Teen-fiction rom-coms are rife with every romantic movie trope you could possibly think of. Enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, fake dating (one of my personal favorites) – you name it; it’s been done. But no trope has been used for all it is worth quite like the love triangle trope. It seems like amidst all of the other plotlines and tropes in a movie or a TV show, the writers always manage to slide in a love triangle somewhere. Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, Gossip Girl – the central plot of these movies and TV shows may not be a love triangle, but they play an integral part in shaping the romantic storylines in them. We see this in modern-day Netflix rom coms like The Kissing Booth and the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series.
Speaking of To All the Boys – and The Kissing Booth, for that matter – it seems like nowadays you aren’t a real teen-fiction rom-com franchise if some new guy doesn’t come to shake things up in the second movie. The Kissing Booth had Marco Peña; To All the Boys had John Ambrose. The sequel will usually pick up where the first movie left off, shove in a cute montage showing us all the adorable things the main character and her boyfriend did, and then maybe 30 minutes into the movie, some guy shows up and everything hits the fan – it’s like clockwork. But don’t fret, it’ll all be okay because the main character will end up with her boyfriend anyways – but only after she befriends the new guy, leads him on, kisses him, and then realizes that she’s made a grave mistake and goes back to her boyfriend who was waiting for her all along! If you couldn’t already tell, I’m not exactly the biggest fan of this trope. I’m sure that somewhere there is a good way for writers to convey the complexities that one feels when faced with a decision between 25 year olds cosplaying as highschoolers, but I have yet to see it. And every time this trope gets used, a new problem with it springs to the forefront of my mind.
First of all, love triangles always bring out the worst in main characters. And yeah, yeah, the characters are only human, whatever. But sometimes what we see is less like a lapse in judgment or a slightly mean moment, and more like characters turning into entitled, selfish and childish brats. Sometimes we as viewers are even forced to side with a character that we couldn’t stand previously because of how upsetting the main character is acting. Take The Kissing Booth, for example. Elle, the main character, absolutely refuses to believe that Noah and Chloe could be just friends. Now, did Noah make matters worse by lying to her? Of course, he did. But the fact that Elle has decided that Noah cannot just be friends with a girl while simultaneously BEING BEST FRIENDS WITH HIS BROTHER? That screams double standards and selfishness. Obviously, Elle was insecure and missing Noah, but that is no excuse for getting mad at your boyfriend for doing what you’ve been doing for years. In the first installment of the Kissing Booth, Noah didn’t exactly make the best first impression. He was very smug, possessive and entitled. Maybe Harvard changed him, because in this movie, he seemed to have a flexibility and calmness about him that the main character was evidently lacking. If the writers could have only given Elle the same character development and maturity, viewers probably would have been fine regardless of the outcome. Instead, the way Elle goes about things left me thinking that she didn’t really deserve Noah or Marco.
Furthermore, for some reason, the person in the middle of the love triangle always seems to almost take pleasure in leading people on. Take Serena Van der Woodsen from Gossip Girl. Maybe I should get this out of the way now; I am biased. I do not like Serena Van der Woodsen. Like at all. The only character on Gossip Girl I like less than Serena Van der Woodson is Serena Van der Woodsen’s mom who somehow manages to be more entitled, manipulative and two-faced than her daughter. So yeah, I am not the most neutral commentator. But does anyone remember when she led Nate and Dan, two other main characters, in a cycle that seemed to have no end in sight? Serena would double book meetings with them, tell them to meet at the same place causing them to run into each other, and then never show up. Sometimes she wouldn’t answer any of their calls, leaving them in the dark about where they stood. She led them on mercilessly; it got to the point where Nate and Dan’s friendship was in jeopardy because Serena’s indecisiveness had made them get unhealthily competitive with each other. Is that entirely Serena’s fault? Not necessarily – she shouldn’t be blamed for a friendship that she was not a part of becoming strained. But she would’ve made everyone’s life easier if she just picked a guy. And then, at the end of it all, she didn’t even choose! Honestly, this wouldn’t be such an issue if she wasn’t confused when both Nate and Dan didn’t want to talk to her after. She, the person who had led them on for seemingly months, couldn’t fathom why they didn’t want to speak to her. She felt that she was entitled to have everything go back to normal. Serena made the decision not to be with either Nate or Dan. And if that’s what she wanted, more power to her. But she shouldn’t have been so pressed about Nate and Dan’s decision after she made hers.
Quite possibly the worst thing about love triangles is the end result. Oftentimes, after taking you on an emotional rollercoaster and bringing out the worst of every character including themselves, the main character will go on to choose the wrong person. One of the most clear-cut examples of this that I can think of is To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You. If you are somehow unfamiliar, P.S I Still Love You is the sequel to the Netflix movie To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. The whole franchise is actually based on a book series, and the first movie corresponds to the book quite well. However, the second movie deviates from the plot of the corresponding book. In the movie, we see the main character, Lara Jean, and her boyfriend Peter, continue their relationship from when we last saw them. It’s all cutesy and great for the most part, but we start to see that Peter and Lara Jean don’t have too much in common. When Lara Jean asks Peter to volunteer with her at the retirement home, he declines in favor of a different opportunity despite the retirement home looking better on college applications, as Lara Jean explained. When Lara Jean begins volunteering at the home, she meets John Ambrose. Well actually, she didn’t meet him for the first time – they were childhood friends before John Ambrose moved away. As time goes on and Lara Jean spends more time with John Ambrose, she begins to possibly kinda sorta have feelings for him. John Ambrose is kind, funny, intelligent, and patient. Lara Jean and he share the same sense of humor and interests. And, to be quite frank, Peter acted like a jerk in this movie. He was ableist towards John Ambrose and overall completely inconsiderate of Lara Jean’s feelings. And yet, towards the end of the movie, Lara Jean kisses John Ambrose – and then decides that she does, in fact, still love Peter. When John Ambrose asks her why she chose Peter, she says something along the lines of “Peter got here first.” John Ambrose was superior in every way imaginable, but Lara Jean is written to choose Peter anyways? You definitely shouldn’t give up on people when the going gets tough, but you also shouldn’t settle for something because it’s what is familiar to you. Lara Jean has seemingly resigned herself to staying with Peter for the foreseeable future, and it is almost as if she would feel guilty if she left him for someone else. But why? If Peter was in the same situation, he probably would not feel this internal pressure to stay with Lara Jean. The outcome of this movie highlights a double standard that comes into play all the time, both on-screen and IRL. It isn’t Lara Jeans’ job to ‘fix’ Peter. It is impossible for her to change his interests; sometimes people just like different things, and that’s okay. But if Lara Jean meets someone who has more in common with her than Peter ever will, she shouldn’t be obligated to ‘make things work’. Sometimes things just don’t work – it should be okay to step back when they don’t.
These are the main issues I take with love triangles, but I barely scratched the surface here. Love triangles are too messy with not enough payoff. I get that they are a staple to the rom-com genre at this point, but there is no need to fashion love triangles with horrible characters and even worse conclusions. Love triangles have been spun so many ways, and they always miss the mark. We are too far gone to get any love triangle that isn’t infuriating in one way or another. Let’s just be rid of it all, for everyone’s sake. I much prefer love squares anyways.