A Geometry Lesson


I was watching a steamy film last night. It was full of smoldering jealousy, betrayal, anger, deceit, remorse, hot sex in unusual locations, murder, agonizing body disposal, guilt… You name it, everything was piled in there – except boredom. The film was about a married woman, who was having an affair with a younger man with a thick French accent and a sort of smoochy Bohemian appeal (he turned out to be rather unreliable, as Frenchmen often do). The cuckold husband fumed and fretted and committed the dastardly deed. His wife was a mess, and only seemed to be having fun when canoodling with the aforementioned Frenchman.

Olivier Martinez giving us a sexy look.
Olivier Martinez giving us a sexy look.

This was a classic triangle situation, Hollywood-style. Also, amusingly, I realized that the actor who played the passionate lover, Olivier Martinez, had got himself into a real-life triangle situation (sort of) some time back (his personal life has been more interesting than his movie career, so far). He has been married for about a year to the alluring movie actress Halle Berry (her third attempt), and they have a baby boy (I hear this marriage is on the rocks now. Poor Halle!) Before they were married, the smoochy Frenchman Martinez got into a fight with another Frenchman – sorry, French Canadian – a pretty boy called Gabriel Aubry, Halle B’s former partner. They both ended up in hospital, and a flurry of lawsuits ensued. Phew. Mostly bruised egos, though, nothing more.

The "Menage A Trois": a 1910 postcard.
The “Menage A Trois”: a 1910 postcard.

Now, let’s not confuse this with what is called a “ménage à trois” (literally, a “household for three”) – which seems to me altogether more fun than the rather competitive triangle. This means, of course, that three people settle down together in a cozy sexual relationship. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, in searching around for a word to rhyme with this expression, suggested “ayatollah.” Well, that would make for an amusing little poem. A haiku, perhaps. No, I won’t go there.

Love triangles are fertile ground for country and western songs, operas, novels, and of course movies. Arguably the most famous love story of them all, William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” involved another man. The tempestuous 19th century novel “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë is a pretty mind-blowing love triangle: Cathy, the rebellious wild child; Heathcliff, the gloomy, passionate man of the moors, her “soulmate”; and the refined Edgar, a gentle soul. Plenty of dramatic declarations, the wind howls, and so on, and so forth. Don’t tell me those Victorians were dull and stuffy.

The 1939 version of "Wuthering Heights" with Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and Cathy (Merle Oberon) perched on the cold moors. They've got all that passion to keep them warm.
The 1939 version of “Wuthering Heights” with Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and Cathy (Merle Oberon) perched on the cold moors. They’ve got all that passion to keep them warm. And dear Edgar hanging out in the background.

And artistic types themselves seemed to get into these kinds of situations rather regularly, and probably still do. The German composer Johannes Brahms spent half his life in love with fellow composer and friend Robert Schumann’s wife Clara (one is not sure whether anything “happened” between them, even after Schumann’s death). At the other end of the musical spectrum, Linda, Joey and Johnny Ramone (of the punk band The Ramones) got very tangled up. Joey was apparently the Mr. Nice Guy, Johnny was the aggressive one, and Linda was sort of…in the middle. Joey and Johnny continued playing together even after Linda married Johnny, but didn’t talk to each other. Awkward.

Two-thirds of a triangle: Johnny and Linda Ramone.
Two-thirds of a triangle: Johnny and Linda Ramone.

Hmm. Real-life love triangles often don’t end well, do they? For example, there was a hugely public and very sad situation in the British Royal Family some years back, involving Prince Charles, Princess Diana and Camilla Parker Bowles. “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” said Diana.

Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" is one of his moodier albums.
Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” is one of his moodier albums.

One of my favorite love triangle songs is a not very well-known one by Bob Dylan – one of his storytelling songs, from the great album “Blood On The Tracks.” Although with Lily, Rosemary, Big Jim and the Jack of Hearts in that particular song – could be a rectangle there.

Yes, did you know that there is something called a “love rectangle”? I was never very good at geometry, but clearly this involves four people, and is presumably even trickier than a triangle. Some people like to make their lives complicated, I suppose. Presumably the rectangles are equilateral – but, perhaps not. These kinds of situations appear quite regularly in light opera, farces, and so on, with people hiding behind doors and chasing each other across the stage and then back again, until the audience is utterly confused. Do they really occur in real life? How utterly nerve-wracking it must be.

As for me, I think I will stick with the safe old “one on one” relationship. You know, a straight line, so to speak.

Boring, I know. But all of the above takes up far too much energy, it seems to me. I like the quiet life.


5 thoughts on “A Geometry Lesson

  1. I ADORE Wuthering Heights! All that passion and agony makes for a fantastic read, but living it would definitely leave you with frayed nerves and grey hairs. I like the quiet life, perhaps that’s why I have such a love of films and literature – that way I can get my kicks but keep my blood pressure in check.

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    1. Hi Aisha: Yes, I absolutely loved that book too – in fact, all of the Brontes, Jane Eyre being a really influential book for me. But actually living at that level of emotional intensity would be another matter! I agree, the quiet life and living vicariously through the arts! What the Germans called “Sturm und Drang” is a bit too much for everyday living… 🙂

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