Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Lovin' the love triangles

Psychologist Robert J. Sternberg had a triangular theory of love; he thought it was based on a combination of intimacy, passion, and commitment. Smart guy, that Sternberg, but he clearly didn't write for TV. If he did, he'd know that there is a triangular formula for love - but it's two attractive guys plus one indecisive girl equals a whole lot of unresolved sexual tension.

Love triangles are an absolute staple of romantic drama. Think about it: Felicity, Ben, and Noel. Angela, Brian, and Jordan. Joey, Pacey, and Dawson. Kate, Jack, and Sawyer. Lorelai, Luke, and Christopher. Rachel, Ross, and Joey. I tell you, if a writer is running low on drama, they just have to throw a love triangle into the mix to get the audience invested. It's a formula that goes back to Ilsa, Rick, and Victor and certainly further back than that.

Why are love triangles so darned effective? Because they get you to care about and root for the characters. Maybe you're rooting for the underdog in the triangle, the shy guy who doesn't usually get the girl. Maybe both romantic options have their good sides, and you're torn because you want them all to be happy. To a degree, it doesn't matter who ultimately ends up with whom because you, the viewer, are the real winner. You get to care about the characters.

Plus, you get to define yourself in terms of your favored romantic competitor. "I'm a Noel girl" or "I'm a Pacey girl", you might think. Can thinking in those terms actually help you define yourself and what you might theoretically want from a romantic partner? Probably not. But who knows? It sure is fun.

One thing I've noticed: It's more often a girl who forced to choose between two guys. Why is that? Are we more comfortable seeing men chasing women than we are women romantically pursuing men? Are men less monogamous and more likely to get all Big Love on us and choose both women? Whatever the reason for its relative rarity, a man being forced to choose between two women can certainly make for worthwhile viewing.

Think of Grey's Anatomy, currently rocking an XY-XX-XX triangle with Derek, Meredith, and Addison. The writers have certainly handled it well, keeping viewers invested and having them flip-flop week to week between rooting for Addison or Meredith. They're both lovely ladies. No matter who McDreamy settles on, we're lucky just to be watching.

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