The Draw of Love Triangles with Thoughts On “Bad Boys” vs “Good Guys”

Love triangles occupy one of the cornerstones of fiction. So much so that when some of them reach the big screen we get Twitter taking sides. #TeamPeeta! #TeamJacob! #TeamGilbert!

Okay, well, I might have made that last one up, but I’m totally right on that one. (Also, with the recent J.K. Rowling reveal about Harry-Hermione-Ron we have new hashtags. #TeamRon!)

Love triangles tug at those complicated emotions around our hearts. They have us rooting for the characters, getting us invested, for better or worse. When done right, the love triangle causes misgivings… we may deep down want a certain character to “win”, but get a charge from the opponent, too.

In triangles where there is one woman and two men, I’ve discovered a common theme where it is a choice between the more roguish, “bad boy” type and a more staid, all around “good guy” type. The rogue character is misunderstood and has that secret sensitive side to make him a more appealing choice. (By the way, when I asked my social media circles about love triangles involving one man and two women, the kind I got were where one of the women is a “best friend” and crossing the line into a romantic relationship is the conflict for that part of the storyline. Interesting, no? Someone should write about these differences and then link me, okay?)

Part of what piqued my interest with this topic was an article about the upcoming Veronica Mars movie. If you are unfamiliar with the show that preceeded it, it’s a high school (and then later college) soap-opera-ish drama about Veronica, daughter of a private detective, which means she is taking on cases for each show, too. One of her on-again, off-again boyfriends is Logan Echols, messed up son of a messed up Hollywood family. In the final season (there are only three), “Piz” is introduced, a definitely not messed up, stable and nice guy. From the article:

Cast and crew interviews also devote time to this love triangle, including writer-director Rob Thomas’ admittance that he would like his daughter to end up with a Piz — even though he knows Logan’s qualities might be more interesting for fiction.

That is what the key is, isn’t it? What is more interesting for fiction. Veronica and Logan are terrible together. In real life, they’re the couple that gets married, have a good few months, then stay together three years longer than they should and ruining any other future relationship they might ever try to have. And yet, they have an excitement on screen that almost has you rooting for them. Maybe this time they’ll change. Piz, the other guy, is… well, c’mon. His name says it all.

In the Hunger Games series, Peeta and Gayle offer the refreshing storyline in which Katniss isn’t really interested in either one (initially) in a romantic way (I thought the Catching Fire movie built up the romantic line between Katniss and Gayle more than there was in the book, didn’t they?) Gayle is the more exciting character. He is a man of action and appreciates Katniss as a strong partner to not only take care of their families, but to even take them out of District 12 for good. Peeta, on the other hand, is the quiet one. He’s not particularly outspoken and while he doesn’t have the energy of outrage on his side, he has a dedication to Katniss. By the time Mockingjay comes around, Peeta becomes almost forgettable in his silence, however out of his control that silence is. He’s literally out of the picture for most of the story. Gayle is edgy. Peeta is gentle. A strong, edgy, and a take-action kind of character? That’s the kind of thing that tipped some readers/viewers to go with #TeamGayle.

I recently finished How to Love by Kate Cotugno which featured a character who was torn – for a little while at least – between a guy in her present who was everything right about how a relationship should be and a guy from her past who had been nothing but trouble and pain. The guy from the past returns and is changed (mostly due to rehab, I’d wager), but still represents risk for the way things were and his long, unannounced disappearance. He pushes his way back in and in real life, I’d be way more angry with him and with the woman for letting him do this. In fiction? He makes for a compelling character.

Ultimately, the love triangle done right has you rooting for the best hook-up – ie, the endgame hook-up (*cough* Hermione and Ron *cough*).

What author Suzanne Collins did was to also show a no-questions-asked devotion from Peeta towards Katniss and then show him sacrifice himself for her. Romance may not be the focus of the series, but what Collins did was pull the winning fiction card that says that willingness to sacrifice for another creates the hero. Would Gayle have done that for Katniss? I’m not so sure – at least, I don’t see him thinking ahead to protect her, specifically. While in reality I like that Gayle is fighting for a larger group and cause (because seriously, that is important), in fiction, I like that there is someone who is thinking of Katniss alone as a person, and not as a symbol (which is also pretty important).

In the Twilight series, while we are led to believe there is a possible triangle, I think it’s a pretty foregone conclusion that Bella ends up with Edward, which means a less effective (even if still a compelling side story) execution. In the previous examples, I think I always felt that things could go either way, keeping me conflicted about who I think is the right choice vs. interesting fiction.

Honestly? Margaret Mitchell, for however much you might love or hate Gone With the Wind, wins for the best solution for triangles. Why choose at all? Kick ‘em both to the curb. 😀

Tell me about your love or hate for love triangles. What makes for a good one? Or a bad one?

Orianthi makes her reaons very clear for her love triangle choice:

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