Sighhh, the infamous love triangle. It’s a tale as old as time, dating back to Shakespeare (Twelfth Night), Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities), and Austen (just about all of her novels). The hero or heroine meets a love interest, only to find him or herself conflicted over the arrival of another seemingly great love interest. This is the stuff of great drama, people. And great modern entertainment.
Inspired by the season three arrival of Younger (and its enthralling who-will-she-choose romantic story line), our staff has rounded up 11 of our favorite fictional love triangles from the 20th and 21st centuries in both TV and film. Read on and weigh in on your favorites.
1. Younger’s Liza–Josh–Charles
TV Land’s Younger treats viewers to what is quite possibly the greatest love triangle to grace television in the past few years. Why you ask? Because both of the leading lady’s love interests are SO GOOD! Even viewers have a tough time choosing who Liza should end up with. Fan teams have been formed (#teamcharles vs #teamjosh), debates ensue on social media and around the office water cooler, and while I’m slightly partial to one gent over the other, I can totally understand why anyone (including Liza) would choose the other guy.
Let me rewind. While I’ve written before about how great this show, its writing, character development, plot, humor, et al. are, allow me to bring any new viewers up to speed with a short summary.
Liza is a smart, funny, not to mention gorgeous, suburban dwelling 40-something whose life is turned upside down when her husband leaves her for another woman. Rude. Resilient, she attempts to return to her former career in publishing only to be repeatedly rejected due to her age. Also rude. Fortunately, her best gal pal swoops in to save the day, giving Liza a full-on makeover complete with wavy highlights and a new wardrobe that allows her to lie and apply for jobs as a “26-year-old.” It works. She looks the part, lands the job, and unintentionally lures in the sexy, loveable 26-year-old Josh. Everything is going great, until the undeniable spark and genuine connection Liza shares with her boss Charles starts to unfold. It doesn’t hurt that Charles is one tall drink of water. (Not to mention he shares her real age. Even though he doesn’t know that.)
On the brink of the third season (which has already been renewed for a fourth!), this triangle is just heating up. Be sure to tune in when it premieres next week, Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 10/9 CT on TV Land! As for who I’m rooting for? #teamcharles. – Alaina, co-founder
2. Twilight’s Bella–Edward–Jacob
Go ahead and push Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson out of your mind, because that is not the Twilight we are discussing. (Although Rob, if you are reading this and back to showering, call me.) This is strictly the love affair between Bella, Edward, and Jacob that kept you up until 3 in the morning because you could. not. put. the. book. down.
Bella is essentially torn between her hottie vampire BF Edward (who wants the best for her, but can’t be too close to her without wanting to drink her blood) and her BFF Jacob, a young and not dead werewolf (as of the second book). She can’t get too close to her soulmate Edward unless she becomes a vampire, but she could live a normal life and have children if she married Jacob.
In the end, she ends up marrying Edward, becoming a vampire, having his child by a twist of fate, and giving us the shortest, most underwhelming sex scene we all waited three books for. It’s exactly what we wanted (sans the sex scene debacle). And what about Jacob? He ends up finding his soulmate in Bella’s fast-aging daughter. There’s some symbolism about how her daughter is the piece that was inside of her that loved Jacob. Everyone ends up happy and we all cry. Now if only there was a way to erase any memories of the movies… – Allyson, managing editor
3. Sweet Home Alabama’s Melanie–Andrew–Jake
Alabama country-bumpkin-turned-New-York fashion designer Melanie is engaged to Andrew, a New York stud muffin and all around dreamboat who proposes by arranging a private shopping session at Tiffany’s. NOT BAD. Unfortunately (or not), Melanie is still married to her childhood sweetheart Jake, who she got “hitched” to in high school. He refuses to divorce her, which she chalks up to his stubbornness, but we all know it’s because he’s secretly still in love with her. When Melanie flies to Alabama to ask Jake to sign the divorce papers, she discovers that her past isn’t as far behind her as she thought.
This heartbreaking line says it all: “My life in New York works, Jake. But then I come down here…and this fits, too.” CUE THE TEARS. Ultimately, we’re all hoping she ends up with her rough-around-the-edges husband with the southern drawl, because no matter how sweet and understanding your suave NYC fiance is, we’ll always have a soft spot for the man who could love us through puberty. Thankfully, she chooses well, and Jake and Melanie celebrate their marriage at the local dive bar. – Caitlin, social media manager
4. My Best Friend’s Wedding’s Julianne–Michael–Kimmy
We can’t talk about love triangles without addressing the epic tangle between Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts), Kimberly Wallace (Cameron Diaz) and Michael O’Neal (Dermot Mulroney) in My Best Friend’s Wedding. Whether it’s serious or not, everyone knows a pair of friends who made a marital pact: “If we’re not married by the time we’re ____-years-old, we’re walking down the aisle.” That’s Julianne and Michael—until the irritatingly bubbly, picture-perfect-pearls-and-polo Kimmy steals the keys to Michael’s heart, and Julianne’s plan to win him back crumbles right in front of her.
Kimmy is shiny and full of potential. Julianne is comfortable and rooted in Michael’s past. Kimmy is the crème brûlée—beautiful, sweet, annoyingly perfect. Julianne is the Jell-O—you know what you’re going to get. And when Michael eventually chooses the fancier dessert, we can’t help but be upset about it. Because the truth is that the crème brûlée will NEVER be Jell-O. And even though it’s not the most glamorous choice, we really like Jell-O. – Kristen, assistant editor
5. Vampire Diaries‘ Elena–Damon–Stefan
Two vampire brothers return to their hometown and eventually both fall in love with goody two-shoes human Elena Gilbert. Stefan, the sweet pacifist brother who only drinks animal blood, falls for Elena first and we love them together. But through a series of breakups and twisting storylines, we all find ourselves rooting for the bad boy brother, Damon, complete with a leather jacket and motorcycle. Damon eventually does the one thing that no man will ever do outside of teen make believe—he changes and becomes a better person for Elena. We’re shocked, we’re enthralled, and we want to fast forward through every scene that isn’t them. DELENA FOREVER.
Of course the CW has their way and throws in some major plot twists that make ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE and test the bonds of their love. (They know they have us hooked at this point.) We kind of feel bad for poor Stefan and root for him with other characters, but the second they make us think Damon is about to die, we are all collectively standing on our couches screaming at the top of our lungs.
However, let’s be clear that in real life, no matter how chiseled the jawline, ALWAYS PICK THE STEFAN. – Allyson
6. Hunger Games‘ Katniss–Gale–Peeta
“Till death do us part.” Never has that phrase rang more true than in the Hunger Games, which is why we were so hooked on the series—a love triangle AND the highest stakes ever? Yes, please. It’s no wonder Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) struggles with her feelings towards the two men in her life: it quite literally is the difference between life and death. Gale is dependable. He was there for Katniss when she was nothing but a District 12 no-name. And he takes care of her family when she enters the Hunger Games (I mean, COME ON, talk about loyalty). But she needs Peeta in order to survive, and although it’s initially a ploy to get viewers on their side, the lines between pretend love and real love begin to blur. And Gale has to watch it all unfold on a national stage.
It’s all very reminiscent of teenage angst, and it’s SO GOOD. But because we’re suckers for unrequited love, we can’t help but feel disappointed by Katniss’ (SPOILER ALERT) decision to join #teampeeta. Sure, he’s great and helped her survive and blah blah blah, but Gale was there from the beginning. And in our opinion, should have been there till the end. – Kristen
7. Casablanca’s Rick–Ilsa–Victor
This is a completely uneducated estimation, but I’m pretty sure Casablanca featured modern film’s first real love triangle, so how could it not be my favorite? In the end, Ilsa chose Victor Laszlo, the husband she shares a warm marriage with (though their true passion is the cause they’re fighting for, not each other) and leaves behind Rick, the love of her life. The romantic in me wishes she’d stayed with Rick, but one of the things that made the movie so revolutionary was that it didn’t sport a “love conquers all” message—there was more to Ilsa and Rick than their relationship with each other. And, if she hadn’t left Rick on that airport tarmac, we never would have been blessed with the iconic line, “We’ll always have Paris.” – Daryl Lindsey, columnist
8. Dawson’s Creek ‘s Joey–Dawson–Pacey
Dawson and Joey are the classic “will they or won’t they?” couple who dramatically and sporadically toy with our hearts by declaring that they are soulmates one minute and insisting that the timing for their courtship is impossible the next. Meanwhile we’re all like, “THIS TIMING IS VERY POSSIBLE, WHY MUST YOU MAKE EVERYTHING SO HARD?”
Joey is the girl next door (or the girl across the creek, if we’re getting technical) and Dawson is her sweet, respectful, wiser-beyond-his-years best friend, with dreams to become the next Spielberg. Meanwhile, Pacey Witter is Dawson’s charming, funny, slacker best friend who goes from Joey’s annoyance to her love interest, creating a VERY awkward situation for us when Dawson finds out that Pacey and Joey are basically madly in love with each other.
Joey’s love wavers between Dawson and Pacey SEVERAL times over the course of six seasons, but ultimately finds herself in love and living with Pacey in New York City. Her final choice. The WB (RIP) tries to convince us that Dawson is happy for them and is content living out his Hollywood dreams, even though we ALL know he’s still pining over his long lost soulmate. In my youth, I was taken with Pacey’s witty banter and the fact that he had so much potential, but in my older years, I’m #teamdawson all the way. Ladies, if there’s one thing in this world that none of us need, it’s another project. – Caitlin
9. Orange is the New Black’s Piper–Larry–Alex
We ALL have those people: the ones we have history with. The ones we just can’t seem to quit, whether they’re healthy for us or not. For Piper Chapman—the protagonist in Orange Is the New Black—ex-girlfriend Alex Vause is that person. At first, we’re totally hateful towards Alex. I mean, she’s the REASON Piper is in prison, not to mention she has major potential to mess up Piper’s engagement to Larry (who at first the quintessential nice guy, although that might also be me character-typing him from Jason Biggs’ American Pie days. Either way, you’re totally rooting for them.)
But somewhere early on, you realize Piper and Alex’s flame is still burning slowly in the background (sometimes agonizingly so)—that although Piper and Alex manipulate and sabotage one another, their passion is so raw and SO good. And poor oblivious Larry…In my opinion, he never stood a chance. That’s what true love is, right? Loving each other in good times and in bad?
That’s why I was #teamalex from the very first day we met her in prison—she has seen Piper’s ugliest side but stands by her anyway, and that’s what being with someone is about. – Kristen
10. Bridget Jones Diary’s Bridget–Mark–Daniel
My dear, dear loveable Bridget… just a 30-something Londoner who finds herself caught in a web of misconception created by two dashing men–Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver–and her very real desire to be loved.
Cleaver is her boss. He’s sexy, he’s smooth-talking, and worst of all, he knows it. But he’s flirty and funny and sexy and all those good things that make an insecure Bridget think, “Wow, this guy likes me?!” It’s easy to see where she gets swept up in the romance and pleasant unexpectedness of it all.
Darcy, on the other hand, is a haughty, friend-of-the-family barrister. Boring, unpleasant, and always popping up at the worst times. Or so Bridget thinks.
The popular novel-turned-feature-film is the modern day Pride and Prejudice, and unlike most contemporary love triangles, there’s a clear winner between these two men. But viewers must wait patiently as our heroine figures out the true nature of their characters for herself (and gets painstakingly screwed over by a cheating Cleaver in the process…) Of course, wounds heel a lot faster when you find there’s a charming Darcy (who is actually quite loving, loyal, and patient) waiting in the wings to wrap you in his overcoat and kiss you like you’ve never been kissed before. – Alaina
11. Sex and the City’s Carrie–Aidan–Big
Oh, Carrie. You took us on a rollercoaster ride with this one. Aidan is the tall, handsome, furniture designer with the adorable dog named Pete (I mean, come ON) who exudes patience, humility, kindness, and is overall probably the sweetest man on television. The nice guy demeanor on top of the aforementioned tall/designer/dog owner thing also means that yes, he is really freaking sexy.
And then there’s Big. The emotionally unavailable but always-there-just-when-you’re-about-to-forget-him smooth operator (who is also very, very tall). He’s the man in all of our lives that we can’t seem to move past no matter how many buckets of ice cream, rom-coms or therapy sessions we subject ourselves to. Carrie jeopardizes her future with Aidan by cheating on him with Big (WHY, CARRIE?), even though Big is married to “simple girl” Natasha at the time. Obviously that marriage doesn’t last (neither does the affair) and after breaking up and making up, Carrie and Aidan wind up engaged, yet by some sorcery she ends up actually getting married to Big…after he leaves her at the altar, mind you.
Look, we get it. Carrie and Big belong together. They just can’t help it. And you know what? GREAT. We would prefer to save Aidan for ourselves. Carrie never appreciated his dog or furniture enough, anyway. – Caitlin
What are your favorite fictional love triangles? Share them with us in the comments below!