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.
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.