Love Is a Triangle

Rick or Vic?
"Under stress, two people tend to draw in a third. They stabilize the system by forming a coalition of two in relation to the third. The basic unit of an emotional system is a triangle." -- Monica McGolderick, Genograms

Does ever great love story actually involve three people?

I've been wondering this as I work on the outline for a romance. Originally, I envisioned the conflict as coming from the opposing motives of the hero and heroine. But I feel as though perhaps a third charcter, now on the periphery, might move in to create a love triangle.

What do you think? Is there more tension when there is a serious second contender for the hero or heroine's heart? Clearly, the love triangle has the power to generate interest above and beyond the simple romance, or it wouldn't be such a tried and true plot device....

Ed or Jake?
Then again, Romeo and Juliette was not a love triangle. Jessica Rabbit was not actually playing patty-cake on Roger. The conflict came from just two sides, and that was enough to cause suffient mayhem. I hate to set up a love triangle merely to be formulaic.

It seems also that in the best love triangles, the two choices mean something, beyond the obvious. Rick and Victor in Casablanca represent different attitudes towards involvement in the war, which is why, no matter how much Elsa loves Rick, it's right that she goes with Victor. (Please don't whine about spoilers if you didn't know this. Please.) Likewise, Jacob and Edward are totally different personalities, and bring out a different aspect of Bella. James Bond always has two female flings, the good girl and the naughty vixen; usually one is blond or redhead and the other is a brunette so you won't be confused by their otherwise identically vapid personalities.

It would be fairly boring if the love triangle offered the chooser the option of two guys/gals who were pretty much alike. It would be like Bond having to chose between two redheads in the same movie. What would he do with himself?

My point is, if there is a triangle, it should have a deeper meaning than just another pretty face. It shouldn't be, "Well, I could marry this guy and live in suburbia with five kids, or that guy and live in suburbia with five kids," it should be "Well, I could marry this guy and save the free world or marry that guy and defect to Burma."

Who we choose to love should impact the fate of the whole world. At least in fiction.

Happy Valentines Day!


Jai Joshi said…
To me, a triangle only makes sense if the character caught in the middle really does love something about both of the others. Triangles just for the jealousy angle can be tedious.

Tara Maya said…
Jai, I agree. I don't count it as "real" triangle unless at least one person in it is torn between two. Badguy lusting after heroine or heroine jealous of Other Woman don't count.
Tracy Falbe said…
A romance does not always need a love triangle, but love triangles can be really compelling. A great example of a love triangle in a movie is Enemy at the Gates starring Jude Law. The female is confronted by two men, one is a peasant and the other is educated. She is educated and should naturally want to be with her equal, but the peasant is exciting and powerful. I watch this movie because I love its love triangle so much. The man who loses out makes a great speech near the end.

So, yes I agree with your point that the person needs to be presented with two choices that are both attractive but have substantial differences.
Tara Maya said…
Tracy, I love that movie too. I think it's a good example of using the love triangle to work on two levels. The love triangle makes sense in terms of the individuals involved, but it also relates directly to the theme of the movie.
You know I adore love triangles. :)
David said…
Well, in a romance, like with Bond, isn't one usually the good guy/girl and one the bad? There are plenty of tragic love stories, but few leaving one sympathetic romantic partner happy and one sad.