I’m a pretty spoiled fangirl when it comes to “ships.” From Sydney and Vaughn to Leslie and Ben, most of my favorite fictional pairs got together after only a couple of seasons of waiting.
However, we all have those fictional couples who taught us patience. Whether it was for Mulder and Scully or Luke and Lorelai, we’ve all known the pain of waiting season after season (after season) for longing looks and banter to turn into something more. We’ve all known the fear that maybe the show would end before we’d know what it’s like to see them as a couple. But we also all know the pure fun of these long-term “Will they or won’t they?” couples—the excitement that came every time they hugged after an intense moment, the hope we felt every time they smiled at each other, and the sense of certainty that each finale would be the finale when the finally got together (only to have that certainty be dashed time and again, until one finale suddenly became the finale).
The first fictional relationship that taught me the value of patience was Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter series. I came into that fandom as a 13-year-old who had the first four books at her disposal. By the end of the second book, I knew Ron and Hermione were going to end up together. (I mean, come on; they were the Han and Leia of children’s literature.) But the wait for them to get there was torture. I started the series in eighth grade; I finished it the summer before my sophomore year in college. During that time, I had to suffer through books where they spent half the time not talking, different significant others for each of them, and the constant fear that one of them (Ron) was going to die before they got together. But also during that time, I also got to experience the little details that make those fictional relationships—the ones where we feed on every little interaction—so special: fights during the Yule Ball, names called while drifting in and out of consciousness, comforting hugs, and kisses on cheeks.
It’s those little moments that we often have the fondest memories of when we think back on a given “ship.” Because those were the moments that we analyzed for hours and hours with our friends both online and in person, building our case for how we knew they had to end up together. It’s that way with all slow-burn fictional couples. The waiting teaches us to appreciate the value of one line, one touch, and one look. Sometimes that’s enough to sustain us through even the darkest “shipper” seasons.
When it comes to television, as I said before, I’m pretty spoiled. However, I paid my dues with Castle. I spent four full seasons watching Castle and Beckett’s relationship develop from tension to respect to a love they were both finally willing to admit and accept. I knew from the end of the pilot that I was hooked; I was going to “ship” those two characters until the end. And while there was never really any doubt that Castle and Beckett were going to end up together eventually, it still wasn’t always an easy ride.
There was Demming. There was Gina. (The Season Two finale of Castle made me cry embarrassingly hard when I first watched it—because I really thought that was going to be the finale for them.) There were walls and fears and shootings and PTSD.
But there were also the magical moments you only get with couples that make you wait years to see them get together. There were cups of coffee offered every day. There was hand-holding by a hotel pool. There were hugs and smiles and stories shared about the things that made these people who they are. And when I think back to many of my favorite moments between Castle and Beckett, they’re mainly these moments—the little signs that these characters were slowly finding their way to one another, and we were going to get to watch every step on their journey.
Yes, it’s fun to be spoiled. It was great to see Emma and Hook kiss for the first time on Once Upon a Time only a year after he was introduced. It was great to see Mindy and Danny in a relationship only two years after The Mindy Project started. However, there’s something to be said for enjoying a long wait. There’s something to be said for the appreciation slow-burn relationships give us for the little moments, especially the little moments of emotional intimacy. By making fans wait for the big romantic moment, these shows or book series or movie series help readers understand that sometimes the little moments are even better, because they feel so deeply personal for these characters and their specific journey. I’ve seen so many first kisses and professions of love, but I’ve only seen one character explain to another why she loves a cheesy soap opera. And that moment (in Castle’s third season) was worth about a hundred first kisses to me.
And when those relationships we wait for finally happen, it’s usually worth every bit of angst we endured along the way. When Castle and Beckett finally got together, it felt earned. It was a moment of celebration and happiness for a fandom that had waited four full seasons to see our favorite characters get to that place. And it’s a moment I think back on often when I’m wondering about whether or not the “Will they or won’t they?” couples I love now are worth the wait.
When it’s killing me to watch Harvey ignore his feelings for Donna on Suits, I think of Castle and Beckett. When I wonder if I’m crazy for thinking there’s hope for something more between Jaime and Brienne in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, I think of Ron and Hermione. And then I remember that sometimes the fictional couples that make you want to scream “JUST KISS ALREADY!” are the ones who will make you jump for joy the highest when they finally do kiss. Patience is a virtue, and I’m forever grateful for the past and present slow-burn couples I’ve loved in my years as a fangirl for teaching me to be patient. There are things in life worth waiting for, and a great “ship” is one of them.
So tell me, fellow fangirls (and fanboys), which slow-burn “ships” taught you patience during your years in fandom? And which ones are currently testing your patience now?