Side Pairing

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Synonyms: secondary pairing, background pairing, minor pairing, past relationship
See also: Pairing, OTP, Pair the Spare, Bruce Banner Syndrome, junior bridesmaid
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In the context of a ship fic, a side pairing is a pairing that is described in the story, but is not the main focus.

Side pairings can vary in "screen time" and importance; a "secondary" pairing might have almost as much plot relevance as the "main" pairing, or it might be better described as a "background" or "minor" pairing that is only mentioned incidentally.

Types of Side Pairings

In Harry Potter fandom, Harry/Draco stories often include references to Ron/Hermione or Sirius/Remus as other couples who are also together; in these cases, R/H and S/R are side pairings.

"Secondary" and "minor" can also be used to describe a pairing's overall prevalence in fanfic rather than its centrality to a given story.

A "background" pairing might appear in a story labeled gen if the romantic aspect of the characters' relationship is not important to the main story line. This is particularly true of canon-derived and het pairings.

A "past relationship" is a type of side pairing in a fic that occurs before the main action of the story. The relationship may be entirely "offscreen" and simply referenced by characters in the story, or a flashback may be included.


Some less popular pairings are more likely to systematically appear as a side pairing in stories about more popular ships. Fans of the side pairing have been known to complain about lack of representation of their favourite pairs or characters in fic generally.

Owing to differences in different fans' understanding of the "gen" label, some fans have been known to object to works with a background (uncanonical) slash pairing being labelled as gen, even if it plays a very minor role in the story and there is no explicit material.


There is some disagreement on tagging etiquette when it comes to Archive of Our Own and fic (see also:AO3 Tagging System).

Fans of a secondary pairing searching its tag may be disappointed to find an overwhelming number of stories where their pairing is not the focus of the story and often appears very briefly, has broken up in favour of the main pairing, etc.

On the other hand, people squicked out by the ship may want it tagged so they can avoid it.

In order to get around this issue, some fans have started using secondary pairing tags in the additional tags section rather than the relationship tag section, such as "background X/Y," "minor X/Y," or "past X/Y" in order to indicate the status of the pairing in the story. For example: Minor Geralt z Rivii | Geralt of Rivia/Jaskier | Dandelion is a canonical tag which is not synned to the main Geralt/Jaskier relationship tag. (Many such tags are not common enough to be canonical, and do redirect to the main pairing tag.) Still, they offer an additional level of detail for the people reading the tags, and avoid works tagged in this way from showing up in the search for the main pairing.