Friday, June 15, 2012

Elementary, My Dear - The Imbalance of Love Triangles

Love triangles are impossible - they never get to the point.
*Be advised this post contains mild spoilers

Love triangles have been a pretty common trope in popular culture since before the scandal that was Hephaestus, Aphrodite, and Ares. Talk about your uncomfortable endings. Love triangles are a pesky little phenomenon wherein one character has two simultaneously love interests, both with equal potential for providing the highly coveted happily ever after. I personally find that it's a lot like having two fairy tales sharing the princess and knowing only one can have the happy ending. Which just plain sucks if you happen to be rooting for the other guy...and, with my track record, I usually am.

So, love triangles. Popular yet frustrating. And that's putting it mildly. To borrow the definition used by Television Tropes & Idioms:
A is in love with B, but B is in love with C, resulting in wacky hijinks. Alternatively, A and B are both in love with C, who is torn between the two and must make a choice. In the latter case, A and B tend to be Betty and Veronica; in the former, A will usually be a Romantic False Lead or Hopeless Suitor.

Can sometimes lead to A stepping back because They Just Want Their Beloved To Be Happy. Alternately, A is a total jerk or Clingy Jealous Girl, making it completely okay for B to get C. Of course, A could just engage in a bit of Relationship Sabotage, perhaps even to the point of Murdering The Hypotenuse, but that would be overly cynical.

Very common in Soap Opera.
In other words, Cupid went crazy, got three people caught up in love and no matter how you cut the resulting cake someone is going to get hurt, though sometimes that last part is well deserved. Personally, I always find love triangles to be frustrating as hell. You devote a good deal of time, energy, and emotion rooting for a particular outcome, invested in a specific pairing and just when you're about ready to scream obscenities, either the other couple proves endgame or Death comes to call and makes the decision moot.

Take the King Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot triangle. Its conclusion? Lancelot dies, Guinevere becomes a nun and Arthur is taken to Avalon to take a nap. Needless to say, Arthurian legends don't really go for happily ever after. More recently, the Sam/Mercy/Adam triangle from Patricia Briggs' Mercedes Thompson series ended with Sam withdrawing when he realized his love had turned to brotherly affection somewhere along the line. My biggest problem with these so-called resolutions is that they give the impression that the hero won the maiden's hand by default; she didn't choose between her options, Fate got tired of waiting and made it for her. Which is not to say Guinevere didn't enjoy life as a nun or that Mercy doesn't legitimately love Adam; that's irrelevant. This is more like a player folding suddenly in the middle of the card game. Sure, the remaining  player wins the pot, but you're still left wondering if he still would have won had the other player hadn't folded.

Worse still are those triangles that border on the ridiculous for no other reason than you can't imagine how they got themselves into such a situation to begin. Alex Craft, for instance, heroine of Kalayna Price's Grave Witch books, has got herself torn between Death, a grim reaper who exists in a whole other plane of existence, and Falin, a Fae knight bound body and soul to service of the Winter Queen. Unattainable much? And then there's the absurdity of Karen Chance's Mircea/Cassie/Pritkin triangle. Mircea's wrapped up in duties and loyalties to the vampire nation, Cassie is saddled with the responsibility to serve as the supernatural community's neutral judge and Pritkin is a cranky as hell incubus/human sorcerer halfbreed bound to Daddy Dearest...oh, and did I mention Cassie is mortal and the guys are immortal? How can any combination therein lead to happily ever after without somebody breaking first? Ultimately, these sort of triangles aren't so much about who the heroine chooses as they are about who can work themselves out of their less than ideal circumstances.

And of course there are those delightfully pointless triangles where you know, just know, that no matter what one of the heroes is endgame leaving the other as just another tension-inciting obstacle. Take Rachel Vincent's Marc/Faythe/Jace triangle where, on one side, you have the boy she's been in love with since she was a teenager, who she almost married once before, who she's been getting back together with, and on the other you have her brother's best fest friend. Yes, she loved them both, yes they were both great guys in their own ways, but the cards were definitely stacked in Marc's favour from the outset making the whole decision waffling process more of an exercise in time wasting than anything else. Like the lactose intolerant kid trying to decide between ice cream or fruit salad for dessert.

Triangles are exhausting, pure and simple, and no matter what they leave someone unhappy, both in and out of the book. What I do like, however, are those scenarios where a triangle looks to be set up but never actually comes to fruition. A particularly good example of this can be found in Jennifer Estep's Elemental Assassin series. The first book sets up a relationship between assassin Gin Blanco and ace detective Donovan Caine while Owen Grayson is introduced as a fringe character in the second book. By the end of that second book, Donovan has decided not to risk tarnishing his golden boy image and leaves town, paving the way for Owen to move in the role romantic lead in the third book. Donovan then reappears in the sixth book, at point where Owen and Gin's relationship has had a chance to deepen and cement itself, and has all of his loose ends tied up neat as can be. Incidentally, Nicole Peeler has something similar happen in her Jane True series when the role of romantic male lead shifts from Ryu, who'd held the position for the first two books, to Anyan at the end of the third.

Overall, it must be said, that I much prefer when one couple struggles and strives together over having to wait around to see who wins the girl. I like it when those will-they-or-won't-they concerns get wrapped up quickly, allowing the focus to be on developing one relationship over the course of the series. Take Kate and Curran from Ilona Andrews' writing. Yes, in the series' fourth book they finally, officially got together as a mated couple, but there's still plenty of other problems causing them tension; he's leading a pack of over fifteen hundred shapeshifters, afterall, and her dad is a crazy, god-like, necromantic super-wizard. Those issues actually have an effect on their relationship - sometimes good, sometimes bad - and require that they work on solving/overcoming them TOGETHER. Much, much more appealing to me than having to do so in duplicate with two different guys, one of whom will inevitably be booted from the love nest.

But, hey. to each their own.

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