Do You Believe in Love at First Sight?

Is there something more than just instant attraction?

"I believe deeply in love at first sight. Centuries of literature and art have been dedicated to that notion, so who am I to argue, even if I've never experienced it?" — Maggie Grace

Love at first sight (LAFS) is puzzling. While literature, art, and countless testimonials have described the experience, it's hard to validate.

Is Love at First Sight Simply Instant Attraction?

"I personally believe that love at first sight is a myth." What happens is simply instant attraction." — Abhay Deol

Attraction, or intense physical allure, is a significant component of LAFS. However, it's uncertain whether other aspects of LAFS, typical in romantic love but absent in mere attraction, are observed. The initial encounter between potential lovers is usually exhilarating, akin to the excitement of novelty. Emotions are typically stirred when faced with a significant change in our circumstances. This is exemplified in the "Coolidge Effect," where males, and to a lesser extent, females in mammalian species, exhibit renewed sexual interest when introduced to new sexual partners. Sexual desire typically wanes over time, but romantic love transcends mere sexual longing.

Romantic love entails two primary assessments: attractiveness and suitability. Attractiveness acts as a magnet that draws one person to another by triggering an immediate deep action that sparks a desire to establish a connection. Attractiveness is more comprehensive than mere intense sexual desire because it may also include the desire to spend time together. Suitability involves nuanced evaluations of the partner's qualities and achievements that go beyond the desire for companionship. Romantic love is more than physical allure; it encompasses a holistic, moral evaluation of the individual, including the desire to be together indefinitely. Falling in love and staying in love require both attractiveness and suitability (Ben-Ze'ev, 2000; 2019).

When we fall in love at first sight, we perceive information beyond what we see; we imagine additional, hidden admirable qualities, such as kindness, intelligence, and honesty. Attraction, which focuses on the body, also involves subtle attributed information, but it is limited to anticipated sexual activities. The perceptual affordances in LAFS encompass a whole range of emerging sexual and romantic activities, whereas in experiencing attraction, affordances are limited to sexual performance (Ben-Ze'ev, 2024). In this regard, the role of the eyes is significant. Hence, Augustine referred to the eyes as "the windows to the soul," and lovers often say: "I can see the love in your eyes" (see here).

In LAFS, lovers aspire to be together "forever," whereas attraction, which consists of more partial evaluations, falls short on desire. As one divorcee remarked, "My married lover was emotionally distant the moment he climaxed. The speed at which he emotionally and physically withdrew was staggering. He rolled off the bed to grab a drink and never returned."

A significant flaw of LAFS concerns the reliability of the information it relies on, much less than what we acquire at the outset of other romantic relationships. Is this a significant flaw? Not necessarily, since in romantic relationships, it's more crucial to assess whether both individuals are attracted to, and compatible with each other. While experiencing LAFS, you may not have much insight into the individual's history, but you indeed have intuitive knowledge regarding the remarkable compatibility ("chemistry") with this person (for the time being). In the words of Sam Cooke, "Don't know much about history, don't know much biology... But I do know that I love you, and that's what I know if you love me, what a wonderful world this would be."

Is Love at First Sight a Meaningful Romantic Love?

"When I saw my husband for the first time, something inside me just knew I wanted to be with him forever." — A woman

Is LAFS a meaningful romantic love? The primary difficulty here is the lack of time for developing romantic significance. This difficulty doesn't concern the intensity of the feelings, since those are similar and, in fact, more intense in LAFS. While time diminishes sexual desire, it fosters romantic significance. LAFS cannot be meaningful because there is no time for creating such significance. However, LAFS cannot be described as shallow; it's just that the issue of significance has not yet evolved.

The instantaneous nature of LAFS doesn't negate other fleeting romantic aspects, such as the desire to be together constantly, even when sex is over. Studies suggest that lovers perceive the time spent in intercourse as crucial for bonding and intimacy. Indeed, ongoing physical affection, such as kissing, cuddling, and hugging, have been found to enhance the duration and quality of the relationship. These activities, central in LAFS, affirm that the romantic bond is deeper than a superficial, momentary physical act. These activities are crucial in creating sexual afterglow, which plays a more significant role in sexual and relationship satisfaction than the duration of intercourse (Muise, et al., 2014). Thus, the profound desire to be continuously together is more predominant in LAFS than at the beginning of most other intimate relationships.

Can Brief Sexual Encounters Lead to Lasting Meaningful Connections?

Although LAFS occurs in a specific moment, it can lay the groundwork for enduring, meaningful love. LAFS puts the initial phase of the relationship on a high pedestal, and studies indicate that the quality of the initial phase significantly influences the subsequent relationship, leading to greater quality and stability over time. A related phenomenon, termed "the honeymoon phase effect," refers to findings that marital satisfaction rarely surpasses its initial level at the time of marriage, or before it (Proulx et al., 2017). Indeed, a recent survey of 2,000 Brits by Specsavers found that the majority (59%) of relationships that began with love at first sight are still going strong, and nearly about 19% of those relationships have endured for more than 40 years.

Leaving a Displeased Partner: Strategies for Safe Disengagement

Moreover, even shallow and brief encounters, such as casual sexual encounters and matches from Tinder, can be a good starting point for a meaningful relationship (Ben-Ze'ev, 2023; here). Thus, it has been found that casual hookups, often regarded as the shortest, most superficial, and inconsequential sexual encounters, nonetheless serve as a starting point for lasting committed relationships for about 27% of the individuals who experience them (Fisher, 2022). Additionally, The Knot's 2021 Jewelry and Engagement Study shows that although Tinder has gained a reputation for fostering primarily shallow casual sexual relationships, it is responsible for pairing about a quarter of newlyweds who meet online, making it the most effective dating app for marriage. A study by Jonason et al. (2011) revealed that people tend to depart after sex more often in committed "booty call" arrangements compared to casual hookups, which is a surprising discovery. These surprising results underscore the profound impact of an auspicious starting point. Time is crucial for deepening romantic significance, provided that the starting point and the ensuing mutual activities are meaningful as well.

In conclusion, the relationship between LAFS and the quality and duration of a subsequent relationship is influenced by two opposing factors: (1) the initial positive impression has a beneficial impact on the quality of the relationship, and (2) the perceived attributes of the partner are based on projection rather than real information and may thus be inaccurate. Additionally, in some cases, LAFS serves as a promising start to meaningful love, but in other circumstances, it does not endure for a substantial duration (Sunnafrank and Ramirez, 2004; Barelds and Barelds-Dijkstra, 2007). The longevity value increases when we refer to "love at first meeting (or encounter)," rather than love at first sight. LAFS involves aspirations for enduring meaningful love, thus providing a strong starting point for indeed becoming so..

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