Some love triangles are done well. Others leave us angry, confused, and unsatisfied.
A classic trope in storytelling, especially in romance and drama, are love triangles. They are great for drama, rivalry, and getting an audience invested.
Having fans choose sides between two couples is one of the most efficient ways of evoking passion from them. We want to root for the love we want, we want that love to win.
This trope is fun to watch, read, and write. However, because it is so popular, it has inevitably been done wrong a few times. Some start off strong and lose their effect, some are the opposite, and some are just unnecessary altogether.
I've compiled the worst offenders.
1. Stefan, Elena, and Damon - "The Vampire Diaries"
Arguably one of the most iconic love triangles in recent years, Stefan and Damon are two brothers in love with the same girl. A classic. My problem isn't with the way it was set up, for the most part. It made sense that these two brothers loved Elena-- she's gorgeous, kind, brave, and selfless.
Elena has this in common with Stefan, but not so much with generic bad boy Damon. He offers her adventure, unpredictability, and a dash of borderline abuse. The love triangle up until about halfway through the show was actually written pretty well, but once Damon and Elena finally got together at the end of season 4...it was downhill from there.
Instead of building their own foundation, Damon and Elena's relationship relied on manipulation and tearing down anything that she had with Stefan. There was retcon to great lengths, and a lot of the time Elena's history with Stefan was ignored unless it was being used as an obstacle for Damon and Elena's relationship.
The lack of originality in Damon and Elena's relationship led to the triangle becoming weak, using Stefan only as a prop in their relationship. It ended terribly too, with Elena choosing Damon but not really having a choice because Stefan sacrificed himself for their relationship.
This act of heroism proves once more that Stefan is the better match for Elena, yet she is forced to spend the rest of her life with Damon.
2. Edward, Bella, and Jacob - "Twilight"
This is definitely one of the most memorable love triangles. The impact it had on pop culture was significant-- everyone had an opinion. Team Edward or Team Jacob? The problem is, when you actually look closely, Team Jacob is nonexistent. It is almost completely one-sided.
Bella has some feelings for Jacob, but most come from guilt and confusion and never come close to what she feels for Edward. There is even a scene where Jacob practically forces himself on Bella, thinking he's entitled to her reciprocating those feelings. Sure, she may have led him on a bit while Edward was away, but there is no excusing those actions.
To make matters even stranger, Jacob turned out to not even have real feelings for Bella. In the last book/movie, it is revealed that Jacob has imprinted on Bella's newborn baby, and his feelings for Bella came from her then-unborn child.
Why this sounded like a good idea to anyone, I will never know. It weakens the triangle overall because there was never really a conflict then--Bella's heart always belonged to Edward.
Now, this man who Edward can hardly stand is going to be in their lives forever as he has an unbreakable bond with their newborn daughter. What?
3. Brooke, Lucas, and Peyton - "One Tree Hill"
Similarly to the triangle on The Vampire Diaries, One Tree Hill's main love triangle between Brooke, Lucas, and Peyton made sense at first. Best friends fall for the same guy--a classic. I think both girls even had an interesting dynamic with Lucas in the beginning. Brooke was the girl who on the surface, was just a party girl who found Lucas attractive.
However, the two quickly developed a bond when they began to get to know one another. Lucas fell in love with Brooke, and it was a very interesting story due to the contrast between the character types-- the popular head cheerleader, and the brooding loner who has come into newfound popularity.
Peyton arguably has more in common with Lucas, but this doesn't necessarily make them the better match. My problem with Peyton and Lucas is that she only seemed to want him when he was with someone else. They continuously cheat together while he's supposed to be with Brooke, who is supposed to be Peyton's best friend.
It makes both characters become unsympathetic, and somehow Brooke is to blame when she lashes out? Ultimately, Brooke forgives them both and even attends their wedding.
This just shows how forgiving of a character Brooke is. Lucas and Peyton leaving the show gave Brooke more room to grow, which was more interesting to watch than the love triangle ever was.
4. Stiles, Malia, and Scott - "Teen Wolf"
I'm not even sure if this can count as a love triangle. Stiles and Malia were cute, but they sort of came out of nowhere then ended as abruptly as they began. Then, with Stiles gone in the finale season, Malia and Scott develop feelings for each other seemingly out of nowhere.
Although Stiles has clearly moved on at this point, it is never really addressed how he feels about his best friend dating his ex. Even stranger is that Scott never technically broke up with his girlfriend before Malia- Kira, who was also really good friends with Malia.
The fact that neither Stiles nor Kira are talked about when Malia and Scott get together is just odd. I love both characters, and I don't think they were necessarily a bad match, but the triangle between the three characters was done messily.
It was very apparent that these two were only matched up because neither of them had a significant other during the last season.
5. Adam, Eric, and Rahim - "Sex Education"
This is one of those triangles where you knew where it was heading. Adam and Eric were established as love interests in season one, and Rahim was introduced in season 2.
I hoped, I really did, that they would not take the predictable route and have Eric leave supportive, kind, wonderful Rahim for Adam. It isn't that I hate Adam as a character, I think his struggle with internalized homophobia is realistic and important.
I've loved watching his development. However, I don't love the homophobic bully to lover trope. Having Eric leave Rahim who seemed to be good for him, for Adam who...wasn't, was frustrating and predictable. I hope Rahim finds happiness, he deserved better.
6. Ted, Robin, and Barney - "How I Met Your Mother"
This infamous triangle left a large part of its audience angry. I think the triangle was first presented in a very interesting way. The dynamic between Ted and Robin and Barney and Robin are very different, and both were fun to watch at first.
However, I think it became very apparent that Barney and Robin are the more functional couple. Their personalities mesh well, they want the same things in life. Robin and Ted are cute but have very different ideas when it comes to their future.
This is why it did not make sense that they ended up together. Maybe if there was some growth with one of them it could have made sense that they ended up finding their way back to each other, but there really wasn't.
None of the issues they had were resolved, and they were technically each other's second choices. The last season was written to lead up to Robin and Barney's wedding--it was beautiful.
Then, in the last episode, Robin and Barney are divorced in a five-minute scene and by the end, she's back with Ted. Who thought that was okay, I just want to talk to the writer's room.
7. Hanna, Caleb, and Spencer- "Pretty Little Liars"
This love triangle was just unnecessary. In the final season of the show, there was a time jump. A lot of fans found this odd, but I thought it had the potential to be a really interesting direction.
We find out after the time jump that all of the beloved couples have broken up for various reasons. To make matters worse, it was revealed that Spencer, Hanna's best friend, had gotten together with Hanna's ex, Caleb.
There wasn't any reason to include this triangle other than to just add drama. It was obvious Caleb and Hanna would ultimately end up together. This just put an unnecessary strain on Hanna and Spencer's relationship. Not only that, but it was overall unrealistic.
Spencer and Caleb had no previous indication that something romantic could happen between them, their relationship was constructed through flashbacks which made it very hard to connect to. Overall, the triangle was bland, unnecessary, and pointless.
8. Jonathan, Nancy, and Steve - "Stranger Things"
This triangle began pretty simply-- the girl caught between the popular guy and the loner. However, this triangle is so much more than that. The relationship that Steve and Nancy had in season 1 is over discredited, but they had a bond that was real. Steve showed real growth, and Nancy truly cared for him.
They may have been a silly high school romance, but especially now, they've been through experiences that they can never forget. Jonathan, on the other hand, showed regression. His taking pictures of Nancy as she undressed without her knowing is hardly ever addressed, and Jonathan was even made out to be the victim in that situation.
Aside from their siblings, Jonathan and Nancy really don't have much in common. I think their chemistry is decent, but that's about all they have.
They went on to disregard any real feelings Nancy had for Steve by taking back the fact that she ever loved him. This was used to prop up Nancy and Jonathan. Then, when Nancy and Jonathan were officially together they stopped giving Nancy and Steve scenes together at all.
Nancy and Jonathan's relationship is boring when they are together. They were only ever interesting because they weren't together, and once they are their relationship consists of mostly fighting. I think a much more interesting direction would be to have Nancy find her way back to Steve, or let her be single for a while.
I doubt the writers will do this though, as Nancy and Jonathan are for some reason a fan favorite.
Love triangles can be thrilling to watch. It's fun to watch, choose a side, and root for them. They don't always work out in our favor, and some just lack any sense at all.
I don't think it's a bad trope by any means, I love a good love triangle. However, writers have to be careful to do it right, because if this is approached in the wrong way, it can responsible for lackluster relationships, retcon, and confusion.