In Defense of Love Triangles

I love a good love triangle.
Before you lynch me, let me reassure you I understand what I’m saying.
Please notice, I did not say I love love triangles.
I said, I love a good love triangle.

Love triangles today have almost become synonymous with dumb, boring, cliched writing for amateurs who can’t think of a single other plot-thread to create tension.
And yet if we comb through the work of the classical authors, there are love triangles everywhere.
Literally.
Everywhere.
Eponine Thenardier, Marius Pontmercy, and Cosette ‘Fauchelevant’ from Les Miserables. Sydney Carton, Lucie Manette, and Charles Darnay/Evremond from A Tale of Two Cities. Edmond Dantes, Mercedes Whose-Last-Name-I-Never-Remember, and Fernand Mondego from The Count of Monte Cristo. And let’s not even mention Jane Austen’s stuff.
And all of those love triangles I absolutely loved (excuse the puns 😉 ). Yet supposedly love triangles are this big bad horrible cliched thing that no self-respecting writer would ever want to put in their story. Why? What makes this so?

Well, I think there are two main answers to that question. The first is this: the love triangles in classical literature are so much more than tacked-on tension. Each one of those love triangles I mentioned above was absolutely crucial to the story. The ending of A Tale of Two Cities would have fallen flat without Sydney’s hopeless love for Lucie. Eponine’s unspoken love for Marius would have been sorely missed merely from a plot stand-point, and don’t even get me started on the thematic ramifications. And for pity’s sake, The Count of Monte Cristo without the love triangle wouldn’t even have happened!

The second answer is a bit more involved. The classical authors, debatably Christian or not, had a correct perspective on romance.

What do I mean by that? Well, one thing about modern love triangles I hate is that they never end with me still loving all three characters. Now sometimes they aren’t meant to— what if the girl was in love with a scoundrel?— but assuming they’re just three normal people that one of them has to choose between, it inevitably ends in a miserable wreck with no satisfaction whatsoever because somebody’s life is now in complete shambles and the other two don’t care. It’s just so depressing.
Why? I think it’s because romance is presented as the ultimate goal. News for ya people— it isn’t. And when it’s presented as the chief thing to strive for and someone loses it, OF COURSE IT’S GONNA BE DEPRESSING. NOW THERE’S LITERALLY NOTHING LEFT IN THE WORLD TO STRIVE FOR AND LIFE IS ENDED AND WOE IS ME I’M GOING TO GO DROWN MYSELF IN SORROW AND DIE A MISERABLE DEPRESSED DEATH AND NEVER LET GO OF THIS BECAUSE NOW ALL MY CHANCES ARE ENDED AND I’M JUST GOING TO LIVE IN THE PAST FOREVER AND STEW OVER WHY SHE DIDN’T PICK ME.

It’s selfish. And I have a really hard time empathizing with selfish, wimpy characters.

Now it’s perfectly fine to have a character with that mindset and show it as wrong. But for the stereotypical stupid love triangle, this happens every time because the losing character was one-dimensional and literally had no other life outside of his quest for love. That is the wrong perspective and it’s unfair to the character besides.

Compare that to the classics. Sydney Carton gladly died to save the man his sweetheart loved. Edmond Dantes remade his life without the woman he was engaged to marry and learned to let go and find happiness even so. Eponine saved the life of the man she loved even when she selfishly wanted him to die because he wouldn’t take her. They all rose above their selfish hurt in some way and lived for something more, and I don’t know about you, but I think that’s beautiful.

I believe those are the two major reasons love triangles have become ‘boring’ in today’s literature.
What do you think? Are there any love triangles you like or dislike? What would you like to see more of in the romance department in general? Talk to me in the comments; I’m all ears.

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48 thoughts on “In Defense of Love Triangles

  1. I love this! Well written and thought provoking. Also helpful in case I ever decide to use a love triangle in my own writing. 😉 Thanks so much for sharing!

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  2. *blinks several times* Do my eyes deceive me? Is Kate Flournoy posting on the Inky Notebook again, or is this just a fluke?

    I love this, by the way. Modern triangles are so annoying because SOMEONE is ALWAYS a jerk. Seriously, people, get it together here. One of my absolute favorite romances ever is actually a love triangle (Amy Dorrit, Arthur Clennam, and John Chivary from Dicken’s Little Dorrit), and the reason I like it so much is because John Chivary is the sweetest, most self-sacrificing chap ever and gives up his love to someone else, solely because he knows she’ll be happier that way. Take note, people. This is how it’s done.

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    1. I know? Crazy stuff amiright???

      Nah… I just realized that I’m eighteen and I need to really, really start making an effort to get my platform stuff together. Which means starting to get this thing up and running even if I’m still insanely busy and don’t feel like it.
      Which incidentally also means I’m recycling a lot of my old posts from the KP forum… D: ;P Bear with me if you’ve heard this stuff before.

      YES. JOHN CHIVERY. YES YES YES. *small (or not so small) fangirl moment* That entire love story… just… yes. So beautiful.

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    2. You didn’t say anything about K&T Sarah. 😮 I can hardly believe it.

      And the strange thing is, Arthur was involved in two different love triangles throughout the story. Poor fellow. The Pet/Henry/Him one wasn’t nearly as good as the sweet one. Because one of them WAS a jerk.

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      1. Guys if the predictably ensuing discussion about K&T gets any longer than ten comments apiece I’m kicking you both off my blog. *severe eyebrows*

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      2. No no no, no worries. We weren’t going to discuss it. *shakes head solemnly* We’ve already discussed it.
        And anyway, I’m going to try and control myself while I’m in your domain.

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      3. I said TRY. That may come into question when you start talking about certain other things. But contrary to popular belief I am capable of restraining myself. I shall practice being respectful. *bows out*

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  3. I love love triangles. I first discovered them in musicals and the ones I love the most are in those. Two of them are part of classical literature. I love the love triangle between Elphaba, Fiyero, and Glinda, love the one between Phantom, Christine, and Raoul, and love the one between Eponine, Marius, and Cosette. I feel like love triangles provide a wonderful texture to a story. It is easier for me to love a love triangle in a musical compared to a book

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    1. You know what, I actually hadn’t thought about love triangles in musicals as opposed to love triangles in books. That could be an interesting study. Hm… I may have to write a post on that. 😀

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      1. The love triangles in musicals are unique. They help bring emotional texture. They can be quite complex and can show both sides of a love triangle in a beautiful way.

        That does sound like a good post to write about

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      2. Musicals in general, if they’re done well, can do wonders for character development on both sides, that’s for sure.
        I’ll have to look into that. 🙂

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      3. I think it is easier to spot a love triangle in a musical than a book. But sometimes I feel like they can be hard to spot in musicals. But some musicals make it obvious there is a love triangle

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      4. Musicals are awesome for many things. The songs allow you to get to the know the characters in an unique way. The songs make it easy to pick up on the characters’ emotions and emotionally connect.

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      5. I actually don’t know much about Wicked (except that it’s a remake of the Wizard of Oz, with the Wicked Witch of the West as the protagonist) but Les Mis is awesome. Good choice.

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      6. About Wicked, I don’t see it as a remake of the Wizard of OZ. Actually, Wicked has two protagonists, Elphaba and Glinda and the story centers around their friendship, which is also home to quite a complex love triangle. The two don’t seem to line up well.

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      7. Ah yes, those special stories that open new doors to all kinds of wonderful things. They are precious, aren’t they? Wherever they come and wherever they lead. 🙂

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      8. Eventually I saw the Les Mis movie, which came out in 2012 and truly became a fan in 2013 would challenge everything I grew up on. I realized that musicals can be tragic and that heartbreak is a musical emotion (already knew about sad before, but not heartbreak).

        Becoming obsessed with Les Mis lead into my passion for musicals. A special Les Mis story is seeing it in the West End with my mom two years ago

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      9. It was. It did not seem reality when I first found out I was going to be seeing it in London. Or when I saw the theatre or in the lobby or in the auditorium. It became reality once I heard the first musical note.

        Actually today’s blog post compared and contrasted each Les Mis production I have seen

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      10. I first saw the stage show in 2013 at a community college whose production was phenomenal. At that one, I was an usher twice and saw it once as a family.

        2015 was the West End production with my mom with an understudy as Jean Valjean.

        2017, two days ago, I saw Les Mis a 5th time with Gardner Webb

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  4. Great article, m’dear. I’d not thought about it terribly much (isn’t that a surprise) but… yeah. Anything, even a love triangle, needs to move the plot and character arcs forward, not just add drama. Now I almost want to write one…

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  5. This was a really good post, 😀 I enjoyed it. Like you, I enjoy a good love triangle every now and then, but modern ones are so….*struggles to express anger over modern love triangles. Growls* I also prefer ones where two people like one person, instead of the one person liking two people type.

    I’m so glad to see you’re posting again, I thought the Broken Scythe was one of the best short stories I’ve ever read and I was so sad to see you hadn’t done anything after that . 😀

    by the way, I’m SeekJustice from KP. 😀

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    1. Wow you’ve been around for a while then! Thank you for your patience— it means a lot. 😉
      UGH yes. The triangles where one person likes two people can be soooo annoying. Not saying they can’t be done well (almost anything can, with the right perspective) but it’s rare. Very rare.
      Wow, we’ll just have a regular ol’ KP reunion over here. 😀 Not surprising, actually… that’s where I met all my writer friends anyway, so it makes sense. 😉 Welcome.

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