The poets speak of love at first sight. But can you really fall in love with someone you meet once? And if you do fall in love so soon, can you trust your feelings? Will they last?
Let me recap the debate that rages over this: some say no way; love at first sight is mere animal lust masquerading as a deep soul connection by those who need to justify their attraction. Why would anyone trust that? “It’s a notion dreamed up by Hollywood romantics who like to airbrush the random happenstance of life until it looks like perfect, sweet destiny,” says Californian Bill, 42. “Instant sparks and intense feelings are lust, or maybe puppy love. But they’re not real love that comes from time, trust, and respect.”
Others believe in the fate and romance of instant love. It happened to them, so it must be true. If love at first sight continues past the first year into the first decade, then who’s to argue? “I met my partner eight years ago and we fell in love instantly,” says New Yorker Alan, 29. “Our meeting was fate. Our love hasn’t changed, just grown.”
Lovers may disagree, but what do the experts say? Can they help decode the mystery of what happens when you think you’re falling in love with someone right off the bat? Let’s find out.
True love: Can it happen in half a second (or less)?
In his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell presents evidence that humans have a built-in pre-rational ability to size people up instantaneously, which could lead to feelings of love. “When you meet someone for the first time, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions,” says Gladwell. He claims that “those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.”
What’s more, some scientists support the theory that love at first sight is real. But they stop short of predicting relationship success based on initial reactions. Dr. Helen Fisher, Ph.D., biological anthropologist at Rutgers University and author of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, studied the brain to understand what makes attraction such a fiery emotion. Her findings indicate that just by one person seeing or meeting another, our human brains can experience a chemical reaction which may swiftly lead to real romance. And Dr. Lucy Brown, a neurologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, agrees with Dr. Fisher that love at first sight is a real phenomenon, but claims that other non-visual or chemical aspects of a person — such as mannerisms, voice, personality and social status — usually must come into play for lust to evolve into true love.
Why the naysayers stay convinced that it isn’t possible to fall in love on sight
So, if science supports love at first sight as a valid phenomenon, then why are there so many people voicing such strong objections to the notion? Here are two possible reasons:
1. Heartbroken daters feel wary — and with good reason. As the song goes, “Love hurts.” The older we get, the more we experience disappointment in relationships. As a result, we become more cautious in our approach to love, and therefore, limited in how open we are to love at first sight. How can you trust something that once caused you pain?
2. People often mistakenly equate love at first sight with successful, long-term relationships. In Love at First Sight: The Stories and Science Behind Instant Attraction, author Earl Naumann, Ph.D. examined the possible psychological and biological explanations for love at first sight. He found that “love-at-first-sight triggers” are shallow: physical appearance, personality traits and career potential are the top three factors. Since long-term relationships require compatibility, common interests and shared goals, love at first sight never guarantees love’s longer-term success.
So while science doesn’t yet have a definitive answer, maybe it’s best to adopt the following attitude: “Understanding the brain remains one of the great scientific frontiers,” says James Trefil, George Mason University physics professor and author of The Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. “And even though it may cost me my scientific union card to say so, if we never learn any more about love at first sight, it will be fine with me. Some things are just made to be enjoyed.”
Maybe we should just treat love at first sight as a welcome hint. Give it a shot, whether it’s an explosion of neurotransmitters or the undertow-like emotional pull of fate. Appreciate the feelings, which are a gift. But don’t confuse the fast fire of love at first sight with the slow-burning flame of a real relationship. Ronald Reagan’s famous comment “Trust, but verify,” takes on a new meaning in this context. In romantic terms, it translates to “Believe with an open heart, but act with a cautious one.”
Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for Match.com since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Visit hiswebsite, follow him onTwitter, oremail him.