Last week, I learned a new word: shipping. Not the kind that has to do with boats and sailing the seven seas, but with romance.
For context, about a month ago, I got into a video game my children and husband really enjoy. The game is visually incredible, has a deep and touching story, and takes place in a massive fantasy world. It involves a strong, silent hero who must battle powerful enemies and solve many complicated puzzles on his way to saving the realm from an ancient and evil enemy.
Because this hero is so emotionally restrained and never speaks in the game, and because he works and fights alongside some likeable, beautiful, and worthy women, the fan community has split into deeply entrenched camps concerning who his main love interest should be.
There are a couple of strong contenders and some cryptic hints seeded throughout the game, but we’re never really sure which girl the hero would choose. That is, whom he would choose if the world weren’t on the brink of collapse because of the imminent return of the dark lord.
Yes, the hero is fully occupied with saving the world and has no mental bandwidth to spare for questions of the heart. But this doesn’t stop people from developing passionate opinions over which girl he loves deep within his stoic exterior. The debates rage all over the internet, and watch out what you say on fan forums because people will fight you.
I learned there’s a name for this practice of arguing that two characters should be romantically linked.
It’s called “relationshipping,” or “shipping.” If you’ve got a love triangle where Flora and Samantha are vying for Jason’s affections, and you think he should end up with Flora, you can say, “I ship Jason and Flora.” Those who disagree would dismiss your criticisms of Samantha by saying, “You’re just a Flora shipper. That’s why you never say anything good about Samantha.”
I’ve spent way more time than I ought to turning over in my head which girl the hero of my game would have ended up with if the apocalypse hadn’t come.
In the fan community, shippers in the various camps spend ages poring over every scrap of content they can find. They magnify the obscurest of hints, cross-referencing the various translations of the game, because the original Japanese seems to contain more clues than the English version. People weigh in on whether the French, Spanish, or German translations support the hero’s preference for one girl over another. There’s a huge rabbit trail of YouTube videos, blogs, and forums picking apart every nuance to this character’s minimal love life. Fans are desperate for some sort of closure.
It made me realize that one of the reasons I love romance so much is we’re guaranteed that the right people will end up together.
We don’t have to worry that somebody’s love will go unreturned. This makes my shipping little heart very happy.
But even though as romance writers we know these characters will fall in love, one of the most important and challenging things for me to nail is that authentic unfolding realization of love between a man and a woman.
Proverbs 30:18-19 names falling in love as one of the hardest to understand mysteries of life. “The way of a man with a maiden” stumped even the incredible brain power of the wise writer of the Proverbs. It’s my favorite part of every romance story I read and write.
Although we know this awakening of love will be present, and in that sense it’s predictable, it must still be fresh, emotional, and fully believable.
Are you like me who looks forward to being persuaded that the couple in a romance novel belongs together? What convinces you most? Is it their personalities? A shared history? One special moment? Let me know in the comments.
Two randomly chosen commenters will get an electronic copy of my entire Color-Blind Love series. And one US-based reader will get a monster-sized paperback volume of the full series.