Wednesday’s Whatever: Pro-Choice, Pro-Monogamy

Torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool,
Loving both of you is breaking all the rules.
Torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool,
Loving you both is breaking all the rules.

Oh, I remember 1977 and this hit song, written by Peter Yarrow (of the folk music trio Peter, Paul & Mary) and Phillip Jarrell, and recorded by Mary MacGregor. The song was Ms. MacGregor’s only hit, and if you listen you’ll know that that’s a shame because she has a lovely voice.

I hated that song. I used to talk to the radio and say, “Yes, you feel like a fool! You are are a fool! Make a choice!” Then I’d switch to another radio station. I really hated that song.

So, now I’m caught in a quandary because I just read two YA books that I didn’t hate, but both of them have that same plot line: torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool. Is this fantasy of two wonderful guys both madly in love with one girl something I missed out on? I would have settled for one, as a teen. I don’t remember ever thinking about how exciting it would be to have two guys on a string or how difficult, and flattering, it would be to have them fighting over me, to have to choose between them. Why is this conflict popping up all over in the books I’m reading and the TV I’m watching?

Examples:
The first book I read last week was The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. If I had known it was a zombie book (the zombies are called The Unconsecrated, but they’re zombies), I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. However, for a zombie book it was O.K.—except that the female protagonist, Mary, can’t decide whether she loves Travis or Harry, who happen to be brothers and about the only available guys around. If you’ve read this far, you’re not worried about spoilers, so I’ll give you a heads up: she never does really make up her mind.

Then, I read Catching Fire by Suzanne Colllins, the sequel to last year’s hit, The Hunger Games. I loved it, and I’m looking forward to the third and final installment in the trilogy. However, Katniss in this novel is again “torn between two lovers,” Peeta and Gale. All sorts of developments make this choice a difficult one for Miss Katniss, but heckfire, why can’t she just fish or cut bait, at least in her own mind? No, she loves Gale, but she has some kind of feeling for Peeta, too; she’s just not sure what that feeling is. I hope in the third book she grows up and makes a choice, and the author doesn’t feel the need to kill one of the male leads to resolve the dilemma.

I started thinking about how many popular books and TV shows have this premise: in the Twilight series, Bella is torn between Jacob and Edward. She really knows which one she wants to spend her life with, but she strings the other guy along for two books, just in case. Cut him loose, for Pete’s sake!

On LOST (you knew I’d bring LOST into this rant somehow, didn’t you?), Kate’s been torn between Jack and Sawyer for five seasons. I’m sure there’s are bets being placed somewhere on which guy she’ll end up with.

I’m sure these are only the tip of the iceberg. Can you think of any other books movies, or TV show with the girl torn-between-two-lovers device? I do think it’s a device to create and maintain romantic/dramatic tension. After all, what did the character Jacob really add to Twilight, other than another pretty face?

And did Jane Austen’s heroines have this issue?

3 thoughts on “Wednesday’s Whatever: Pro-Choice, Pro-Monogamy

  1. Actually, Jane Austen’s characters did have this problem…often, only it was presented in a different way. Emma had Frank Churchill and Mr. Knightley, and she finally figured out that she wasn’t serious about Frank, and she realized her feelings for Mr. Knightley. Marianne Dashwood had the attentions of both Willoughby and Colonel Brandon, although it took heartbreak for her to come to her senses. Lydia Bennet flirted with almost every male in Pride and Prejudice, only to settle on Wickham by default, and Edmund is loved by both Fanny Price and Mary Crawford. I think Miss Austen was much more tasteful in her presentation of such romantic triangles, but they have existed for a long time. Indeed there is nothing new under the sun.

    I have to respectfully disagree that Jacob was just another pretty face in the Twilight series, which leads me to suspect that you are on the Edward team. I am too, but after reading through the series for the third time, it finally clicked with me why Jacob was there, beyond just adding extra plot. I kept feeling like I was missing something with these books, and then it all clicked. The first three books are all about choices…it seems like every character has to make a million life-changing choices in the first three books. Jacob is the choice Bella didn’t make, and there are consequences to those choices. There’s the life she would have had with him, the children, the growing old, the closeness with Charlie and her mother she could have maintained, etc. I actually didn’t like the way the author wrapped everything up into a ‘have your cake and eat it too’ package in the fourth book, because in real life the decisions you make aren’t like that. The choices you make don’t always lead to a happily ever after for everyone involved, and I think that was much better said in the first three books than in the fourth.

  2. To take the last first, Mrs. H, Your Twilight insights are interesting. I never thought of the books in terms of choices and the choices we don’t make. Perhaps Jacob is a vehicle for that sort of speculation, but I still think she should have decided, made it crystal clear to all concerned including herself, and accepted the consequences, which I guess she did eventually.

    As for Jane Austen, none of the characters you mentioned find themselves in quite the situation I was seeing in these books. Marianne isn’t so much torn between two lovers as she is blinded by the drama of one cad and then illuminated to see the true worth of Mr. RIght. Frank Churchill was never really interested in Emma, was he? So she wasn’t torn between two guys who were both in love with her, just blind to the one guy who was until the very end. And who can even talk about Lydia’s mind without laughing hysterically? Did she have a mind? Too busy chasing everything and anything in pants to be torn!

    Oh, by the way, I didn’t read the fourth Twilight book. I enjoyed the first three, but I still think I wouldn’t like the fourth so much.

  3. Now me, I find this a compelling plot device, at least when it’s done well (though I wouldn’t have wanted it in real life). My favorite movie example is Pearl Harbor. And then there’s the Joey/Dawson/Pacey triangle from Dawson’s Creek. I think the key is that there have to be valid reasons why the heroine would be torn, reasons beyond her being fickle. Like in Catching Fire – if she’d never been drawn into the whole Hunger Games thing, she would have quietly ended up with Gale, and there wouldn’t have been a story. But circumstances, in part, contributed to Katniss’s dilemma. In Twilight, Edward caused the problem by running away. etc.

    Anyway, interesting post. Definitely food for thought.

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