Love Triangles Done Right
Updated: Jun 10
If there's one thing that usually ruins a book for us, it's a love triangle. So often, they're poorly executed as a lose-lose situation where you know a character you like will get hurt, your personal ship might not sail, all while the protagonist gets to be flighty and indecisive without commitment to either partner.
However, we know love is complicated and sometimes these entanglements add to the plot, conflict, and character's growth when handled correctly. So today we're taking a look at some of the love triangles we believe were successfully, tastefully pulled off.
JESPER + KUWEI + WYLAN - SIX OF CROWS BY LEIGH BARDUGO
Jesper is the gunslinger of The Dregs, a notorious criminal gang of Ketterdam, while Wylan comes on board as the "demolitions expert" (really, he's a noble's son and they keep him around because they think it'll pay off). Throughout the first book, Jesper and Wylan grow incredibly close, with Jesper at first taking Wylan under his wing and teasing the ever-loving hell out of him. Wylan clearly has a crush on Jesper, but it takes Jesper a long time to see it past his own crush on The Dregs leader Kaz.
After rescuing a scientist's son, Kuwei, the boy becomes a fixture of The Dregs, as they have to keep him safe if they don't want his formulas getting into the hands of dangerous people. Kuwei also has a crush on Jesper, which makes Wylan jealous.
There's honestly no competition. Jesper falls for Wylan and has no idea Kuwei likes him, so it turns into a hilarious dilemma when Wylan and Kuwei have to take on the same appearance for decoy purposes, and Jesper accidentally kisses Kuwei. He later confesses his love in a panicked apology to the real Wylan, while Kuwei leaves wordlessly, blissful with his accidental smooch.
Takeaway: If there's going to be a love triangle, one of the best courses is to have no wavering on anyone's part. Jesper never has to "choose" between Wylan and Kuwei, because there's never any doubt he loves Wylan. Wylan's jealousy is portrayed believably and even humorously, and Jesper handles it well by immediately putting Wylan at ease. And Kuwei . . . well, he doesn't seem all that upset. He shoots his shot, gets a kiss out of it, and goes about his day.
THOMAS + MIRANDA + JAMES - HBO'S BLACK SAILS
Same-sex relationships and polygamy are things that have historically been looked down upon, branded unclean. Black Sails illustrates this on a number of levels when it comes to the relationship between the Hamiltons and James McGraw—later known as the formidable, terrifying Captain James Flint.
This identity shift occurs when England (James's true enemy) "made Thomas disappear" and exiles James and Miranda after discovering their extra-marital affair. Little did they know that while James and Miranda were physically attracted to each other and bonding, James was also falling in love with Thomas for many of the same reasons Miranda loved him.
However, despite their mutual love for one another, Miranda knows she cannot give Thomas all that he needs, as he is not physically attracted to women. This secret could not only ruin his political standing and all he's worked for, but it could quite literally threaten his life. For these reasons, she keeps his secret, allows society to brand her a whore, and is not upset when James comes into the picture. Instead, she is happy Thomas has found a friend and lover, and they all become very close.
"You were told that it was shameful. And part of you believed it. Thomas was my husband. I loved him, and he loved me. But, what he shared with you...it was entirely something else. It's time you allowed yourself to accept that." - Miranda to James
"People can say what they like about you. But you're a good man. More people should say that. And someone should be willing to defend it." - James to Thomas
"When I first met you, you were so...unformed. And then I spoke and bade you cast aside your shame, and Captain Flint was born into the world...that part of you that always existed yet never were you willing to allow it into the light of day. I was mistress to you when you needed love. I was wife to you when you needed understanding. But first and before all...I was mother. I have known you like no other, so I love you like no other." - Miranda to James
Takeaway: All three characters love and respect each other, and work together to make sure they're all happy and fulfilled. They have a shared dream they work toward. There's no jealousy or anger . . . until Thomas is taken, then James and Miranda unleash their wrath and get vengeance for the man they love.
ELIZABETH + DARCY + WICKHAM - PRIDE & PREJUDICE BY JANE AUSTEN
Jane Austen has a way of playing with expectations and perception that's admired still today. One of her best examples is the love triangle between Elizabeth Bennett, Fitzwilliam Darcy, and George Wickham in Pride & Prejudice. Elizabeth and Darcy catch one another's eye at a ball, but Darcy makes it clear he has no interest in her. Elizabeth, stung, vows to have nothing to do with him, no matter how attractive she finds him.
This proves a hard task for both of them. Darcy, despite claiming he has no interest in Elizabeth, is trying to convince himself more than anyone. He keeps his distance so as not to fall harder, but when his best friend starts courting Elizabeth's sister, that becomes increasingly difficult.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth is oblivious to Darcy's struggle and goes on to see George Wickham, a soldier who seems the epitome of a gentleman. Darcy tries to warn Elizabeth of Wickham's true character, but she won't take the word of someone who is determined to hate her. Eventually, Wickham is revealed to be a fraud, a cheat, and a cowardly man, but by that point Elizabeth has already given up hope of seeing him again, because he ghosts her for most of the book.
During this ghosting period is when Darcy and Elizabeth grow close and eventually admit their feelings (and their misconceptions of one another that got in the way of those feelings).
Takeaway: Throughout this plot, there is never a point Elizabeth is seeing both men. She's at first interested in Darcy, gets rejected, then moves on to Wickham. The two court for awhile, but Wickham's impatience at not being able to quickly secure a rich bride makes him drop Elizabeth, who is then free to explore her feelings for Darcy.
It's a natural progression of characters figuring out what they want, who they want, and exploring compatibility in different relationships without being unfaithful to one or the other.
AZRIEL + ELAIN + LUCIEN - A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES BY SARAH J. MAAS
Art by: @arz28
This ongoing love triangle is one that has readers on all sides of the fence. Both fae males have their good qualities and deserve a happy ending.
Lucien is Elain's Mate, but we've seen that not all Mating bonds are love matches, and they can be denied. There's also Vassa to consider—the cursed human queen whose alliance Lucien sought out during the war against Hybern. The two have been been spending quite a bit of time together, and he seems happy around her (so maybe this is turning into a love square? Or even a pentagon if Jurian is interested in Vassa?).
Art by: @runningquill_art
Some want Elain to give Lucien a chance, as he's been nothing but caring toward her, and readers could see Elain happily living with him in the Day Court. They could be adorable together. Others like the idea of Maas showing a Mating bond being rejected in a healthy way.
Azriel is good male, and it's obvious he and Elain care for one another. Elain is never afraid of Az like she was the others, and she calls him beautiful in numerous ways. Az helps her heal after her trauma, risks his life to rescue her when she's kidnapped, and lends her his favorite blade during the war.
But are his feelings for her romantic, or does he love her simply because she reminds him of his mother? Especially when you consider that he's been pining after his close friend Mor for centuries, despite neither of them acting on it, and readers knowing why she will not be with him. Az and Elain would be natural and sweet, but having all the sisters end up with all the brothers would seem too easy and fated.
Takeaway: Both males have shown interest in Elain but have remained completely respectful of Elain's wellbeing and wishes, and she has not made advances toward either. While there are feelings all over the place, all parties have been mature and kept a respectful distance.
While there are a handful of love triangles believably and tastefully executed, they've been overshadowed by the tired old formula most readers admit to hating. Love is a tough thing to navigate on its own, so it's no wonder tossing in two romance dynamics can be a recipe for disaster.
What are some love triangles you thought were handled well? Let us know in the comments below so we can discuss!