|Synonyms:||Ship, relationship, couple|
|See also:||OTP, OT3, OT4, Pairing Name, Broccoli Test, Crossover Pairing, Rarepair|
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Pairing refers to the characters who make up the central focus of a fanwork. The term often appears in headers and is a common search or filter term on archives. In most fandoms, the term is applied to stories where the focus is on an explored sexual or romantic relationship. Pairings can be het, slash or femslash. They may or may not be canon. Some fans do use the term pairing to refer to the characters in a friendship fic or smarm story where no romance exists.
The most common way to indicate a pairing is "Character A/Character B," but other symbols such as x, & and + are used as well. Occasionally this leads to intra-fandom confusion as to whether an "A/B/C/D" fic is actually pairing off all those characters, or whether the author is just listing all the characters that are in the story. Portmanteaus or "name smooshes" are also common but disliked by many; see Pairing Name for more information.
Pairings vs. Threesomes and Moresomes
Pairing is sometimes used in a manner which presumes that the story is about a couple and will not focus on a polyamorous relationship, or threesome. Due to the common use of the term in headers, many threesome and poly stories list the characters in their poly relationship under the term pairing. Many of the stories posted for the Polyamory Big Bang use Pairing in the header.
In 2010, the AO3 changed their headers to use the term Relationship to reflect the actual use of the field for poly groupings, friendships and other kinds of relationships in a story. The archive tags also support the use of Character A&Character B in the relationship field for friendship-focused stories. The reaction to the change was not wholly positive as some fans feel that the term relationship carries an automatic connotation of romance  and therefore is not precisely appropriate for all stories about two characters having sex; for instance, hatesex, non-consensual or dubiously consensual sex outside of an actual relationship.
Fandom Organization around Pairings
See also: Gen for more detailed discussion of the sometimes hazy distinction between pairing-focused fanworks and gen works.