Katniss. Peeta. Gale.
Bella. Edward. Jacob.
Jack. Kate. Sawyer.
Rose. Jack. Cal.
Andie. Ducky. Blaine.
Sabrina. Linus. David.
Rick. Ilsa. Victor.
Scarlett. Ashley. Rhett. OR Scarlett. Ashley. Melanie.
Elaine. Ben. Mrs. Robinson.
Why are we so fascinated with love triangles? Why is this such a popular element in storytelling?
Blake Snyder would say, “Because it’s primal.” Love is primal. And the obstacle to it – the threat of another lover – is primal. It hits us deep down and rings true in our gut. The feeling of loving someone and being scared to death that they will choose someone else. Or the confusion of knowing that two people are vying for your attention and not wanting to let either one down.
Okay. But there’s something else that 80% of those triangles have in common, something that intrigues me even more. Why do eight of the ten have two guys fighting over a girl? Why is the story so seldom about two girls fighting over a guy? I have a theory.
Most love triangles pop up in movies classified under the umbrella term, “chick flick.” Whether comedy or drama, the romantic element targets the female audience. And what girl doesn’t want to fantasize about having guys fight for her affection? What teenage girl doesn’t want to Bella? The audience roots for the protagonist, the girl in the middle, because they want to be like her. They have a deeply rooted desire to be loved.
It’s a bit twisted in most movies, becoming a desire to be wanted rather than to be loved, but I think underneath is a profound truth about femininity and masculinity. Women have an innate desire to be the receivers and reciprocators of love, while men have a natural tendency to be the initiators of love. If you’ve read anything of Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, you probably know what I’m talking about. As Christopher West puts it, this truth about man as lover and woman as beloved is stamped right into our bodies. And God’s commandment to Adam was to guard the garden, to guard Eve. Thus men were, in a sense, created to defend and, if need be, fight for women. In romantic movies, this truth manifests itself in the classic love triangle. Two men fighting for the woman they love, and the woman choosing to receive and reciprocate.
So what about the other 20%? The girls fighting over the guy? Does that kind of story ring true, pack the same emotional punch, the same way the other 80% do? I don’t think it does. Not exactly, anyway. The only love girl-girl-guy triangles I can think of that really struck an emotional chord for me did not strike me because the women were fighting for the man. They struck me because one of the women seems always to be doomed to being “a good friend” and nothing more, and she will never fight to be more because she values the friendship too much – and that’s most definitely a circumstance I can identify with. If the women in the story are fighting each other, it’s unattractive. Almost repellent. We feel, somehow, that it’s not feminine.
Isn’t that interesting? Our culture, despite all its confusion and desperate attempts to erase our sexual identities, intrinsically knows something fundamental about masculinity and femininity and clings to it. That men want to love and women want to be loved.
What are your thoughts? Am I off my rocker? Do you have a different gut reaction to love triangles than I?
Bonus points if you can name all nine (since two of the ten triangles come from the same movie) movies/TV shows that go with the love triangles above.