The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s about love triangles and why they suck. Need I say more? Enjoy!
Tag Archives: love triangles
Two years ago, I wrote an article that explored the idea of using polyamory to resolve the infamous Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine love triangle in the X-Men comics. I admit that it was primarily a thought experiment. It was my way of attempting to resolve what I believe to be the worst manifestation of a love triangle in all of fiction. I never expected it to manifest in any form outside head canon of fan fiction.
Then, “X-Men #1” by Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Francis Yu came out, almost two years to the day that I published that article. While it wasn’t overtly stated that polyamory is now a thing in the X-Men comics, there were certain details that strongly hinted at it, so much so that multiple outlets in the world of comics have taken it seriously.
I’m not saying the article I wrote was prophetic. I certainly didn’t predict that Marvel would ever pursue this recourse or even hint at it. At the same time, it’s kind of surreal that this is something that might actually play out in mainstream superhero comics. The fact that it’s playing out in a company owned by Disney makes that even more astonishing.
Now, before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. After reading “X-Men #1” and all the speculation surrounding it, nothing has been definitively confirmed. The writers and editors at Marvel have not stated outright that they’re actually making Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine a polyamorous couple. It’s been hinted at, but not confirmed on panel.
In comics, that means a lot. Like a death without a body, if it doesn’t happen explicitly on panel, then you can’t assume it did. That’s just how comics work. That extends to love triangles, polyamory, and everything in between.
That said, I think Hickman and Yu have created the right circumstances. Two years ago, Jean Grey was still dead, Cyclops was dead, and Wolverine had just come back to life. The events of House of X and Powers of X establish that the X-Men, and the rest of the mutant race for that matter, have established a new world for themselves on the living island of Krakoa. It’s a chance to do things differently.
In this new setup, the tensions and melodrama of the past are left in the past. The final pages of House of X #6 make that clear, especially with Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine. There’s even a nice moment between Jean Grey and Emma Frost, who have been bitter rivals for years. Hickman makes clear that these characters are looking to move forward and not revisit old drama.
The only question is what does that entail? Does moving forward simply mean moving past these old romantic complications? The final pages of “Uncanny X-Men #22,” which predate House of X and Powers of X, establish on panel that Cyclops and Jean Grey are still a thing. They still love each other and don’t hesitate for a second to embrace one another, now that they’re alive again.
However, it’s not quite as clear that they’re content to pursue the same relationship they had before Jean died at the hands of Magneto back in 2004. On some levels, it makes sense to do something different. Both Cyclops and Jean Grey know what happens when they try to ignore these other feelings. They just fester under the surface and it hurts them both in the long run.
Even though their love for one another is very clear, the way they go about their relationship has shown plenty of flaws, going back to the days of Chris Clarmeont’s run on Uncanny X-Men. They still want to be together. They even want to be a family. The events of “X-Men #1” depict them as more a family than reunited lovers, which I thought was both sweet and overdue.
It’s also in this area that the potential for polyamory has already revealed itself. Most have pointed out the unusual arrangement of Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine’s rooms on the new moon-based Summer house. They’re all connected with Jean’s room in between Cyclops’ and Wolverine’s. They even have doorways between them, which is something the other rooms don’t.
It’s not definitive confirmation, but it certainly implies the possibility. Solicits of future issues have also hinted that Emma Frost may enter the picture as well. If Hickman, Yu, and Marvel are serious about pursuing this plot, then it could open the door for a very different kind of romantic sub-plot, the likes of which we haven’t seen in superhero comics.
While superhero comics have been quite progressive at times, and even somewhat daring, when it comes to pursuing non-traditional relationships, they’ve never attempted to tackle polyamory. Even though it exists in the real world, it’s not something superhero comics have ever taken seriously. This could change that.
A seriously, well-written polyamorous relationship between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine could effectively redefine what it means for these characters to love one another. It helps that it’s happening at a time when the X-Men and the entire mutant race are redefining themselves on Krakoa. They’re building their own homeland and culture. Why wouldn’t they redefine how they handle relationships while they’re at it?
It could address some of the most egregious flaws that the love triangle has propagated over the years. Jean Grey would no longer be a prize to be won by Cyclops or Wolverine. Cyclops would no longer be an obstacle for Wolverine. More importantly, it would allow Wolverine to have his romantic connection with someone without being limited by it. For someone with his extensive romantic history, that’s very important.
However, that’s the best case scenario. It also assumes that Hickman is serious about pursuing this sub-plot. Like I said earlier, it has not be confirmed on-panel. There’s no hint in House of X, Powers of X, or “X-Men #1” that there’s something elaborate going on with them. They just carry themselves as though they’re on much better terms than they were before they all died on one another.
There are risks associated with pursuing this kind of relationship. While Hickman is a great writer with a great pedigree for superhero comics, he’s never tackled a love triangle with this much baggage. If handled poorly, it could do serious damage to all the characters involved.
It could devalue the depth and history of the Cyclops/Jean Grey romance, which is one of the most iconic in all of superhero comics. It could also take a character like Wolverine, who has a complicated history as a loner who rarely gets tied down by one relationship, and make him seem out of character. Him becoming a part of the Summers/Grey family would be like James Bond joining the clergy.
There’s also a chance that a polyamorous relationship with these three could devolve into something that is just played up for novelty. The fact that it’s so different can’t be the only reason for doing it. If it is, then it’s not going to be believable and the characters involved will suffer because of it.
Given how these characters have already suffered, I don’t think the time is right to deconstruct their relationships and romantic sub-plots the only reason for doing so is shock value. These are characters poised to enter the MCU at some point. I doubt Disney will want them overly complicated before that occurs.
Personally, it’s for that reason that I doubt Marvel will seriously pursue a polyamorous relationship between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine. They may hint at it. They may tease it. They’ll do everything possible, except depict it on panel, which will keep readers guessing and speculating. It’s something they’ve done before, much to the chagrin of fans.
If they do try it, though, I sincerely hope that Hickman, Lu, and the rest of Marvel’s creative team takes the concept seriously. The X-Men, throughout their history, have depicted characters who are very different, if not downright weird compared to the rest of the world. If that’s going to extend to how they pursue romance and relationships, then it deserves a serious effort.
However, it cannot and should not come at the cost of the characters or the iconic romances that came before it.
In general, I don’t always write these posts with a sense of timing in mind. My brain just doesn’t work that way. Usually, I get an idea, either through inspiration or just something that comes to me in the shower, and I just go with it. I find that to be the most effective means of exploring sexy and non-sexy issues alike on this blog.
Every now and then, I get lucky and fall ass-backwards into a perfectly timed topic. Sometimes, I even get obscenely lucky because that topic can relate to comics, which I love tying into sexy topics on this blog every chance I get. Well, whether by luck or outright fluke, I have a chance to link an issue I’ve been discussing lately directly to a comic book.
Trust me, I didn’t plan it. I didn’t expect it. I’m just going to run with it because it’s so relevant to the recent issues I’ve been exploring. It also involves X-men, which I go out of my way to talk about every chance I get, and a very particular character that I’ve mentioned before named Emma Frost. In case you need a reminder, this is Emma Frost.
I’m assuming I have your attention now, especially if you’re a heterosexual man or a homosexual woman with functioning genitals. I swear that pic isn’t some juvenile fan art, like the ones that drew big tits on Flintstones characters. That’s how Emma Frost actually dresses in the X-men comics. Can you now see why I’m so fond of them?
Sadly, I’m not writing this to talk about Emma Frost’s overtly sexy costumes. I’m writing this because recent events in the X-men comics tie directly into what I’ve been discussing with respect to conditioning our brains for love. While it’s an issue we’ll probably have to address once we start hacking our brain’s wiring, it’s something that comic book characters deal with regularly.
I’ve already mentioned how Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers dealt with it during her early history. I’ve also cited past stories involving mind control, including one infamous story in Action Comics where Superman was brainwashed into making a porno tape with Big Barda. It’s one of those odd, but disturbing kinks that’s unique to worlds filled with psychics, aliens, and talking raccoons with machine guns.
However, this is one instance where a story about the mental manipulation of emotions and/or horniness isn’t quite as disturbing. If anything, it’s tragic in that reveals a lot about what some people are willing to do in the name of love.
To understand that tragedy, it’s necessary to understand the comic in question and the context behind it. The story unfolds in the pages of “X-men Blue #9” by Cullen Bunn, which is one of several ongoing X-men titles. This one focuses on the exploits of the time-displaced original five X-men, who are currently stuck in the future due to some time travel shenanigans that began back in 2012.
I’ll skip the part where I make a bunch of “Back To The Future” jokes and make clear that X-men Blue has much higher stakes compared to other X-men comics. That’s because what happens to these five time-displaced X-men, who also happen to be teenagers, could potentially affect the entire history of the X-men, which has already been subject to the kinds of time travel upheavals that would make Doc Brown’s head explode.
That’s where Emma Frost comes in. She knows, as well as any X-men regular who has encountered time travelers, that influencing these time-displaced teenagers could alter how things play out in their future. That’s important to her because she has a good, albeit tragic, reason to want to change that outcome.
Shortly before the events of this issue, Emma Frost endured a terrible loss. In an ominously-named event called “Death of X,” her former lover, Cyclops, died in her arms. To make matters even worse, it was one of those rare situations where there was nothing she could’ve done to stop it.
This isn’t akin to Spider-Man not stopping the Green Goblin in time or Superman not being able to save Lois Lane. This is basically someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time for the right reasons. In a sense, it’s a lot more realistic than the deaths most superheroes endure. It comes out of nowhere and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.
However, Emma Frost isn’t the kind of person to just accept that kind of tragedy and move on. This is a woman who once watched an entire classroom of her students die in an outright mutant genocide. When tragedy hits her, she hits back and looks damn sexy while doing it.
Granted, she does tend hit harder than she needs to or ought to. It has made her a lot of enemies, even alienating some of her former allies. However, Emma Frost isn’t one of those characters who does what she does out of malice. She’s not the Red Skull, Thanos, or even Dr. Doom.
She does see herself as a hero. She carries herself as a hero and has been on the front lines of some major Marvel conflicts. She’s also not a sociopath. She is capable of great love, both for her students and for lovers like Cyclops. So when Cyclops died, it hit her very hard.
When hit with a loss that hard, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to undo it? Even if it means crossing certain lines and hurting others, isn’t that worth getting back the person you love?
That’s a question that a lot of heroes and non-hero’s alike might debate in a philosophy class or a message board. However, there’s no debate for Emma Frost. She sees an opportunity to get her lover back and she takes it. Specifically, she sets her sights on the time-displaced, teenage Cyclops who has yet to grow into the man she fell in love with.
Finally, in X-men Blue #9, she’s in a position to get what she wants. As part of an ongoing event called “Secret Empire,” an event that’s hitting every major Marvel series, she abducts the time-displaced X-men and singles Cyclops out for some special treatment. Trust me, it’s nowhere near as sexy as it sounds.
Emma basically does exactly what I described in my post about managing the future of brain hacking. She tires to twist and contort young Cyclops’ mind into being the man she once loved. She knows it may ruin the timeline. I’m sure Doc Brown would scream at the top of his lungs to get her to stop. It would still do no good.
That’s because Emma wants her lover back. She wants the man who has helped save the mutant race on more than one occasion. She’s willing to risk a time paradox and undermining the free will of someone who made clear in the issue that he doesn’t care for her. She’s just that desperate to get the man she loves back.
I won’t spoil how the book ends. I’d much rather people go out and read X-men Blue #9 because it’s a great comic that’s worth supporting. I’ll just say that the tragedy surrounding Emma Frost and her misguided efforts to subvert that tragedy really strike a chord.
It’s a tragic, but potentially prophetic story that may become more relevant over time. There’s no doubt that Emma Frost’s love for Cyclops in X-men Blue #9 is sincere. It’s not part of an agenda or some elaborate trick. It’s real, honest love that got destroyed through forces nobody could’ve foreseen.
Who’s to say that someone wouldn’t do something similar if they were in her position? I’ve said before in other posts that love is a powerful drug. It’s medically proven that love affects our brains like a drug. Compared to love, crack is watered-down diet soda.
Emma Frost is a powerful telepath, one of the most powerful in the Marvel universe, in fact. That means she can manipulate minds, twist thoughts, and conjure emotions in others. It does have limits, but it’s not that different from the kind of brain hacking that is in development as we speak.
What happens in the future when someone loses a loved one and refuses to accept it? What happens when someone just can’t stand the idea that someone they once loved no longer loves them? If there exists technology that could conjure or recapture that feeling, who wouldn’t be tempted to exploit it?
Our desire to love and be loved is a core, emotional need that every non-sociopath human feels. We don’t have the technology of Neuralink or the telepathy of Emma Frost to force it when we can’t have it. However, once it becomes possible, how long will it be before someone tries it?
Emma Frost didn’t need much temptation in X-men Blue #9. She just needed an opportunity and a plan. Again, it’s wrong to call it an evil plan. She was just trying to get back the man she loved and was willing to cross lines to do it. Love makes us do a lot of crazy, stupid things. What Emma Frost does in this comic is as much a lesson as it is a warning, albeit the sexy kind.
I’ve spent most of this week complaining about how much I despise love triangles and why they’re the worst invention since the concept of sparkling vampires. I’ve explained why they suck and singled out one that sucks the most. Well, now I’m done complaining.
My parents raised me to understand that complaints that aren’t followed up with solutions is nothing more than glorified bitching and moaning. I will not permit bitching and moaning on this blog. Instead, I’m going talk about solutions instead of problems. It’s a step 95 percent of complaints on the internet never bother to make. I’m taking that step here.
As much as I hate love triangles, I know they’re not going away. So long as people keep telling love stories, with or without vampires, love triangles are going to manifest in some form or another. Enews even did an article a while back ranking the “hottest” love triangles on TV. I contest their characterization of these love triangles, but I don’t deny their appeal.
It’s inevitable that plenty of these love triangles will be god-awful for the same reasons I described in previous posts. With that in mind, let me just say that this post isn’t about those. I’m directing this post to those yet-to-be-told stories that have some sliver of hope of being decent.
So how do we go about it? How do we utilize love triangles in a way that doesn’t destroy the story? It requires a little more work and effort on the part of the writer. Those who make porn parodies and fan fiction may not be inclined to do that extra work, but it’s definitely worth doing. There are enough bad love triangles as it stands. Do we really need another reminder?
The primary problem with love triangles, as a concept, is that it narrows the characters. It reduces them to serving singular, shallow roles that limits their development. If a character’s sole purpose is to serve as a source of tension for a particular romance, then that character has as much depth and appeal as a speed-bump. Since we want to inspire love and not road rage, it’s important to have a focused approach.
With this in mind, here are Jack Fisher’s four key tips for making a good love triangle.
1. Make sure the emotions between all parties involved are balanced.
Let’s face it. Lopsided victories are boring. Would a Rocky movie be entertaining if Rocky Balboa got his ass kicked in every fight? Even if you’re going to have a Biff Tanner somewhere in this story, make sure there’s some meaningful depth to the emotions involved here.
This applies to romances involving two men and one woman, two women and one man, or multiple men and multiple women of various sexual orientations. It’s vital, regardless of which body parts are involved. The emotions with everyone involved should be sincere. The people in the love triangle can’t just be attracted to one another. They have to have real, genuine passion for one another. If it’s not genuine, then it’s just creepy and misguided. Look at Wolverine in the X-men movies for proof of how bad this can get.
2. As a plot, a love triangle must be a secondary plot at most.
This isn’t as easy as it seems. I’ve noticed this in reading other romance stories and trying to craft my own. Whenever a love triangle enters the picture, it often comes to dominate the underlying plot of the story, so much so that it derails whatever major plot came before it.
I’ve seen this happen in fan fiction, comic books, animes, and erotic thrillers. The tension within a love triangle tends to consume the story, becoming one big distraction that keeps the audience from getting too engaged. That’s why a love triangle must always be, except in the rarest of cases, be a secondary plot.
This is challenging, but it is possible. Books like The Hunger Games and TV shows like True Blood (at least the first few seasons) are able to do this in a meaningful way. If done right, it can make stars out of Jennifer Lawrence and Anna Paquin superstars.
3. Don’t force the emotions. Let them manifest naturally.
This is actually easier than it sounds, but it can be tedious. I know this because I found myself taking a lot of extra steps when writing my book, Holiday Heat. That entire story is structured around a pseudo-love triangle of sorts, but no vampires are involved and there’s nobody resembling Biff Tanner. As such, I needed to add a few extra steps to develop the characters so that their emotions made sense.
This is critical because if a romance feels forced, then you’ll make the same mistake that Chris Claremont and the X-men movies made with Wolverine, essentially forcing emotions into a character for all the wrong reasons. If any character is going to have any genuine passion for another, it can’t just be for the hell of it.
4. The end result of a love triangle must be satisfying to all sides
This may sound hypocritical coming from an erotica writer, but try to make sure nobody gets screwed over too badly. This is what happened to X-men. This is what happened to Twilight. This is what happens with almost every bad love triangle. One character gets horribly screwed over and unless that character is a Biff Tanner type, it’s not going to be satisfying to the audience.
Most human beings who don’t have personality disorders tend to have an innate sense of justice. When we see injustice play out in the fictional world, it tends to upset us, just as it does when it occurs in the real world. So if there’s a character in a love triangle who doesn’t win the heart of his or her lover and gets unceremoniously cast off, then that’s not going to be satisfying. That’s going to be the literary equivalent of a dick move.
Again, this requires a bit of extra work. It means crafting a more complex plot wherein all parties involved achieve some kind of satisfying resolution to the emotional upheavals. It doesn’t always have to mean finding another love or forcing some other character to fill the void. Sometimes, it requires some extra layers to a plot, but it’s worth the effort if we, the audience, feel that everyone ends up satisfied on some level. It’s kind of sexy when you think about it.
So there you have it. Those our my four tips for making love triangles that don’t suck. I hope to employ them to some degree as I write more romance and erotica. I hope others can make use of them as well. This world has enough terrible love triangles. Let’s not create more. After Twilight, I think our civilization has had enough.
I’m not a successful writer yet. I’m not certain that I’m an overly skilled writer either. However, as someone who has been writing almost every day since he was 15-years-old, I like to think I know something about this topic. As such, I’m of the opinion that any overly bizarre or frustratingly inane plot can work if written well. With enough skill, a writer can make a story about snake handler hooking up with an alien compelling.
Then, there are certain plots that are so poorly structured, so inherently weak, and so intrinsically flawed that the combined efforts of Shakespeare, Tolken, and Faulkner can’t save it. For me, that plot is that of the love triangle. I even dedicated an entire post about why I think it’s one of the most overused, poorly written plot devices in all of romance.
I avoided getting into specifics in that post because I wanted to focus on the bigger picture as to why love triangles as a concept suck in general. For this post, I’m going to reach deep into the steaming pile of shit that countless stories featuring bad love triangles have excreted over the years and discuss the worst of the worst.
So which love triangle is the worst among the vast mountain of shit that occupies such a prominent position in popular culture? In this case, the worst comes from the world of X-men and involves the characters Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine.
For the sake of this blog, it’s very convenient that the absolute bottom of the pit that is terrible love triangles takes place in the world of superhero comics. This is, after all, a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. I’ve made my love of superhero comics known on this blog before. I will likely cite superhero comics again in future posts as I discuss similar issues. In this case, however, it really is an issue of pragmatism because I really could not find a worse example of a bad love triangle than this one.
What makes it so mind-numbingly terrible? Well, to answer that, here’s a quick rundown of the structure of this worst-of-the-worst brand of romantic drama. Cyclops and Jean Grey are founding members of the X-men. They were among the original X-men that were first introduced in 1963 by the ultimate creative dynamic duo, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They’re also, by far, one of the most iconic couples in the history of X-men, if not all of superhero comics.
Wolverine didn’t enter the picture until later. He doesn’t join the X-men until 1975, which is a while after he makes his first appearance as a supporting character in The Incredible Hulk. As the X-men’s resident bad boy, he’s basically the opposite of Cyclops. He’s brutish, crude, ill-mannered, quick-tempered, and bad-ass to an insane degree. So naturally, he pulls in a lot of ass. There’s actually a chart documenting Wolverine’s many romantic entanglements and it’s even more confusing/impressive than it looks.
So the very idea of Jean Grey falling in love with him while being in love with Cyclops is akin to a man being in love with both a nun and a crack whore. However, that discrepancy alone isn’t what makes this love triangle so horrendously bad. It’s all the circumstances surrounding it that make it the poster child for everything that sucks about love triangles.
First and foremost, the entire reason why Jean Grey developed an attraction to Wolverine in the first place is ridiculously contrived. X-men writer, Chris Claremont (also known as the most prolific X-men writer ever), indicated in numerous interviews that the attraction between them was extremely shallow.
“He sees Jean, Jean sees him, hormones kick in, the rational brain checks into the Happy Hour hotel, and everyone else runs for cover.”
There’s nothing wrong with basic attraction. That’s the sort of thing men feel whenever they see an attractive stripper or the sort of thing women feel when they see Channing Tatum without his shirt on. It’s a good setup for a one night stand. It’s not a good foundation for a meaningful romance, which is the only thing that makes a love triangle functional to some degree.
That never happens in X-men and for a very bad reason. Due to editorial decisions within the X-men comics that are too convoluted for a single blog post, Claremont soured on Cyclops as a character and openly despised his relationship with Jean Grey, despite having done more than any other X-men writer to solidify their status as the premier romance of the X-men. So what does he do? He tries everything he can to break them up and had editors not thwarted him in 1991, he would’ve succeeded.
That’s the entire reason that this love triangle exists. A writer grew to despise a certain character and decided to punish them by making his girlfriend fall for someone who is the exact opposite of him. Think about that long and hard for more than 15 seconds. Seriously, think about it as rationally as any human mind can manage on topics involving fictional characters.
Are you done? Then, I hope you can now see just how flawed that reasoning is. The writer hates one character and uses that as the sole justification for an entirely separate relationship between two characters who have next to nothing in common. That’s akin to loving soccer just because you hate American football. It’s a bad reason to love a sport and a worse reason for a love triangle.
In my post about why love triangles suck, I pointed out that they tend to devalue characters. It turns them into prizes to be won. It tends to override other meaningful traits a character may have. For Wolverine, it turns him from this bad-ass loner into an obsessive, petty asshat. That’s the trait of an insecure teenager, not a bad-ass loner.
The effect is just as bad on Jean Grey, who effectively becomes the ultimate prize of sorts for Cyclops and Wolverine. This is pretty insulting to her character because Jean Grey does so much to set herself apart as a strong female character from an era where the concept hadn’t been refined yet. She is the center of the Dark Phoenix Saga, also known as the greatest X-men story ever written. Reducing her to a prize for two men undermines a character with so much more to offer.
The comics do a terrible job setting up this love triangle, which the writer himself admits was created for petty reasons. However, it’s the way it plays out in the X-men movies that make this love triangle truly the worst of the worst.
How can the movies actually make this worse? Well, somehow they found a way. To this day, I have a hard time believing that the writers at Fox didn’t actively try to make this love triangle worse than it already was. What they came up with still confounds me, both as a writer and an X-men fan.
Anyone who has seen any of the X-men movies knows that most of them are structured around Wolverine. That’s entirely fair. He’s the most popular X-men character of all time and he’s played by Hugh Jackman. In case you’ve forgotten, Hugh Jackman looks like this.
I’m not gay, but even I think he’s sexy. Naturally, he’s going to have a love interest. A man this sexy has to have one. The problem is, the writers of this movie don’t realize how terrible the love triangle is with him, Cyclops, and Jean Grey in the comics. That, or they see it and think they have a way to make it worse.
First and foremost, they gave no reason for Jean Grey and Wolverine to be attracted to one another. Hell, he tries to stab her when he first wakes up at the Xavier Institute in the first X-men movie. That alone should ensure her panties stay dry around him for the entire trilogy. Instead, the chemistry between them is outright forced.
It has to be because these two never really have a meaningful conversation. They never really get to know each other. They’re just physically attracted to one another and the only reason they don’t bone is because Jean Grey is engaged to Cyclops. As a result, Cyclops is reduced to the role of being an obstacle to Wolverine. That’s pretty much his only role in the first three X-men movies, being a hindrance to Wolverine getting into Jean Grey’s panties.
There isn’t even an effort to balance things out. Cyclops is portrayed as someone who’s not nearly as badass as Wolverine, but he’s still respectable and likable to an excessive degree. He helps save Wolverine the first time they meet. He offers to shake his hand, which Wolverine flat out refuses. He never gets overly upset with Jean about her being attracted to another man. He’s bland, but likable.
If anything, Wolverine does everything he can to make himself the asshole you don’t want Jean to end up with. He steals Cyclops’ motorcycle. He steals Cyclops’ car. When he dies in the third X-men movie, he doesn’t give a second thought to making out with his girlfriend. He does this after he tells Cyclops earlier that she chose him at the end of the previous movie. He couldn’t come off as more of an asshole without pissing on Cyclops’ grave and stealing Jean Grey’s panties.
As bad as this is, it actually gets worse. At least in the comics, Wolverine actually knows Jean Grey as a person to some extent. He’s worked with her. He’s been on the same team as her. He’s lived under the same roof as her. Chances are he knows how she takes her coffee, what she watches on TV, and what her favorite brand of cereal is. In the movies, he knows none of this.
I’ve seen all these movies and based on the sequence of events and the time that passes between them, it’s clear that Wolverine didn’t know Jean Grey for more than a few days at most. He leaves at the end of the first movie. Jean Grey dies shortly after he returns in the second movie. There’s never any indication that they remained in contact. There’s no hint of tortured love letters, long phone calls, or dick pics being exchanged. They literally have no time to get to know one another.
That’s what makes the events of the third X-men movie all the more infuriating. Towards the end of the movie, Wolverine professes his love for Jean Grey before he kills her, at her request. Never mind the fact that this is the exact opposite of what happens in the comics. He proclaims her to be the love of his life despite the fact he doesn’t even know her. He doesn’t know her hopes, her dreams, or even her middle name. So how are we, the audience, supposed to believe that this love is genuine?
It ruins Jean Grey, as a character. It makes her nothing more than a prop for Wolverine. She’s not just the prize he pursues. She’s the only reason he has any emotional development. The fact that he barely knows her makes his affection for her all the more shallow. On top of that, it reduces Wolverine to this mopey pretty-boy instead of the bad-ass loner he’s supposed to be. He’s supposed to be Wolverine and not this guy.
The combined efforts of the movies and the comics ensure that the Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine love triangle is the alpha and omega of terrible love triangles. It’s a horrendous plot that still plagues the characters to this day.
The biggest tragedy is that the Cyclops/Jean relationship has been shown to function well as a meaningful romance. Just this past month, there was an entire issue dedicated to showing how these two are a romance of equals who can make each other better, just like a good romance is supposed to. Good love stories don’t need a love triangle to develop, grow, and thrive. They just need some actual effort and a basic understanding of what makes a relationship work.
As an aspiring writer who hopes to encourage other aspiring writers, I would only cite the Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine love triangle as a case study in what not to do. There are few ways in which a love triangle can actually work in a romance story. None of those ways are used in this case. In fact, some of those ways are turned upside down, inside out, and gutted.
Quality romance and quality characters, be they superheroes or ordinary people, deserve better. In the same way it’s almost impossible to make a quality meal with bad ingredients, it’s almost impossible to craft a quality love story around a love triangle. The convoluted, misguided clusterfuck that is Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine is just a tragic testament to how bad it can get.
He loves her. She loves somebody else. That somebody else doesn’t love her back. Somebody’s heart gets broken. Somebody kisses somebody in some exceedingly overdue moment. We’re then left with an ending that satisfies some, outrages others, and confounds many.
I just described the most basic formula for a love triangle, also known as one of the oldest, most predictable tactics in all romantic narratives. It’s right up there with the classic will-they-or-won’t-they narrative that Ross and Rachel drew out for way too long over multiple seasons of Friends. As an aspiring writer who specializes in romance and erotica, I can’t ignore its presence so let’s talk about it.
First off, let me acknowledge that love triangles have their place in popular culture. I understand that they’re part of a tried and true formula in romance that goes back to a time when our ancestors were washing their hand in cow piss and calling it hygienic. They tap into a powerful set of emotions in all of us. Unless you’re born rich or have the body of Ryan Gosling, you know what it feels like to see someone you love choose someone else. That said, they can tap into more annoying emotions and that’s what I’m going to focus on.
As anyone who hasn’t slept through English class knows, love triangles have been part of some of the most iconic stories in history. The most famous is probably the one that plays out in the legends of King Arthur. That affair involved King Arthur, his wife Guenivere, and the perpetually friend-zoned Sir Lancelot. That love triangle is a small, but important component of that whole mythos and it did not take away from it in any way.
Flash forward 800 years, throw in reality TV and vampires, and the whole concept of the love triangle has been overdone, over-used, and twisted to a point where it’s more of an annoyance than a plot device. At its worst, it derails the larger story that’s supposed to be unfolding. We all know the kinds of stories I’m talking about here. Do I really need to remind anybody of this?
I’ll try to limit my references to vampires in this post, but they symbolize just how bad love triangles can get. From a writer’s perspective (and I am trying to be a writer, mind you), it often narrows the narrative considerably. It immediately ascribes roles to certain characters that limits their development. When a character’s sole purpose is defined by who they want to bone and who is standing in their way, that effectively overrides every other trait of that character.
It plays out in way too many ways in every kind of media. Characters like Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer dedicated 90 percent of their energy towards winning someone else’s heart. The same thing plays out in books like The Hunger Games, movies like Tron, and even video games like Final Fantasy. Think of any form of media, new or old. At some point in the past or at some point in the future, a love triangle will infect it and its characters.
This doesn’t even begin to touch on the extent to which love triangles permeate comic books. As some of you already know, I love comic books and I’ve crafted entire posts about them. If there’s one non-vampire medium that abuses love triangles more than most, it’s definitely comic books. I’d love to get into specifics, but rather than risk derailing this entire post into a personalized rant from a message board, I’ll save that for another discussion.
Why do these stories persist? Well, as I said earlier, they do tap into some very basic emotions that are fairly universal across cultures. With this appeal in mind, maybe we should ask another question. Why do these stories about love triangles have to be so god-awful?
The biggest problem, in my opinion, stems from another problem that seems to be ingrained in our culture to some extent. When we tell love stories, we have this ideal in mind. One person finds their absolute soul mate. That soul mate is 100 percent in love with them and returns 100 percent of their affections. That’s all well and good in terms of romance. I certainly have a soft spot for those kinds of fluffy romances. I think those of us without personality disorders all have some affinity for those kinds of stories.
It’s that same affinity, though, that makes love triangles so untenable. A love triangle is often used as an obstacle. It’s a wedge designed to prevent two lovers from coming together. It can make for a good story, but it also comes at the expense of another character along the way.
Sometimes that works because the character in question is a total asshole. There’s no effort to make Biff Tanner in Back to the Future on equal footing with George McFly. He’s supposed to be an asshole. The problem comes when we want that character to develop dimensions other than being an asshole and that can be a problem.
The way a love triangle works essentially makes it so there’s always one character that gets screwed over and not in a good way. Someone is going to have their heart broken. Someone is going to come off as the loser and the bad guy. In some cases, as we see in Back to the Future, it works out in a way that’s satisfying. In others, especially in vampire-themed stories, it turns the character in to a sacrificial lamb of sorts. It means they never get a chance to stand on their own and show that they have worth.
I find that kind of approach troubling because it throws away opportunities to create quality characters. It also ensures that the character that loses is going to be flat, boring, and dull. If it’s a male character, he’s some sort of bad boy, Dirty Harry wannabe who just needs the right nudge to being a full-blown asshole. If it’s a female character, she’s some sort of Mean Girls uber-bitch who generates as much sympathy as a hungry shark.
That makes the outcome of the love triangle fairly predictable. Before it even has a chance to get sexy, we already have a pretty good idea of how it’s going to play out. The nice guy/nice girl is going to win. That’s all well and good in that it plays into our innate sense of justice, but it doesn’t make for very good stories.
It’s for this reason that I’ve generally tried to avoid using love triangles in my books. The closest I ever came was “Skin Deep” and even in that, I made a concerted effort to give each side sufficient depth. I’ll let those who take the time to read the book to decide whether I did a good enough job, but I think love triangles in general need to be either retired or overhauled.
How do we go about that? Well, I have a few ideas. I’m not going to share them just yet because I want to turn them into books first. I believe this is an idea that can sell if done right. If I can’t sell it, then I hope others figure out a way as well. A bad love triangle is the easiest way to turn quality characters into trophies/obstacles. It turns women into prizes to be won, men into powerless tools of their passions, and everyone else into overly emotional vampires. I think we can do better.