It’s a familiar story: you’re a YA enthusiast, browsing titles. You stop on a title and cover that seem enticing. Eagerly, you flip to the summary. And at first, the summary doesn’t disappoint: strong-willed girl thrust into intrigue/adventure/etc. by unforeseen circumstance.
And then there’s the mention of a handsome best friend.
You maintain your optimism here, because there’s a chance that the “best friend” is simply that, and nothing more. After all, “best friend” characters serve very important purposes in fiction. They can be the conscience, the voice of reason, the person who tells the heroine under no uncertain terms should she do that completely crazy thing she is about to do (of course the heroine is going to do it anyway because how else would she save the world? But I digress). Not all of them are fodder for the inevitable.
And then comes along the line about the brooding, handsome, strange outsider who is thrust into the heroine’s orbit and must stay there for some Very Important Reasons.
Sadly, now you know where this is headed. Because nearly every book you read seems to be going there.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance plot. I live for good romance plots. And, confession: sixteen-year-old me was one of those many readers that flooded said forums in defense of her preferred pairing. But as I grew older and wiser, I started to see some serious holes in the love triangle set up.
There are the more obvious reasons, like, it isn’t realistic. How many people do you know that spend weeks, maybe months, oscillating between two extremely good-looking love interests? If any of my friends ever told me that there were two people in their lives whom they were really interested in and they just didn’t know who to be with and that this was actually eating up brain space on a regular basis for a long time, I’d be giving them some Very Stern Life Advice. And I’d be seriously questioning the self-respect of the love interests involved. Okay, yes, fiction doesn’t necessarily have to be realistic, it can also be escapist and/or just plain good fun. Fiction can be a mirror of our own lives and how we would wish to live it — and honestly, having two people fight over me might be fun for thirty seconds, but then it would just get kind of stressful. And irritating. (Because excuse me, I am a independent, opinionated, stubborn-minded woman and I am in charge of who is or isn’t in my life, thank you!)
That’s why I find love triangles incredibly problematic: they seriously weaken the nature of the heroine involved.
Stereotypes dictate that women are incapable of rational thought, and of having strong wills. And it seems to me that in YA fiction, this lack of rational thought and strong will is perpetuated over and over again, book after book, through love triangles. And while the “rational thought” part might be explained away with a “Eh, teenagers. Hormones,” the “strong will” part is a little harder. The author shows me how deep and dangerous her heroine is. She’ll have her heroine jumping across rooftops and tunneling fearlessly underground and dressing in fabulous outfits with a stiletto knife tucked into her hair because this heroine knows how to get things done. But also, in-between being incredibly busy saving the world with said stiletto knife, the protagonist somehow finds time to just awkwardly tottle emotionally between two guys over and over again? It’s contradictory at best, and at worst it’s…flighty. It takes away some of the power she gains as a decisive, intelligent character who is in charge of moving the plot to amazing heights. It tells me that no matter how high a girl could go, her inability to have clear, decisive relationships (usually with a boy) is always going to make her insecure and fragile and, essentially, drag her down.
And for the record, I don’t think it helps the (usually) male characters involved in the triangle any, either. At best, they seem kind of pathetic in clinging to the same girl and not asking for a definitive answer to “Where is this going?”. At worst, they seem unhealthily obsessive and possessive. And nobody, I repeat, nobody, should read that and think, “yes, that sounds like good fun, and possibly that’s how I want my life to turn out too.”
So this is my plea to authors. Enough, enough with the love triangles. I want no more of the girl-caught-between-best-friend-and-mysterious-stranger plots, or girl-caught-between-two-handsome-brothers plots, or the girl-caught-between-the-mean!prince-and-the-sweet!pauper plots. Or any of the other love triangles out there. (Sidenote: isn’t it interesting to note that it’s always a boy-girl-boy scenario?). It’s time to put unnecessary, unrealistic, pretty pathetic emotional entanglement aside and let a character (and her readers) breathe.