Guest Post: Why I Hate Love Triangles by Susan Mesler-Evans

I’m hosting Susan Mesler-Evans on my blog today with a post about love triangles! Welcome to my blog.

Why I Hate Love Triangles

Ah, the love triangle.

We’ve all seen it, over and over, in everything from books to movies to stage plays, and everything in between. It seems that when it comes to love, two’s company, but three’s a perfect plot device! I’ve always had a special hatred for needless, boring romantic subplots in fiction (especially YA), and nothing kills my love for a book faster than having to take a break from the actual plot to watch the lead and their love interest make googly eyes at each other. But my most-hated version of the needless romantic subplot is the love triangle, by far.

Now, I read primarily young adult fiction, I’m a loyal watcher of Riverdale (I don’t know why, either; it’s the worst show ever and I love it), and I grew up on soap operas. It’ll be a cold day in Hell before I get to escape the love triangle entirely.

For awhile, I’ve had trouble articulating why, exactly, I hate this plot device so much, but I think I’ve managed to break it down into five basic points.

It’s usually used as a cheap way to create tension.

Say you’re a writer, and you have a main couple. Let’s call them Alice and Bob. Alice and Bob are very happy together, and are totally perfect for each other. The fanbase loves them! But true love is just so… dull. There’s no angst, no drama, no tension! What’s a writer to do?

Wait, you know! You’ll introduce a rival for Bob’s affection, Claire! Now, Alice has someone to fight with and be jealous over, and Bob can angst over his torn heart. CREATIVE GENIUS.

…Yeah, the audience usually sees right through it. Most of the time, Claire will only be around for a book or two, or a season or two, cause some trouble, and then either get written off, or get randomly paired off with Danny. The audience knows almost right from the start that this won’t last, and that Alice and Bob’s relationship is in no real danger, so it’s hard to get invested.

There are so many other ways to create tension in a relationship! More realistic, less contrived ways. And there are plenty of ways to amp up the drama in a story without the threat of Alice and Bob breaking up on the horizon. It is possible to have an interesting story with two characters in a happy relationship. Shocking, but true.

The female characters involved usually get reduced to plot devices.

Now, despite the fact that my hypothetical people are called Alice, Bob, and Claire, a love triangle could easily exist between Albert, Betty, and Charlie. (It could also, hypothetically, exist between Albert, Bob, and Charlie, or Alice, Betty, and Claire, but it usually doesn’t.) But no matter whether the center of the triangle is male or female, the female characters involved tend to get the shaft.

If the love triangle is Alice/Bob/Claire, Alice and Claire are often reduced to “good girl vs. bad girl” stereotypes, and usually spend most of their pagetime together being catty and fighting over Bob, mooning over Bob, or talking to or about Bob. They don’t get to be their own characters — at least, not where a guy is involved. They’re usually pitted against each other, even when under circumstances that, in real life, would usually mean Alice and Claire would become friends, or at least learn to tolerate each other.

If the love triangle is Albert/Betty/Charlie, Betty will probably spend most of the book either being rescued constantly by the two gentlemen, or having to prove time and time again that she doesn’t need rescuing. There’s also an unfortunate tendency for her to be treated like a “prize” for the most worthy man to win. If Betty is the main character, she has a better shot at being a well-developed character in her own right, but if the main character is Albert or Charlie? No dice. Betty’s usually just “The Hero’s Girlfriend” or “The Damsel.” Sorry, Bets!

It usually makes the center of the triangle seem unsympathetic.

Yeah, if Bob spends an entire book (or movie, or season) trying to decide if he wants to be with Alice or Claire, chances are, the audience is going to wish Alice and Claire would tell him where to shove it. Relationships and emotions are messy, complicated things, not to be rushed into, but when a character takes too long to decide which (if either) of their prospective partners they want, it’s hard to sympathize. Not only does it get old fast, it also starts to feel like Bob is just stringing Alice and Claire along rather than making a decision or just being honest.

Depending on the plot of the overall story, it can also get annoying if Bob is angsting about whether he should choose Alice or Claire when there are much bigger issues to deal with. Your audience shouldn’t be shaking him and saying, “Who cares about your lonely soul? The world is ending.” It’s always annoying when romantic subplots distract from the more interest, more dramatic main plot, but the irritation is only intensified when you have multiple love interests in the mix.

This isn’t just restricted to the guys, by the way — female characters do it, too. No matter the genders of whoever’s involved, it’s just hard to be sympathetic towards someone whose biggest problem is, “Which of these insanely hot people who would do anything for me should I choose?”

It’s usually obvious how it’ll end.

“Wow, I wonder who will win Bob’s affections — Alice, the love interest who has been here for six seasons, or this new character Claire, who has no purpose in the plot other than to cause problems for Alice and Bob?” said absolutely no one ever.

One side effect of this trope being used a lot is that audiences are usually wise to how it’ll play out. The “nice” one usually gets the love interest. The one the audience has gotten to spend more time with usually gets the love interest. The one the writers have actually spent time developing usually gets the love interest. Sometimes a writer will try to change things up, by making Claire really likable and maybe even more compatible with Bob in some ways than Alice, or by having Alice turn out to not be so nice after all, but usually, all attempts at faking out the audience fall flat. This is why, if the love triangle ends with Alice and Claire dumping Bob, or Alice and Claire hooking up, it’s usually quite refreshing, as well as a genuine shock — deviances from the standard love triangle ending are that rare.

It’s done to death.

This is pretty self-explanatory, but by far my biggest gripe with the trope. It seems like 95% of YA fiction, 99% of television, and at least 70% of romantic films are contractually obligated to have a love triangle. After you’ve seen a couple dozen of them, it gets old! I get that, as a writer, you want to keep the audience on their toes, and throw a wrench into the happy couple’s happiness, bring a bit of excitement into it… but can we have something different, please?

Now, obviously, there are exceptions to every rule. Sometimes, a love triangle can be genuinely compelling and defy these problems. Sometimes, if the characters are likable enough, or if the writing is good enough, I can still find myself enjoying it. And, yeah, I know there’s no escape, so I may as well lean into it and try to have some fun with it.

But when you can’t read three books without tripping over one of these, it gets a tad frustrating. My favorite romances are the ones that just focus on the main couple, or, if there is a secondary love interest, shake up the formula a bit. Love triangles just bore me at best, make me give up on a book altogether at worst. And I know I’m not alone in this.

What about you?


Susan Mesler-Evans is a college student and book blogger, trying to get published. In the meantime, she produces reading and writing related content at Subscribe to her blog for book reviews, editorials, author interviews, and more!

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