I’ve been feeling strangely nonplussed by the romance subplots in most of what I’ve been reading lately, and for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why. It’s not that I’m an unromantic person. I love a good intense love story. And it’s not that the books I’ve been reading have been bad – far from it. (The Hunger Games is a perfect example. I loved those books. But the romance aspect… that part did nothing for me.) So what’s going on? Why haven’t I been able to get invested in these relationships?
It took a while, but I finally figured out what the problem is.
I just don’t like love triangles.
I’m not saying books that involve love triangles are bad, and I’m not discounting the possibility that I might write a love triangle someday if it suits the story. But in general, it’s just not a concept that does anything for me. Part of it is that a lot of books have the heroine choosing the mysterious alpha-type when I’m usually rooting for the sweet best friend… but mostly it’s the triangle itself.
What I like is a romance subplot where the main character has one person they’re drawn to above all others, one clear choice. I like soulmate relationships. I want these characters to feel differently about each other than they do about anyone else, to have a connection that nothing else can match. Those are the relationships that draw me in; they’re the ones that have me tensing up as I turn the pages when it looks like they’ll never be able to be together, the ones that can make me forget that a happy ending is all but assured as I read faster to find out whether everything will work out against all odds, the ones that have me bouncing in excitement when the final obstacles are overcome.
When there’s more than one prospect – when the main character could conceivably have that sort of connection with a couple of different people, and could turn away from a connection like that because she likes somebody else better – the romance loses its magic for me. How can they be soulmates if it’s possible for her to choose somebody else? I know that’s not necessarily how it works in real life, but it’s how I prefer my fictional relationships – and after all, it’s not like you always have two guys fighting over you in real life, either.
I mentioned The Hunger Games as an example of a book that I loved, but that didn’t have a romance I was invested in. Granted, romance is a very minor part of The Hunger Games – but I suspect that if it hadn’t involved a love triangle, I would have felt a lot more strongly about that aspect of the trilogy. I could easily see myself getting wrapped up in the relationship between Katniss and Gale, or between Katniss and Peeta. But when she has feelings for both of them? The magic is gone.
In contrast, the romance in Delirium, by Lauren Oliver, drew me in a lot more than I thought it would. I didn’t expect it to, since I hadn’t been having much luck with love stories, especially in YA. I mainly picked up Delirium because I was snapping up every dystopia I could find. But I found myself believing in the romance much more than I thought I would, and rooting for the main characters to not only escape the tyranny of their dystopian world, but for them to be together. I didn’t make the connection at the time, but Delirium, unlike the majority of YA out there these days, didn’t involve a love triangle.
The love triangle is a staple these days – mainly in YA, but in other books as well. And I don’t think it’s going to stop being popular anytime soon. But knowing that I don’t like them, and knowing why, may make it possible for me to enjoy those books more. If the romance subplot does nothing for me, I’ll know it’s not because of the way the characters are written or because there’s something wrong with the book; it’s just because love triangles don’t enthrall me the way soulmate relationships do. I can thoroughly enjoy the rest of the book, accept that the romance subplot probably isn’t going to interest me, and move on. And if a book looks like the main plot will be centered around a love triangle, I can pass it by, knowing it’s probably not my thing.
It’s not a bad thing that authors are writing love triangles, after all. A lot of people like them. (Clearly, or they wouldn’t be so popular.) They’re just not for me.
What kind of romance do you prefer in the books you read? Love triangles? Soulmates? Star-crossed lovers? No love story at all? What do you think of the current ubiquity of love triangles in YA – do you love them, or are you ready for something different?