3:30 pm EDT, July 9, 2016

‘Pretty Little Liars’: Why the original 4 ships shouldn’t all sail

We’re nearing the end of Pretty Little Liars as we know it, so why do the couples look just like they did at the beginning?

Ezria (Ezra/Aria), Emison (Emily/Alison), Spoby (Spencer/Toby) and Haleb (Hanna/Caleb). These are four words that have been part of every Pretty Little Liars fan’s vocabulary since season 1 of the show. They are the ships that we watched, cheered for, shook our heads at, became apathetic to, or any combination of the above for the entirety of the series.

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Each one of these pairings represents the Liars’ first loves, but does that necessarily mean they should represent their last? Now that Pretty Little Liars is getting close to its end, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that these relationships will be the endgame for these girls. Although the hardcore shipper inside of me is squealing with joy at this possibility, another part of me is slightly bothered by it.

Throughout the Liars’ high school years, these were the loves that they, and we as an audience, kept going back to. After high school however, things changed. The Liars finally escaped A’s grasp, and were able to go out and live life without danger lurking around every corner. They were able to find themselves, another place to call home, careers in which they thrived, and significant others that made them happy!

pretty little liars, spoby

The changes in the Liars’ lives were definitely difficult to adjust to. It was heart shattering to realize that Hanna and Caleb couldn’t make things work in New York, and that Ezra and Aria had a relationship that was, for the most part, strictly professional. I almost took a sick day when we found out that Toby was building a house for someone that wasn’t Spencer, and that Alison was still denying her feelings for Emily despite being safe and free for the first time in forever.

Related: Pretty Little Liars poll: Should Haleb, Spaleb or Spanna be endgame?

Yes, I admit that my initial reaction was devastation. How could they build these couples up for so long just to dismiss them in an instant? You’re telling me that fans have invested years into these pairings and you’re just going to throw them away in the break between seasons? Then, I realized that while it was heartbreaking, it was also something else: It was real.

According to a report done at Pennsylvania State University, the percentage of people who marry their high school sweetheart is somewhere in the 2-25% range. 2% of people reported marrying the person that they dated in high schoool, while 25% of women reported marrying their first love, whether they met them in high school or not.

The statistics prove that it’s pretty rare for your high school boyfriend or girlfriend to be the person you spend your whole life with, which makes perfect sense! High school students are still growing up and figuring out both who they are and what they’re looking for in a potential partner. You really have no idea what you want out of life when you’re 16 or 17. True, you may still not have any idea what you want when you’re in your 20s, but the vague picture you have in your mind will probably look a lot different than the one you saw in your teens.

pretty little liars, emison

When you’re searching for mates within your high school, you’re pretty limited in terms of finding your “soulmate.” First of all, in a small town like Rosewood the high school population likely wouldn’t be larger than 1000. Once you add in other limiting factors such as age differences and the people you deem to be “outside of your social circle” in your teenage quest to fit in, the dating pool is severely depleted.

It can be argued that the Liars would have a greater propensity for marrying their high school sweethearts than others, but the opposite could also be argued. On one hand, the events of their high school years forced these girls to grow up a lot faster than their peers. While most teenagers are primarily concerned with getting decent grades and having the right friends, these girls had some bigger issues to deal with. Their maturity levels were definitely higher than most girls their age, which means their relationships were likely more mature than average.

However, the torture that they went through in high school could also make them more likely to run far away from everything they knew at that time, including their first loves. Nostalgia is a big factor in marriage between high school sweethearts. Either they’ve been together all along and have the same memories and background, or they come back together because of everything they remember and miss from their past. The Liars don’t have much cause to feel nostalgic. Their high school years were riddled with torture and pain.

All of the Liars left their little town of Rosewood as soon as they graduated and went out to explore new people and places. Some of them brought their high school loves with them, but for better or for worse, they all grew up and grew apart. Whether they found new serious significant others or just had a series of flings, they found people who helped make them who they are now.

pretty little liars, haleb

Given the relative maturity of these girls at a young age, it would make sense that one or two of them would end up marrying their high school love, but it just doesn’t make sense that they all would. Based on both statistics and experience, it’s not realistic that none of these girls would find someone better suited to them in their new lives.

Of course, realism isn’t always a priority for Pretty Little Liars. Things that are much more far-fetched than a relationship occur on a weekly basis in Rosewood. Aside from realism though, keeping every Liar with their first love could be bad for the show and the characters.

So many shows fall into the same trap. The creators have an idea of where they want to go at the beginning of the series and don’t allow that goal to evolve as the series and the characters grow. The ending that made sense for a character in season 1 could be completely wrong for them at the end of the series.

Even though it was tough to get used to the change in the romantic landscape of Pretty Little Liars, it wasn’t necessarily bad! It was hard to stay apprehensive about the Liars’ new prospects when they proved themselves to be so worthy of them. Jordan’s perfect blend of support and concern helped Hanna feel safe and loved, Liam’s enthusiasm put so many smiles on Aria’s face, and Caleb and Spencer’s mental compatibility helped them flawlessly work together on both her mom’s campaign and the A.D. hunt. Emily has had plenty of girlfriends since she loved Alison, and they’ve all helped her come into her own in a way that Alison never did.

pretty little liars, ezria

The Liars’ new mates fit who they became during their college years and who they still aspire to be. My fear for these girls is that going back to their old loves could stunt, or even regress their character growth. Even though we adore the original ships, they’re not really worth it if they’ll hurt the integrity of the characters involved.

My hope is that at least one of the Liars ends up with someone other than their first love that complements and challenges the person they are now, rather than the person they were when they were 16. Another attractive option is that one or all of them remain single! They’ve already proven that they only need each other to make it.

Which ships should make it to the end of ‘Pretty Little Liars’?

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