Two men are technically fighting over a woman, or making up deals about her. Either they are rivals, or one has her as a Love Interest while the other plays the role of the protective father figure. However, the whole thing is really about the relationship between these two men.
The woman is not really one of the players in this social game. It is strictly between the men. It's really about their relationship with each other and their feelings for each other. Their relationship doesn't have to have sexualized overtones. They may be, or be pondering becoming, Heterosexual Life-Partners.
Sometimes used as a way of portraying the development of an Arranged Marriage.
While this trope is usually about two men using a woman as playing field for their relationship, it can also be about two women using a man in the same way. The number of players may also be larger than two. In either case, it's about heterosexuality as a social dynamic between individuals of the same gender.
A variant of this exists in Regency and Victorian literature, where rather than being in conflict the same gender characters are very close, and one of them marries/pursues the other's opposite gender relative as a way to solidify the relationship. This becomes even more suggestive when the physical resemblance between the relative and the friend is brought up as a positive.
- Bakuman。: The Ashirogi Muto team decides they do ,in fact, want Kaya hanging out with them at college to deflect suspicions of gayness arising from two young men who are constantly together.
- O/A has a female example in best friends Yotsuba and Saeko. They both fall in love with the same popular boy, and confess to him each knowing that the other is in love. The resulting awkwardness of the possibility of a confrontation led both girls to stop seeing each other, despite their friendship. A couple of chapters are spent repairing it, with nothing about the boy coming up. Heck, the boy doesn't show up at all for this resolution, and no one even tries to reach out to him (justified, since there were a lot of girls in love with him in the first place).
- Beastars has a mild example with the protagonists. Legosi and Louis' main point of contention (among many others) was their mutual interest in Haru, but the two spend far more time musing about each other than they do thinking about her; and out of the three she gets the least screentime. It gets worse once the love triangle is resolved, as Haru is relegated from the spotlight and the story completely shifts towards the complicated (and kinda suspicious) relationship between the two males.
- Wolverine and Cyclops. So much. Occasionally they have honest to downright heartwarming moments, but it's rare. Even when they are in danger, or have more pressing things to fight about, and even though she's dead, you know, for now, it's always about Jean. Right down to the morning Logan finds Scott in bed with Emma Frost. Remember, Jean's already dead at this point. Her memory is reason enough for Logan to take a personal interest in Scott's... personal interests.
- De cape et de crocs: Two subversions in one: The two men fighting aren't the girl's romantic rivals (Armand and the Swordmaster are the rivals for Selene, but Don Lope is intervening in Armand's [who's unaware he even has a rival in love] place: as the better fighter, he knows he can beat the Swordmaster), and as the two are arguing Selene manifests a personality other than Dumb Blonde for the first time, claiming she's more than just a prize to be fought over. The two men, embarrassed, go their separate ways. And when Armand learns about it, he takes everything the wrong way, from the idea of his having a rival to Lope being a better fighter. He goes to Selene without being seen to confess his love, and she confesses back... thinking he's the Swordmaster. It takes learning his friends are in danger to pull Armand out of his suicidal funk.
- In one Ernie arc, the local beauty queen suddenly takes a romantic interest in the protagonist. What he doesn't know is that she wants him only because he is his girlfriend's boyfriend: The sudden romance is a ploy in a competition between these two women, and he is merely a pawn.
- The opening trap in Saw 3D involves two men, Brad and Ryan, and their shared girlfriend Dina, the two having never realized until now that she was cheating on each of them with the other. Only two of them can escape the trap with their lives. As Brad and Ryan try to kill each other, while Dina roots for whoever is winning in their life-and-death struggle, they slowly realize that she is the entire reason why they're in their predicament in the first place, and that their lives and friendship are worth more than their respective romances with Dina. They make up and turn the giant saw against her.
- Plan B starts out with Bruno scheming to get back his ex-girlfriend Laura after she starts dating Pablo, but the entire film is really about his deepening friendship with Pablo and Laura becomes a clear afterthought to him after he starts hanging out regularly with Pablo. Although it turns out that neither he nor Pablo are as heterosexual as they thought they were; they both end up rejecting Laura in favor of hooking up with each other instead.
- In Lady Audley's Secret, the Ho Yay between George and Robert Audley is "resolved" or redirected when Robert falls in love with George's sister, Clara (who looks remarkably like George).
- In Nicholas Nickleby, Madeline Bray falls in love with The Hero after developing a Romantic Two-Girl Friendship with his sister.
- In the Book of Genesis, Jacob's only daughter Dinah is raped by the prince of a local village while going out to visit her girlfriends. The prince decides he actually loves her, and asks his father to go see her father to make marriage arrangements. The king brings over large sums of whatever passed for wealth in that barter economy, and tries to persuade Jacob to allow the marriage, saying that intermarriage between the Shechemites and Jacob's tribe would increase the wealth of both. Jacob himself neither agrees to the terms nor disagrees, though, and deliberates with his sons, who persuade him to accept the terms. They do add the condition that all the men of the Shechemite village cut off their foreskins, which the Shechemites accept. And three days later, while the men are still recovering, Jacob's sons slaughter the men of the village, rescue their sister (who was a hostage of sorts in the prince's tent or hut), and take the Shechemite women and children as slaves. Jacob says they shouldn't have done this, on the grounds that they would be considered enemies to other local peoples, at a time when they are just a nomadic tribe. His sons reply that the prince shouldn't have defiled their sister. Not once does Dinah get a say in all of this.
- In the backstory to the A Song of Ice and Fire series, the War of the Usurper was in part sparked because both Robert Baratheon and Rhaegar Targaryen loved Lyanna Stark. Whether Lyanna herself reciprocated either's affections isn't known for certain, because she didn't survive the war. History is written by the victors, so after Robert's side won, Rhaegar is portrayed as a kidnapping rapist.
- In The Goblin Emperor this is the expected thing to do. Eshevis Tethimar pesters Maia about his wish to marry Maia's sister Vedero. Maia asks Vedero whether she wants to marry, and when she says she doesn't, he decides to respect that. Vedero herself tells Maia that marrying her off for politics would be the sensible thing to do. Later on, Maia himself proposes marriage to a woman in order to gain the support of her male relatives. (And it is made very clear that the marriage proposal is actually an order, as her family wouldn't let her refuse it.)
- In North and South (U.S.), Madelyn is manipulated into an Arranged Marriage based entirely on his friendship with her father. This scenario is gradually rolled up retroactively after the protagonist loses contact with her only to find out that she's suddenly getting married.
- Adding this dynamic was the reason for the inclusion of both Aunt Harriet and Batgirl in the 1960s Batman (1966) Adam West series. Not for nothing are Batman and Robin considered the original ambiguously gay duo.
- Skins has this dynamic between Cook and Freddie in their fight over Effy. Freddie ultimately wins, but is killed not long after. By the time of Fire and Rise, Cook and Effy aren't even on speaking terms.
- Game of Thrones has the same conflict over a woman in the backstory as the novels, described above, but with added context now that the show has passed the books. Robert had the better claim to Lyanna's hand politically, and had the support of Lyanna's fiercely protective brother Ned, but Lyanna had in fact chosen Rhaegar willingly. Unfortunately, she never bothered to tell anyone until it was too late (probably because Rhaegar was married when they met).
- Hannibal: Hannibal and Will Graham are embodiments of this trope.
- Wicked has a Rare Female Example with Elphaba and Glinda. They're caught in a Love Triangle with Fiyero, but the story is more about the relationship between the two women than it's about Elphaba/Fiyero or Glinda/Fiyero. They also have rather a lot of not very heterosexual subtext.
- In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hermia's father is trying to force her to marry Demetrius, leading to this exchange with Lysander, the man she really loves:
Demetrius: Relent sweet Hermia, and Lysander, yield thy crazed title to my certain right.
Lysander: You have her father's love, Demetrius. Let me have Hermia's. Do you marry him!
Egeus: Scornful Lysander, true, he hath my Love; and what is mine, my love shall render him. And she is mine, and all my right of her, I do estate unto Demetrius.
- Cyrano de Bergerac is a classic example. To some viewers it seems clear that Cyrano and Christian come to care more about each other than either do about Roxanne.
- In Fiddler on the Roof, the traditional Arranged Marriage custom is portrayed as an emotional and social affair between the groom and the father, the bride hardly being relevant to the process. And thus the plot is setting up for a massive backfire.
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is playing the Destructive Romance version of this trope with Judge Turpin. Mutual bonding in the scenes with the "Pretty women" song, and on the surface helping with the plan to force Todd's daughter to marry Turpin. However, the one Todd plan to sacrifice is not his daughter, but secretly Turpin instead.
- In the first Kingdom Hearts I game, Riku and Sora are supposedly in a love triangle with Kairi, but Kairi herself actually has very little screen time, spending the vast majority of the game off-screen and in a coma. The real point of the story is the boys' relationship with each other — specifically, the way aimless competition with each other turns a once-healthy friendship into something bitter, broken, and increasingly violent. When you get right down to it, Kairi is just one thing among many for them to fight over.
- Skyrim has the Riverwood love triangle between Camilla, Faendal and Sven. Rather than try to prove themselves to the girl in question, both men prefer to undermine each other, and will try to get the Dragonborn to pass fake letters that make the "author" look horrible. Ironically, the Dragonborn can steal the girl from right under their noses - first impressing her by retrieving her stolen family heirloom, then doing the Skyrim equivalent of proposing to her. In other words, focus on the girl, not the rivals.
- In season two of The Guild, Zaboo gets into a Cock Fight with Cyd's stuntman love interest. Cyd is initially flattered by the attention (although she feels guilty about it), but as the fight goes on, Zaboo and the stuntman recognize each other as Worthy Opponents and the fight becomes much more about Zaboo fanboying over the stuntman and the two of them having a good time, much to Cyd's annoyance. It ends when they both decide she's not really worth fighting over anyway.