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Fan-Preferred Couple

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Don't worry, Aang. You still have canon.
Image courtesy of Niban-Destikim. Used with permission.
"The character of the fair Jewess found so much favour in the eyes of some fair readers, that the writer was censured, because, when arranging the fates of the characters of the drama, he had not assigned the hand of Wilfred to Rebecca, rather than the less interesting Rowena."
Sir Walter Scott in his 1830 Introduction to Ivanhoe

The fandom really loves to pair this character with other characters. Maybe the fandom pairs them with one particular character or ships them with various other characters. The problem is, the character already has a canon relationship, and the creator's not making those fan pairings canon. As far as fandom content is concerned, however, that canon relationship might as well not even exist.

Unrelated discussions degenerate into Ship-to-Ship Combat involving them. Fan Art of them embracing passionately is everywhere. Threads dedicated to gushing over their sweet, fluffy, legendary love and scorching hatred of anyone in the way dominate forums. Bits of trivia are cited and Word of God is creatively interpreted to show that they are going to happen. The Official Couple they're breaking up gets only three votes in fan support polls, possibly including one vote cast by a very alarmed author. They are a phenomenon shrouded in infamy.

And still yet, in spite of it all, they are not happening. Certainly not now, and probably not ever. Whether the story explicitly presents the character in a romance with somebody else, strongly hints that another couple is happening, or Word of God confirms another couple is canon, it's clear that the creator intends for one canon pairing over the popular fanon pairings, even if the latter are way more popular.

Most often the result of Platonic Writing, Romantic Reading or another type of Relationship Writing Fumble, or a Romantic False Lead or Romantic Runner-Up whom the audience latched onto, but sometimes happens by design or because fandoms just make no sense. Can eventually lead to an Author's Saving Throw or a Writer Revolt.

The highest aspiration of a Fan-Preferred Couple is to beat the odds and evolve into an Official Couple. This is about the only way the same couple can end up being both of these things. However, in some of these cases this can backfire on fans if the execution of said romance doesn't live up to expectations, resulting in Shipping Bed Death, which can often lead to a new Fan-Preferred Couple taking its place.

A related phenomenon in fandom for romantic Korean Drama is "second lead syndrome", where a significant number of fans like and sympathize with the Romantic Runner-Up more than they do with the main lead. In many cases, this includes preferring him for the heroine over the relationship the whole drama is about.

Please note that due to how quickly the romantic landscape and fan preference can change for a work, leading to a fanon ship either becoming canon or falling out of favor with the audience, do not add an example until a month after a work releases/season ends.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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  • Dolly Parton's "Jolene" is about a married woman being worried that her husband will leave her for Jolene. However, there exists a large group of fans who want her to leave her husband for Jolene (with a surprising number of fanfics dedicated to the pairing), mainly because the whole song has the narrator describing how beautiful Jolene is, which leads fans to interpret her as having a crush on Jolene.

  • Wooden Overcoats doesn't have much by way of canon romance — Antigone has an unrequited crush on Eric, and Eric has unrequited feelings for Georgie. By far the biggest ship in the fandom, however, is Rudyard×Eric despite (or because of) the fact that they're rivals and Rudyard hates him.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • A.J. Lee was in an Official Couple or had Ship Tease with a grand total of six guys... in one year. This was bound to happen eventually. Of those six guys (Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Kane, John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, and Big E. Langston), her most popular pairing is with Punk, despite their interaction ending very quickly, becoming out of character alignment and AF ending up with Ziggler in canon for well over a year after Punk. Ironically, Punk started dating AJ in late 2013, and they got engaged the next year and married in June 2014.
  • For many years the Foe Romance Subtext between Chris Jericho and Stephanie McMahon made them a Fan-Preferred Couple. As time went on and a great lack of interaction in the last decade, their popularity has been taken over by Stephanie's Real Life relationship with Triple H.
  • The Shield:
    • No matter how popular other couples comprising of them are, it can't compare to how much the fans like to ship them with each other, especially after they broke up. The most popular, of course, is Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins (Ambrollins), though adding Roman Reigns to the mix and making it a One True Threesome is certainly not uncommon either.
    • On the heterosexual side of things, Seth is most commonly paired with Paige (most likely due to their similar tastes and looks and the fact that they were supposed to have a romantic storyline together down in developmental), while Dean's Real Life relationship with Renee Young has been happily embraced by fans.

    Web Animation 
  • Neko Sugar Girls fans overwhelmingly ship Koneko and Raku despite the fact Raku pines for Hitoshi the entire series. The finale where Raku dies in Koneko's arms as she cries only cemented the pairing. Prior to that Kidnapper-kun/Hitoshi was the most popular ship until it became the Official Couple.
  • RWBY: Summer/Qrow. Summer is the deceased wife of Taiyang and Missing Mom to the heroine, Ruby Rose. Ruby was mentored by her uncle Qrow, whom she idolises. Qrow has no known romantic relationships, but fanfiction and fan art far prefer pairing Summer with him than with Taiyang. This stems from a popular fandom theory that Qrow is secretly Ruby's father, but keeps his distance because he's The Jinx. While the creators have repeatedly debunked the theory, it — and the Summer/Qrow ship it creates — remains popular.

    Web Original 
  • Worm:
    • Enough comments appeared on the threads shipping Skitter and Clockblocker together that the author had Clockblocker explicitly sink it in canon.
    • Beyond Skitter×Clockblocker, other pairings like Skitter×Panacea and Skitter×Tattletale tend to be much more popular than canon pairing Skitter×Grue.

Alternative Title(s): Fan Preferred Pairing, Sasami Syndrome