Dear Showrunners: It may be time to retire the love triangle

Most of the time, they’re just a real drag

Will-they-won’t-they, team this or team that, dual names plastered together to create ships: television in 2012 is spiraling down in a love geometrical shape wasteland. I say geometrical shape because, given the amount of insane love interests on some shows, triangles are almost passé. Don’t be surprised if by this time next year we’re using “love trapezoid” or “pentagon.” That’s not to say love triangles are all bad; they definitely have their place on television — and they’ve been the foundation for some of the most iconic storylines, whether for better or worse. They can be salaciously campy and addicting in a way that drives some entertainment to ridiculous levels of fun. Other times, they can greatly further fuel other plot points. Somehow, audiences reap fun out of watching people impossibly better looking than us wallow around between two impeccable love interest choices in a way that would never happen in the real world. (Or at least it’s never happened to me. Perhaps I need to take a look at myself and reevaluate how I go about this love interests thing.)

But most of the time they’re just a real drag, especially when a series that began as otherwise entertaining morphs into The Love Triangle Show. Because of that, I think it may be time to retire the good ol’ love triangle trope for television.

There’s probably an infinite amount of reasons why the love triangle should cash out on its 401K and find a nice, quiet home in Florida…but here are just a few:

…Because they ruin fan bases

Showrunners, have you been on any social media sites as of late? (Actually, this is an entire argument in of itself where showrunners should probably logoff websites for the most part.) What you’ll find is that your series, depending on how much emphasis you’ve put on your love triangle, is basically separated in two: team this guy or team that guy.


Fans take analyses and try to decipher who this person “ships” so that they may pigeonholed him or her as either awesome…or and idiot

Now, I understand that that doesn’t necessarily conflict with the show’s storytelling, but inherently the selling point of having and creating a television show — apart from delving into characters and having a multitude of directions to take them — is being inside someone’s home for one hour each week. It’s the connection with audiences that make television shows live on and on, past their point of original air. That intimacy creates a bond between audiences and the people who make television series in a way no other art form can.

Thanks to the love triangle, audiences are running amuck.

No longer can people gather onto message boards and blogs to discuss their favorite television series (you know, yours) without being berated about which suitor they prefer. Ultimately, fans judge other fans’ opinions based on which side of the triangle they like as if that’s a basis for an entire argument about a series’ plot. If you like triangle side A, that must mean that you are a complete idiot; therefore, anything you say is idiotic.

You may think that’s crazy, showrunners, but that’s, like, an actual thing. And it’s, like, widely accepted in fandom now.

Or, even worse: fans take analyses and try to decipher who this person “ships” so that they may pigeonholed him or her as either awesome…or an idiot. Oh, you thought that’s what that meant? That must mean you like Ship B — and you are a dumbass, obviously.

There’s really no problem with conflicting arguments. It’s what creates actual, interesting, meaningful debate. Hell, it’s what creates the desire to return to talk about anything. But this is more about sticking people into distinct boxes with straining labels in order to avoid that person entirely.

And that’s no fun.

…Because audiences stop caring about plot

This is more about sticking people into distinct boxes with straining labels in order to avoid that person entirely

Remember how you paralleled that plot to create an impeccable metaphor for the nuance of the human condition? Remember how awesome it was to come up with that, elaborate it, and execute it?

Yeah, no one else does. That’s because no one actually cared. Okay, not “no one,” but still, the point I’m trying to make is that people are too deeply invested in which romantic interest wins out rather than what’s actually happening to the character in terms of development.

Any good series utilizes its many seasons to tell a story arc about the characters we love the most — growing them, in either direction(s), rather than keeping them stagnant. In fact, that’s (as we recall) the selling point of doing television rather than doing film: characters grow, ambitions change, circumstances differ, and eventually by series’ end we’ve come to see a completely third dimensional person form before our eyes.

Instead, the television audience has seen way too many characters they once loved stay stuck in immobile storylines pertaining to the fruit of their loins.

Does your character have no other ambitions? Are they only interested in whom they’ll be lying next to at night?

There’s the rub: it’s not even that audience begins to forget about actual, you know, stories but soon thereafter so do you, showrunners.

…Because people will be upset either way

Why do you stop caring? Because after all that time pandering to the audience, you’ve given up on actually doing anything plot-wise. Pretty soon, we’re watching The Love Connection. And if you spend so much time making your sole story a triangle, by series’ end, fifty percent of your audience will most likely be downright livid.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s never been my thought that series should cater to everyone or try to make everyone happy. That’s absolutely just not true. A show’s ability to make its audience, well, even angry is an amazing feat. Don’t take that lightly, showrunners. That’s great power.

But similarly, don’t abuse it.

When a show revolves around a love triangle, it’s guaranteed to make half of its audience either apathetic or annoyed. And not for the right reasons.

Oftentimes, television can make us upset but ultimately we know what’s at stake for a character and our emotion is a projection for wanting what’s best for them (or otherwise). Being upset about love interest choices is more about the audience member’s own need to see what they want to happen because gosh darnit they’re just so cute together! (Unless they’re one of those “I Ship So-And-So and Happiness” people.) That’s just not at all analogous to plot.

…Because they go past the point of believability

No one says we watch television for it to bear a striking resemblance to reality. But any show needs to hold some sort of sense of its own reality, regardless of how over the top it may be.

Some love triangles last years. How can you expect us to feasibly believe that anyone would just waddle back and forth between two people for this long? We don’t. Look around, people are calling it ridiculous and we hate it. So please stop this immediately. Please, I beg of you.

Showrunners, if you’ve decided you want to have a love triangle: just end it. Please. Set an end date and get there. Otherwise, you know what we get? Pissed off fans doing everything but calling your female characters whores.

Oh, no wait, we actually get that — like all the time. (Plus we also get a lot of, “she owes him her love” which is just…gag inducing, really.) The fact that love triangles make us basically hate women is a letter/article in its own right, so I won’t delve into it much in this one. But you should know that, in a world where female characters are written so awfully, having yours stick to only caring about which male she’s more deserving of is, in a word, rather sickening. So please stop that.


When a show revolves around a love triangle, it’s guaranteed to make half of its audience either apathetic or annoyed. And not for the right reasons.
More so, there’s an inherent problem with love triangles. Plenty of showrunners write love triangles into their series (for whatever good willed reason) without ever knowing whom they’re casting to play the roles. The fact of the matter is that some actors have about as much chemistry as an English textbook. And, if you haven’t guessed already, shipping is mostly about thinking who has the most chemistry. And by the same vein, it’s such a subjective thing. Someone might think a couple is off the charts caliente and another might think they feel like siblings.

When you’re trying to show us a budding romance between two people parts of the audience thinks feels like kissing cousins, it just doesn’t work. And we get impatient. And it’s hard to believe in that part of the story. This is an issue, showrunners.

But Michael, I need a love triangle!

So you’ve made it all the way through this letter and you’re telling me, “No, I’m still doing a love triangle and shut up and you’re the worst you dumbass blogger!” No problem. No offense taken. I get it.

The truth is that I don’t really have any problem with love triangles. Plenty of shows have done it well. I love me some Awkward. (the show of love triangle shows, but it does it well) and similarly-named web series Awkward Black Girl and Homeland and Revenge and How I Met Your Mother and…you get it. But here are my tips to you on how to make your love triangle shine its brightest.

Tip 1: Make it a backdrop. Love triangles are not storylines, they are only elements of storylines (unless you can execute it well). Having your love triangle as mostly just a backdrop of the series (unless, again, you can execute it well) and not Storyline A will ensure that the audience will pay more attention to actual plotlines. This way, when you eventually have to end the story, you’re not met with rabid crazies. Which brings us to…

Tip 2: Set an end date. I’ve already said this, but it needs to be repeated. If you find that you’re spiraling down into love triangle territory, make sure you set when that storyline will come to an end — and pronto! Doing this will allow you to make sure your character doesn’t wallow between two potential suitors and therefore allow you to avoid ruining an awesome character. Don’t ruin awesome characters please.

Tip 3: The Jacob Black Effect. Poor Jacob of Twilight never stood a chance. That’s why no one is going to be upset when he’s not chosen and imprints himself onto an infant come the final film. (Once again, unless your actors have awesome chemistry, follow this tip!)

Tip 4: Give it meaning. Nothing’s worse than having a love triangle on a show just for love triangle’s sake. If you’re going to have a love triangle, make sure you flesh out both relationships so that it doesn’t feel like these other partners are just there to create DRAMAAAA! That’s lame and we see through that and we hate that.

And there you go!

I must reiterate this: love triangles are not all that bad. Some series do it well. Some series don’t. But all should know that entering into love triangle wasteland is just not the direction you want to take your story. It creates a nasty atmosphere in some fandoms (especially if your show is catered to 12 year old girls, in which case why am I even watching your show!?); it becomes draining; and it eventually makes people care less about the actual progression of the series’ arcs.

We love your show. We love your characters. That’s why we’re watching. The last thing we want to do is see them stuck in storylines they can’t get out of and in which we begin to love them a bit less. Don’t do this to us, showrunners. Consider retiring the love triangle once and for all!

(As if.)

| Categories: Features
About the author: Mike
Mike
Mike's a television junkie located in Miami, where he spends all of his time watching TV with his best friends couch and cable access.

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  • http://twitter.com/juliajewels juliajewels

    Do you mind if I forward a copy of this post to Julie Plec’s twitter page? TVD would be so much better if they were to include even a few of the points made here.

    • InvestedInYourFuture

      frankly I doubt triangle itself changing would save TVD alone.

      boring filler triangle COULD be bearable if all three characters were equally developed, interesting, had personalities and had plotlines and reasons to exist beyond the triangle. Just changing the triangle for example would not change the fact that Elena is just so utterly dull, boring and personality-less.

  • http://twitter.com/GGirlsss GGirlsss

    Just based on the title, I completely agree. Love triangles are the bane of my television existence. Especially with the way they do it now, where they seem intent on making you believe all couples have an equal chance and the main character just HAPPENS to equally love a billion people: setting part the audience up to fail from the start and therefore hate you. Instead of allowing said audience to root for the resolution of a plot or the success of characters, you just have them fighting amongst each other and not paying attention to the show.

    Now onto the actual article! I completely agree they they ruin fanbases, but it’s not just that it makes your other arguments moot when someone disagrees with your ships. It’s that … There almost ARE no other arguments to even have. People will debate DE vs SE or CB vs DB until the cows come home, and you have very few people talking about Bonnie’s witch powers or Serena’s rocky career trajectory, or whatever. The show ends up sidelining its other characters and the fans just compound the problem by only wanting to know about Ship A or Ship B.

    Which leads into your second point, haha. The show becomes all about the triangle like it’s a vicious cycle or something. I don’t know, did the internet and internet fandom ruin television or did insecure showrunners ruin internet fandom? WHICH CAME FIRST?

    And yes, you are making the point I feel angriest re: love triangles. Why are you purposely going to make half your audience mad at you when it comes to something as simple as who the main character loves? Why not make us invested on where the character goes to college, or how s/he defeats the season’s Big Bad? One show that I think is doing a great job of balancing right now is Once Upon A Time – possibly because it’s nearly devoid of triangles, haha. But of course it’s only been one season and who knows when it’ll get ugly?

    You’re especially right that women are unfortunately the ones who are usually in the middle of the triangle. Add that to the fact that they already tend to be poorly written, and we get a recipe for misogyny.

    Finally, all your tips are perfect. Because you’re perfect. Duh.

  • InvestedInYourFuture

    Mostly agreed with the article, although I do not see love triangles as end-all-be-all ultimate evil of all forms of narrative.
    .
    Love Triangles work good when they are not the main focus of the show.

    That is: Love triangles should build themselves AROUND characters, and characters should NOT be built solely around love triangles.

    It applies to pairings in the shows in general too, not just love triangles and I ranted in the past week about that for quite some time. I was rewatching certain shows that I really love(veronica mars, namely) and it occurred to me that pretty much all of my otps in all shows are pairings that were slowly and carefully built up instead of just being thrown into my face with pure intention of being a pairing. Hell, my Veronica Mars otp did not even start for what seems like a dozen of episodes and no one would have thought those two characters would get together during the start of the show.

    I find the fact that more and more shows nowadays just THROW two characters together(a met b and fell in love, like instantly~) from episode one expecting viewers to just buy/ship it, disturbing and sad. Because the WHY’s and HOW’s behind the relationship is half the whole point of “shipping”. The things that make us care about the pair.

    Now for love triangles, love triangles can give a lot of interesting developments to the plot. How characters feel about each other and about the competition can affect where the plot goes (there are certain examples of that in angel the series and I say ATS did a perfect job of its love triangle, in a way making it as part of backdrop of main plot, as well as character motivations for certain decisions). Love triangle and the conflict it provides can be a VERY strong character motivator when a push for a decision(any decision, not even related to love triangle itself) comes.

    What KILLS shows are badly developed and “fake” love triangles(namely TVD’s triangle of doom, for example).

    Let’s be frank and honest – TVD does NOT have a real “love triangle”. You have this “epic” love out of nowhere that has got thrown into our faces from day one of the show and then you have this “alternate pairing” that ALSO does not get any development nor direct confirmation, yet instead is treated as somehow just as viable. The pacing is off, everything is off and instead of enhancing the plot, the “fake” triangle slows it down to a crawl, taking away screentime from more interesting characters. Why should those characters in either pairing be together? HOW those pairings started and evolved? none of that is there.

    Elena does not develop nor care about love triangle being there in any way and all focus instead is pushed upon steffie and damon’s brotherhood, eliminating any sort of character development that could provide to Elena. Hell, you do not even see any REAL conflict or effect of the conflict (show just states that Elena is REALLY conflicted about choice and then just leaves it at that, burning screentime). Does Julie Plec believe that the only reason one could ship characters is because actors are pretty or what?

    Even Revenge’s love triangle is really artificial and unneeded, so much that it feels like an after-thought and the show would work better if none of that was there. In otherwise brilliant show, that’s one aspect that is really really badly developed(not even developed since it suffers from similar problems, to a lesser extent of course, like tvd does, with lack of any sort of pacing or reasoning for it even being there)

    That’s the kind of love triangle that kills the plot, the show and any enjoyment the show might offer.

  • katherine_fan

    I’ve watched many TV shows and I have to say the only show that has handled love triangles well is OTH.First of all,because the main love triangle was created and resolved while the characters were still in high school.I’m not saying that the characters didn’t love each other for real,but we’ve all been teenagers and we know that hormones are out of control during adolescene.So,it was believable when the show had the characters involved in a love triangle at that age simply b/c when you are a teenager you can’t always tell the difference between being in love with someone and being attracted to someone!(I’d like to believe that as we grow older,we can make the distinction easier).Second of all,b/c it gave each couple a chance.(actually,it gave more than one chance).I don’t know about you,but for me, most shows these days like to tease a possible love story between two characters than actually giving them a chance at a real relationship.Therefore,the shippers usually…ship the idea of a realtionship rather than the real thing!For example,TVD;people say Damon is better than Stefan for Elena.How do they know that?They haven’t seen Elena being in a relationship with Damon so as to support this assumption.Third of all,because the characters evolved outside and because of the love triangle.Leyton in season 1 was nothing like Leyton in season 4- just like Brucas was totally different in season 1 than in season 2,3 or 4!Why?Because Lucas,Brooke and Peyton were not the same people they were when the show had begun.They grew up!Finally,because we saw these 3 people date other people!We saw Peyton date Jake,Lucas date Anna in s2 and Brooke date Felix in s2 and Nick in s4.If a show gives the characters only two options (let’s say Elena to be with Stefan or to be with Damon),it will get boring really soon.
    Congratulations,Michael!This was an outstanding piece!:)

  • http://twitter.com/Jenners379 Jenners

    I really enjoyed this a lot. I hope several show runners (Ms. Plec of TVD and Mr. Kelly of Revenge) read them and learn something. I don’t want to lose some of my favorite shows, but I hate to have my time wasted on things I don’t care about. So glad you outlined why I don’t care because now I don’t have to. Fab job!

  • Queenoftherant

    Fantastic article, Michael, and very timely. Love triangles are such an age old plot device (Sabrina, Gone with the Wind anyone?) but it is only fairly recently that I feel it is being used and abused as nothing more than a lazy plot contrivance on a number of teen shows, books and movie franchises. The viciousness in social media within some fandoms is truly shocking and cannot possibly be a good thing for a showrunner’s reputation.

    Worst of all in my opinion is that writers are actively participating in fueling this rubbish. I really don’t like writers having twitter accounts. One for the show is fine, but without the fourth wall some young audience members clearly feel they have the right to dictate outcomes of love triangles etc through nothing more than bullying the writers or threatening boycotts. Using the results of behind the scenes focus testing of shows etc is one thing, but these twitter groups really are a comparatively small portion of the viewership yet seem to be actually affecting the storylines professional adult writers are delivering which is just an embarrassment. Even if not the case, the perception that this may be happening is enough to sink a show’s credibility entirely.

    And SO true about the impact on female characters. You really do rock.

    • cacherr1

      I agree I don’t think writers nor the the showrunners should be talking to fans on twitter while one should be aware of the fandom, you shouldn’t be involved with it as you come off as unprofessional. Julie Plec is great offender (I noticed twitter may have been an issue for her when she would only tweet DE videos) of inciting shipper wars and arguments and then goes on stating we are a tvd family, cries about being attack. That twittergate incident (which imo was Julie’s fault, not the fans) should have been wake up call maybe I am too deep in this and your right other than for the show itself, sort of like facebook page, writers should not be interacting with fans that way as there needs to be separation between them and us.

  • QMargo

    I can’t expess how much I enjoyed reading this article because I agree with all the points and that is exactly how I feel …. for me in past 5 years (ok, maybe more, but for me it is 5 years) shows on television have become kind of all the same, meaning most have follow the same formula which almost always includes a love triangle. Now, I don’t opose to the idea of love triangles, but as many here have pointed out and you yourself, there have to be certain conditions or reasons for a love triangle to 1. be present. 2 actually work out. But lately especially with teen shows it feels like one season is spent on the actual plot and from s2 and onwards its all about who makes out with whom and then weird shippers arise who see that just because two characters shared 5 seconds on-screen together, that means they are meant to be because ” they have soooo much in common”. And then, for some reason, producers and writers, who I think spend way to much time reading forums and fanfiction ( seems like way too much time) decide to throw that audience a bone and give them a few episodes with their ship making out. That is how I feel about GG and TVD right now – way too many ships, with the main plot being left undeveloped and almost forgotten about. I don’t even want to talk about the amount of crack ships that pollute the forums with their wild fantasies about two completely unrelated tv characters getting hot and heavy.

    Take TVD for instance, how many ships does that show currently have? Michael, you even joked about this in one of your photo recaps, numbering them down as they appeared on the screen….A part from the boring DES you have Caroline in two triangles ALREADY! And GG? Everyone is in love with Blair it seems….probably even Rufus…at some stage.

    Also, it seems like lately love triangles are the sole existence for some shows, because otherwise fans would not be watching them, I left quite a few GG forums because I could not take it any longer that all people did on those forums was to sing ditchyrambs to Chair and then Dair….its like no one is interested in what is actually going on in the story…or whether anything makes sense.

    Anyway, I think the writers of certain shows have forgotten the meaning of a love triangle, or do not understand it completely because love triangles do not SPECIFICALLY have to be about getting two people into bed as fast as possible. Look up the definition of love triangles – “While it can refer to two people independently romantically linked with a third, it usually implies that each of the three people has some kind of relationship to the other two. The relationships can be friendships, romantic, or familial (often siblings), and often triggers jealousy and hatred between the rivals involved.”

    I specifically like your point about triangles getting to the point beyond believability. For me an image of that will always be Dair, not because they were awaful together but because Dair happened at the wrong time, because they took that relationship to bed and because the writers had he guts to write an episode where the audience finds out that ALL THESE YEARS Dan has been in love with Blair….not Serena, judging by the book he wrote. I am sorry, but that was just a spit in the face of all those people, myself included who watched GG from the start and partly because of Dan’s and Serena’s relationship. Again, Dan’s ILU to Serena felt way more sincere and truthful than it did with Blair.

    Now onto TVD, look, sorry to bring this up again, but the shows is failing miserably in creating the same effect as the books did with the whole DES triangle because if it is taking THAT long for anything to happen on the DE side while so much has already happened with SE…it feels unbalanced and by s4 already boring and like a broken record – Damon loves Elena but Elena has yet so admit what she feels for him…zzzzzzzz. And since the show is now so tied into this triangle, it is becoming more annoying than entertaining.

    So yeah, my overall point is make love triangles – not shippers war!

    • InvestedInYourFuture

      Agreed.

      Although I do not even think its about the AMOUNT of love triangles in the show that makes it horrible.

      Everyone WAS in love with Veronica in VM, for example, yet the show made it all work and it did not feel boring, despite her going through, what, 5? 8? Pairings within the first season alone.AT one point it was pretty much not even love triangle, but love octahedron of complicated complications.

      BTVS/ATS was also quite liberal with love relationships and explaining who loves(-ed) who and who is with who would give me a headache, frankly.(both shows even poke fun at that fact at certain point)

      The thing is, in both of those cases, those triangles had a proper context and had a wider effect for a lot of things(Veronica Mars did a lot of interesting things with love relationship messes and BTVS built up some pairings in a way that allowed the pairing itself to carry the non-romantic plot too)

      The thing is – in both of those cases, writers actually allowed the triangles and romances to NOT be self-contained, nor static – BTVS/ATS took a pragmatic approach, stripping away the “fairytale-esque” aspect of love and implying that it is something that can fade(likewise with Veronica Mars). Both Shows also did not BIND characters to pairings – people were allowed to be alone, had storylines on their own, Buffy did not stand pining after her romances for long and was allowed to have a life beyond being paired with someone and Veronica could stand on her own and be her own person, while the main “star-crossed lovers” pairing was built gradually, allowing her to be quite…bipolar in her affections and opinions on people around her.

      No matter what one creates, when one is creating any sort of storytelling narrative, one should NOT think about HOW TO MAKE the characters come together. It just comes off forced. You do not just drop characters in one ship. You put them in separate boats and let them swim around in the same pool hoping they will crash into one another due to various factors affecting them.

      The triangles(or even non-triangle ships) should not be about the triangle itself. It should be about those characters in it.

      To be blunt: shows can have dozens of love relationships, triangles, squares, octahedrons, as long as it is something natural. Sadly MAJORITY of the shows right now on the air just fail to make it natural or make those triangles have a reach BEYOND just the romance part of storyline.

  • BruNzr

    This is good. And true. Thanks.
    Oh, and I couldn’t help but think about Adam and Cassie when you said “kissing cousings” (even if i ship them) and about Klaus and Caroline, when you said about not having storyline together, just for dramaaaaa!
    just wanted to tell you that, you know.
    bye.

    • luzmf

      Cassie and Adam were more like ‘kissing sisters’.

  • http://twitter.com/tone_ofsurprise Call me Derpina!

    Agreed so much. The main problem with love triangles is, that if a love triangle is successful in splitting the audience, you are going to disappoint half of the people who are fans of your show. It get’s worse when show runners try to avoid disappointing anyone for as long as possible because then people end up turning on the central character (who, 99% of the time, is a women).

  • http://twitter.com/Jenners379 Jenners

    I love this post so much (kinda wish I wrote it).