This post first appeared on That’s Normal in February, 2015. We had a shipping emergency then, and we’ve had shipping emergencies since. It’s time to review some of the most important fandom advice of our lives.
That lone pillar of etymological standards, [The] Urban Dictionary, defines the term, “shipping,” thusly:
This is most often used on tumblr by fandoms. Fandoms will ship everything and anything. Shipping comes from the word relationSHIP. Basically it is when you want a fictional character, real-life person, or cartoon people to be together. People often write fanfictions about their favorite ship, called their OTP.
This has been proven by anyone who can read to be a terribly composed definition as it gives a place and purpose before actually defining the word, and may, in fact, never do so. So, allow me.
SHIPPING v. is action resulting from a fan’s desire to see a couple (fictional or real) come to fruition. And all that entails.
A SHIPPER n. is that fan with that desire.
A SHIP n. is the couple in question, syn. OTP, or One True Pairing.
Now that we’ve gotten the vocab lessons out duh way … let’s get on with the psychological assessment portion of the evening. Because shipping is a real thing. A thing for which you might need to seek help. Maybe that’s actual real, professional help, or maybe it’s just the commiserating fangirl type help. But let’s at least learn to admit when you have a problem.
I once had one.
Jim and Pam: My First Obsessive Ship
Look at their cute faces.
I’ve read books and watched TV shows and loved characters and cared about their happily ever afters since I was a little girl. But Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly (from The Office, if you are taking notes and are also bad at google) were my first, official OTP.
Meaning: I spent hours online discussing, dissecting and delighting in Jim and Pam. The veritable upset that was the season finale of season 2 led me to the Wonderful Realm of Fanfiction for the first time ever. I’ve never looked back.
But along the way, I learned some valuable life lessons. About love. About fiction vs reality. And about myself. And now I’m going to share them with you. Because if you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably recently found yourself in the midst of a shipping situation. Maybe you don’t know what your feelings are doing. Maybe you are just riding this wave to port and loving every nauseous swell. More power to you. But I should extend this one caveat: Shipping Can Be Hazardous to Your Health. Here’s why.
Your ship chooses you.
I know you think you made this choice all on your own. You picked up the remote, sailed through your Directv guide, and found a great new show, or the best new BBC mini-series. You are all set to enjoy the holy eff outta this drama. You GOT this.
But you don’t. Ships are manufactured by fantastic writer teams to rip out your innards and replace them with ooey-gooey feels you did not ask for. It’s why most ships (even real life or non-canon ones) start out with fiction (I’m excluding the One Direction fandom here because Larry Stylinson was REAL YO), but often bleed into real life. We mere mortals have no control over what’s going on in our hearts.
It’s the hard truth about shipping that sometimes, you really don’t WANT to feel one way about a couple, but you can’t help it. Any mention of the “other woman” (or man) that could potentially ruin your OTP, and your neck gets hot, your jaw clenches and your heart rate spikes. You’re enraged over seemingly nothing. Your ship chose you, and you can’t just dive overboard. You gotta weather this storm.
You have enlisted in a war.
It doesn’t matter how canon or non-canon, real or fictional your ship is. SOMEONE is going to hate it. And they will find you, and they will tell you so.
Shipper Wars never go quietly into the sunset, passing each other at long distant horizons, never to encroach on one another’s seas. Oh no. Shipper Wars are furious, tenacious and sometimes … years running.
Finding like-minded shippers is the easiest thing ever once you go looking for them. Make one post on a forum or on tumblr and tag your ship. They’ll be coming out of the woodwork like termites set to match flame. And, oh the good times you will have: making playlists for each other, attending cons, sending fake “Love, Your OTP” birthday messages to each other, hosting fanwork contests. SHIPPING 5EVA.
But as easy as it can be to find shipmates, it’s even easier to find non-shippers, your anti-shippers. Because while you’re reveling in the beauty of your ship, they are reveling in deconstructing it. Bit by bit. Argument by argument. Point by point. That dissertation you wrote on how Pam’s foray into art school was a necessary part of her individual journey that made her worthy of Jim? That anti-shipper is happy to remind you that Jim doesn’t have an ambition in the world other than Pam, so what does he deserve anyway? Oh, it’s cruel.
But be forewarned: shipper wars can get extremely personal. And oftentimes, innocent people get pulled into them by association. Don’t assume. True story that we’ve witnessed in fandom: a shipper war getting so nasty, that one side DOXXED a fanfiction author to non-shippers, who then called her employers and real life friends and OUTTED her fandom life to them. Shippers be crazy. Be careful out there.
You have met life-ruiners.
Forget being able to sit back and enjoy any awards show, Today Show interview or YouTube perusal ever again. Nothing on E! will ever just be entertainment for a shipper. You are now in a CIA-level, high priority online mission to scout out any and all passing glances, gif opportunities, random spoilery soundbites, or viable threats relating to your ship.
Did the camera pan by them close-huddle talking in the Golden Globes audience? Did someone refer to the season 4 penultimate episode as a “total game changer?” Did you see that look she gave him in episode 11 that is the most gif-able moment of all time? Did you put TeamBeesly’s new fanfic on alert yet because it updates on Australian time. Welcome to your new shipper life.
You will have time for nothing else. Even if your OTP is largely fictional and on-screen, you will still manipulate every appearance for the benefit of fanvids and fanart. You will still scour every Getty Image Gallery for that one lasting look that will be amazing on your laptop wallpaper. You will be up until 3am finishing this amazing fanfic and will be totally gross at work tomorrow. You will spend 7 hours of that gross work day in photoshop putting just the right quote overlay for your monthly Shipper Calendar. Goodbye, regular life.
You lose when you make it personal.
This is where we draw a very distinct shipping line (omg I’m so full of shipping metaphors … where is the SEO on this post gonna lead us?) between ships that are FICTIONAL and those that are REAL LIFE.
A fictional OTP (like Jim and Pam) is not likely to hurt you. Writers know we want happy endings, or at least satisfying ones, and they very rarely leave us hanging on that score (still a little burnt about Harry and Draco, though, Jo Rowling). But when you start to turn your ship into REALITY WATERS, you immediately begin to slowly, almost imperceptibly, sink.
I wasn’t ever really into John/Jenna as a ship. After all, when The Office started, Jenna Fisher was married, and a single John Krasinski fueled my fantasies a lot better than an attached one. But you couldn’t deny their chemistry.
It was a beautiful thing to watch. But Enter the Dragon, ie the Other Woman of season 3, Karen. All of the sudden, SHIP GOT REAL.
Karen Filipelli was introduced as a smart character: a pretty, funny and interesting woman who made a viable choice for Jim when he was rejected by Pam. I hated her instantly of course. But Karen was played by the very talented Rashida Jones, whom I did not know before she was cast on The Office and whom I also instantly hated. Notice there is no “of course” at the end of that sentence because my hatred of Rashida Jones was totally and completely … untenable.
Rashida was not Karen. (And to be honest, in the context of The Office, there wasn’t a whole lot of reasons to hate on Karen the way us shippers did back then either. She was an innocent bystander to Jim and Pam’s annoyingly tragic misconnect). Karen was not Rashida. But I hated her nonetheless. When rumors erupted that Rashida and John were a once-couple (and his connections helped land her the job) and that since filming started they had rekindled their relationship, I WAS BESIDE MYSELF.
Somehow, without my express permission, my ooey-gooey feelings about the very fictional JAM had exploded all over my pristine sanity with regard to actors and privacy when it came to Rashida. I wanted her just … gone. And that irrational dislike really, REALLY ate at my enjoyment of the show.
When I made it personal, I lost something I had loved about the show … the escape. It made me bitter and it made me SUPER hate season 3 of The Office which is arguably one of the best. Shipping in real life is a losing battle.
You do not know them.
Real Life Ships cannot be tabulated with pictures, twitter followers, interview niceties and PR stunts. You think you can navigate the world of paparazzi photos, rumors that a friend of a friend saw them vacationing over New Years in some tropical clime (this happened with John and Rashida and I was inconsolable), but it’s all complete and total HOGWASH.
You can’t tell anything from a still photograph. The human face is capable of a myriad of flickers of emotions from one second and shutter click to the next. What looks like ardent love could be a squelched belch. You.Never.Know.
Because … you don’t know them. No matter how personable they seem on the red carpet. No matter how sweet he was to you when you saw him in line at Starbucks while he was filming that indie in Connecticut, you don’t know them. How would your personal life look to outsiders if all they saw of it was Just Jared?
Fictional Ships? Those you can know. You have words and dialogue and gif sets and exposition and other characters and plot development telling you what is true. Letting you into your ship’s world because they want you there. Even if your OTP is non-canon, you have theories and fanfiction backing you up, giving you hope. And a non-canon OTP never hurt anyone (unless you’re into Castiel).
But you can’t know the people you’ve pulled into your real-life ship. They are strangers to you. And needing them to be together in real life to make your little shipper heart beat faster is the most dangerous ship to board. They may seem perfect for one another, but that’s an illusion. And even if it isn’t, it may not always be.
You will always love them together.
A shipper’s heart rarely ever dies. Even if the ship does. The good news is, you can always return to the medium that made you fall in love with your OTP and re-live and re-love the glory days ad infinitum. Very rare is the day that I see a JAM gif on tumblr and don’t immediately break out into a giant shipper smile.
But this shipper truth has a sharp edge as well. The bad news. When a ship dies, and you go on to see one side or the other with someone else. It hurts. Sometimes you live in denial (check out #RobstenIsUnbroken for a good dose of that). Sometimes you live in bitterness (again #Unbroken, or just any fandom think pieces on FKA Twigs). Sometimes you just have to let the whole ship sail away. But you never quit loving them as you did when you first set sail.
So, be careful out there, shippers. With your heart and with each other.
What are your ultimate OTPs? Who have you shipped in real life or otherwise that you wished you hadn’t? What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done in the name of your ship?
Beth is the proud sponsor of two little women and a huge fan of fandom. She took 3 years of Latin in high school and now speaks fluent pretension, which fully explains her current preference for gay wizard regency novels. She will roll over for a giant book with a map in the front. She takes comic book recommendations every day but Wednesday and TV recommendations never (she knows what's good).