The Problematic Nature of Love Triangles in Media

Abigel Lancaster

Love triangles are one of the most popular and yet most divisive tropes used in media today. We’re all familiar with the general idea – one character, often a woman, forced to choose between two love interests. This is by no means a new idea – the love triangle has been a reoccurring trope in literature for centuries, with some of the most notable examples being F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. But it is the film and television industries that have recently profited from its overwhelming popularity. From film franchises like Twilight, to the more recent Amazon Prime series The Summer I Turned Pretty, modern media seems to have become somewhat consumed by the love triangle. And it’s not difficult to see why. Impact‘s Abigel Lancaster explores.

When done well, shows and films that make use of the trope of the love triangle create a unique balance between predictability and excitement, between comfort and novelty. Many of them seem virtually identical aside from the changing of the names of the characters. And yet they maintain a certain charm that endears them to the wider public in a way more complicated storylines may struggle to do so. 

As much of the intended audience is young and inexperienced in the world of relationships, the idea of having two people fighting over who gets to be with you can seem thrilling and even somewhat aspirational. But, and perhaps most crucially of all, the protagonist is always written to be relatable and down to earth, someone who the teenage and young adult girls who these shows and films are primarily created for can see themselves in and root for. She is not a malicious person who deliberately leads two people astray, but rather an ordinary girl who finds herself having to choose between two men who are in love with her.

many of us enjoy the experience of watching one play out on the screen, even if we can predict the end long before it actually comes

In this sense, watchers are able to almost imagine themselves as the protagonist and decide what they would do in her situation, offering a type of entertainment that is, at least on some level, interactive. Love triangles may be an overused cliché, but many of us enjoy the experience of watching one play out on the screen, even if we can predict the end long before it actually comes. 

However, whilst at first glance the love triangle may seem like a bit of innocent escapism, it’s worth considering its possible implications on real life relationships. At its core, the love triangle is a choice between two individuals, with the one deemed the ‘lesser’ option cast aside without a second thought. This is all well and good when the only people involved are characters, but, when applied to real life, is inevitably a recipe for disaster. Love triangles create a power imbalance and a self-centred view of relationships, spreading the idea that it is ok to lead people on and treat them as though they are disposable. And for those who are victims of this, it can create lasting trust issues that impact their ability to form meaningful relationships later on.

Of course, it could be argued that shows or films that make use of the plot device of the love triangle are for entertainment purposes only, and are not meant to be replicated in real life. But when a person is constantly exposed to such an idea, it will inevitably have some level of influence of the way they begin to treat their romantic partners. The Summer I Turned Pretty is a particularly interesting example to consider as the two ‘options’ involved are brothers, further raising questions about the impact of the love triangle on interpersonal relationships.

Romanticising such a dysfunctional and toxic relationship model sets a dangerous precedent for the way young people approach romantic relationships

The idea of stringing along two completely separate people is harmful enough, but when the two ‘options’ are closely linked or even biologically related, there is an additional relationship dynamic that is also placed in jeopardy. The fact that the protagonist, Belly, is still presented as largely innocent and not made to take responsibility for her actions creates the impression that they are morally acceptable. Romanticising such a dysfunctional and toxic relationship model sets a dangerous precedent for the way young people approach romantic relationships.

The use of love triangles in reality TV, where there is less of a clear boundary between what is real and what is purely for entertainment purposes, further reinforces this risk. In shows like Love Island, where a person’s survival in such an environment depends on forming and maintaining romantic connections, love triangles can act as a symbol of power and security, allowing those with multiple ‘options’ to stay on the show for longer and thus increase their opportunities when they leave.

what is acceptable in fiction does not necessarily translate into real life

It is this form of media above all others that perhaps poses the greatest threat to the way people view real life relationships. People see the term “reality” and disregard the potential influence of producers behind the scenes. If they believe that the contestants are behaving in the way that they would if they were not on television, it allows them to justify their own behaviour and the way they treat their romantic partners.

Ultimately, love triangles are a staple of film and television that many people find highly entertaining, and eradicating them from media entirely is not necessarily the answer. But what is acceptable in fiction does not necessarily translate into real life, and the distinction between the two is a vital one to make if we are to have healthy and lasting relationships built on mutual trust. Whilst entertaining, reality TV is also not reflective of the intricacies of real life relationships, and we must separate the “love triangle” in all its forms from our personal lives for the good of ourselves and those around us.

Abigel Lancaster

Featured image courtesy of Mayur Gala via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

In-article images courtesy of @primevideo and @loveisland via Instagram. No changes were made to these images.

In-article videos courtesy of @Prime Video via Youtube. No changes were made to this video.

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