Saturday, 17 December 2016

Mini-essay: Fluttershy and Rainbow: Romantic, but not Lovers?

"Fluttershy Rainbow Dash Noserub" pic by simplyFeatherbrain (CC by-nc-nd 3.0)
Fluttershy + Rainbow Dash Noserub by simplyFeatherbrain
(CC by-nc-nd 3.0)
As most will know, I've never had a story on Equestria Daily. (Out of interest, I wonder who's the most famous ponyfic writer to have that distinction?) Part of the reason for that is that I've only ever submitted two fics. One was never going to be good enough anyway, while the other could probably have been wrangled into shape. However, the pre-reader for that one wanted a significant change that, after some reflection, I decided I wasn't willing to make.

So, it was with some amusement that I discovered my little Soapbox piece on EQD the other day. After four and a half years, I have something I wrote up there – and it's non-fiction. :P It was certainly an interesting experience, and I'll talk about that a bit in a minute. First, though, here's my piece; follow me past the break to see it!

Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash are often shipped. Unsurprisingly: they're both Cloudsdale pegasi who've known each other since they were fillies. Some fans say they're lovers, others simply friends. But there's a third option. "Romantic friendship" is a very close, intense but platonic relationship which may involve sharing deep emotions, cuddling or kissing. It was common in Western society until the 19th century.

Ponies are generally relaxed about close physical contact – look at all that hugging! But are Fluttershy and Rainbow unusually close even by Equestrian standards? "Hurricane Fluttershy" suggests so. Although Dash sometimes gets irritated with Flutters, when 'Shy does come through Rainbow is thrilled. Not merely happy for a good friend, but utterly elated. Look at her huge, joyous smile when Fluttershy joins the tornado. This special bond is seen in multiple episodes. Later in the series – eg in "Tanks for the Memories" – we also see that Fluttershy understands Dash emotionally in a way that even Rainbow's other close friends do not.

I don't think Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash are lovers – but I do think they have the closest friendship among the Mane Six. They're romantic friends.
There's a 200-word limit on Soapbox pieces, so I had to squash things up somewhat – not easy for an inveterate rambler like me! It meant that I had to do things like using only the bare minimum of examples to back up my points. Still, my mini-essay said more or less what I wanted it to say, and I was pleased to see it up there. Even though there's (apparently) no rigorous selection process, I have something I wrote on EQD now. :P

The comments I got on my piece were generally fine, and certainly nowhere near as bad as the average YouTube comments section. However, I did get rather frustrated by the number of people who seemed to believe that what I'd written was a straightforward defence of FlutterDash shipping. The whole point of the romantic friendship hypothesis is that it's neither "just plain friendship" or shipping as most understand the term.

Part of the blame must be mine, for not being clearer, though as I say the word limit made it difficult to be so. However, Seth himself made a couple of rather unfortunate decisions. First, he used the word "Flutterdash" in the overall post heading; this was a word I'd deliberately avoided precisely because of its usual interpretation. Second, he chose to introduce my piece with this picture by Blynxee, which is explicitly a shippy pic. You'll note that I've chosen a different picture to head this post!

I also had a couple of comments criticising my use of the term "romantic friendship" for an intensely close yet platonic relationship, and claiming that the term was simply a useful fiction in the days when open homosexuality was not an option. This interpretation I reject. While there's certainly considerable overlap, they're not the same thing. For example, it's at least arguable that Frodo and Sam have a romantic friendship, yet theirs is not a sexual bond.

Going back to my mini-essay: that 'Shy and Dash have a romantic friendship has been my headcanon for a long time now. Clouded Minds, which I wrote back in early 2013, was written with that type of relationship in mind. So was By the Seashore, though it's in the background there. Most significant, though, is Where They Understand You. The way I wrote Flutters and Rainbow in that story absolutely depends on my thinking of them as romantic friends, at least by the end.

I'll end by saying that I think the Soapbox feature is an excellent idea – the number of responses it's got is testament to that – and that I really wish it had been around for much longer. It would have been fascinating to have seen Soapboxes from EQD readers five years ago. While I don't have anything else to submit there right now, I may well have another stab at it at some point. Even if Seth does unintentionally sabotage my argument again! :D


  1. I hadn't really paid enough attention to the "Soapbox" posts on EQD to realise they're reader-submitted editorials.

    It's nice that yours is on there, and that it was generally well recieved (despite the frustrations).

    I can imagine they're receiving a lot of submissions for those - everyone has an opinion of some sort on something! :P

    I'm not really familiar with the concept of 'Romantic Friendship'. For now, in the context of the show at least my interpretation remains that they're just good friends.

    1. The Soapboxes are definitely worth keeping an eye on, even if you don't feel like getting involved in the comments. Since they're short and you get several each week, there's usually something there of interest, even if the standard varies a lot. (A bit like PR, really. :P )

      Romantic friendship has been a concept that's interested me for years and years, certainly since long before I was in the pony fandom. I wish I were clever enough to write a full-on essay about its application to MLP, since I suspect one written by someone who really knew their stuff would be fascinating.