‘Wrong, hurtful and unhealthy’: How to navigate love triangles

Love triangles can get messy: here's how you handle one. Laura Whelan

In 2012, Jeri Knopp decided to break up with her boyfriend.

He was moving back to the U.K. and she was moving home to Saint John, N.B., after spending time teaching English in Japan.

When she came home, she continued talking and flirting with her ex — it’s common to have feelings that still linger. At the same time, Knopp’s mother set her up with a tenant of hers, a man she described as being “the only guy in Saint John who had his s**t together.”

“I ended up moving into the same building as him, and we started seeing each other casually,” she told Global News. “I told him that I was in a weird place in my life, and I wasn’t ready for a relationship.”

But even though Knopp and her ex were thousands of kilometres apart, they still talked. He would tell her she was great and how much he missed her. At the same time, she was talking to this new love interest.

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“I told [my ex] that we either try to make things work or he stop talking to me because the in-between thing was driving me crazy,” she said. “He then told me that he’d bought tickets to come visit me in Canada.”

Knopp was in a classic love triangle, and to get out of it, she confronted the new man in St. John. She wanted to tell him her ex was coming back to visit her.

“He freaked out, telling me that he’d waited long enough and that if this was the way I was going to treat him then it wasn’t worth it for him,” she explained. “He deleted my number, blocked me on social media, and left my life.”

‘Never a good idea’

Dr. Natasha Sharma, creator of The Kindness Journal, told Global News you should try to avoid love triangles altogether.

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“Dating [or talking] to two people at the same time — without their informed consent and willing participation — is never a good idea,” she said.

“It’s possible to be attracted to more than one person at a time, but, generally speaking, we really only have room and space — emotionally and functionally — for one meaningful romantic relationship at a time. Figure out who you want to be with, fast, and let both know asap.”

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That being said, open relationships or marriages can be just as functioning as a monogamous one, but love triangles often leave people confused. On one hand, people in open relationships consent to this type of relationship, but people in love triangles may not even know they are in one.

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Love triangles can also be defined in different ways. Sometimes all three people involved are aware of the triangle, while other times, one person is left in the dark. We’ve seen them glorified in celebrity culture and most of us know at least one example of a love triangle through the grapevines of friend circles.

But for people caught in them, experts say it can be a stressful experience that impacts how they see themselves in relationships down the road.

Sharma said for people involved, it’s important to remember we don’t always click with everyone that comes across our path.

“We don’t fall in love with everyone we meet, and by the same turn, not everyone we meet or fall for necessarily returns the feeling,” she said. “This is a natural part of adult life and relationships sometimes. We will live to see another day and love again, even if a heart is temporarily broken.”

Choosing a partner

It was Christmas in 2013 and Knopp stopped talking to the new man she met in Saint John. He had already bought a gift for her (months ago) and it was delivered to her parents’ house without her knowledge.

“When Christmas came, I opened it and bawled,” she said. “It was a framed watercolour painting of David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane poster done by his sister. I’m a Bowie superfan, and he had joked that my poster was going through some wear and tear from so many moves, and that true adults had art in frames.”

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It was the most thoughtful gift she’d ever received.

“The fact that he still gave it to me, even though he was hurting, really stuck with me.”

Her ex still came to visit, but she couldn’t stop thinking about the gift.

READ MORE: Why some people can’t stop being unfaithful

“My ex could see that something was off, so the day before he left, after a long, teary conversation, we decided that it wasn’t going to work. The day he left, I sent the new guy a text, asking him to please, please, please meet me for dinner.”

She even got her mother to text him.

“He reluctantly agreed and I cooked him risotto, the first thing we’d cooked together, and I handed him a list of 100 reasons why he should give me another chance,” she continued.

“It took forever, and some were silly, but hey, it worked. That was Jan. 11, 2013. I’m still with the guy today, six and a half years later.”

She stopped talking to her ex and realized the impact this experience had on her relationship.

“It made realize how my indecision and actions can affect others,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much of an effect I had on my partner until after I’d already hurt him. … We joke about it now, but it was really upsetting for him to have me treat him like that.”

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Navigating a love triangle

Sharma said for anyone in a love triangle, it’s important to be honest and up front with all parties involved.

“Counselling is often necessary,” she said. If it’s a love triangle at the onset — you’ve started dating two people at once and are trying to decide which one you want to pursue — be honest,” she continued. “Tell both people you’re dating other people, so they can have all the information, and can decide what they want to do from their side. That’s trust.”

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Don’t lead people on or waste their time, she added, because it doesn’t benefit anyone in the triangle.

“If all people involved aren’t willing and consenting with full information, it’s wrong, hurtful and unhealthy.”

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