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Writing From the Middle: From Bromance to Romance
Welcome back to Ménage Monday and another Writing From the Middle segment. Today I’d like to talk about love triads vs. love triangles and the progression from bromance to romance.
Fiction of every stripe has made use of the love triangle since we sat around camp fires, huddled against the night. The oldest love triangles are often centered around brothers who love the same woman. This is in part because the relationship between brothers has always fascinated us. The rivalry, the intensity, the fierce loyalty and the sacrifice between brothers has been part of an epic tapestry that stretches as far back as Remus and
and even further to Osiris and Set. Romulus
Competition for a mate meets competition for familial attention and recognition when the brother dynamic is wed to the love triangle. The explosive possibilities for betrayal and even lethal retaliation raises the stakes. Higher stakes means a greater interest in the outcome and so we tell the stories over and over again. In modern Western culture, the minutia may change but the story is inevitably the same, with the more heroic brother winning the girl, sacrificing the relationship for his brother, or dying by his brother’s hands. As many ways as this can be spun, it does inevitably require an upgrade. Step in...the best friend triangle.
Close male relationships were once the norm, especially among the educated elite. Time spent with ones intellectual peers was considered beneficial—even necessary—and these relationships were fostered at every turn. Meant to mirror siblingship and even exceed it, close bond friendships still honored their origins. This lead to the widespread formation of brotherhoods among scholars and tradesmen and terms like brothers-in-arms for those who served together in military ranks.
Where brothers-by-birth are meant to compete, chosen brothers inspire a different, deeper loyalty. After all, these men lack the history of a childhood being compared to each other, trying to outdo each other or feeling inadequate in one another’s presence. And if any of these elements are present, well it simply fortifies the connection since in the end these two people chose to remain close. As a result, these are the relationships meant to endure. And they usually do—until a woman arrives to tear it all apart.
Be she divine angel or evil temptress, if you listen to the stories, historically women are the most destructive force to close male relationships. In part, this mirrors the severing of childhood ties for adult marriage, elevating sexual and reproductive relationship above all others. Its vilification represents the resentment to growing up and relinquishing the carefree days of bachelorhood. It is also a visceral response to leaving the company of the knowable masculine for the unknowable feminine. But what do you expect when for so long men wrote the tales and sung the songs? So what happened when women took up the pen?
Well, for the most part they wrote about relationships between women, but when romance finally made its way onto the pages, the love triangle was alive and well. For women, the perfect love triangle existed when both men adored the heroine but held disdain for one another. In this way, the heroine was not culpable in altering heart-held ties. In fact, in early works men rarely had any heart-held ties. Instead there are many gothic, brooding counts, widowers who would never love again and otherwise grumpy, gruff alpha males all waiting for the right woman to come along. Ever so often we get the dueling noblemen, figuratively or literally, competing to make the virginal heroine swoon.
It would take more time than I have here to breakdown exactly what happened with male friendships but sufficient to say in
, the rise of the labor class, military careers, isolated suburbs with long commutes and a general nose to the grindstone mentality changed our definitions of masculinity. Real men worked and provided for their families and didn’t have time to sit down and talk about feelings “like a bunch of women”. Emotional interaction was a luxury men didn’t have and more and more adult male relationships were reduced to alcohol fueled laments on life or sports analogies where no one asked anything deep, least they be viewed as less than men. This is not just a caricature women see about men, but a true loss men have expressed in their relationships and one finally taking a turn again. America
We got our first taste of changing male relationships in the 1970s and fiction followed suit, but it was not to last through the cutthroat ‘80s. Romance fiction held on however and filling in the gap with the return of the brother themed love triangle in full force. The 1990’s introduced the “sensitive male” personae and held out emotional security and intimate connection as sexy. As a byproduct, men not only connected with women better than they had all century, they actually began to connect with other men on a genuine level. After the near-cannibalistic everyone-out-for-themselves ‘80’s, the ‘90’s saw the resurrection of the male best friend.
As a result,
gave us the buddy comedy in abundance, while television and romance novels gave us the best-friend love triangle. Even in print these relationships always played it safe and resolved in one of two ways. Most often they resolved into a heterosexual pairing where love had conquered all and there were no regrets concerning the now discarded male. When that was too predictable, they were momentarily subversive where all parties tried to make it work through loads of angst only to arrive at the inevitable course correction of a tragic ending. The overriding message? That the heroine must choose or fate would chose for her, often with the subtlety of a cross-town bus out of nowhere. Hollywood
For those of us who hate the love triangle trope things seemed hopeless. Then came the new millennium and the rise of the ménage. Suddenly, on the page at least, the heroine didn’t have to choose. These best friends, and sometimes even brothers, could find a way to share and prosper rather than destroy everything between them by competing. Of course sharing didn’t always mean enduring love. Most ménage fiction as early as three years ago still held with the one-off sexual adventure from which everyone eventually came to their senses.
It’s been a short jump between ménage and polymory and those one-off encounters blossomed on the page into full relationships. They aren’t yet abundant but I believe they will be as male relationships continue to grow closer. Currently,
has taken notice of evolving connections between men and we see the rise of the man-crush, the man-date and the bromance on screens big and small. Is it any wonder that more love triads have also been published and more and more of those have been MMF where the men love each other as much as the heroine? Hollywood
I’m not expecting
to jump on the bi-male bandwagon tomorrow, but the first few sincere offerings can’t be that far behind. For now, I’ll take the acknowledgement of being in love with more than one person and fully wanting relationships with both of them, as a great start. Right now, it appears that paranormal fiction will be our answer on the screen to inspire more authors to put it on the page. Hollywood
*Spoiler Alert* The triangle in The Vampire Diaries is built upon the premise that both Salvator brothers are loved by Elena, as they were by her predecessor Katherine. At the close of the season, her acceptance of this seemed imminent. Most recently on True Blood, Sookie openly admitted to being in love with both Eric and Bill and actively wanting both of them. Both are classic triangles, but neither come with the imperative of old to, “choose or else”. Without this imperative, the outcome of not only choosing both but actively pursuing it to a positive conclusion becomes natural. The idea is there and ripe for exploration.
Once they successfully cross the line into working polyamory on a popular show, it’s just a short hop, skip and jump from the male intimacy of bromance to that of romance. Happy Hopping!