Hold onto your horses, guys. I’m about to defend young adult love triangles using Dawson’s Creek. *waits for falling anvils*
When Rachel from Hello, Chelly asked me to be part of Capeside Revisited, her Dawson’s Creek appreciation week, I immediately started writing a post – without a lot of thought, just putting down ideas. And what really came out of it – aside from my encyclopedic knowledge of this show and how seminal it was to my understanding of teenagerhood – was the realization that this is one of the first stories I’d ever seen where a love triangle was done successfully, so much so that I actually switched ships in the middle of it.
I’m talking, of course, about the epic love triangle that is Dawson-Joey-Pacey. The love triangle that was the center of the show, the one that kind of unwittingly happened after a bunch of false starts, and changed the course of these characters’ lives.
I know most of us were Pacey/Joey in the end – I sure was – but I fully admit to being swept away by Dawson and Joey’s banter, and Dawson’s romanticism in Season 1. Tell me you weren’t rooting for them to kiss when they went to the school dance! Tell me their mega-hot Truth or Dare kiss didn’t do it for you! Tell me that when Joey sang On My Own and looked at Dawson, you didn’t desperately want them to get together. Dawson’s Creek was the first ever show where I really saw the friendship-blossoming-to-romance trope, and it was so beautiful and right.
And then, of course, it all goes to crap. Because when you get your first love, sometimes it’s not the right love. Or sometimes you outgrow that love, or you move forward and it’s just not the right time. And so it was with Dawson and Joey.
And thus, the epic love triangle is born. Because Pacey, Dawson’s best guy friend, the underachiever, the class clown was always waiting in the wings. And people saw the spark between Joey and Pacey even early on – how Pacey wasn’t afraid to kiss Joey, how naturally they flirted. The two people with the best friend, always in the middle. They weren’t supposed to come together, but they did, and it was something that nurtured and helped both of them. Pacey learned discipline and hard work from Joey. Joey learned to let loose and have a little fun with Pacey. And they both learned about love, romance, and sex from each other.
I know a lot of you hate love triangles. I know many of you don’t believe they should even exist, in fiction or real life. One of my favourite reviews of all time has the best line ever in regards to Bella-Edward-Jacob from Twilight: “…there is no love triangle. There is a person in the middle who likes attention.” And guys, I used to agree with that.
How many times have you read a love triangle and just been annoyed with the obviousness of it? As much as I love The Hunger Games, Peeta-Gale-Katniss was, to me, a silly love triangle, because I always knew who would end up with Katniss- the guy who had more screen time. Similarly, the Twilight love triangle was always going to be about Edward, because the books are about vampires, and HAVE YOU READ THE FIRST BOOK? It was always going to be Edward.
But now, having gotten older, and read a lot more YA, I think love triangles can and do really exist. And they happen in YA a lot. But there’s a reason for that, guys. And the reason is that when you’re a teenager, you make mistakes. You’re just trying to figure out who you are and what you like, and to do that? Sometimes you need to try out a bunch of different things.
To me, Dawson’s Creek is the absolute best example of a love triangle done right. Dawson-Joey-Pacey unfolded organically, surprisingly, from friendships, from three people just trying to do the right thing, all with good qualities to them. It unfolded from dreams and crushes to the realization that what you want at 15 is not necessarily what you need. Because when Dawson and Joey finally got together, it just didn’t work. They didn’t have the same spark that they did as best friends, maybe because their relationship was always about pushing each other to be better, but when they got together, they didn’t want to push. They stagnated because they just wanted to stay in the same place together, but the world was changing around them. And when Pacey and Joey first realized their feelings for each other, both Dawson and Joey found it difficult, painful, and crushing to let go of that idyllic past they had without a lot of guilt, tears, and honesty. That’s a good love triangle. That’s a real love triangle.
Sometimes things work out with your soulmate, the first crush and love. And sometimes, they don’t. In my life, they sure didn’t. My first boyfriend was everything I wanted in a guy – or so I thought, at the time. I was caught in a messy love triangle, where one of my new college friends had gone on a few dates with him, but I met him without realizing she was with him, or that she really liked him. We had a spark. I’m not proud that we pursued each other. I’m not proud of the way we got together. But I wouldn’t change anything – I learned so much from that first betrayal, that first relationship, that first, overwhelming, all-consuming love. And one of the things I learned is that we didn’t work together.
I had to make a lot of mistakes, date a lot of people, before I got to my soulmate. In YA books, the characters are only 14-18, and they’re just starting to figure things out. I don’t think we should punish them for making mistakes that are just as prevalent in real life as in fiction. If you don’t want to read it, that’s okay. But to call love triangles, especially in young adult fiction, unrealistic? That’s a looking at life through a camera lens and never seeing the big picture.
When I look at all the love triangles that exist in YA, many times, I see ones where the corners are lopsided. Where it’s obvious that one person is better, more favoured by the author, by the character…and those, to me, are not good love triangles.
But the good ones, the Dawson-Joey-Pacey ones, they do exist. And to me, those stories are just as real as the ones where people fall in love in high school and stay together forever – it’s rare, but it happens, and when it happens right, it’s so good.
Are you a fan of love triangles? If you aren’t, do you feel like they’re realistic? What are the best YA love triangles you know? And if you’re a fan of Dawson’s Creek, which was your favourite coupling?
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Capeside Revisited posts:
Rather Be Reading: Pageants, Potter and a Creek
Andi’s ABCs: The ABCs…Dawson’s Creek Style
Little Wing Books (coming tomorrow!)
LOVE LOVE LOVE this! And like you I was 100% Dawson and Joey in season 1 and most of season 2 but like Joey my feelings slowly changed. They went from Dawson to Pacey and I’m not sorry. Excellent post!
I really think it’s hard to do ship switching successfully, and DC did it. Moreover, they switched the original love triangle (Joey-Dawson-Jen) to a completely different one. I don’t think they really planned for it to go that way, but that’s what happens when you let the actor chemistry do some of the work – you get unexpected gifts and you go with it. Same thing with Jen and Jack – pretty sure that wasn’t really supposed to happen, but it did. Brilliant. =)
Your thoughts on love triangles, particularly in light of Dawson’s Creek, are wonderful, Tiff! If a love triangle is done well, I don’t mind it so much. In fact, I find it can be realistic in certain lights. It all really just depends on how it’s handled 😉 As for Dawson’s Creek, I loved Pacey and Joey!
Great dissection of the Love Triangle. I too was rooting for Dawson and Joey in Season 1, but like most people that completely changed when Pacey became a potential candidate. You could not deny the overwhelming chemistry between the two of them which I think had a lot to do with Joshua Jackson. He has this incredible presence and charm that just draws you in. Once I because invested in Pacey and Joey, I never looked back.
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