Top Shelf: Examining love triangles in teen fiction

The main characters of Twilight in an intimate scene (Nataliya Kamp/Flickr Creative Commons)

From “Twilight” to “The Hunger Games” to “The Mortal Instruments,” the concept of the love triangle has been growing in prevalence and showing up all over common media these days. Almost every television show, movie and young adult novel fights to include one in its plot. The key word here is “include,” because the love triangle usually serves no purpose to the actual plot as a whole.  

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is that one character has two possible love interests and has to choose between them. Don’t get me wrong—they can happen in real life, but they occur nowhere near as often as they appear in books. Which is only the first of many problems I have with them.  

How often have you seen a love triangle where a guy is forced to choose between two girls? I’m racking my brain trying to think of one, but nothing is coming to mind. But two guys fighting over one girl? I can think of 10 books without even trying. Often, it reduces the main female character to a uninteresting girl forced to make the “hardest” decision ever: choosing a boyfriend. The rest of the plot is either ignored, erased or nonexistent. To put it simply, girls are more than just potential girlfriends to everyone else in the world, and I’m tired of them being portrayed that way. 

Not to mention, books and television shows have a nasty habit of drawing out these plots to physically painful lengths. What could last maybe two episodes or a few chapters can take an entire season or book to resolve. The rest of the plot can be derailed entirely, and often the character that “should” end up with the main character (the one who has more chemistry with them and whose character would grow exponentially from the relationship) is shoved aside for fan service.  

So why do love triangles exist? If “Twilight” taught us anything, it’s that love triangles are marketable. Teens worldwide chose between Team Edward and Team Jacob, each of which had custom t-shirts, backpacks, buttons, pens, etc. All of it just means more money for the writers and producers, and I don’t need to explain that capitalism trumps what is morally right every time.  

The same appeal can be applied to television shows. Love triangles leave viewers rooting for a side and tuning in every week to see if their side “wins.” Because, you know, love is definitely meant to be a competition.  

Aside from being unnecessary, love triangles can turn downright problematic. Take “Twilight” for example: Everything about Bella’s relationship with both Edward and Jacob was abusive, and this only grew worse as each guy tried to fight for her. Bella literally broke her hand trying to force Jacob off of her. 

The worst example is “The Hunger Games.” The book is a critique of society and the role of government. It speaks largely on inequality and the abuse of power and class, as well as femininity and the importance of appearances. But what is it that everyone takes from the book, that everyone remembers? The love triangle. The movies and the media made the whole series into another Team Gale versus Team Peeta war. We all ignored the fact that kids were forced to kill each other and focused instead on the love story, which is ironically exactly what the Capitol did to Katniss in the books.  

I’m tired of unnecessary love triangles diminishing strong female characters to objects that guys are trying to win. Love triangles are consistently added into works because they’re considered marketable, but all it does is take away from the integrity of the piece as a whole. They’re indicators of pandering and lazy writing, and it’s time for the popularity of this trope to come to an end.  


Courtney Gavitt is a Staff Writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at courtney.gavitt@uconn.edu.