Two things make love triangles so damn appealing – they often occur in real life, and they feed our fantasies about being desirable. There’s no irritating cliche here, where it’s obvious who the protagonist will choose, and the third party is there to solely create artificial hardship. The Marriage Plot is about real, raw love for two people and Madeline’s frustrating inability to choose. Life is messy, and The Marriage Plot accurately reflects the recklessness of youth, the paralysis of college graduation, and what it means to find yourself in your twenties.
Madeline is an upper middle class, Victorian romance-obsessed English major desperate for her own Mr. Darcy. For Leonard, facing a grueling life long battle with bipolar disorder, Madeline is an anchor, a life raft saving him from his illness. For Mitchell, a religious studies major struggling with what he believes, Madeline is his spiritual ideal, his destiny.
Madeline loves Leonard, partially for his illness. She is graduating from college, with no job, no idea of to do – and she wants to be needed. So she sets up house with Leonard. Mitchell, despite her protests, is “the one who got away” – the one without the stigma of mental illness, the one who reminds her of her youth, the one who was always there, flattering her with his desire.