Bad Love Triangles

I was reading a book recently and found myself irked by the “so-called” love triangle. I’m not comfortable mentioning the name of the book and don’t try to figure it out by looking on my Goodreads “currently reading” list because I did not add it!! While the novel itself was generally entertaining, the love triangle bothered me because one man was written to be the obvious “winner” and the other the clear “loser.” One man was the safe, corporate type and the other was the dangerous, rugged type but the “safe” guy was also “boring”, “controlling” and “selfish” while the dangerous guy was not only sexy but also fiercely protective and a big teddy bear on the inside. Had the safe guy also been drawn as funny, loving and great in bed (and “safe” and “good in bed” are not mutually exclusive), there might have been a real competition, but because the safe guy was not written with any redeeming qualities, I felt gypped of tension. Even if the heroine did not fall in love with the dangerous guy, it was in her best interest to dump the safe guy anyway because he was a jerk. This was not the first novel I had read where one man was written as cold and dispassionate or a liar, making the protagonist’s ultimate choice either obvious from page one or too convenient, and it is sort of pet peeve of mine.

 I’ve often thought about writing a book about a woman who is torn between two men but, if I do, I aim to create two equally attractive contenders (both on the inside and out) for my character’s heart such that readers might actually have opposing views on who is right for her. I want my character to do some heavy lifting to figure out, not who is the better man, but who is the better man for her. I know this will be difficult which might explain why none of the books I’ve written so far (and I’m on my third) feature true love triangles! In my opinion, Emily Giffin did it really well in Love The One Your With between Leo and Andy. While I knew Andy was ultimately the right guy for Ellen, part of me yearned for her to choose Leo. Good ‘ole Boy Andy was not fatally flawed in any way and Leo, while more brooding, was not painted the villain – they were just two very different men vying for the affection of one woman who ultimately followed her heart and made the right choice for her. Movies that did it well, in my opinion, were Sweet Home Alabama and Maid of Honor. While Reese Witherspoon’s character in Sweet Home Alabama ultimately picked her first love from high school, it wasn’t because her NYC boyfriend played by Patrick Dempsey was phony, selfish or really in love with someone else. Reese’s character chose the man played by Josh Lucas because, in her heart, she knew she’d never stopped loving him. In Maid of Honor, Patrick’s Dempsey’s character ultimately won the heart of the leading lady, but it wasn’t because her betrothed Colin was a jerk, it was because she had loved Tom all along. Fans of The Hunger Games created “Team Peeta” and “Team Gale” for a reason – because there was no obvious right or wrong choice; it was a matter of who Catniss deemed to be the better man for her. You know a love triangle is good when there are opposing views – Pacey vs. Dawson (Team Pacey), Peyton vs. Brooke (Team Brooke), Kelly vs. Brenda (team Brenda).

It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed novels with predictable or convenient love triangles, but I much prefer riding shotgun on the heroine’s journey as she figures out what she wants rather than being three steps ahead of her because the author has spoon-fed me the answer.

What are your feelings on love triangles? What have been your favorite or least favorite love triangles?

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Comments

  1. You’ve given me a lot to think about, Meredith! I’m usually not a fan of love triangles, especially ones on TV, because I am always on the losing side of them. I tend to root for the interesting, complex, possibly dark and broody type (see Damon on The Vampire Diaries) and am highly irritated when the heroine goes with the “safe” choice after having led the other guy on forever.

    I actually stopped reading Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, which I absolutely LOVED, because the love triangle pissed me off so badly. I was Team Morelli from day one and the author really played up the Morelli/Steph relationship in the first six books, then all of a sudden in Book 7, Steph gets involved with Ranger, a supporting character who had become a fan favorite, and I just felt screwed. I hate it when authors pull a bait-and-switch on me!

    Just a thought, maybe love triangles aren’t really balanced in Chick Lit because authors are afraid that if they make both guys “worthy” then the ending will make the reader feel badly because a nice, decent guy lost out?

    • I’ve always been on the losing side when it’s two girls and a guy. I always want the brunette to win (not just because I’m a brunette!) and the blonde always does. I hated Kelly and Dylan!

      Good point about the author not wanting to upset readers but sometimes I feel like the author is not giving the readers enough credit when it makes the choice so obvious. And, also, two viable contenders makes for better book club discussion.

  2. Michelle says:

    I am usually on the losing end of the triangle trifecta in terms of books. (There is NO way that Sookie should chose Bill when Eric is present. Just saying.) But what you said is true. The balance of a love triangle is usually heavily balanced towards one pairing while unraveling the other as quickly as possible. I do agree with the comment from Tracie as well that perhaps an author makes it that way so you don’t feel bad that the good guy lost.

    • Yes, Tracie made a good point and I can see that as well. I don’t know – I just have read SO many books like that and it’s so damn convenient it irks me – hence the blog post 😦

  3. Natalie Aaron says:

    Great post!! I agree – in most books that I’ve read there is a clear winner. It’s hard to get invested when I know who the heroine is going to pick from the start.

    I guess you have your next assignment – I want book 3 to have two equal contenders – and then we can fight later about who she ends up with!

    P.S. now I’m trying to figure out what book got you so riled up!

    • I would prefer a single love interest with a lot of twists and turns over yet another book about the outwardly straight-laced girl whose latent wild side is brought out by an alpha male who she hates at first but who ultimately shows her that her long term boyfriend was actually boring and kind of an a-hole. I’ve read that book SO many times!

      3rd book does not contain a love triangle and it’s already 201 pages. But I will try for book 4!!

      PS – I’ll never tell…

      • Michelle says:

        I get so TIRED of the straight-laced girl that has the boring a-hole boyfriend and becomes a wild child because the bad boy with the heart of gold falls for her. I find myself flipping bored through those books because there is no mystery to it, it is laid out at your feet from the get go.

        I’m going to go ahead and guess the book is…Gone With The Wind???

  4. I love this post b/c I totally agree with you! Humans are flawed so no matter how much you feel drawn to someone they will have faults, but when it’s so clearly black and white then it becomes a little rediculous. I have been in the position twice in life where I have had to make this choice and the reality is that it isn’t easy … why on earth would you spend time with someone who was ever clearly so wrong for you? I think *some* authors believe it will be better for the reader if the choice is very clear, i.e. we are smart, we get it, why can’t she? They believe it will make readers feel better about themselves. There are two great examples mentioned where a reader can totally connect with either male figure and I think those are the most interesting …. bill vs. eric (I have to go with eric) and peeta vs gale (I am still up in the air but I am slightly more in the peeta camp now). Make the men in your heroine’s life interesting and both legitimately viable love interests … the reader will be rewarded.

  5. Jeff Salter says:

    I definitely agree that it’s a let-down to be able to know, from page one, who’s going to end up together. And also a let-down to have one-dimensional characters to begin with.

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