“Shipping” is a fandom term that refers to a desire to see two fictional characters in a relationship. Shipping includes many behaviors, such as…

  • Wanting canon to bring the characters together.
  • Wanting to interpret canon in such a way that it makes sense for the characters to be together, or that they’re already together.
  • Fantasizing about two characters being together, regardless of whether that would make sense.
  • Wanting to produce or consume fan works that portray the characters together.
  • Rooting for a particular relationship over the alternatives, similar to how sportsball fandoms root for teams.

As a person who has always been on the outside of fandoms, shipping doesn’t really make sense to me. That is, I have difficulty imagining ever feeling that way about characters. Sometimes I like romantic arcs in fiction, and I even enjoy stories in the romance genre, but I don’t fantasize about counterfactual relationships between characters.

But perhaps it’s something I can understand after all. Because you see, I have fantasies in the opposite direction.

When characters get together (either romantically, or as friends), sometimes I like to imagine that the characters will realize they’re terrible for each other, and break up with each other. This is most common when the story portrays a strong conflict in the relationship, with the intent that the characters will overcome the conflict and rebuild their relationship stronger than ever. I have a tendency to think there’s a better resolution to the conflict, in which the characters just break up for good. In my mind it’s a happy ending, or at least a satisfying one.

I feel obligated to include a concrete example, so here’s one. In Scott Pilgrim vs the World, there is a third-act breakup where Ramona leaves Scott to be with his rival Gideon. It is later revealed that Gideon has implanted a mind-control chip in Ramona. However, an alternative interpretation is that the mind-control chip is a fantasy invented by Scott in order to justify his policing the romantic relationship of his ex.

I think part of the reason that same-sex pairings are so commonly shipped, is that there aren’t enough stories that include canonical same-sex pairings. Where canon is lacking, people substitute fantasies and fan works. Well, in my opinion, there’s also a shortage of break-up stories.

I was talking about this with online friends, and it seems that fandoms have several terms for being against ships (NOTP, noromo, anti-shipping), but what they’re really describing is some sort of conflict with other fans. Maybe you’re tired of seeing fan works that ship two characters together, or maybe the thought of that relationship squicks you out. Or maybe you just like rooting against a particular relationship ever appearing in canon. As for “anti-shipping”, it has acquired the connotation of being against ships specifically for moral reasons (e.g. because one of the characters is canonically underage).

But what I’m describing is somewhat different. I’m not saying I dislike seeing characters together. Rather, I like seeing them apart. The ending where Scott and Ramona get together is fine. I just like to think about the alternative ending where they don’t get back together.

When we were talking about this, Coyote dubbed fantasizing about breakups “postshipping“. LOL


  1. Jazzlet says

    Hah, I like that, both the idea and the name. Sometimes characters just don’t belong together, and what’s wrong with say trying a relationship, deciding it doesn’t work, but staying friends? That would be something I would definitely like to see.

  2. says

    Hah! I definitely do the same thing sometimes. It’s part of why I can’t properly watch a lot of romantic comedies and dramas, especially ones where they establish “tension” by making the lead couples incapable of communicating clearly or respecting each others decisions – I spend the entire time rooting for them to just break up already!

    Like, I remember when Twilight was big and there was that whole Team Edward vs. Team Jacob thing – I was firmly in Team Bella-just-ditch-them-both-and-go-to-college-instead.

    That said, I think this also ties back in to regular shipping as well – especially in series with dysfunctional canon couples, I think there’s a common strain of shipping that stems from “what if these two just broke up and had healthier/happier relationships with someone else for a change”. Similar motivating factors (i.e. rooting for unsatisfying couples to break up) but with an extra layer of regular shipping on the end (i.e. and then they can try dating X instead)

  3. says

    Also, I don’t know if this is an aromantic thing or just a being cantankerous thing, but I definitely notice that I get strong feelings about which characters should break up much more easily than I get opinions about which characters should get together. While I can appreciate shipping specific characters if I read some good meta or good fanfic from someone else, I don’t really get very inspired to matchmake characters on my own – but rooting for characters to break up requires no prompting at all!

  4. says

    I have also experienced this. Usually when one of the characters was sympathetic and likeable, but the other one somewhat of a jerk. In order to make realistic characters, a writer must give them personality flaws. In order to have a plot, a writer must create some conflict between characters. Quite often writers overdo these things, and the end result is me wishing for the nicer/more likeable character to dump the more assholish character. Even milder things like one of the characters being rude and frequently arguing with the other person results in me wanting for the couple to break up.

    And then there’s also a separate problem that some writers create relationships, which are simply romanticized domestic abuse (Fifty Shades of Grey being the textbook example for this one). I have enjoyed some erotic fiction featuring BDSM relationships, but I do want the relationship to be portrayed as consensual. All those books that feature a sadist emotionally pressuring and abusing another person who isn’t even a masochist and doesn’t share the kink is just disgusting. If an author wants to write about a BDSM relationship, they should at least create a protagonist who actually is a masochist or at least submissive and really enjoys this thing.

  5. suttkus says

    Fun fact: The original Scott Pilgrim comics ended with Scott and Ramona realizing they weren’t right for each other and breaking up. The movie would have ended the same way, but the ending didn’t test well, so it was changed.

  6. says

    Shipping, yes… sometimes it’s just that two characters are so perfect for each other (Dean & Castiel) that it’s just natural to hope they get their Happily Ever After. Together. It doesn’t always even have to be romantic or sexual — see Heterosexual Life Partners.

    And yes, there are also canon pairings that just feel wrong (Ron & Hermione). In that specific case, even the author herself has said it was a bad idea.

    It’s 100% A Thing, and you’re all in good company.

    @sennkestra Re: Twilight

    I was Team “Run Before He Kills You”.


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