I’m terrible at romantic relationships.
I won’t go into specific details because those belong in my diary only. But I will say this: as a teenage girl, I wasn’t very popular with boys. At a time when all that matters is whether or not you have a boyfriend to tell your friends about, I was one of those girls who never did.
So, real life be damned, I invested my heart and soul in fictional couples instead. They helped me get through the days when it felt like my lackluster love life had doomed me to a life of solitude. The first on a long list of beloved TV couples who acted as my emotional proxy were Max and Liz from WB’s Roswell.
Back in the late 90s, liking a pairing of characters wasn’t called shipping — it wasn’t called anything. The media didn’t know about it and no one was writing articles on the subject. Ships didn’t have names. (Although some fans had given themselves shipper names: for example, Roswell Max/Liz shippers, myself included, were “dreamers.”) Fans would find each other on scattered fansites and email across continents, wherever opinions and emotions were shared. There were no showrunners on Twitter, no gifs on Tumblr, and online communities weren’t nearly as tangible as social media has since made them.
Shipping is a whole different business today. It’s become accepted as an every-day practice of sorts — albeit for single, idealizing teenage girls. And this wider, more public platform for shipping has only made it more intense an experience. Frankly, browsing some tags on Tumblr scares the hell out of me sometimes. How did these teens become so mean, relentless and insensitive? It might have been harder to connect a decade ago, but things were never like that for me when I was part of that demographic. No one insulted each over who Joey was going to end up with on Dawson’s Creek, or whether Michael did love Maria on Roswell.
Incidentally, I’m also not 12 anymore. (Thank.God.) Let’s just say I’m done with grad school and have been working for a while now. And yet, I still fall in love with fictional couples quite frequently. And I’d like to explain why that’s such an important part of my life even though I’m definitely not a teen anymore.
Ever since graduating from the ranks of junior high school (both physically and emotionally), I’ve discovered that being in a relationship is NOT the end-all-be-all goal of my existence. I think deep down I always knew that, but it took a while for the liberating truth to sink in. Turns out I value my self-realization and career more than the possibility of being offered a ring binding me to one man for the rest of my life. (Why do I always think of Lord of the Rings whenever rings are involved? Guess that’s one insight into my psychology for y’all.)
I enjoy being single. I honestly don’t even know how I would fit a boyfriend into my life. I’m already fighting a losing battle every day trying to fit in sleep with friends, work, family, all the shows I watch and books I read. I’m not excited at the idea of committing to someone for an unforeseeable amount of time/my whole life. I’m already trying to commit to a career and that is nerve-wracking enough on its own.
Here’s the thing though: for someone who’s so intent on and content with being single, I have an incredible amount of love and dedication for my favorite fictional couples. My Twitter and Tumblr are living testament to that fact. I curse characters who get in their way, lament over their missed opportunities, and cheer at the mere sight of physical proximity.
Shipping those couple doesn’t mean I wish I could be consumed by the love the way they are (AhemDelenaTVD). It doesn’t mean I want all my thoughts to revolve around one person. And it also doesn’t mean my sole goal in life is to be a part of such a relationship. About 350 days out of the year, I don’t identify with those emotions.
But then there are those pesky, insufferable 15 days a year when I do.
I find myself thinking it’d be nice to plan a trip somewhere exotic or romantic with a boyfriend, to have the kind of trust that comes with long-running relationships like some well-kept secret single people may never be let in on, or to just have someone.
Whether that’s society conditioning, deep-seated ideas about life and love, or whether romantic love is a basic human necessicity in order to achieve full emotional balance (I sure hope not), deep down, part of me wants that kind of love, too. (Albeit less dramatic and filled with far, far less obstacles.)
And so I still ship couples like I’m still 12 and the fate of my world depends on them making out on my TV screen because those ships make up for that part of my life that’s lacking.
I realize that’s a weird thing to say when you’re a functioning adult (most days anyways), but irrational shipping makes me a more balanced person. It allows me to focus all my romantic emotional frustrations onto fictional characters, and go on about my life without obsessing with unfulfilled romantic expectations.
For that reason alone, I have more love for those favorite fictional couples of mine than I will ever be able to express.