Vincent lays out a few ground rules for what she thinks constitutes a simple love triangle:
- The person in the center of the love triangle has to be aware of the feelings of both of the other sides.
- The person in the center must be asked to choose between the two sides.
- The person in the center must love both of the two choices to the point where choosing between them is difficult.
Now, maybe I'm not reading the right books or the right genres, but based on these rules, I'd argue that there are very few true love triangles in any of the series that I've been reading the past couple years. Most of the time, the person, usually a girl, knows exactly who she wants to be with, but circumstances might point her towards someone else for a while, because all books need conflict.
Case in point, Twilight. The Team Edward vs. Team Jacob "conflict" sold a lot of t-shirts and generated a lot of page views as people debated. However, I'd argue that this was not a true love triangle. Rules 1 and 2 were certainly met, but rule 3, not so much. Bella is clear with Jacob that it was always going to be Edward, as long as circumstances allowed them to be together. She genuinely cared about Jacob, but he was never going to be her first choice.
But obviously, there were plenty of people out there, those Team Jacob people, who would disagree with me. And why is that? Its because people project their own feelings onto the characters. I just did it in the paragraph above. Only Stephenie Meyer could tell you if she intended for Jacob to be a genuine contender for Bella's love (and I think she's made it clear that she had a different plan for him all along, as evidenced by the events of Breaking Dawn). Because I preferred Edward over Jacob, I never viewed Jacob as a legitimate threat or believed that Bella would choose him in the end.
This sort of reader projection results in a lot of "love triangle" debates when there might not even be a triangle in the first place. I think that its in rule 3 that the reader's feelings are brought most strongly into play. Rules 1 and 2 are pretty cut and dry, but the reader's feelings about whichever side of the triangle they prefer certainly color their interpretation of the center person's difficulty in choosing.
Another good example, and one that's caused lots of drama within the fandom, is the Stefan/Elena/Damon "triangle" on The Vampire Diaries, the tv show. Let's look at our rules again. For rule 1, I don't think that we can comfortably say that Elena is "aware" of how Damon feels about her. She must know that Damon cares about her, but I wouldn't go so far as to say she knows he's in love with her. In fact, he's tried to make sure she doesn't know by compelling her to forget he confessed his love (and thoroughly breaking my heart in the process). As for rule 2, I don't think Elena has to choose between the two Salvatores if we accept the idea that she doesn't know that she's in a love triangle. Rule 3 is irrelevant if the center is both unaware of one of the sides' feelings and isn't being forced to make a choice. However, its the rule that creates the best drama when both rules 1 and 2 have been fulfilled.
There are, of course, Damon/Elena shippers who would argue with me on every point, and that's their right to do so. However, as a person who is immensely interested in seeing a Damon/Elena relationship at some point on the show, I don't think that I'm projecting some sort of Stefan/Elena agenda onto my argument. I just think that some shippers are incapable of being objective when they have a passion to see a certain thing happen. And then they rant about it on Twitter.
The last example I'll cite is the Jace/Clary/Simon "triangle" from Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series (spoilery):
- The first rule here would be met, Clary is aware that both Jace and Simon care about her in a romantic way.
- Yes, Clary had to make a choice between the two, though it was complicated by the uncertainty of her and Jace's familial status.
- Here's where the projection of the reader comes into play. In my interpretation of the book, Clary only thinks to pursue any sort of romantic relationship with Simon when she thinks that a relationship with Jace can't happen. And she realizes that its not fair to keep stringing Simon along when its really Jace she wants. So, in my opinion, Rule 3 is not satisfied.
So what's my point, here? Even I'm not entirely sure, but I think its that love triangles aren't as common as we think and some of the most famous ones right now aren't really love triangles. However, with the degree that readers' feelings play into Rule 3, then perhaps love triangles exist wherever the reader believes they exist. At least fandom discussions won't be boring!