Regarding the Love Triangle Bait and Switch

I’m not including any actual references to books here because it comes really close to being spoiler territory BUT I’ve been noticing in a lot of books lately something I’m going to start calling the “Love Triangle Bait and Switch.”

What is that, you might (fairly) ask?

Well, let me explain fully. What happens is this:

A book starts, let’s say with a female protagonist for pronoun consistency but really it could be a guy too, and she is all alone. Or she isn’t. Not the point.

Anyway, the Female Lead (the girl I mentioned before) meets/introduces a guy to readers. He might be her best friend or just this annoying guy who won’t leave her alone. Either way, he’s a constant for the Female Lead in some way. We don’t know it yet but this guy will end up being the Secondary Male Lead. This first guy we meet seems fine. He’s cute. Maybe a bit eccentric. He might be defined by one kind of basic character trait (nerdy, bad temper, conceited, anything really). But he seems fine and he grows on you, the reader.

Then Female Lead meets another guy. This is a bit more obvious than identifying the Secondary Male Lead, but that other guy she meets later? He’s going to be the Primary Male Lead. Sometimes it will be love at first sight. Sometimes the relationship will be normal and evolve over time. Sometimes it’s electric. There might be witty banter. Or tasers. There might be mysterious threats to stay away. There might be something else entirely.

Eventually it becomes obvious that Female Lead and Primary Male Lead are ultimately going to end up together. In that book if it’s a stand-alone. Over the arc of the story if it’s a series of some sort.

But where does that leave our intrepid Secondary Male Lead?

Sadly, he is now doomed.

He might die heroically.* He might become a vampire. He might become a super villain. He might just be evil. (Not literally evil because then he’d obviously be a super villain. Rather, his one character trait is amplified making him possessive, jealous, completely insane, etc. Kristin Cashore’s book(s) may or may not illustrate that.) Often some combination of these things happens.

Now the Love Triangle Bait and Switch is a fine plot device. Except that I’m sick of it. I’m tired of liking one character only to watch him become the (doomed) Secondary Male Lead. I’m tired of stories tricking me this way. It’s not necessarily bad or wrong. But I’d like a book where instead of creating this quasi-tension we have a legitimate love triangle with impossible choices instead of this weird imitation of a love triangle.**

I’m not sure why this annoys me so much except that perpetually preferring the (doomed) Secondary Male Lead gets old. The Secondary Male Lead is also, often, the more entertaining of the two being funnier, more interesting, or essentially better in some other way which makes the whole thing even sadder. I’m also starting to wonder why I always, always, always fall for this trick. To the point of being deeply saddened when despite my constantly hoping the Secondary Male Lead never gets his due.***

So, there you have it. The growing trend of the Love Triangle Bait and Switch explained in all of its glory.

*This happens in A Tale of Two Cities which is 151 years old so I  don’t think that counts as a spoiler. Know this Sydney Carton, I would have chosen you.

**Clockwork Angel: Excellent illustration of the true, impossible, love triangle.

***I’m looking at you, Puck (from The Iron King). I’ll always love you even if Meghan doesn’t.

3 thoughts on “Regarding the Love Triangle Bait and Switch

  1. Wait. Are there people in this life who would NOT choose Sydney Carton?????? If so, you just blew my mind!

    I have a lot of feelings about the huge-ness of love triangles in teen fiction these days, and none of those feelings are the happy kind. Partly because of the horrible fate for the Secondary Male Lead, but mostly because why can’t girls just save the day or get involved in a revolution (or whatever) without it being about GUYS?

    1. I wouldn’t imagine anyone would pass up Sydney Carton either. AND YET since Miss Manette herself did NOT choose Sydney Carton I am forced to consider the possibility that she might not be alone (though I kind of do hope she is).

      Love triangles are getting weirdly pervasive. It’s become hard to think of books with a romance element that don’t include a love triangle–forget finding a YA book that simply doesn’t have romance as a main event.

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