It’s the classic fairy-tale story. Cinderella walks into the room and catches the eye of the prince. His jaw drops. He falls madly, crazily, (implausibly?) in love at first sight. But surely love at first sight is just for cute children’s stories, right? Wrong. New evidence suggests that actually, yes, love at first sight is a real thing…
Two unrelated people see each other “across a crowded room,” there’s an instant attraction, an electric spark, and suddenly they’ve found the one and never look back. In a world where dating can be a long, drawn out process – a process which comes riddled with disappointment, rejection, and uncertainty – falling in love at first sight has a certain… appeal.
Evidently it happens all the time
In his engagement interview with the BBC, Prince Harry reportedly experienced love at first sight, saying he knew Meghan Markle was the one for him the “very first time we met”. Portia de Rossi said pretty much the same about Ellen Degeneres, as did Matt Damon about his wife, Luciana. Of course, it’s not only the rich and famous who experience love at first sight. Some evidence suggests about 60% of people have experienced it (Naumann, 2004). You may have friends who swear this happened to them; or maybe you yourself just knew in that very first moment you laid eyes on your current partner… but did it really happen that way?
New research offers evidence in support of ‘love at first sight’
Zsok, Haucke, De Wit, & Barelds, 2017 asked around 400 men and women to complete questionnaires about potential romantic partners immediately after first encountering them in a specifically designed experiment. This included indicating their agreement with the statement, “I am experiencing love at first sight with this person,” as well as reporting how physically attractive they found the person, and how much passion (i.e., sexual attraction) they felt. The experiment used different contexts: online and in the lab (where pictures of potential partners were shown), and in person (where individuals saw each other face-to-face).
So with a unique experiment of ‘love at first sight’, in a nutshell, what exactly was found?
#1 Love at first sight isn’t generally reciprocal
Comparing the results from the experiment, it was evident that love at first sight is typically a one-sided thing; this suggests that shared instant love (like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle) isn’t very common. The researchers suspect, however, that one partner’s intense initial experience could help shape the other person’s recollection, shifting it towards a belief that he or she also experienced love at first sight.
#2 Men experience love at first sight more than women
Whaaaat? Really? Why this is exactly, the researchers aren’t sure, but it makes it tempting to do some more digging…! Perhaps women are less inclined to this experience because they are more selective in whom they might date (as other research has shown)? Men might, for example, report this experience with multiple potential partners… whether it translates into a relationship is another question.
#3 Love at first sight isn’t just an illusion
People really do say they’ve experienced love at first sight in the instant they meet someone. It’s a powerful initial attraction that could later become a relationship. One logical counter argument – that people have biased memories and essentially create the illusion of having fall for each other instantly – isn’t an appropriate explanation for all cases of love at first sight.
#4 You’re more likely to feel love at first sight with beautiful people
In this study, strangers were more likely to report experiencing love at first sight with physically attractive others; in fact, one rating higher in attractiveness on the scale that the researchers used corresponded with a 9 times greater likelihood that others would report that electric love-at-first-sight feeling.
#5 Love at first sight isn’t really “love”
The kind of qualities that are known to reflect love – intimacy, commitment, passion – are obviously not especially significant when you first meet someone. At least, these emotions are not experienced to the same degree as people who are in established relationships. Yet, the love at first sight experience appears to enhance these emotions to a greater extent than any first encounters where love at first sight is not experienced.
So overall, science favours the romantic in us
Love at first sight actually is a real thing, but it’s not so much “love” or “passion”…instead, it’s a strong pull or attraction that makes someone particularly open to the possibilities of a relationship (Zsoks et al., 2017).
Love at first sight can happen multiple times, and maybe the instances where it fizzles or simple never translates into a relationship are forgotten. But, when love at first sight does evolve into a relationship, the story is usually a great one…