Apr 3 2012 5:17pm

I’ll Ship If I Want To: A Romance Fan’s Thoughts on Shipping and Shippers

David and Maddie in MoonlightingWhile watching Moonlighting, did you find yourself pulling for Maddie and David to end up together? Did you tune in to The X-Files every week as much for Mulder and Scully’s chemistry as for the cases? Do you think New Girl’s Nick and Jess should admit they have a thing for each other already? Are you hoping Will and Alicia give it another go in The Good Wife? If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, you might be “shipping” TV couples. And if you find yourself rooting for, or shipping, a fictional couple, you are what’s known as a “shipper.”

Thanks to the success of Twilight-fan fiction-turned-erotic-novel Fifty Shades of Grey and the well-known wars among The Hunger Games (Team Peeta vs. Team Gale) and Twilight (Team Edward vs. Team Jacob) and The Vampire Diaries (Team Damon vs. Team Stefan) fans, shipping and shippers have been getting more exposure in the mainstream media than usual. Since this coverage, from what I can tell, has not been very flattering, I’d guess those not already familiar with the idea and terminology have not been in any rush to run out and learn more.

The Vampire Diaries cover of Entertainment WeeklyBut despite what you may have heard (*cough*Entertainment Weekly*cough*), shipping does not make you one of “TV’s weirdest fans.” Not least because shipping applies to far more than television—there are shippers out there for books, movies, and video games as well—and because we shippers are not, in fact, unicorns.

While the term shipping, which is commonly believed to have originally been short for “relationshipping,” may be an Internet phenomenon, the idea behind it is far from new. Defined on Wikipedia as “the belief that two fictional characters, typically from the same series, are in an intimate relationship, or have romantic feelings that could potentially lead to a relationship,” shipping is simply the expression of fans’ interest and affection for the romance in a story.

Shippers are a well-known part of online culture and are constantly banding together to form communities—part of larger “fandoms,” so called because they are made up of all the fans of a particular work—devoted to the fictional couple of their choice. Members of these often close-knit communities follow each other across all sorts of social media sites, including LiveJournal, Dreamwidth, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, to name a few.

Mulder and Scully cuddle in The X-FilesIn these communities, shippers hold discussions, post fan works (including fan fiction, fan videos, fan art, and fan mixes), share news, and more. In this way, the original work serves as a sort of springboard for all sorts of fun, creative, not-for-profit (this is important) expression that fellow fans can appreciate and enjoy. And that’s what it’s all about.

Many people look down on shippers for their dedication to a fictional work’s relationships, as if this means they can’t be interested in all the other aspects as well, which is ridiculous and insulting, but nothing that romance fans haven’t heard before. Personally, I think a shipper’s approach to literary criticism is as valid as any other, period. But that’s another post.

Jackson and April in Grey’s AnatomyAs a romance fan and serial shipper myself, I’ll admit I am usually first drawn to a show (or a book or a movie...) for its potential relationships—well, and hot actors, ’cause I’m shallow like that. But while a certain pairing may be a big interest (even a primary interest) of mine in a show, I am normally as invested in the overall story as the next viewer.

Which is not to say that I am not right now, as I type this, watching the last episode of Grey’s Anatomy and finding myself ever so slightly annoyed with Jackson Avery for falling into bed with what’s-her-name, the visiting doctor his mom set him up with, rather than April Kepner, whom I’ve been kinda-sorta shipping him with for a while now....

Hey, it’s what I do!

So tell me: Are you part of any fandom, or are you a more casual viewer/reader? Would you consider yourself a shipper? Why or why not? And if so, who are your ships/One True Pairings (OTPs) in fiction?


Kara and Lee Hug in Battlestar Galactica Season 4, He That Believeth in MeJust for fun, here are a few of my past and present TV ships (if I went into books and movies, we could be here all day!):

Kara/Lee, Battlestar Galactica

Logan/Veronica, Veronica Mars

Barney/Robin, How I Met Your Mother

Max/Liz, Roswell

Michael/Sara, Prison Break

Josh/Donna, The West Wing

Rabbit/Nancy, Trauma

Mary/Marshall, In Plain Sight

Tyler/Caroline, The Vampire Diaries

Victor/Sierra, Dollhouse

Booth/Bones, Bones

Sydney/Vaughn, Alias

Mulder/Scully, The X-Files

Cary/Kalinda, The Good Wife

Peluso/Finn, Conviction

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Christopher Morgan
1. cmorgan
Deffinitly fall into the video-game catagory. Talimancer 4 life.
Heather Waters
2. HeatherWaters
@cmorgan -- Talimancer, huh? Starbuck/Apollo shippers sometimes referred to the 'ship as "Starpollo" back in the day. Kinda glad that didn't stick. (Pilots 4ever!)
Megan Frampton
3. MFrampton
Until I started working with you, Heather, I had no idea that such an organized community existed! I knew I'd rooted for various couples to get together along the way--it's what romance readers do--but I didn't know it was a thing.
Now I know it's a thing, I don't feel so weird for secretly wishing Harry and Hermione had gotten together, or Dr. Ross and Nurse Carol on ER or whatever other pairings crossed my mind.
Thank you!
Naz Keynejad
4. nazkey
*high fives* Preach it sister!

PS You're a Josh/Donna shipper too?? How did I not know this??? I love you even more now!
5. Laura_FitzG
I'm with @cmorgan on this. Talimancer! Woot! I also support the Tali/Garrus ship. It is so tragic that they will never be together in my Mass Effect playthroughs since they are my two favorite romance options.

My number one ship though, the command ship of the fleet, will always be Kenshin and Kaoru from Rurouni Kenshin.
Christy Black
6. ChristyRae2012
Ha ha ha! I just took a break from editing a fanfiction that I'm writing to read this column. (Katniss/Seneca movie-verse, for those who are curious)
I've been a shipper all my life but didn't know what it was until Buffy came along. I was all about Buffy and Spike and will be forever. I have noticed that in the 10 years or so since I became interested in fanfiction and "shipping" it has gotten a lot more rabid. These fangirls today are serious and they will cut you, lol.
Currently shipping:
Damon/Elena - The Vampire Diaries
Katniss/Seneca Crane - The Hunger Games
Penny/Sheldon- The Big Bang Theory
Christy Black
7. ChristyRae2012
Oh, I forgot...

I tend to go for non-canon 'ships.

I will always 'ship no matter what. It's inevitable when romance is involved or possible and I really don't enjoy books or movies much where romance is not an important element of the plot.

Love makes the world go round after all.
9. ChelseaMueller
Until I started working with you, Heather, I had no idea that such an organized community existed! I knew I'd rooted for various couples to get together along the way--it's what romance readers do--but I didn't know it was a thing.
THIS! Heather made me feel much more normal about my backing the relationship subplot potential in non-romance movies/TV/etc.
Laura K. Curtis
10. LauraKCurtis
Back in the day, I was a hard core Moonlighting and Remington Steele fan and it was ALL about the relationships! Today, of course, there's Castle/Beckett.

I really want to ship some characters in Once Upon a Time, but people keep dying or disappointing me, so I can't!
11. Grace S
I was insane, INSANE shipper for Luke and Lorelai on Gilmore Girls and would stroke out everytime Lorelai did some lame brained thing with her idiot ex, Christopher. UGH.

Fow what it's worth, despite what Miss Rowling thought up, I always thought Neville and Luna would make a great couple, ditto for Harry and Hermione. :)

In Marvel universe, I want Rogue and Wolverine to be together forever. I cannot get on board her being with Gambit.
Lana Baker
12. lanalucy
For me, TV is ALL about the 'ships. But I watch for all the relationship intricacies, not just the romantic ones. Yes, I wish for couples to be together romantically or sexually, but I love to watch the way people interact with each other, the points upon which friendship either deepens or fractures (Grimm comes to mind as a recent example), how people learn to trust each other. If my TV shows can't do that, I drop 'em like a hot ball of lead.

Occasionally, if there is superfluous hot shirtlessness, such as on Hawaii 5-0, I can be persuaded to continue watching even though there is no romantic relationship in the works. I mean shameless shallowness has its place, too. :D
Kiersten Hallie Krum
13. Kiersten
Ahem - Rogue & Gambit 4 Evah.

I was a shipper without knowing it as it is always the relationships that get me and keep me loving a show with story following a quick second. If I don't care for the characters, I am not going to care for the show. Often, it's to deep disappointment as showrunners seem to delight in keeping my people apart, even when they started it by setting them up together in the first place (Veronica/Logan, Buffy/Spike). They had to work to get me on the Josh/Donna bandwagon b/c so much of their early relationship was bro/sis, but once she cut loose, it began to work (really well) for me.

Do I need to mention Bo and Dyson of Lost Girl? Oh look at that, I just did.

Romance deals with relationships and the business and courtship of falling in love and none of that can happen without emotion and emotional commitment, both between the characters and from the fans.
14. Rose In RoseBear
(superior sniff) Young folk nowadays ...

I was a Spock/Uhura 'shipper before Zachary Quinto was conceived. I was way into K/S slash fanzines in the late Seventies, and I still own a few with the lewd and lush Gayle Feyrer (aka Taylor Chase) covers, drawn before she started writing. I wrote fan fiction for the original Battlestar Galactica ... you know, the real one? (laughing!)

You left out a great ship ... Derek Morgan and Penelope Garcia, from Criminal Minds. Something's happening there, and I'm not sure what ...!
Carmen Pinzon
15. bungluna
I have one relationship that I root for but not in a romantic way. I keep wishing that Mary/Marshall remain the best of friends, but get the feeling that they're heading for a romance by the end of the series.

I also love the bromance between Danny and Steve in Hawaii 5O.
Clare 2e
16. clare2e
Love this, Heather!
Spock/Uhura, YES! @ Rose In RoseBear

My first encounter with the phenom was in junior high, when a friend of mine was writing Battlestar Galactica (v. 1.0) stories about the show's characters. Have no idea where she got the notion, but we'd sit on her couch as she wrote passionately pro-Apollo storylines with temporary girlefirends who'd always die leaving him adorably weepy and bereft. I wrote mine about Starbuck, just because I'm a contrarian like @ChristyRae2012 (i.e. I adore Dean, but there's a Sam thing that just works for me!)

Loved Moonlighting back when, but I was absolutely mental for Remington Steele. Yes Mulder/Scully, Buffy/Spike, and I was very Angel/Cordelia--completely agonizing and unfulfilling, btw.

Now, I'm interested in Garcia/Morgan, Cas-kett of course, David/Snow (MM/James--meh.) I actually like VD's Klaus and Caroline as a notion and always want Bonnie to get back to hating Damon in a way that makes their relationship inevitable *ducks _redline's tomato* I loved Deanna Raybourne's Silent series because that was a 3-book arc of tense, fantastic torment before Lady Julia and Brisbane got together.

I don't produce material for any particular fandom, cause I'm so squeezed for time, but I'm completely entertained by what people create, especially now the Benedict Cumberbatch/ Martin Freeman Sherlock/John shipping. It's intense, innovative, hilarious, and everywhere! I could mention more, but will spare you. Oh yes, I 'ship.
17. taragel
Nice job bb. I still can't believe we only have two real TV ships in common (ok, and a little logan/veronica for the chemistry). Lol. Did you not watch Dawson's Creek/feel shipping about Pacey/Jo? I can't recall...
18. Rose In RoseBear
@Clare2e --- You and your friend are nearly exact duplicates of me and my pal Robin!

She adored Apollo, but I browbeat her into letting me strand him on a planet for thirty years while the fleet assumed he was dead. (So satisfying, to get rid of that twit!) We made Starbuck the Flight Captain, and even gave him a family (!!!). THEN we brought Apollo back, and killed the idiot off for real ... oh, the drama! Oh, the fun!

Oh, well, who wasn't mental for Remington Steele? Pierce Brosnan still makes me light-headed! But I only felt the need to write fanfic for SF TV shows.

If you had the time, what fanfic would you write?
Anna Bowling
19. AnnaBowling
Well. Ahem. Getting involved with the romantic lives of television characters is....one of the best things ever. I am now and will forever be a shipper. Have been all along. I refuse to recognize any iteration of Wonder Woman in which Diana and Steve do not have a love for the ages. Thus began my first ship.

Current OTPs for me include:
Barney/Robin - HIMYM
Booth/Bones - Bones
Garcia/Morgan - Criminal Minds
Leonard/Penny - Big Bang Theory
Shawn/Juliette - Psych
Mortimer/Bella - The Sims computer games

Things look favorable for Nick/Jess on The New Girl, so I'm keeping them on my watch list.

Classic OTPs:

Mick/Beth -Moonlight
Duncan/Tessa - Highlander
Worf/Troi - Star Trek: The Next Generation
Remington/Laura - Remington Steele
Joey/Caitlin - Degrassi (all generations)
20. kreads4fun
Remember Sam and Diane on Cheers? The lesson is always that the show, book, whatever is great as long as it is driven by the sparks and tension, but it frequently goes down hill once the protagonists get together, a la Moonlighting. I sit on the edge of my seat every week watching Castle because I know the writers have created two characters who love each other, but am afraid the show will have no story if they ever get it together. This is a tight rope walk in so many stories. Look at Stephanie Plum...
21. Susan F.
It makes me so sad that Veronica Mars ended with Veronica and Piz together. LoVe (Logan/Veronica) all the way! I also loved Josh/Donna from West Wing and Lois/Clark from The New Adventures of Superman (the Dean Cain one). Currently I'm all about Booth/Bones, Barney/Robin, and Leonard/Penny on Big Bang Theory.
22. Romiross
I agrees much with you!!! I always been attracted to series for their potential shipps. Remington Steel, X-files, Beauty and the Beast (tv series from the 90's), one time Rogue/Gambit,now a Rogue/Magneto shipper,
Moonlighting was the first to break my heart!!

Now I am a Prentiss/Hotch hardcore shipper,but this season was so disappointing (Botch...ughh),that I'm shipping Emily with another characters, even Doyle and Clyde from her arc "Lauren" from last season.
Carmen Pinzon
23. bungluna
@kreads4fun- I disagree with the notion that a series will automatically decline if the protagonists have a steady relationship. I think it's lazyness on the part of the writers that keeps them throwing sexual tension at us until there is no posible way that the payoff could be anything but a disaster. Either get them together and explore the tribulations of a relationship or keep them appart permanently and skip the dreaded "will they-won't they" story line.
Regina Thorne
24. reginathorn
Oh, a post after my own heart! Although I have read/watched and loved many books and tv shows without a romantic relationship at the heart, I increasingly think that the ones WITH 'ships are the ones I come back to.

My number one relationship of all time (OK, maybe the last decade) is Jaime Lannister and a character we haven't met yet on the TV show (she first appears this season though). And part of the joy/terror of starting each new novel in the series is my fear that George R. R. Martin has killed one or the other of them off - one side benefit of the enormously long wait between books is that I know that at least for a few years, my 'ship is still "alive." :P (On the show so far, I find myself reluctantly a Jaime/Cersei 'shipper - I find their twisted dynamic of courtly romance really enthralling and the actors are just gorgeous together.)

I tend to be more of a 'shipper for tv shows than for books (because books don't last as long and I can always flip to the end to see if the characters end up together, but a couple of exceptions to this rule are Phillipa and Lymond in Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles and Katniss/Peeta in The Hunger Games. I guess a book SERIES is often long enough to make me a 'shipper.)

And TV, well, SO many 'ships: I was a rabid Lee/Kara 'shipper and I loved Buffy/Spike and Wesley/Lilah in the universe created by Joss Whedon. I also adored (ADORED!) John Crichton and Aeryn Sun in "Farscape" and recently I've discovered the addictive delights of Jax and Tara on "Sons of Anarchy." I ship, therefore I am :P
Claire Louise Thompson
25. Nefersitra
@ Kiersten and Grace S - I take it you don't read the comics then where Rogue's taken back up with Magneto (ignore the fact he's been de-aged to his 40s; he was a young adult in WWII)? After Remy broke up with her, telling her that he knew she was his "heart and harbour" but he wouldn't be with her until she could say the same. A-hem. I've always shipped - even before I knew it was a thing. I was really annoyed as an 8 year old when Caspian married the Star's daughter in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, didn't he realise he was supposed to marry Lucy so she could stay in Narnia forever? Jo/Laurie in Little Women broke my heart when she refused him and then he married Amy (who I disliked immensely mainly for not being Jo or Beth).
26. wsl0612
@Nefersitra - thanks for bringing up Jo/Laurie/Amy, I too was EXTREMELY upset when Jo turned him down and dislike Amy passionately! @Grace S - I refuse to buy Gilmore Girls dvds because there wasn't the proper payoff with a Luke/Lorelai ship. That's why the writers should pay attention to these things :-) And to speak of British tv - I'm all about Doc Martin/Louisa and was I ever pissed when the Lexie/Archie ship didn't really take on Monarch of the Glen!
Stephanie Treanor
27. Streanor
Applause for throwing Moonlighting up there! I think they are truly one of the BEST TV shippers!

I have to throw up there Sam/Starbuck BSG.. you know i do!! :P

And finally Pacie/Joey for my Dawson Creek obession
28. kae
How about a post on alternte shipping? For Alias, I ship Sydney+Sark. I think this is my favorite ship from all my favorites from tv.
30. Desiree M.
I am such a shipper, I even self-proclaimed myself a 'shipper-whore' because I love so many different ships it's not even funny.

It all started with Cody/Dana (Step by Step), Rogue/Gambit (X-Men) and Usagi/Mamoru (Sailor Moon) those were my first three favorites as a young teen. And it spiraled out of control from there. LOL.

Now my favorites in TV (and some movies) are...

Buffy/Angel(us) (BtVS/Angel)
Buffy/Spike (BtVS/Angel)
Liz (Roswell)/Michael, Rath, Tess, Kyle, Alec (Dark Angel), Dean (Supernatural), Cole (Charmed), and basically anyone else.
Marie/Logan (X-Men movies)
Damon/Elena (Vampire Diaries)
Nathan/Haley (One Tree Hill)
Brooke/Lucas (OTH)
Kaylee/Jayne (Firefly)
Elizabeth/Jason (General Hospital)
Elizabeth/Ric (GH)
Elizabeth/almost any male on the show (GH)
Aria/Ezra (Pretty Little Liars)
Billy/Chloe (Young and the Restless)
Kathryn/Sebastian (Cruel Intentions)
Cesare/Lucrezia (The Borgias) - yes I know they are brother/sister but the two actors have such chemistry that I don't care that they're related.

And this is just my seriously slimmed down list. There are at least 75 more in movies, tv, and books that I love but these are my top top ones.
31. whiskeywhite
@Rose In RoseBear -- Derek Morgan and Penelope Garcia, from Criminal Minds. Yes! But there's a distinct brother/sister vibe there, despite the sexy dialogue. And I'm trying to cast my mind back 47 years as an original trekkie. I don't think I had the imagination to ship Spock and Uhura. The focus was all on Kirk. I wonder if it would have been easier or harder at that time to have the first inter-racial TV kiss be an inter-species kiss?

Ah, @LauraKCurtis, I haven't thought about Remington Steele in years. But oh yes.

I'm currently shipping Dyson and Bo of Lost Girl. But there are days I feel Dyson and anybody. And, OK (blush), I want Cat and Vincent from Beauty and the Beast to make it. But I was a fan of the original Catherine and Vincent (1987-90). Linda Hamilton was nominated for two Golden Globes and an Emmy for that role.

Good point @bungluna about exploring "the tribulations of a relationship." Novel new idea, eh?

It just occurred to me as I was writing this that I tend to root for relationships across difficult divides. No doubt a reflection of 30 years in a inter-cultural, inter-racial relationship and another 15 years of similar warm-up practice before that. I remember my mother telling me that coming from the same background in the same small town made it easier for her and my father. There are days I long for easier, but too much similarity for me = boring.
32. Sister C
I'm a 'shipper, too, long-standing fighter in the Spuffy Wars. I always root for the relationships in most every show I watch, whether it's a regular canon ship, like Ross & Rachael or non-canon (Spock+ Kirk) I seem to prefer the scruffy and obnoxious (Logan, Spike) over the good-for-you boys, too.
and don't forget the hotness that is
Heather Waters
33. HeatherWaters
It's so cool to see everyone's various 'ships over the years, thanks for sharing!

@Desiree M. -- I 'ship Cesare/Lucrezia too! No worries, I think anyone who's seen the show gets why we do.

@whiskeywhite -- In fiction, too much similarity bores me too. Give me all the hurdles and complications, please.

@Sister C -- Does this mean you're a Veronica/Logan aka LoVe shipper? Right on! I also really love Mulder/Scully, and while I just started watching Luther recently, already the Luther/Alice scenes are my favorite part.
34. Sean Anderson
We guess we're really late to the party. But we are taking our shipping out a whole new door. We have set up the non-profit Ryu X Chun-Li Project to finaly bring the two titular Street Fighter characters togeteher in print, well digital print anyway. ;-)

We have an attraction video:


A blog:


And a Facebook Page:


We are in the process of producing a graphic novel based on our OTP, and we are 78% complete. We will be releasing it for free on the internet on February 14th, 2015. It will be over 200 pages And besides the main story, there are art and mini-comics appendicies bursting with content.

We are very passionate about our work, and look forward to sharing it with the world.

Thanks very much for your article. It was both informative, and a pleasure to read! :-D
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