The Love Triangle

The Psychological Purpose of A Third Wheel

A romantic triangle involves two people and a third element that posses a threat to said couple. Romantic triangles serve a greater purpose than providing tension. A proper love triangle, or reasonable facsimile, provides balance to an awkward equation.

We tend to think of romances in very linear terms: Boy meets girl. Boy marries girl. (1+1=2)

Sometimes it gets a little more complex: Boy meets girl. Boy or girl leaves. Boy and girl reunite. Boy marries girl. (1+1, then subtract 1, then bring 1 back for the reunion, and you are left with 2.)

Either scenario uses the most basic of math.

Now, let’s talk about love triangles. You could look at it as: Boy meets girl. Girl meets someone else and leaves. Boy and girl reunite. Boy marries girl. (This keeps us at the same as above: 1+1, then subtract 1, then bring 1 back for the reunion and you are back to 2.)

However, that’s not very interesting, is it? Not only do we need a good reason for another person to step in and mess things up, but also if that new person has nothing to offer we still are left with basic math. (Again, this keeps us at the same as above: 1+1, then subtract 1, add a different 1, then subtract that 1, then bring the first 1 back for the reunion and you are back to 2.)

So what good is a triangle if it fails to serve a true purpose? None.

For a triangle to be effective the interfering party has to add something to the equation that the first person lacks. Example: Boy meets girl and they find happiness in the basic joys of life. All is easy—the way we think we want life to be. Boy from the other side of the tracks meets girl. He can challenge her in ways that no one else can, thus making the girl realize there is more out there for her to experience. Both men satisfy a basic need within her. In this case ½ + ½ +1 = 2 as each boy represents a half of what she needs. However, that is flawed because she can’t have them both, and without both halves she is incomplete. She realizes that ½ (either of the men) + ½ (her without feeling complete) = 1, which is the loneliest number. She’s just as well off alone.

Now we are on to something because while not every reader can deal with a fickle heroine who can’t decide which boy she wants, everyone can relate to the need to be feel complete. Now the triangle has purpose. The girl must find a way to reconcile this equation, so let’s see this in action. Let’s also make sure it has some real meat to it! The simple, “Guy A is better in bed, but Guy B makes more money”, is shallow and boring. You need to go for the inner conflict that hits the reader in the emotional guts.

Love’s Forbidden Flower is about two soul mates who have the misfortune of being siblings. Along the road of Donovan’s denial, Lily meets Christopher. Christopher sidetracks Lily, thus creating a second love story. I’ve been asked why I created such an unusual love scenario.

Christopher’s character is of great importance. Lily longs for her absent soul mate while enjoying every moment she has with Christopher. Never do the two relationships overlap. This gives us two very different stories with two very different men. However, the equation of a love triangle still applies. Donovan shows us the joys of having that special person in your life that understands you on the deepest of all spiritual levels while Christopher is the man who can give Lily everything else; joy, comfort, a family, and a relationship no one will snicker at.

Now we get to the nitty gritty— the thing that gives the triangle purpose. Because society is more accepting of Christopher, does that make their relationship the right one for Lily? Or should she cast aside society’s biases for her soul mate? Only through experiencing both relationships with Lily can we respect the merits of each and lessen society’s influence on ourselves. The triangle is no longer a means to create a story. Now it serves true purpose by creating an equation that must be reconciled.

The love triangle is a time-tested device that, when used properly, creates tension and helps the reader understand the core needs of the main character. To make it work be sure you look beyond the simple and give it punch.