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What Is a Ship?

The 1 Fandom Term You NEED to Know

Image Source: The CW

To pull for a pair so hard it hurts. To hold out hope for a fictional couple's love even when it goes against all odds. To create a relationship that may not be real, but it feels like it should be. To believe that it could become canon if you send really intense vibes to the writers. To ship.

My first experience with shipping was circa 1999. I was in fifth grade, and I was sneaking episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer while my parents were out. The episode was "Something Blue" and mortal enemies Buffy and Spike — due to a magic spell gone awry — were suddenly making out all over the place and planning their nuptials. Oh, I found myself unexpectedly thinking. Yes to THIS. Thus, my Spuffy ship set sail, and 17 years later, I am still aboard it.

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Ship, as in, I will go down with. The word comes from "relationship," but I've found over the years the nautical metaphors are really quite numerous. Often (but not always), ships are unrealistic relationship pairings that fans will never see come to fruition. The unattainability of it is kind of part of the draw. Other ships that stir the deepest of emotions are ones based on unrequited love, ones that cross barriers of the characters' canon sexual preferences, or the ones that are so wrong they are just right.

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There is nothing more rewarding than a ship "pulling a Spuffy" and actually forming (based, I'd like to think, on sheer force of will from the fanbase). Imagine getting taunted with a piece of something tasty and having the idea of it dangling in front of you for years while you drool all over the place like a damn fool. Then, one day, you're blessed with a tiny morsel — a kiss, a lingering glance, or even the smallest innuendo to indicate that your waiting wasn't all in vain. The flame of your simmering fandom fire is relit with vigor, and you know then you're in for the long haul with this one. Your OTP (one true pairing) might just happen after all.

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What's almost as rewarding is when writers go SUPER meta on fans and make references in the actual show, book series, movie, etc., to the ships they know exist within fandoms, as an awesome nod to those of us pulling for our favorite people. Case in point: a Supernatural episode in season 10 called "Fan Fiction," which makes references to the sexual chemistry between characters Dean and Castiel, which will go down in history as the day Destiel shippers everywhere died of pure happiness/laughter/joy.

Ships can also be "real" people — just ask One Direction fans about "Larry Stylinson." They can also be really out there — Harry Potter fans who follow the Drapple ship or those knowledgable about Wincest (Dean and Sam Winchester aka two brothers aka incest) know what I'm talking about here. You can also ship characters who really are together in a fandom. For instance, I ship Damon and Elena from The Vampire Diaries, and they are (more or less/kind of sometimes) together. I also ship Rowaelin (Throne of Glass series), Dramione (Harry Potter series), Clace and Malec and Wessa (The Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series) . . . seriously my list of ships goes on and if someone doesn't stop me I will literally talk about it all day and forever.

Image Source: The CW

So in short, a ship is a romantic relationship beloved by fans (or, fine, a type of watercraft with the ability to sail). But for fans, a ship is an emotional roller coaster, it's the reason we read or watch something, it's the source of our fan fiction, our fan art, our hours of discussions on Tumblr. It's a verb, it's a noun, it's a lifestyle. It's often the heartbeat of a fandom, the thing that drives our passion and makes us love the fandom even more. Shipping is fun; shipping hurts; shipping is emotional; shipping is part of what turns fans into fanatics. And I proudly will go down with all of mine.

Image Source: Giphy

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