They say it’s about the journey not the destination, but what if the journey was painstakingly slow and often wore away at the very fabric of our sanity? That becomes a lot easier said than done, right? Whoever says that has obviously never known the epic highs and lows of high school football – I’m sorry, I mean the epic highs and lows of shipping slow burn relationships.
According to Fanlore, a slow burn is “where the characters of the main pairing start off not in a relationship and focuses on the slow development of a romantic or sexual pairing.” Shipping (or endorsing the potential relationship between characters to put it in non-fangirl terms) is one of the main joys of consuming media of any kind. If fans are invested in a particular pairing, then they often become more invested in the shows and/or books as a result. Shipping certain characters can also connect fans by allowing them to bond over their shared love of the pair, and can even inspire endless amounts of creativity through memes or fan art. The problem, however, comes with the “slow” part of the slow burn relationship.
In order to analyze the love/hate relationship fans seem to have with slow burns, let’s begin by taking a look one of the most popular slow burn relationships in recent years: Delena from The Vampire Diaries. Keeping in line with the definition of a slow burn, Damon and Elena’s relationship wasn’t initially romantic, as the original main couple of the show was between Elena and Damon’s younger brother, Stefan (aka Stelena amongst the fandom). The two were the opposite of a slow burn as they instantly fell for each other the moment they met in the first episode, and were already sharing their first kiss and starting a romantic relationship by the very next episode.
Then, Damon came into the mix and the show soon came to center around a love triangle between Elena, Stefan, and Damon. Elena and Damon’s relationship begins very fraught as Damon was originally the main antagonist of the series. They slowly become friends and Damon falls in love with her once he learns his past flame never truly loved him. Damon and Elena share small kisses here and there, but it isn’t until the end of season three where the sexual tension becomes so overwhelming that they throw caution to the wind and end up full on making out against a wall. Still, the Delena ship doesn’t fully set sail until the season four finale when they finally, officially, get together. IT’S ABOUT TIME!
Delena embodies one of the main characteristics fans of slow burn relationships must have: patience. While you may love a pairing right from the very beginning, slow burns can take many seasons or books until they come to fruition. We become Captain Barbosa from Pirates of the Caribbean yelling at Will and Elizabeth to JUST KISS ALREADY! While it may become trying at times, in the end (if the author or showrunner deems to give fans what they have been yearning for) all the pain and heartbreak becomes worth it. We just have to get there that’s the hard part. In the words of Aaron Burr…
This might be controversial, but I would say fans stick with slow burns because they are often more rewarding than love-at-first-sight relationships, in the end. To examine this point, let’s look at Claire and Jamie from Outlander. I know it might have felt like years to fans due to the insane chemistry between the two, but only having to wait seven episodes or over 200 pages is relatively short compared to how long it takes other fictional relationships to get together. But can you just imagine how the world would have exploded once Jamie and Claire finally hooked up if it took three seasons to get there? Twitter would have shut down, there would have been parades and people screaming up and down the streets. It would have been chaos, but the amount of joy that would have been felt is immeasurable.
Once you finish a series, whether it be a book or a TV show, you come to appreciate the journey and everything the characters had to go through to get to where they did. Damon and Elena needed to face the Originals, doppelgängers galore, and sleeping curses to reach their happily ever after. Stiles needed to get kidnapped by the Ghost Riders for Lydia to realize what had been right in front of her the whole time.
When you’re in the middle of it though, it’s easier said than done. Each week or each book can be filled with such highs that leave you feeling euphoric, but then just like that, it can come crashing down and you’re left wondering why you still ship them when they only bring you pain. I can’t convince you to stay on a ship you feel is sinking, but I can remind you to have hope that good things will come. Unless it’s a Shonda Rhimes show. Then have no hope. Ever. It will be better that way.
FEATURED IMAGE BY ORIGINAL BOTANICA