Why we ship*, and the benefits of shipping, could fill books. Our ships make us squee, warm our cold, dead hearts, and give us hope for ourselves and the world.
But WHY do we ship? Simply, we ship because we get something out of it. It has real benefits to our mental health as well. Here are some of the reasons why I think our OTPs keep us coming back again and again.
Mirror neurons. In a fundamentally biological way, I think mirror neurons probably play a large role in our shipping tendencies. Mirror neurons fire when we observe behavior, the same as if we were to engage in the behavior ourselves. When we witness people flirting, pining or agnstily longing, or being in love, we get a small dose of the chemicals that go along with those things. And who wouldn’t want that? You know how your stomach gets in knots, and you feel squirmy excitement when your ship makes heart eyes at each other? Those are mirror neurons! Good stuff.
Hope. Shipping can give us hope. Sometimes it’s an escape from day-to-day life to scroll through Tumblr looking at an endless stream of GIFs, to read that 400,000 word fanfic, or to watch compilation videos of our ships on YouTube. But, within that, lives some kind of dream. Maybe it’s that we will one day be in love. Maybe it’s that the world isn’t such a terrible place. It could be anything. Shipping can help us keep hope alive, even when we might be struggling. And having hope is an essential part of maintaining mental wellness.
Community. I don’t think it’s possible for shipping to happen in a vacuum. We are, in some way, even if it’s passively, engaging with creators, other fans, or media that relate to, or drive our ships. Community is important from a mental health perspective. We make sense of ourselves and the world based on being in relationship with other people. (That goes for these parasocial relationships as well.) We are social creatures, and instinctively want to find ways to connect, feel accepted, and build community. Ships are a personal, meaningful, and (usually) fun way to do that.
Of course, there are downsides to everything. If shipping is taking up all your time, causing anxiety, or creating difficulties in your life or relationships, it might be time to rethink.
If you’re having relationship issues IRL, or just want a therapist who understands the hows and whys of your ships, get in touch today.
*In this context, ship/shipping is referring to the fandom-related act, not the transportation or postage-related acts. 🙂