The love triangle is one of the world’s oldest sources of tragedy. When done right, it can be heartbreaking, dissect the absurdities of the human condition, confront the conflict of want versus need, and break down the drama of romance within the confines of the modern psychological dichotomy of gender roles, evolving ideologies, and transitioning priorities.
The problem with modern love triangles is that they are overused, rarely done right, and used as dramatic fodder with no impact to the plot or the characters’ stories. It has become a commodity for ratings. Worse still, is the fact that show-runners and writers tend to use this in cinema, television, and literature primarily marketed towards women. It has everything to do with poorly conceived notions of what women actually want and lack of understanding at how women are in reality.
Do I mind angst? No. Do I mind the push and pull of people struggling to be with someone? No. Do I hate it when the only plot given to a woman is whether or not she’s going to fall in love with ethnically-neutral-broody-dude one or ethnically-neutral-broody-dude two? Definitely.
There is a disproportionate amount of stories for women that focus on romantic choice and indecisiveness. A more interesting route is creating characters that are dynamic, full, and complicated, without the only complication being who she plans on loving. A woman having to deal with her career imploding is just as remarkable as a woman kung-fuing her way through saving the world. A mother looking after her children is as compelling as a single woman confronted with the choice of doing the right thing versus something that will benefit her alone. There are options; there are stories to tell. A woman’s story does not always have to revolve around romance.
The love triangle has been twisted into a point of contact for filmmakers and writers to ensure that no matter how crappy their writing, they have some drama to fill up the narrative long enough for the story to reach its end. The problem may be that the majority of films and television are being written by white males whose only understanding of women is what they have seen in previous television shows and movies written by white men. It certainly does not help the matter.
Romance is many people’s reality. They meet someone, they fall in love, they fall out of love, they meet someone new. Romance is also not everyone’s reality. Some people feel no need to be in a relationship, and their stories, their narratives remain just as complex and interesting as someone who does decide to fall in love, get married, and have twenty kids.
Love triangles are pandering, exploitative, and a means of excusing any real depth in a story. It takes a creative mind to think beyond what has been done. It takes experience to know that not many women live in a constant state of having to choose between two people. A woman is many things beyond who she decides to love. She can be a fighter, a coward, an office worker, a sex worker, a hero, a villain, a saint, and a sinner. She can carry all the plot lines that a man can carry, and often has to in real life, with twice the burden and none of the respect.
Love triangles are not a reflection of healthy love. I’ve yet to see a situation where I thought that the people involved in the triangle were truly going to survive the relationship. They make choices that often disrespect the person they purport to love; the writers inevitably turn the woman into a thing to be won by the two alpha males competing for her affections. It’s not merely unhealthy – it’s a reflection of society’s attempt to keep women as prizes rather than show her in control of her own narrative. It is a reminder than many men only see a woman as worthy if she is in a relationship. It is a not so subtle subjugation of choice, worth, and reason. It is repeated to girls over and over again that she is only interesting should she pick a hot man to make her more interesting – a man who often exhibits manipulative or obsessive traits. It tells women that having a narrative that does not include romance makes them less appealing, less interesting, and less marketable to the world at large. She must be coveted and adored, virginal but sexy, smart but not intimidating. She must be secondary to the romance and certainly not pivotal to her own story.
This is unacceptable storytelling. This is not any woman I have ever met.
Instead of weaving love triangles into stories to fill them out and pad the weaker moments of writing that misunderstand how rich and full women’s lives are, focus on telling a woman’s story in reality. If that includes romance, angst, and drawn out situations where a connection is missed, so be it. If that includes no romance at all, wonderful. Be inclusive. Be bold. Be creative. Be respectful. But definitely stop the love triangle.
It’s not interesting. It adds nothing to the story, and it’s boring to go down a road that will just end in a back and forth that will lose viewers, lose credibility, and lose all sense of logic the longer it goes on. Plus, healthy relationships don’t necessarily negate an uninteresting story. It might not seem like it according to modern storytelling, but there are plenty of people in the world who are committed to one woman, one man, or one non-binary person who have extraordinarily interesting lives.
Romance has its place. I have watched it, enjoyed it, cried over it many times and in many iterations, but the love triangle continues to be a lazy, sexist, uninteresting plot device that does not excuse writers from having to actually work hard and make characters feel alive.
It’s 2016. It’s time we start writing our art to reflect the world as more than a love story. It’s time we writers give women stories that don’t serve only to make the men her life look more appealing. Write healthy relationships. Write characters that know their minds, their hearts, and go on adventures that bring magic, joy, friendship, and true love into their lives. Erase the gendered narrative of love triangles, and discover how amazing these stories can be.