Imaginary Love Triangle

"Even those people who didn’t read 'Witch Weekly' knew all about the supposed Harry-Krum-Hermione triangle now. Harry was getting sick of telling people that Hermione wasn’t his girlfriend."

We all know the classic Love Triangle and all its many configurations. It can be a major source of drama in any situation, but there are times when the love triangle only appears to be there. Maybe one of the corners misinterprets something one of the others said, or someone outside the triangle gets the wrong impression.

A number of situations could lead to this.

Bob and Alice are dating and are good friends with Claire. Bob makes some offhand comment to David about Claire. David repeats it to Emily and through Gossip Evolution Claire hears it and thinks Bob wants to break up with Alice and date her. She, however, has no feelings for Bob and tries to get Bob and Alice to reconcile their non-existent problems.

Or, Bob and Alice are very close friends, Like Brother and Sister. Charlie has a crush on Alice, but sees the pair's affection for each other and thinks they are in love. Since Charlie wants Alice to be happy, he does not pursue her.

Or, Diana sees Bob being openly affectionate to Claire when he's dating Alice. She thinks he cheating on Alice and tells Elaine who tells Frank who tells Georgia who tells Harriet. Claire may end up being Bob's cousin or just a good friend.

One defining quality of this trope is that Bob and/or Alice are usually completely oblivious to what everyone else thinks is happening.

Imaginary love triangles that come to be seen as real by one or more of the corners blur the line between imagined and real. They can then be represented in the diagrams in Triang Relations, either alongside the real triangle or as the real triangle. The second example above, for instance, is the "forbidden love triangle" a -> b <—> c when "a" fails to act. The All Love Is Unrequited triangles a -> b -> c and a -> b -> c -> a are also useful both as imaginary triangles and as real triangles to superimpose imaginary triangles on.

May overlap with Mistaken for Cheating or Relative Error. Practically the opposite of Hopeless Suitor. Not to be mistaken for Bizarre Love Triangle, which is completely different.


Anime and Manga
  • Fairy Tail has a love triangle existing only in the mind of Juvia, who misinterpreted something Gray said to think he loved Lucy, and thus believes her to be a rival in love. Ironically, Gray and Lucy are just friends and Gray doesn't seem to have an interest in love, let alone notice Juvia's affections for him. The imaginary rivalry settles down after a while, but that doesn't stop Juvia from sometimes flaunting her "progress with Gray-sama" in front of Lucy.
  • In ...Virgin Love, Chiharu's knowledge of Kaoru's sex life starts to make Daigo think there might have been something between them and Chiharu decides to fan the flames. Kaoru later reveals to Daigo that Chiharu is his cousin and he's just being had.
  • Mint Na Bokura has Chris, who falls for Noel and goes to great lengths in order to steal "her" away from her "boyfriend" (who in reality is the Secret Keeper for Noel's true gender).
  • Pokémon - Several one-off characters who develop crushes on Ash aren't happy to see Misty, May or Dawn travelling with him.
  • In Magi – Labyrinth of Magic, as she began to develop feelings for Solomon, Sheba became jealous of Solomon's close friend Arba, seeing her as the ultimate rival. But in reality, the relationship between Solomon and Arba were only familial and once Arba realized Sheba would be a good match for Solomon, she approached Sheba and gave her the blessing to be Solomon's wife.

Comic Books
  • Wonder Woman once laughed when a fellow Justice Leaguer mentioned the idea of Diana being romantically involved with Superman. Her heart, at the time, lay elsewhere.

Fan Works
  • Advice And Trust: Ritsuko loves Gendo and believes that Rei is a threat to her "relationship" with him. In reality Rei is not in love with Gendo but with Shinji and Asuka or romantically drawn to him, and Gendo regards Rei as his daughter... and Ritsuko as an useful pawn.
  • Evangelion 303: Subverted. Saburo thinks that he is in a Love Triangle with Kaworu and Rei, since Kaworu spent a long time watching over Rei when she was into a coma and because later they often went out together. However Kaworu saw Rei like a friend, and their "dates" were mostly two friends hanging together. Ironically, Saburo's actions -breaking up with Kaworu out of jealousy and later stalking him are pushing Kaworu towards Rei.
  • Higher Learning: Shinji and Asuka loved each other. However, after half-hearing -and severely misunderstanding- a conversation between Asuka and their teacher Kaoru, he thought the older man had seduced Asuka. He spent several days depreseed and on the verge of a nervous break-down until he finally confronted Asuka and she said him he had gotten upset about nothing because nothing had happened between her and Kaoru.
  • In Marks of Time, Lyla and her husband each suspect that the other has found a new lover.
  • Superwomen of Eva 2: Lone Heir of Krypton: Misato and Kaji are dating. At the same time Shinji is in love with Asuka and completely oblivious to her loving him back. Misato misunderstands Shinji when he remarks he is in love with a girl and wrongly thinks Shinji has fallen for her. She spends several chapters trying to let him down gently every time he asks for relationship advice to win Asuka over. Misato's reaction when she finally finds out the truth is priceless.
  • In Disney High School, Kuzco playful flirts with his Vitriolic Best Bud Jasmine, leading Aladdin to think they're actually dating. Similarly, Adam had to be restrained from killing Milo when he and Belle were spending time together.

  • The Luke, Leia, Han love-triangle is probably the Trope Codifier, at least by the time Return of the Jedi rolls around. Once we find out Luke and Leia are siblings, their branch disappears, though Han doesn't know that until the end of the movie.
    • Played for drama in the Matt Stover novelization of Revenge of the Sith (and to a lesser extent in the movie as well). Anakin thinks that Obi-Wan is his competition for Padme after Obi-Wan visited Padme's residence once early in the morning without his knowledge. This eventually culminates in Anakin Force Choking Padme out of crazed jealousy (although by this time he's already committed wholesale child murder, so this is almost a step downwards for him).
  • The trope is a Batman Gambit by Frank Castle in film the 2004 adaptation of The Punisher, where he makes a mob boss think his wife is having an affair with his friend.

  • In Harry Potter, people keep assuming that Harry and his platonic friend Hermione are dating. First, Rita Skeeter's tabloids invent their relationship, leading to issues with her current boyfriend, Krum; Harry finds it rather surreal that a professional Quidditch player three years older than him considers him an actual "threat." In the next book, Harry mentions Hermione on his date with Cho; she gets the wrong idea and storms off. Finally, in the last book, his other best friend Ron, who's clearly in love with Hermione, suffers More Than Mind Control from Slytherin's locket, part of which is convincing him that Hermione (and his family) loves Harry more than him.
  • In Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey, the protagonist's love interest has a romantically-inclined kid sister who tells him that she's going to marry somebody else — who turns out to be just an old friend, and already married.

Live Action Television
  • Friends: Chandler in both the season 5 and 6 finales thinks Monica is going to leave him for her ex-boyfriend Richard. Both times Monica has no intention of doing anything of the sort, first feeling nothing for Richard and the second time when faced with two proposals not only choosing Chandler's over Richard's but actually proposing to him as well.
    • Chandler falls for this again with her so-called soulmate Don and 'the funniest guy she's ever met' Jeffrey. Monica is completley oblivious as its based on throw away comments she can't remember making.
  • On Dharma and Greg, Dharma's old friend visits and begins spending a lot of time with her father, Larry. Dharma begins to think she's trying to steal him away from Abbie; in actuality, the friend wanted to spend time with Larry because there was a chance he was her biological father.
  • Noah's Arc: Interesting subversion between Alex, Trey and Guy. Alex suspects Trey may be cheating on him with Guy. Turns out Trey is completely innocent, though we find later that Guy has been secretly pursing Trey (Trey being oblivious to this).
  • In Gossip Girl, Chuck assumes from spying on Blair that she and Dan have something going on, and so sets them up so that Blair can see Dan doesn't belong in their world. However, Blair is in love with Chuck, and this childishness only leads to her becoming so disgusted with him she actually does go out and find another love interest.
  • Deadly Women explore this in many episodes, where the killer will often kill the person she believes to be in love with her boyfriend/husband/stalker victim to Murder the Hypotenuse.
  • In "Triangle", an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Anya becomes convinced Willow will try to steal Xander away from her. Despite Willow being in a lesbian relationship by this time, she wasn't entirely unjustified - Willow had already broken up Xander's last relationship (which is what brought Anya to Sunnydale in the first place), and Willow didn't want her around.
    • In Season 2, Angel worries that Xander is a rival, because he can spends nights as well as days with Buffy. However while Xander is definitely interested in Buffy, the reverse is not true.

  • Briefly in Sandra and Woo. Woo thinks his rival, Tibor, is interested in Lily. Turns out she's his daughter.
  • Robin of Shortpacked! has a thing for love triangles, and an even bigger thing for Ethan. When she sees Ethan comforting Amber, she immediately thinks she's involved in a love triangle - even though Ethan is gay and not attracted to either of the girls.

Western Animation
  • An episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks had one involving a Girl of the Week, Simon, and a biker boy. Alvin convinced Simon to try out for a bike competition to impress the girl, only to find out that the biker was her cousin.
  • Total Drama Island, with its numerous Ship Tease moments, provides examples. For example, both Trent and Courtney saw themselves in a love triangle when their respective Love Interests, Gwen and Duncan, became friendly during TDA. (Though this may be subverted by the Ass Pulled Retcon in season three claiming that Gwen had always had a crush on Duncan.)
    • The inversion may be even more common, when a character is in a love triangle but doesn't notice; Cody's obliviousness to Trent/Gwen in season one would probably be the clearest example (later to be replicated with Cody/Gwen/Duncan in season three).
  • An episode of The Simpsons had the family visiting a dude ranch and Lisa falling for a cute boy (voiced by Johnathan Taylor-Thomas). When she runs into a girl who is looking for the boy, Lisa tries to get rid of her. It turns out that girl was the boy's sister, and Lisa's actions make him hate her.
  • On Adventure Time Finn and Jake both believe that Finn's former Precocious Crush, Princess Bubblegum, has suddenly started to like Finn right when he's become interested in Flame Princess. In reality she was objecting to their relationship for another reason.
  • Megamind's title character is rather surprised to learn that Roxanne never had a relationship with Metro Man, the hero who always rescued her.
  • On Young Justice M'gann wants to reconcile with Superboy, but when she asks Nightwing where he is he tells her that he's on a date with their old friend Wendy. Later M'gann finds out that he was basically Playing Cyrano for Wendy's actual new boyfriend, Marvin.
  • On Rugrats, Grandpa gets a New Old Flame named Morgana in one episode. It turns out their relationship had ended when he saw her "kissing" another girl; in reality, he had been performing CPR on her as she suffered an asthma attack.

  • In Iolanthe, the main conflict arises because Phyllis sees her beloved fiance Strephon kissing a young woman who looks seventeen on account of being a fairy, but is actually several hundred years old and his mother.