea of romance novels where our heroine becomes lost without her love interest, it's hard to find them :(

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  7. Well, I'm neutral. I might lean one way or another but always neutral. Everyone looks at me "What?!?!!?" like I grew 2 heads or something. :p

    ~Sophia @ Bookwyrming Thoughts

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    1. Oh I definitely have strong opinions when it comes to a 'team', mostly because one person is always a clear bad choice and the relationship is really unhealthy. Thankfully though, I tend to steer clear of love triangles, so I don't tend to have to go through the whole 'team' debate often

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  8. I don't really remember the ending, but maybe Where the Stars Still Shine for number 4? It sorta kinda had a love triangle and I don't think she ended up in a relationship with either of the guys at the end... but I don't really remember the ending so idk. I also didn't like that book, so kind of a bad example anyways haha.

    I actually sometimes enjoy the distraction love triangle in books because I don't have to worry about it and it often speeds up a slow romance between the characters a bit. The Yo-Yo love triangles are what I hate the most though. Almost never a fan of those :P

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    1. Didn't she end up with the Greek guy in the end? I can't really remember. But I wouldn't say that was a love triangle, simply because she ditched the first guy straight away to continuously have sex with the other guy LOL. I so wish that story had been about more than hooking up on a boat!

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  9. I haven't read a lot of series lately so I hear about all these love triangles, but I haven't read many of them besides Twilight. And yes, Twilight was so obvious. there was no question she was going to choose Edward.

    I wish there were more independent women in YA novels. It shouldn't always be about the romance; that's why I hate reading all these summaries where romance is mentioned when the book seems like it would do JUST FINE without one. I guess I'll just have to give some of them a shot...

    As for love triangles in particular, I wouldn't say they are all bad. I'm sure there are many that work in various genres, but it's not my favorite literary trope, especially since it's so 'popular' these days in books.

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    1. Romance seems to always be a main characteristic in YA novels. Even ones about girls 'finding' themselves etc. are focused on them finding themselves BECAUSE of a boy, or getting over a trauma because a boy has helped. I don't want it to seem like I'm anti-romance, because I am a sucker for a good romance novel lol, but it's a shame so many books aimed at teens and young adults are so romance-central and have such a focus on needing a man to save you etc.

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  10. What a great post, I loved the yo-yo and the distraction! So true (cough*JACOB*cough) Anyway, I think your comparison totally highlights that YA fiction has a big focus on the romance, and teen girls having to DEPEND on someone for their happiness. It's not a healthy attitude and you're right, I wish there were more books about independent women. Books without romances are few and far in between these days.

    Great post Allie, I enjoyed it!

    Jeann @ Happy Indulgence

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    1. They really are and it's a shame that books marketed toward women always have to have romance in them, yet books marketed predominantly toward a male audience don't. It's like they're saying in order for a woman to read a book there needs to be a romance to keep her interested, which kind of sucks.
      I mean, we all know I love a good romance, but I just hate that literature aimed toward women (especially young girls) is so focused on it and on the idea that it's necessary in order for the girl to be happy or to be 'saved'. Can't a girl save herself for once? We're basically still reading books about guys on white horses and damsels in distress

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    2. I agree with you. Those love triangles that are so obvious a choice really frustrate me. Why waste our time if we already know what's going to happen? I actually like the underdog ones, they're cute :)
      I agree with you, I wish that one girl would decide being alone is better than a bad relationship. You don't need a love story to make a good book.
      Great post!

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    3. Accidentally added my comment as a reply. -.- I blame my phone...

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  11. I'd really like to see more two girl, one guy love triangles told from the guy's point of view. I've seen so many two guy, one girl triangles that I can guess who pairs off without even reading the book. And it's always the same archetypes, the bad boy and the nice guy. It'd be interesting to see if it'd be a gender swapped version of the typical love triangle with a bad girl and the best friend or if the love triangle would look completely different.

    I think that love triangles appeal to the largely female demographic that reads YA. If they didn't like love triangles so much, they probably wouldn't be so prevalent. I think the best type of love triangle is one where the guys are fully realized characters and stand for an ideal or philosophy. The Hunger Games is a great example of this. Peeta stands largely for peace and reconciliation while Gale stands for hatred and vengeance. So when Katniss chooses Peeta, she's not just choosing a boy, she's choosing the type of life she wants to lead. This is a really rambling post but I don't really mind love triangles so long as all three characters are fully realized people.

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    1. I totally agree, Phil! It'd be amazing to see the love triangle reversed and have two girls playing the archetypal 'good' and 'bad' roles. It'd be a great spin. As it is, the closest we have in fiction today, especially in YA, is a boy falling in love with the perfect Mary Sue, and then the school slut (who never has any character depth and is often incredibly bitchy for no reason) flinging herself at the guy. It's never a true triangle and one girl is portrayed angelically and the other is put down constantly by all the characters through slut-shaming.

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  12. I would love to see some love triangles where the main character is just decides to walk away from both love interest, because you're right - we should exist outside our relationships. I also agree that if someone can't choose between two people, they obviously don't love either them. Indecisive protagonists make for my least favorite love triangles.

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    1. I so wanted to be able to find an example of that, but I just couldn't seem to! It'd be great, because it would show such growth an emotional maturity; having a teenage girl say 'look, clearly neither of these are healthy relationships. I should just walk away'. As it is, writers seem to like toying with the idea of the woman never knowing what they want!

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  13. I don't have a whole lot to add to this, but I love posts like this. I don't know why authors feel like triangles are so very important. The triangle situation in Throne of Glass really bugs me! I don't like that series as much as most people, though. Sometimes love triangles can work, and sometimes they happen in real life, but it's not so common a thing that it needs to happen in every big series. There are more interesting things that happen in life!

    Also, I am super late to this post sorry!

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    1. I literally can't think of one instance in real life I know of when there was a full love triangle, where the person genuinely couldn't decide between the two. For me, that just means the person doesn't like EITHER of them enough!

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