Like many fangirls, I enjoy a good love story. I’ve thrilled along with a lot of the great geek romances, and I have my favorite couples, of course. Katniss and Peeta. Ten and Rose (although Nine and Rose don’t get NEARLY enough love). Ron and Hermione. Amy and Rory. I love a well-executed kissing scene, and I squee with delight when the guy and the girl finally profess their undying love for one another. It’s just a feel-good, warm and fuzzy kind of moment. It’s hard not to get excited.
It probably isn’t surprising that, in my geeky travels across the internet, I have discovered the fangirling phenomenon that is “shipping.” For the uninitiated–this term has nothing to do with boats or your upcoming purchase from Amazon. It has everything to do with supporting a particular pair (or One True Pair, or OTP–seriously, there is so much terminology out there to learn!) and their romance in a particular series–even if that romance is unspoken/nonexistent in the story’s canon.
There are some–what’s a delicate word–“creative” pairs that get devised in the wide world of shipping, fanart, and fanfiction. I’m not here to talk about those. At some point, no explanation is necessary: somebody just wanted to write about two of their favorite characters getting flirty (or WAY MORE THAN FLIRTY) with one another, and logic and storyline simply don’t enter into it. What interests me is the predominance of pairings that involve characters who are not explicitly romantically involved in their respective stories, but have very close and meaningful friendships. Many of these are same-gender relationships, though that is not necessarily the case. Good examples: Sherlock and Watson. Harry and Hermione. Dean and Castiel from Supernatural (just started the show, so I can’t speak a lot into that particular example). A much less well-known but similar example: Detectives Reese and Crews from the Crime procedural show Life.
Now, to be clear (if it wasn’t already abundantly clear from the blend of homo- and heterosexual relationships given in the above examples) my issue is not with the sexuality of the pairings. My views about sexuality warrant a MUCH longer post, but the fact is that there are plenty of homosexual relationships explicitly endorsed in geek culture, and I accept them as canon. What I want to discuss is my frustration with the cheapening of amazing, non-sexual relationships by shoving them into romantic attachments.
Let’s look at Harry and Hermione as an example. They care for one another deeply. They are willing to lay down their lives for one another. They trust one another on an extremely intimate level. And they are in love with other people. And that is completely okay.
A different example–Sherlock and Watson (from BBC’s Sherlock, specifically). They complement one another, even complete one another, in important ways. Sherlock functions better when he has Watson by his side. Watson is most himself when he is caught up in the adventure with Sherlock. They do, in an important way, love each other. And yet, in the show, they are not in love. And that is completely okay.
Beyond the surface level “I think these two would be super cute together,” what are we saying when we pair together every single close friend relationship in the geekiverse and beyond? I think we’re saying something important, something profoundly sad, about how we view the nature of relationship. We are saying that we do not believe in close friendships that remain just that–friendships. We are saying that if a relationship is REALLY intimate, it must be sexually intimate. I’m really uncomfortable with those implications.
I have a lot of guy friends. Fewer than I used to, but there are many that I still consider close enough that we could sit down and talk about anything in our lives. I would trust them with my own life. I would do anything in my power to help them if they were in trouble. I love them. And I love my husband. And he is completely unthreatened by these other loves, because he knows that they are different than my love for him, but still special and important. He would never dream of taking those relationships from me, just as I would never dream of taking close friendships away from him.
I think we need close friendships in our fantasies. We need to know that in addition to the “power of true love” that we love to see played out in a book or on screen, there is a power of friendship that is strong and important. We need to know that moments of closeness between persons can be beautiful and special without being romantic. We need those in our fantasies because we need them in our lives–no matter what our relationship status is right now. We need to know that whether or not we have found “the one,” we are surrounded by love, and that love is still important and real and valuable even if it never becomes romantic. That it is completely okay.
I’m not trying to say that if you “ship” a relationship I’ve mentioned, or any other relationship that is just a friendship in its own canon, that you’re a terrible person or anything like that. I just hope that we can value both a great love story and a great story of friendship, and not feel compelled to always turn the latter into the former.