the third wheel: a little rant about love triangles.

So. The third wheel, love triangles, and why I’m kinda mad right now.

*cracks knuckles*

Maybe there’s a better name for this character than ‘the third wheel’ (TV Tropes, help me out!). I don’t know. But if you don’t understand what I’m talking about…let me explain!

Say you’re watching a TV show, and there are two people on said show that you just know are going to end up together. You know it, your friends know it, the other characters on the show know it. That couple is endgame, no question. And then, perhaps in season two, another character is introduced, a character who starts dating one half of The Dream Couple. Drama ensues. But it’s all pointless. We, the audience, know that The Dream Couple are going to end up together—no matter what. And that new character? They end up getting shunted to one side when the writers decide it’s time to bring The Dream Couple back together.

And that infuriates me. (We’ll get to the whys and wherefores in a bit.)

A few specific examples of what I’m talking about:

Arrow. When Oliver Queen is rescued from a deserted island (after having been presumed dead), he returns to find that his best friend Tommy is in a tentative relationship with Oliver’s former girlfriend Laurel. Tommy loves Laurel and wants their relationship to work out, but eventually Oliver and Laurel cheat behind his back and Tommy spirals to the dark side because…that’s what had to happen, I guess. *fumes*

Downton Abbey. Matthew and Mary have been destined for each other ever since that first meeting. (*feels*) But in Season Two, Matthew engages himself to Lavinia Swire. Lavinia is an amazing woman. Sweet, kind, courageous, self-sacrificing…I could go on. But Matthew and Mary still have feelings for each other, and so Lavinia must die.

The Flash. Eddie commits suicide and thus the way is clear for Barry and Iris’s relationship. Eddie’s death is held up as a noble sacrifice, but it is horrific, heartbreaking, and ultimately pointless in the grand scheme of things (he killed himself to prevent time travel stuff from happening—but it still happened). This is the most infuriating example of all, in my opinion.

*is full of rage* (source)

Why I get so mad about this:

It makes the characters look bad. Loyalty in a relationship is such an essential quality. And when you have two characters pining away for each other behind the third character’s back, cheating on their boyfriend/girlfriend, trying to justify their actions, not being clear and open about their feelings, not really trying to tamp down feelings for someone who isn’t available to them, etc.—I can’t respect that! Who could? Love triangles so often make at least one of the characters involved look like a jerk. And I don’t want to spend time with jerks.

The whole thing is a waste of time for the audience. Like I said, we know that Main Character #1 and Main Character #2 are going to end up together. That’s just how storytelling works, ninety-nine percent of the time. (For the other one percent, watch Lost.) So having a third character pop up for the sake of drama? Yawn. Glare. Hard pass.

It’s unfair to the ‘third wheel’ character. Are these people fictional? Yep. Do I care? Nope. Not when it comes to this. Lavinia dies! Tommy dies! Eddie dies! Not only that, but they die with a broken heart. Plus, many audience members view the ‘third wheel’ characters as annoying hindrances to their OTP’s happily ever after—and they end up hating on those poor, defenseless characters because of that.

So what’s the solution?

You know what’s better than a messy love triangle that makes everyone look bad? A couple who remains loyal and true to each other, even when circumstances beyond their control drive/keep them apart. Or enemies to friends to lovers. Or no romance at all (for a change). Or a character who is already married. Basically ANYTHING besides the dreaded love triangle. And if you are going to have a love triangle, please, please treat the third wheel gently. Let the main characters be open and honest with the third wheel when they begin to realize that they have feelings for each other after all. Let that third wheel find a love of their own. Let everyone behave honorably.

Pretty please?

So! What are your thoughts on this? Do poorly resolved love triangles make you mad? Or am I getting too worked up about this? XD I’d love to hear from you!


24 thoughts on “the third wheel: a little rant about love triangles.

Add yours


    Not to reiterate your excellent points and everybody’s thoughtful comments here… but the third wheel problem illustrates the inherent flaw of the love triangle trope as it currently exists in our media culture. In the eyes of too many writers, the third person isn’t a full character or a full human being; they’ve been created and introduced to stir up pointless drama. Not to have their own meaningful character arc, like all good characters should.

    Which is absolutely unfair. Especially if they’re just gonna get fridged so the OTP can be together. I hate to break it to you, “Flash” writers, but just because Eddie wasn’t Iris’ “one true love” didn’t mean hE DESERVED TO FRICKIN’ DIE.

    (That storyline in particular makes me sick to my stomach because it’s such a cheap way to handle suicide, and just… yeah. We’ve talked. ;))

    Although love triangles can be well-written and interesting, in today’s stories they usually aren’t. Which is why I think most writers should simply avoid them, unless they’re 100% aware of the pitfalls and willing to put in the work to avoid them. If you’re just doing it for the drama, PLS DON’T????


    1. EXACTLY. The third wheel feels like a cheap plot device instead of a character with their own arc, feelings, motivations, etc. (Well, motivations besides “I love the main character and want to be with him/her”. Sigh.)

      I knew I could count on your support regarding Eddie’s storyline. *RAGES*

      I won’t say that I’ll never write a love triangle, because then I’ll totally end breaking my word. But if/when I do, IT WILL BE DIFFERENT. And good. Hopefully. And there because it makes sense for the plot/characters, and not just to add extra drama.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I guess because it’s too simple and the writers wouldn’t feel like they’d earned their paycheck? XD


  2. “And I don’t want to spend time with jerks.” <- ahahaha, I love this. So true.

    I think love triangles stink because of the obvious bias toward one character; the other one is just there to add a little confusion and heartache. I am thinking mostly of Edward/Bella/Jacob in Twilight. You KNOW it'll be Edward and Bella, that's a given, but Jacob pines for her and she likes him, but never gives him a chance. So it's kind of a mean thing for a writer to do (torturing the loser), and a way to make them stress that this girl/boy is so great, multiple people are after them. It's also not really realistic. I rarely meet people caught up in love triangles. 😛

    Regarding Downton Abbey, even more annoying than the love triangles is the writer's tendency to keep Anna and Bates apart due to forced melodrama. (Oh, he's married… oh, his wife got murdered and he's in jail for it, oh, she's been raped, oh…)


    1. Yep. You’re so right. It’s usually easy to tell which two characters will actually end up together, with the third character only there to provide some extra drama. Haven’t watched or read Twilight, but it sounds like the love triangle would annoy me to no end. =) One love triangle I actually like is Katniss/Peeta/Gale. Katniss doesn’t lead either of them on (in fact, she seems rather oblivious to her feelings and theirs–and not in an unrealistic way–for big chunks of the series). And the focus of the story isn’t on the love triangle either.

      Regarding Downton Abbey…it’s like the writers knew everyone loved Anna and Bates so they kept putting them through the wringer to keep audiences invested. Ugh.


      1. Katniss having no clue about her feelings makes her an interesting protagonist, but I felt like the writer robbed her of having any agency at the end. Gale just says, “Well, it’s over, you can never forgive me” and leaves, which means she doesn’t actually get to choose Peeta. It just… happens, because he’s still there and Gale isn’t. I wanted her to make just one choice for herself.

        Yes. Although, I kind of found Bates aggravating — he was “so noble” he constantly got himself into giant messes because he wouldn’t just SPEAK UP. Like, dude, not everything has to be this giant secret. Once in awhile, you CAN say what’s going on. xD


      2. Okay, yes, I can see that with Gale. I don’t believe Katniss would have chosen him even if Prim’s death hadn’t been involved. But we do never get to see her actually make that choice.

        LOL. That…is actually very true, about Bates.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The worst part of the love triangle, as far as I’m concerned, is that it’s way overused. It’s such a cliche, and it often feels both forced and clearly biased towards one of the pairs clearly being the one that’s meant to be. Often times, the couple that’s “mean to be” aren’t the ones together at the start of the movie either. That often makes it worse.


    1. Yep. They’re definitely overused. And I get what you mean about the bias–the writers try to create drama (“which love interest will the main character choose??”) while usually steering the audience in favor of one pairing and one pairing only.


  4. Haha! I love that you use Lost as an example here. Are you thinking of the Kate/Sawyer/Juliet tangle? I have many thoughts on that specific instance (obviously), but none on your other examples.

    Really, everyone just needs to look to Tolkien for how to handle this. Arwen/Aragorn/Eowyn is a shining example of what you’re talking about here. Aragorn sees that Eowyn yearns for him, and he is as gentle — and gentlemanly — with her as possible. (In the books — in the movies, it feels like he mostly tries to avoid her, which is kind of problematic in a different way.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was actually thinking of Jack and Kate when I wrote this post. XD The thing is, I *still* have not finished the show, so I’m not exactly sure how everything turns out. I feel like Lost is a textbook example of ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’, heehee.

      I can’t believe I forgot about Arwen/Aragorn/Eowyn! You’re so right. That’s a great example of a love triangle done well.


      1. Oh! Yes, Jack and Kate too — man, Lost got super convoluted. I forgot Kate and Jack were a thing too. Haha! They really did a great job with that, though, as neither Sawyer nor Jack were an obvious “right choice” for her, and Kate was not an obvious “right choice” for either of them.


      2. I assumed Jack and Kate would end up together from that first scene where she stitched up his wound…but Lost is not a conventional show. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Ok I’m suddenly reminded of the love quadrangle in Far From the Madding Crowd… 😆

    This isn’t my favorite storyline, either. I’m sure love triangles exist in the Real World, but it doesn’t make for much of a story, unless it’s from the perspective of the third wheel. Of your examples, I’ve only seen Downton Abbey, and Lavinia felt more like a plot device to keep the Matthew/Mary drama going than a character in her own right. I’m just not fond of that kind of storytelling… it’s like the characters exist to create a Situation instead of being themselves.


    1. It’s been ages since I watched Far From the Madding Crowd, but I remember that Bathsheba’s relationships got a little out of hand. XD

      Yep. Lavinia was a total plot device (while also being a dear character–I really, really like her). So annoying!

      Liked by 1 person

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