Lessons from K-Drama: Love Triangles

Like everyone else, I have a great many feels about Love Triangles. Done well they’re aching, done poorly they’re cause to put a book or a series away. Personally, I’m not invested in characters so much as I am relationships, so I’m less interested in who she’ll pick as I am which relationship I want to imagine continuing on because it benefits both parties.

So, my two greatest entertainment loves have a very serious overlap in love triangles. But, what K-drama has over YA are Triangle Tropes that actually work consistently. Why? I don’t really know. Maybe it’s because of the format. TV lends itself to consistency, writing tends to encourage variance.

There are a lot of tropes in K-Drama. Some don’t work as well as others (love quintangles, I think I remember that dude from the early episodes, etc.), but these three I find consistently work for me.

The Imaginary Triangle

I particularly love the imaginary triangle because, more often than not, one dude doesn’t even know he’s involved. In the Imaginary Triangle we have our main couple and another guy. This guy might like the main girl, he might just be friends with the main girl, he may just be vaguely aware she even exists. That doesn’t matter. What matters is what the main guy perceives as reality. If he sees the two of them spending time together and he’s jealous, this spurs him to action.

This tends to be a Hong Sister’s staple because, while they’re immensely skilled in many areas, Triangles are not their jam.

I’ve used this Triangle once myself. The story it goes with still needs work, but in essence my MC thinks that the boy who is clearly desperately in love with her is flirting with someone else. You see, it doesn’t have to always be the guy. It has to be the character who is hesitating. The one who is unsure of their feelings until they have a chance to lose the relationship entirely.

For an example, I’m going to trot out “You’re Beautiful” once again. Because, a) nun pretending to be an idol and b) they use it not once, but twice!

Truth and Lies

Quite often, the best loves are those the MC never sees coming. If she’s fixated on a guy she does what she thinks she has to do: make-up, proper behavior, white lies. Never having an opinion. These are the idealized triangles. The ones where there’s a guy she thinks she wants, and one she has no idea she’s even remotely interested. In front of this guy she shows everything. No make-up. No false kindness. No secrets. By the time there’s a conflict in who to chose, it grows increasingly clear that there’s not really a contest at all. One person loves her and one person loves someone that doesn’t exist.

The reason I love this particular trope is the agency of the central character. It’s necessary for her to love herself if she’s going to accept the love of the person who knows the real her. She’s going to have to give up the idealized supposed to bes of the person she’s pursuing and take a real look.

CAVEAT: This is not a nice guy routine. He can’t just be someone random who likes her and knows her well. Very often K-Dramas will include the “nice guy” to show the contrast of someone who likes her and the main guy with whom there’s chemistry and a basis for a strong future relationship.

One of my favorite examples of this is “Healer” which isn’t technically a romance, but if you’re not watching it for those two and their mega chemistry you’re doing it wrong. (Also entirely acceptable to watch Healer just for Tech Genius Ajumma.)

The Best Choice

Now, we get into the nitty-gritty of K-Dramas. The best, most effective Triangles are those where both boys are perfect. They both know her, understand her, care about her, love her, BUT…

One boy loves who she is now, who she has been. Seems great, right? Someone who loves you for who you are? Except…

The other boy loves her for who she wants to be. He understands and supports her as she grows and evolves into a strong, capable woman.

The beauty of this is that at the beginning you’re totally in it for the first guy. I mean, he gets her, he loves her, it’s genuine and you can feel it, but as the story goes along. As she starts to evolve with the plot it becomes clear that he’s not right anymore. He’s slowing her down. Other dude, the one that seemed pushy and strong. The one that seemed like he was irrational and demanding is now clearly in her corner, supporting her. By the end it becomes clear that he’s the one. The only logical choice.

This trope is harder to spot sometimes, but the very best example is “Flower Boy Next Door“. (It’s also a gorgeous exploration of agoraphobia.)


 

So, there you go, an exploration of effective love triangle tropes. Hopefully they give you a few ideas of how to use them yourself.

A NOTE ON PRONOUNS: I’m using male-female gender pronouns in these examples because they come from K-Drama tropes which means there TENDS to be a pattern of who is in which role. That does not mean that they are not reversed ever, and it also does not mean that I don’t believe these tropes cannot effectively be used in different relationship dynamics or with different preferred pronouns.