Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Love at First Sight?

It’s almost a cliché in romance novels: the hero and heroine feel an instant attraction to each other from the moment they first set eyes on each other. It’s the ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ syndrome.

But does it happen in real life? And is it really love?

It has appeared in romantic poems and stories ever since ancient times. The Greeks thought of it as ‘love’s arrows’ from the god Eros reaching the eyes of the lover and travelling from there to pierce his or her heart. This symbol is still used today.

The Roman poets, too, spoke of love at first sight. According to Catullus, when the sea goddess Thetis appeared out of the waves, “That was the moment, so the story goes, when Peleus looked and loved, and Thetis happily stooped to an earthborn-mate.”

In the Middle Ages, the troubadours extended the concept of love’s arrows with the idea that the woman’s eyes were the source of the love arrow.

Shakespeare had Romeo falling for Juliet the moment he first saw her, Victor Hugo’s Marius and Cosette (in Les Miserables) fall in love when their eyes meet, the Little Mermaid falls in love with the prince when she first sees him, even Homer Simpson fell in love with Marge at his first sight of her.

Oh, and I also think Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth fell in love at first sight, even though neither was prepared to admit it to themselves, or to each other.

According to modern psychology, attractiveness is determined within 0.13 seconds of meeting someone. The next checkpoint is the voice. Within three minutes, we make up our minds whether someone could become a potential partner. Evidently we are genetically programmed to size this up almost instantly, an intuitive skill developed thousands of years ago as our ancestors struggled to distinguish friends from enemies.

Some ‘sixth sense’ may also come into play – an instinct that the person you have just met will affect your life profoundly, or an inner recognition of someone who will become important in your life.

An initial attraction to someone can also be stimulated by the release of some powerful chemicals into the nervous system, creating a physiological arousal – the racing heart is one result of the chemical dopamine.

I think most people would agree that ‘love’ needs more than basic intuition, instinct, and/or chemistry. Being attracted to someone and loving someone are two different things. Maybe, however, that first response creates the drive to get to know the other person better and therefore opens the way to falling in love and then loving someone.

‘Attraction at first sight’ might be a better phrase, but the people whose first attraction does develop into love are very likely to claim that, for them, it was ‘love at first sight’.

So I think we authors can carry on writing about the magic of ‘you may see a stranger, across a crowded room, and somehow you know …’ etc.


  1. Romance novels usually try to portray an ideal. I think everyone wishes that they'd fall in love at first sight, it would be mutual, and they'd go on to live happily ever after. That's why we write about it. The fantasy is fun!

  2. Great points...

    ...and another thing to think about with reality versus fiction...

    In a movie love has to happen fast...the characters have, what?, usually two hours max to fall in love. In a book, an author has a certain number of pages to make love happen. Things have to move more quickly.

    I totally agree with the attraction thing. The first thing I noticed about my hubby when I first met him was his eyes. I remember tell my friends, "Hey, that guy John has awesome eyes." So there was definitely something right off the bat for us!

  3. I fell in love with Dewane the minute he sat down next to me in Art 101. He said later he was propelled toward me. A series of events forced me to stay in California so I could meet him, and I've since come to undstand the karma that orchestrated all this.
    Love at first sight is real, but not the exclusive way lovers get together. Such is the beauty of life.

  4. Jenn, from what Debra and Ana have both said, maybe it isn't a fantasy at all!

    Debra - good point about things having to happen fast in both movies and books.
    Eyes are the first things I notice too!

    Some mutual intuition, instinct, and chemistry all working there then, Ana. But agree that it's not the only way people fall in love.

  5. Everybody knows that love at first sight doesn't exist after all.