Love triangle

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A love triangle (also called a romantic love triangle or a romance triangle or an eternal triangle) is usually a romantic relationship involving three people. While it can refer to a polyamorous relationship between three people, it usually refers to two people who compete against each other for the undivided romantic attention of a single interest (i.e. Person A and Person B competing against one another to be the sole lover of Person C).


The 1994 book Beliefs, Reasoning, and Decision Making states, "Although the romantic love triangle is formally identical to the friendship triad, as many have noted their actual implications are quite different....Romantic love is typically viewed as an exclusive relationship, whereas friendship is not." [1] Statistics suggest that, in Western society, "willingly or not, most adults have been involved in a love triangle". [2]

History and definitions

"Gianciotto Discovers Paolo and Francesca" by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres; it depicts the Divine Comedy. Gianciotto Discovers Paolo and Francesca Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.jpg
"Gianciotto Discovers Paolo and Francesca" by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres; it depicts the Divine Comedy.

The term "love triangle" generally connotes an arrangement unsuitable to one or more of the people involved. One person typically ends up feeling betrayed at some point (e.g., "Person A is jealous of Person C who is having a relationship with Person B who, in Person A's eyes, is 'his/her' person."). [3] A similar arrangement that is agreed upon by all parties is sometimes called a triad, which is a type of polyamory even though polyamory usually implies sexual relations. Within the context of monogamy, love triangles are inherently unstable, with unrequited love and jealousy as common themes. In most cases, the jealous or rejected first party ends a friendship—and sometimes even starts a fight with—the second party over the third-party love interest. Though rare, love triangles have been known to lead to murder or suicide committed by the actual or perceived rejected lover.

Psychoanalysis has explored "the theme of erotic love triangles and their roots in the Oedipal triangle". [4] Experience suggests that "a repeated pattern of forming or being caught in love triangle can be much dissolved by beginning to analyse the patterns of the childhood relationship to each parent in turn and to both parents as a couple". [4] In such instances, "you find men who are attracted only by married woman but who can't sustain the relationship if it threatens to become more than an affair. They need the husband to protect them from a full women who repeatedly get involved with married men need the wives". [5]

Common themes

A common love triangle is one in which the hero or heroine is torn between two suitors of radically contrasting personalities; one of a girl next door or nice guy type, and the other as a physically attractive but potentially hazardous person. Alternatively, the hero or heroine has a choice between a seemingly perfect lover and an imperfect but endearing person. In this case, the "too-good-to-be-true" person is often revealed to have a significant flaw, such as hidden insensitivity or lecherousness, causing the other person to become the more desirable partner.

Eternal triangle

"In geometric terms, the eternal triangle can be represented as comprising three points – a jealous mate (A) in a relationship with an unfaithful partner (B) who has a lover (C)...A feels abandoned, B is between two mates, and C is a catalyst for crisis in the union A-B". [6]

It has been suggested that "a collusive network is always needed to keep the triangle eternal". [7] This may take a tragic form – "I saw no prospect of its ending except with death – the death of one of three people" [8] – or alternately a comic one: "A man at the funeral of a friend's wife, with whom he has been carrying on an affair, breaks into tears and finally becomes hysterical, while the husband remains impassive. 'Calm yourself,' says the husband, 'I'll be marrying again'." [9]


It has been suggested that if men "share a sense of brotherhood and they allow a woman into their relationship, an isosceles triangle is created" automatically, as "in Truffaut's film Jules et Jim ". [10] René Girard has explored the role of envy and mimetic desire in such relationships, arguing that often the situation "subordinates a desired something to the someone who enjoys a privileged relationship with it". [11] In such cases, 'it cannot be fair to blame the quarrel of the mimetic twins on a woman....She is their common scapegoat'. [12]

Marital breakup

When a love triangle results in the breakup of a marriage, it may often be followed by what has been called "the imposition of a 'defilement taboo'...the emotional demand imposed by a jealous eschew any friendly or supportive contact with the rival in the triangle". [13] The result is often to leave children gripped by "shadows from the past...they often take sides. Their loyalties are torn", and – except in the best of cases – "the one left 'injured' can easily sway the feelings of the children against acknowledging this new relationship". [14]

As to gender responsibility, evidence would seem to indicate that in late modernity both sexes may equally well play the part of the "Other Person" – that "men and women love with equivalent passion as well as folly" [7] and that certainly there is nothing to "suggest that a man is better able to control himself in a love triangle than a woman". [15] Stereotypically, the person at the center of a rivalrous love triangle is a woman, whereas for a split-object love triangle it is a man, due to the same reasons that polygyny is far more common than polyandry.

Those who find themselves tempted to become the Other Man may, however, still find a cynic's advice from the 1930s pertinent on "the emotional position of the adulterer, and why to avoid it...Did I know what a mug's game was? – No. – 'A mug's game,' he told me, 'is breaking your back at midnight, trying to make another man's wife come". [16]

In entertainment

Love triangles are a popular theme in entertainment, especially romantic fiction, including opera, romance novels, soap operas, romantic comedies, manga, tabloid talk shows, and popular music.


Eric Berne termed that conflictual aspect of the love triangle "Let's You and Him Fight"; and considered "the psychology is essentially feminine. Because of its dramatic qualities, LYAHF is the basis of much of the world's literature, both good and bad". [17]

Three of the highest grossing movies of all time adjusted for inflation ( Gone with the Wind , Titanic and Doctor Zhivago ) are romantic epics that feature a love triangle at its core. Young adult literature has seen a rise in the popularity of the love triangle story structure (such as Twilight or The Selection ). But the love triangle story structure has been around since before early classic writers like William Shakespeare and Alexandre Dumas. Shakespeare's famous play Romeo and Juliet featured a love triangle between Juliet, Romeo, and Paris. Although more subtle, Dumas's classics The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers also feature love triangles strong enough to seek revenge and start a war.

Love triangles can either be relatively balanced, in which the two candidates each have a fair chance of ending up with the protagonist, or they can be lopsided, in which the hero or heroine has an obvious romantic interest in one of the candidates, and considers the other candidate as "just a friend", but withholds a confession to avoid hurting feelings. An example of this is in the Broadway hit musical Wicked , in which dim-witted Fiyero first displays affection for Glinda the Good Witch, but then falls for Elphaba, the supposedly Wicked Witch. But in this latter case, to provide necessary tension and drama, the second platonic candidate is also very often the hero or heroine's long-term boyfriend or girlfriend.[ citation needed ]

A less permanent love triangle occurs when a former lover of the main character makes an unexpected appearance to win back the character's heart, provoking feelings of jealousy from the main character's steady partner. However, this situation is usually not considered an actual love triangle since there is little possibility of the main character breaking up with a longtime partner to pursue a just-introduced character, and it is often used as only a test of the true depth of the main character's devotion to their partner. In these cases, the long-term partner has usually been guilty of neglect toward the main character and in the end the relationship remains intact with the long-term partner having learned some valuable lesson.


Usually, a love triangle will end with the hero or heroine confiding their feelings in the suitor they feel is most virtuous or has the most interest in them. (As in Twilight .) The other suitor usually steps aside to allow the couple to be happy, or comes to terms with their feelings, often claiming they could not love the main character as much. Sometimes they are written out of the love equation entirely by falling in love with someone else, or being killed off or otherwise eliminated. While love triangles can be accused of being clichéd, if done well, they provide insight into the complexity of love and what is best to pursue in a romantic relationship.

In television shows, a love triangle is often prolonged, delaying final declarations of love between the pursued character and suitors that may prematurely end this dynamic or displease fans. Some examples of these include Dos mujeres, un camino , 90210 , Friends , The O.C. , How I Met Your Mother , One Tree Hill , The Vampire Diaries and Grey's Anatomy . Love triangles also featured prominently on soap operas, and can span more than a decade, as famously shown by Taylor Hamilton, Ridge Forrester and Brooke Logan on The Bold and the Beautiful . Another famous soap opera love triangle was the one that occurred on General Hospital between Luke Spencer, Laura Spencer, and Scotty Baldwin. Similarly, romance films also sustain this set-up until near the film's end, although they tend to establish a more clear-cut conclusion to the romantic entanglements than in long-running TV shows.[ citation needed ]

The love triangle has been a recurring subject in many popular songs throughout the years. These "love triangle songs" include, but are not limited to:

Real life

Ménage à trois

A love triangle should not be confused with a ménage à trois, a three-way relationship in which either all members are romantically involved with each other, or one member has relations with two others who are reconciled to the situation instead of being in conflict. Ménage à trois is French and directly translates to "household for three" meaning it is usually composed of a "married couple and a lover...who live together while sharing sexual relations". This differs from a love triangle because each participant is equally motivated purely by sexual desires. The ménage à trois may be considered a subset of 'The Sandwich...a straight three-handed operation...which may be operated with any assortment of sexes: three men, three women, two men and a woman ("Ménage à trois"), or two women and a man ("The Tourist Sandwich")'. [21]

There is also the possibility of 'a ménage à trois powered by the passion of hatred'. [22] [ further explanation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

Love encompasses a range of strong and positive emotional and mental states, from the most sublime virtue or good habit, the deepest interpersonal affection, to the simplest pleasure. An example of this range of meanings is that the love of a mother differs from the love of a spouse, which differs from the love of food. Most commonly, love refers to a feeling of strong attraction and emotional attachment.

Romantic comedy Film genre

Romantic comedy is a subgenre of comedy and slice-of-life fiction, focusing on lighthearted, humorous plot lines centered on romantic ideas, such as how true love is able to surmount most obstacles. One dictionary definition is "a funny movie, play, or television program about a love story that ends happily". Another definition suggests that its "primary distinguishing feature is a love plot in which two sympathetic and well-matched lovers are united or reconciled".

Deanna Troi Fictional character from Star Trek

Deanna Troi is a main character in the science-fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation and related TV series and films, portrayed by actress Marina Sirtis. Troi is half-human, half-Betazoid and has the psionic ability to sense emotions. She serves as the ship's counselor on USS Enterprise-D. Throughout most of the series, she holds the rank of lieutenant commander. In the seventh season, Troi takes the bridge officer's examination and is promoted to the rank of commander, but continues as counselor.

Limerence State of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person

Limerence is a state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person and typically includes obsessive thoughts and fantasies and a desire to form or maintain a relationship with the object of love and have one's feelings reciprocated. Limerence can also be defined as an involuntary state of intense romantic desire.

An affair is a sexual relationship, romantic friendship, or passionate attachment between two people where at least one of the two has such a connection with a third person, either in a formal setting like marriage or informally, without the third person's knowledge or agreement.

Threesome Sexual activity that involves three people at the same time

In human sexuality, a threesome is any sexual activity that involves three people at the same time. Though threesome most commonly refers to casual sexual activity involving three participants, it may also apply to a long-term domestic relationship, such as polyamory or a ménage à trois.

Romance (love) Type of love that focuses on feelings

Romance or Romantic love is an emotional feeling of love for, or a strong attraction towards another person, and the courtship behaviors undertaken by an individual to express those overall feelings and resultant emotions.

Romance novel Genre novel on the theme of romantic love

A romance novel or romantic novel is a type of genre fiction novel which places its primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and usually has an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." There are many subgenres of the romance novel, including fantasy, gothic, contemporary, historical romance, paranormal fiction, and science fiction. Although women are the main readers of romance novels a growing number of men enjoy them as well. The Romance Writers of America cite 16% of men read romance novels. "Many people today don’t realize that romance is more than a love story. Romance can be a complex plotline with a setting from the past in a remote, faraway place. Instead of focusing on a love story, it idealizes values and principles that seem lost in today’s world of technology and instant gratification. However, romance may also be a typical, romantic, love story that makes people sigh with wishful thinking." "Romance is a natural human emotion. Sad love songs and poems when one is recovering from a broken heart can help express unspoken feelings. Happy romantic movies and plays help people feel optimistic that someday they will also find true love. However, there is some criticism that many modern romantic stories make people develop unrealistic views about real relationships, as they expect love to be like it is in the movies."

<i>Ménage à trois</i> Romantic relationship with three partners

A ménage à trois is a domestic arrangement with three people sharing romantic or sexual relations with one another, and typically dwelling together. The phrase is a loan from French meaning "household of three". A form of polyamory, contemporary arrangements are sometimes identified as a throuple, thruple, or triad.

Infatuation Intense but shallow attraction

Infatuation or being smitten is the state of being carried away by an unreasoned passion, usually towards another person for whom one has developed strong romantic or platonic feelings. Psychologist Frank D. Cox says that infatuation can be distinguished from romantic love only when looking back on a particular case of being attracted to a person. Infatuation may also develop into a mature love. Goldstein and Brandon describe infatuation as the first stage of a relationship before developing into a mature intimacy. Whereas love is "a warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion to another person," infatuation is "a feeling of foolish or obsessively strong love for, admiration for, or interest in someone or something", a shallower "honeymoon phase" in a relationship. Dr. Ian Kerner, a sex therapist, states that infatuation usually occurs at the start of relationships, and it is "...usually marked by a sense of excitement and euphoria, and it's often accompanied by lust and a feeling of newness and rapid expansion with a person." Phillips describes how the illusions of infatuations inevitably lead to disappointment when learning the truth about a lover. Adolescents often make people an object of extravagant, short-lived passion or temporary love.

An intimate relationship is an interpersonal relationship that involves physical or emotional intimacy. Although an intimate relationship is commonly a sexual relationship, it may also be a non-sexual relationship involving family, friends, or acquaintances.

The triangular theory of love is a theory of love developed by Robert Sternberg. In the context of interpersonal relationships, "the three components of love, according to the triangular theory, are an intimacy component, a passion component, and a decision/commitment component."

Verbal abuse is an act of violence in the form of speech that decreases self-confidence and adds to feelings of helplessness. It is "an act that includes rebuking and the delivery of harsh words". Similarly, it has been defined as "an act of insulting, harassing, and labeling someone in a communication pattern". Verbal violence in a concrete form is "the use of harsh words, abuse of trust, embarrassing people in public and threatening in the form of words". In other words, it is "a person's verbal action which includes the delivery of harsh words, insults, scolding, and yelling excessively, as well as giving threats to others". Verbal abuse is the act of forcefully criticizing, insulting, or denouncing another person. Characterized by underlying anger and hostility, it is a destructive form of communication intended to harm the self-concept of the other person and produce negative emotions. Verbal abuse is a maladaptive mechanism that anyone can display occasionally, such as during times of high stress or physical discomfort. For some people, it is a pattern of behaviors used intentionally to control or manipulate others or to get revenge.

"Ménage à Troi" is the 24th episode of the third season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the 72nd episode of the series overall.

Mistress (lover) Female who is in an extra-marital sexual relationship

A mistress is a woman who is in a relatively long-term sexual and romantic relationship with a man who is married to a different woman.

A girlfriend is a female friend or acquaintance, often a regular female companion with whom one is platonic, romantically or sexually involved. This is normally a short-term committed relationship, where other titles are more commonly used for long-term relationships. A girlfriend can also be called a sweetheart, darling, babe or honey. The analogous male term is "boyfriend".

Unrequited love Love that is not reciprocated by the receiver

Unrequited love or one-sided love is love that is not openly reciprocated or understood as such by the beloved. The beloved may not be aware of the admirer's deep and strong romantic affection, or may consciously reject it. The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines unrequited as "not reciprocated or returned in kind".

<i>Design for Living</i> (film) 1933 American film

Design for Living is a 1933 American pre-Code comedy film produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Fredric March, Gary Cooper, and Miriam Hopkins. Based on the premise of the 1932 play Design for Living by Noël Coward, with a screenplay by Ben Hecht, the film is about a woman who cannot decide between two men who love her, and the trio agree to try living together in a platonic friendly relationship.

<i>Ménage à 3</i> (webcomic)

Ménage à 3 is a webcomic published by Pixie Trix Comix and created by artist Gisele Lagace & Dave Lumsdon, known as Giz and Dave Zero. It was started on May 16, 2008, and ended on April 9, 2019. Set in Montreal, Canada, the webcomic follows the lives and adventures of three roommates in their attempts to find love, success and the pleasures of life. Ménage à 3 is consistently rated amongst the top 50 webcomics annually and has enjoyed success in print in addition to online.

Color wheel theory of love

The color wheel theory of love is an idea created by Canadian psychologist John Alan Lee that describes six styles of love, using several of the Latin and Greek words for love. First introduced in his book Colours of Love: An Exploration of the Ways of Loving (1973), Lee defines three primary, three secondary and nine tertiary love styles, describing them in terms of the traditional color wheel. The three primary types are eros, ludus and storge, and the three secondary types are mania, pragma and agape.


  1. R. P. Abelson/R. C. Schank, Beliefs, Reasoning, and Decision-Making (1994), p. 223.
  2. A. Pam/J. Pearson, Splitting Up (1998), p. 149.
  3. David Cooper, The Death of the Family (Penguin 1974) p. 49
  4. 1 2 Johnson, p. 6
  5. Robin Skynner/John Cleese, Families and How to Survive Them (1994) pp. 268–269
  6. Pam/Pearson, p. 148
  7. 1 2 Pam/Pearson, p. 166
  8. Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond (1990) p. 66
  9. G. Legman, Rationale of the Dirty Joke, Vol, II (1973), p. 400.
  10. Rebecca L. Copeland ed., Woman Critiqued (2006) p. 228
  11. René Girard, A Theatre of Envy, (Oxford 1991) p. 4.
  12. Girard, p. 323-4
  13. Pam/Pearson, p. 168
  14. Virginia Satir, Peoplemaking (1983), pp. 181–184.
  15. Copeland, p. 47
  16. Legman, pp. 432–433.
  17. Eric Berne, Games People Play (Penguin), p. 108.
  18. Neil Corcoran ed., Do You, Mr Jones? (London 2002) p. 55
  19. Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf (London 1996) p. 381 and p. 540
  20. Quoted in W. Isaacson, Einstein (2007) p. 361
  21. Eric Berne, Sex in Human Loving (1970) p. 173
  22. Belinda Sterling, The Journal of Dora Damage (London 2007) p. 190