It's the classic: Clark loves Lois, who loves Superman and doesn't think much of Clark, but Clark really is Superman, only Lois doesn't know that.
Some people get into a Love Triangle
. Sometimes this gets resolved, if it's a case of Mistaken Identity
; sometimes it really doesn't, if they have to maintain a Secret Identity
. A very common, very old
form is two kids, each chafing against their separate Arranged Marriages
, meet and fall in love before they realize their betrothal is to each other
, clearing up any and all moral ambiguity or conflict of duties that had driven the story up till that point. Another common version is what we might call the 'superhero' version — the superhero's Mild Mannered Alter-Ego
is head-over-heels for a person who won't give them the time of day... because they're
head-over-heels for the superhero.
See Loves My Alter Ego
. Compare Imaginary Love Triangle
, which involves three people but is likewise built on false assumptions.
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Anime and Manga
- Onidere has a variation. Saya dresses up as a new student in order to attend class. She still can't resist flirting with Tadashi though. Tadashi immediately sees through her disguise, but Saya doesn't know that...
- And then Saki does much the same thing, and a new student falls for Saya's disguised alter ego, making it a Four Person Love Hexagon. It is exactly as confusing as it sounds.
- In Kämpfer Natsuru loves Sakura who loves Natsuru's female persona, then the school council president spreads a rumour that Natsuru and his female half are in fact already dating each other. Hilarity Ensues.
- In one of the stories in Senno Knife's Sepia, there are also four roles and two people. He's a young man; she's a prostitute who is nearly out of debt. As it happens, she's been writing him anonymous love letters, and he's been seeing her while wearing a mask to be with her. So, to recap, young man, prostitute, letter writer, man in mask. At the end of the story, he says next time he'll go without the mask.
- In Sailor Moon, Usagi is love with Tuxedo Kamen and, depending on the version, Chiba Mamoru. Mamoru, on the other hand, is in love with Princess Serenity, Sailor Moon, and (once again depending on the version) Usagi.
- MÄR has an odd example of this. Ginta is clearly in love with his childhood friend, Koyuki. He even protects her when he gets a chance to go to his dream world. He's not entirely clueless about her liking him as well. While in MAR Heaven, he meets Snow, who looks exactly like Koyuki and has much the same personality. There is much UST between them as the story progresses. The twist comes during the occasional times we see what's going on in the real world, and find that Koyuki is seeing the 'show' through Snow's eyes. Eventually we find that Snow is also able to learn about Ginta's world through Koyuki's eyes. In the end of the anime, Snow and Koyuki merge, thus saving Ginta from having to choose between them. It's implied that both girls are in fact the same person, just alternate world versions. And none of the characters are aware of this.
- In Code Geass, Kallen admires and has fallen for masked freedom fighter Zero, but does not know that he is Lelouch, who she feels contempt toward due to his Brilliant, but Lazy Rich Idiot with No Day Job persona. This is further complicated by the fact that Kallen is half-Japanese and Japan has been conquered and subsequently oppressed by the Britannian Empire, while Lelouch is actually a Britannian prince with his own reasons for wanting to rebel against the empire. After Kallen discovers his true identity, she has trouble working out her feelings toward him and ends up as even more of a Tsundere.
- Happens in Yu-Gi-Oh!. Yugi likes Anzu, who, in turn, has fallen for the ancient pharaoh who shares his body.
- The titular character of Nurarihyon No Mago is in such a situation. His night side is a lot more popular than his day side, and his Muggle friends don't know it is the same person.
- In Dengeki Daisy, Teru has strong feelings for Daisy, her faceless protector she only has contact through email, and falls in love with Kurosaki, who she secretly wishes were Daisy. Luckily, he is.
- In Rosario + Vampire, we have the odd case of Moka and Tsukune. Moka has two personalities, Inner Moka and Outer Moka and Tsukune is aware of this. While Outer Moka has outright stated that she loves him, the biggest roadblock is Inner Moka pretty much shooting him down whenever she gets the chance. Thus Tsukune has to win over Inner Moka before any kind of romantic relationship can happen.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Rebellion creates a sort of two-person quadrangle. Homura loves Madoka. Demon Homura really loves Madoka. Ultimate Madoka probably likes Homura but definitely wouldn't like her new demon form, except Demon Homura turned her back into regular Madoka, who barely even knows Homura. Both Homuras prefer the un-transcended Madoka, so there's no easy resolution.
- Superman has the classic version of this. While it's varied over the years, the traditional triangle is Clark loves Lois, while Lois loves Superman and won't see Clark as more than a Co-Worker/Rival. As of the last decade or so, they've finally gotten over this in the comics. The DCAU played it straight.
- A set of 1960s Jimmy Olsen stories features a two-person love quadrangle. Briefly, Jimmy and his girlfriend Lucy Lane cheat on each other with each other in disguise. A longer summary can be found here.
- In the comics, Black Cat barely tolerated Peter Parker's presence, but was hot to trot for Spider-Man any time. The catch is that Black Cat knows that they are one and the same person.
- Played with in the 1990s animated series, in which there are romances between Peter Parker and Felicia Hardy, as well as between Spider-Man and Black Cat. Neither of them ever finds out or even suspects the other's real/secret identity.
- Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane has the more traditional version, where Mary Jane has decided to somehow ask Spider-Man to take her to a school dance only to find herself falling for Peter Parker at the same time.
- This goes back a long way with him; at the end of a very early adventure, Peter Parker calls Liz Allen on the phone to ask for a date only to have her tell him she's already told off his rival Flash Thompson and wants him off the line as well, since she's anticipating a call from Spider-man. As she slams down the receiver, he laments that "Only a guy with my nutty luck could end up being his own competition!"
- Also, in her early mainstream appearances Mary Jane flirted both with Peter Parker and with Spider-Man (when he rescued her) and often expressed admiration or attraction to Spider-Man. Years later it was revealed that MJ knew that the two are one and the same all along... Making things interesting, MJ actually didn't want a serious relationship with Peter because she knew he was Spider-Man, and she was Genre Savvy enough to know the issues with dating a superhero.
- In early Daredevil comics, Matt covered up his secret identity with his partner Foggy and their secretary Karen by pretending that Daredevil was his twin brother Mike. For a while there was a love triangle where Karen couldn't decide if she loved Matt or Mike.
- The Argentine comic Cybersix has an interesting variant where Cybersix deliberately engineers one - wherein her secret identity, the male Adrian Seidelman, is, briefly, a rival for her own affections, in order to prompt her love interest, Lucas Amato, to actually make a move (after establishing he doesn't already have a girlfriend).
- An odd variant appears in Jeff Smith's Shazam and the Monster Society of Evil, which ultimately did not go anywhere due to the characters' ages. Preeteen Billy Batson has a Precocious Crush on adult reporter Helen Fidelity (who isn't interested for obvious reasons), and Helen has an EXTREME attraction to Billy's magic-induced grown up alter ego, Captain Marvel.
- Silver Age Green Lantern Hal Jordan set himself up for this. Carol Ferris was already rejecting his romantic advances, so he decided to actively romance her as Green Lantern. By the time he realizes that this was a bad idea, it's too late and he and Carol are stuck in the triangle.
- One Sailor Moon Fan Fic, "Destiny's Child", had two people occupying four roles. Made more complex by the fact that one of them had two more identities, one of whom was believed to be the destined true love of identity #2, and one of whom was believed to be a sibling of identity #1. In total, therefore, there were six identities: Ranma Tendo, Saturn Knight, Hotaru Tomoe, Sailor Saturn, Rei Hino, and Sailor Mars.
- In the Danny Phantom fanfic "Gender Confusion: The Saga of Sam", Sam feels conflicted because she gone on a couple dates with both Danny Fenton and Danny Phantom and things might be getting serious. As a bonus, Danny is unaware that the nice girl he's been running into is also his male roommate (though there's no romance involved with that persona).
- In the Axis Powers Hetalia fic "New Horizons", due to time travel shenanigans, a past and present version of England end up competing over America's affection with both thinking he's romantically involved with an unknown party. America himself, of course, is completely oblivious to all of this.
- The Young Justice fic "Hero" has the traditional Superman/Lois Lane triangle, but also a platonic version with Superman and Superboy. Superboy, after being ignored by Superman for a very long time decides he no longer wants the man's friendship or approval. He then ends up protecting and eventually befriending Clark Kent, without knowing what Clark does when he's not reporting.
- As The Reveal of the climax makes clear, the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic The Games We Play centers around this, as Pinkie Pie grows increasingly jealous and resentful of her superheroine alter ego Mare Do Well when Rainbow Dash takes a liking to her even as Dash keeps on rejecting Pinkie's advances as herself.
Film — Animated
- In Disney's version of Sleeping Beauty: Prince Phillip was not enthralled with his future bride Princess Aurora when he saw her as a baby (and he was a little boy no older than five, taking peeks on her cradle), and still isn't looking forward to it, when suddenly he meets a beautiful "peasant girl". Simultaneously, she falls madly in love with the mystery man as soon as she meets him and is devastated to learn that she can never see him again because of her arranged engagement to Prince Phillip. She has no idea that the two are one and the same. Which, technically, makes this a Two-Person Love Square
- Again with Disney: Aladdin takes on the rich persona of Prince Ali to woo Princess Jasmine, who was already interested in his genuine persona.
- Subverted in The Incredibles, when Mr. Incredible flirts with Elastigirl when briefly distracted by some unfortunate events on the way to his wedding. The subversion being that when he gets to the wedding, he turns out to be marrying her "mild-mannered alter ego", and the two of them already clearly know the other's superhero identity. Apparently they just flirt like they don't know each other's secret identity in costume because they like it.
- Happens in Megamind - Roxanne hates Megamind, the alien villain who conquered her city, but starts falling for "Bernard," the guy she's drafted into helping her overthrow him. Guess what he's keeping from her.
- In Rankin Bass Jack Frost, a woman named Elisa says that Jack Frost is the only one she loves, right when he happens to be floating by to hear her. He becomes a human, "Jack Snip," hoping to woo her, and the two become close friends. Technically becomes a Love Dodecahedron when the local villain and a knight fall for her too. She marries the latter. "Jack Snip" expresses dismay to her father, who sadly tells him that Elisa never loved anyone but the knight—well, him and Jack Frost...
Film — Live Action
- Batman Forever: Chase falls in love with both Bruce Wayne and Batman, and doesn't realize they're both the same guy until she's kidnapped.
- The triangle is resolved partway through the movie when Chase dumps Batman for Bruce Wayne. Batman, stoically, says that he understands, and manages to turn around and walk away before he breaks into a grin.
- The Arranged Marriage plot shows up in the short 1926 silent film Crazy Like a Fox and its "talkie" 1937 remake The Wrong Miss Wright.
- Any of the many movies based on The Parfumerie (see the theater section below). These include:
- You've Got Mail, where Meg Ryan first falls for Tom Hanks's AOL alter-ego and (after some disastrous initial meetings) also develops a close relationship with his offline identity.
- The Shop Around the Corner.
- The Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedy Pillow Talk. The two share a two-party telephone line. This one adds the complication that the she despises him in person, and he deliberately creates the second persona in order to win her over after recognizing her voice in a nightclub.
- In Abbott and Costello's version of Jack and the Beanstalk, this was part of the basis for the romantic subplot. Princess Eloise is supposed to marry Prince Arthur, but they've never met. They both get kidnapped by the giant, call themselves Darlene and Arthur, and fall in love.
- Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi has a variation on the Arranged Marriage theme: Taani falls in love with Raj, who is actually her husband Surinder with a lot more hair gel and a little less moustache. Surinder is hiding his identity to get to know Taani better; when he realises that Taani could cheat on him with Raj, he becomes jealous of himself.
- Brand Upon The Brain has two of these—Guy is primarily in love with Wendy, but also has feelings for Wendy's male alter ego Chase, and at the same time Wendy is in love with Sis, who's in love with Chase. Wendy reveals her identity to Sis, who doesn't care. Guy walks in on them having sex, and he faints from shock. Even decades later he hasn't gotten over it.
- In the 1956 French film Plucking the Daisy Agnes Dumont (Brigitte Bardot) needs to come up with money in a hurry and decides to enter a striptease contest, with a mask on her face and using the pseudonym Sophia. This leads to complications when her boyfriend becomes interested in the mysterious Sophia.
- In Irma La Douce Jack Lemmon's character, in order to keep Shirley MacLaine's character, a prostitute, from sleeping with other men, invented a "Lord X" to act as her patron. When he started feeling as if she cared more for the role he was playing than for himself, he threw the costume into the Seine and was arrested for murder.
- In the book Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, the main character Lucy is infatuated with 'Shadow', an extremely talented graffiti artist whom she's never met, but feels she understands though his art. Shadow graffitis the town they live in, while his accomplice Poet does the writing, because Shadow has incredibly illegible handwriting. One night Lucy and her two friends hook up with three guys, two of whom are Poet and Shadow, but Lucy and her friends don't know it. Lucy gets stuck with Ed, whose nose she once broke when he touched her arse unexpectedly on a date, and Shadow. Lucy doesn't know it's Shadow, so she spends the whole night running around town 'looking for Shadow' while blabbering about herself and her appreciation of the art, even mentioning at one point that she would have sex with Shadow to Ed. She finds out in the end who Shadow is only after deciding she was in love with Ed too
- This is a common plot device in romance novels. From This Moment On by Lynn Kurland, The Imposter by Celeste Bradley, The Forest Lord by Susan Krinard...
- In Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid", the prince, suffering an Arranged Marriage, insists he only ever wishes to marry the temple-pledged girl who found him washed up on the beach. Turns out his fiancee is her. Of course, the eponymous Unlucky Childhood Friend makes this a Three Person Love Quadrangle.
- When Disney — again — used this basic element in their version in a much less tragic way, Ariel can't get Eric to believe she's the girl he's looking for, as the only attribute he knows is her voice, which she'd just given up in her Deal with the Devil. This turns into a regular Love Triangle when villain Ursula takes on the third role using Ariel's voice and some really superfluous old-fashioned Mind Control.
- The Host by Stephenie Meyer was quite literally marketed as "A love triangle with two bodies." It involves a body-controlling alien, her human host and the host's significant other.
- Ella Enchanted, when Ella attends the ball in disguise. This is lampshaded when Ella uses her magic book to read one of the prince's diary entries. He writes about how he enjoyed dancing with the mysterious girl at the ball, and accidentally writes the girl's name as "Ella", having no idea why he did so.
- L. M. Montgomery did this in The Pot and the Kettle. Subverted in that the man knew the whole time that the woman was his fiancee, and set up an elaborate charade to make it seem as if they had fallen in love without realizing each other's identities.
- Played straight and to the letter with Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl. (Though it was complicated by the third wheel masquerading as the heroine.)
- In the short story The Dandelion Girl by Robert F. Young, the middle-aged and married protagonist falls in love with a girl half his age who claims to be a time-traveler from the future. As it turns out, after their encounter the girl travels further back in time, and had become his wife all along.
- In the oldest known version of "Beauty and the Beast", Beauty's attraction to the Beast is conflicted because she keeps on dreaming of a handsome young man who pleads with her to rescue him. It was, surprise surprise, the beast.
- Kobo Abe's novel The Face of Another. A scientist's face is disfigured by liquid nitrogen, and his relationship with his wife becomes strained. In secret he creates an artifical face, assumes the identity of a stranger — and seduces his wife.
- "And we poor husbands ... we have to stand by ... while they worship a demmed shadow."
- In John C. Wright's Count To A Trillion, Menelaus realizes the princess is interested in his own personality.
- In John Green and David Levithan's Will Grayson, Will Grayson, gay Will Grayson has an internet romance with a boy named Daniel. Daniel is actually his friend Maura (who has a crush on him) trying to get him to prove that he's gay.
- "Superman's Diary", a short story by B. Brandon Barker(published in the Eighth Annual Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthology in 1995), took an unusual spin on the Superman/Lois/Clark triangle. At the start of the story, Lois and Superman are lovers, and Lois tells Superman that she will be leaving Metropolis for a while to cover a breaking story overseas. The next day, Lois enters Clark's office and invites him to join her in the Bahamas for a vacation. While initially shocked to learn that Lois lied to him (as Superman) and wanted to have an affair with Clark, he ends up joining her in the Bahamas, and by the end of the story he decides that he is happier with Lois when he's Clark than when he's Superman. He notes at one point that when Lois has sex with Superman she tends to be greedy and competitive, while when she makes love to Clark she's more giving and affectionate.
- An odd example from Wraith Squadron occurs between Kell Tainer, Tyria Sarkin, and Kell's fantasy version of Tyria.
Live Action TV
- Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman which provides the top photo on this involves this. Eventually Lois falls in love with Clark, learns that Superman is him, and they even get married. This allows for the creation of accusations of adultery and a love triangle, when in fact the man Lois is claimed to have been cheating with is actually her husband.
- Done literally in Farscape when John gets split into two identical copies. It's done in a way that explicitly gives both of them equal claim to being the "real" John. One goes on a ship with Aeryn, and one without. The John on Moya loves Aeryn who loves the John on Talyn, who also loves Aeryn. Guess which one dies.
- A situation very similar to the above-mentioned Sleeping Beauty example is used in Jim Henson's Hey, Cinderella!. In it, Cinderella meets Prince Charming while he's gardening, and they fall for each other immediately. He promptly tells her that he's the castle gardener, just because he's afraid that Cinderella will turn into a snob if she knows who he really is ("nothing makes a girl a snob more than saying she personally knows a prince"). They plan to meet at the masked ball, wearing geraniums to recognize each other. This plan fails and the result is that they meet at the ball and dance, but Cinderella doesn't realize that Arthur the gardener and Prince Charming are the same, and he doesn't realize that Cinderella is the mysterious "princess" he met. In a bit of a subversion, while the two hit it off very well at the ball, both are quite determined to hold out for the "original" identities.
- In the fourth season of Eureka, Henry accidentally hops timelines, discovers that in the alternate timeline he's married to a woman he barely knows, and falls in love with "his" wife. At first she naturally resents him for displacing her real husband, but she ends up falling in love with him as well.
- In S3 E2 of Misfits, Curtis is testing out his new power which is he can change his sex at will he ends up sleeping with the same girl as both Curtis and ''Melanie", his female alter ego without her knowing it. With Curtis, it doesn't go well. But the girl hits it off with Melanie, and they start dating. Things get messy when she finds the dress she lent "Melanie" at his house causing her to think that "Melanie" is cheating on her with Curtis. It only gets more complicated from there.
- In Power Rangers Samurai, Spike first develops a crush on the Pink Samurai Ranger, and later develops one on Mia, making him a little conflicted on which to pursue. That said, not only is Spike something of a Hopeless Suitor, Mia herself has no clue Spike lusts after either of her identities.
- The Kate Bush song "Babooshka" is this gone very, very wrong.
- Rupert Holmes' song "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" is about a man "tired of [his] lady" who arranges to meet a woman he finds in the personal columns — only to find that the advert was placed by his lover.
- Zalo Reyes' song "Ramito de violetas" (Violet bouquet) is about a housewife tired of her insensitive husband who only keeps herself happy by the anonymous poetry letters and flowers she gets from time to time. She never realized her secret admirer was actually her own husband.
- The Musical Camelot: Arthur and Guenevere are betrothed, and she's not happy about it because she has never met him and wanted to be married, or at least fought over, for love. She meets him while he is trying to hide from his people; she doesn't recognize him because she's never met him, he gives her a childhood nickname, and they fall in love in a Slap-Slap-Kiss manner. Only after they're in love does Guenevere learn who "Wart" is.
- A. A. Milne's play The Ugly Duckling. The plain-looking prince and princess both send more attractive servants to impersonate them at the betrothal. (To keep the other from realizing the deception until they were married, the prince planned to wear full armor at the ceremony, and the princess a long, face-concealing veil.) Meanwhile the real prince and princess meet and hit it off, but keep up the deception as a joke on their families.
- The obscure Hungarian play The Parfumerie is about a pen-pal relationship where this occurs. As a result, its many far less obscure adaptations are also examples, including the musical She Loves Me as well as several movies (see the "Film" section above).
- The play The Rivals, first performed in 1775. Lydia likes the idea of being in love with a man her guardian disapproves of, so Captain Absolute courts her under the name "Ensign Beverly" and pretends to be a poor sailor. Later on, his father arranges for him to marry Lydia, who refuses because she's in love with "Beverly". To make things even more complicated, at one point Captain Absolute actually impersonates himself.
- Colonel Fairfax (disguised as Leonard Meryll) and Elsie Maynard in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard. They were married while Elsie was blindfolded and Fairfax was on death row, but Fairfax escaped. Once he discovers Elsie's identity, he sets about wooing her so that she falls in love with "Leonard". Once his name is cleared he reveals that they're already married.
- Also part of the complicated plot of Die Fledermaus, where a wife attends a grand fancy-dress ball disguised as a Hungarian countess (don't ask why) to catch him in infidelity, and opts to try and seduce him herself. In fact he is technically supposed to be in jail for a week (for a trivial traffic offence), but will be appearing in prison a day late, after the party. Comic opera being comic opera, the plot is complicated by the fact that she is also cheating: and the jailer - who is already drunk and barely knows our hero anyway - takes the lover to jail in the husband's place, before going off to the party himself and getting even more drunk. When the husband eventually arrives at the jail to belatedly identify himself and serve his sentence, he finds someone else in his cell. He nearly turns the tables and is about to divorce his wife in a rage, when she produces the watch that she stole off him at the party while they were both disguised... All ends up being forgiven and blamed on too much champagne.
- In The Drowsy Chaperone, Janet is nervous about her impending wedding to Robert, so she tests his love for her by pretending to be a random French woman named Mimi and asking about how they first met. Both of them get caught up in reliving the moment, and they kiss, leading Janet to call off the wedding. It's about as ridiculous as it sounds.
- In Mega Man Star Force, Luna has a huge crush on Mega Man, her Mysterious Protector. She sometimes asks for Geo's help in her efforts to win Mega Man's affection, unaware that Geo is Mega Man.
- She keeps maintaining that her crush is only for Mega Man even after she finds out his identity.
- Though it becomes pretty obvious after the reveal that Luna likes Geo and is just avoiding that fact by saying she only likes Megaman.
- In Monster High, Frankie has a crush on both Jackson Jekyll and Holt Hyde.
- Boy Meets Boy, as exemplified by this comic. "I'm jealous of myself. Leave me alone."
- The webcomic Red String.
- Doubled in Kevin & Kell, twice: first with the eponymous married couple falling in love with each other again in a chatroom without knowing, and later with Fiona helping her mom hook up with Ralph, who is also getting help from his nephew and Fiona's boyfriend.
- El Goonish Shive, to a degree: Gay Justin is in love with straight Elliot. Elliot gains a magically-induced female alter ego that somewhat alters his/her personality...and said alter ego finds Justin rather attractive.
- Dumbing of Age, Amber is in love with Danny - unfortunately Danny is in love with Amazi-girl. Seriously.
- Happens in this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip, when a man and a woman realize they've been cheating on each other with each other.
- An episode of Mr. T's World's Craziest Fools mentioned a couple who had a very twisted version of this. Basically, both were disillusioned with their marriage, and decided to try and start affairs using a dating website. Both found people they liked, and they bonded over Internet chat, and then decided to meet. And then they discovered that they had been cheating on each other with each other.