Love at first sight: a romantic reality or absurdly amorous?
Our recent survey showed that, in fact, many people believe in the phenomenon of love at first sight, and EliteSingles Psychologist Salama Marine suggests ‘when you experience it yourself, you know it’s real,’ so we decided to examine whether you really can feel the intensity and force of love just from glancing at someone across the room.
Love at first sight: A romantic reality?
According to a recent EliteSingles survey of 2700 singles, 66% of people believe in love at first sight.1 Surprisingly, the poll found that men are more inclined to such thoughts: 72% of men believe in it, compared with 61% of women!
Syracuse University professor Dr. Stephanie Ortigue did some research on this topic and found that these beliefs might be valid, discovering that the intense power of love can be felt after just 0.2 seconds following visual contact with someone. This feeling is created when twelve areas of your brain work together to release euphoria inducing chemicals (such as dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline) and subsequently produce the feeling of love.2 Chemically speaking, it is certainly possible.
We knew it was love at first sight. We immediately had a soul connection.
Willmien and Derek, EliteSingles success couple
Another strong argument for the reality of love at first sight is the sheer amount of people who have experienced it. Salama Marine suggests; ‘when it does happen to you, you know that it can’t happen again. It’s way too strong and crazy.’ Her description makes it sound very real; something unexpected and uncontrollable, incomparable to any emotions you’re used to. And EliteSingles receives countless stories from success couples describing just such an instant connection. According to new couple Challen and Stefan; ‘We both knew immediately that this was something really beautiful’ while Willmien and Derek suggest on their meeting; ‘we knew it was love at first sight. We immediately had a soul connection.’ It certainly seems to be the case then that the people who believe in it are the ones who have experienced it themselves.
But is it love? Those who have experienced love know that it is like nothing else; an enamoring emotion that preoccupies your brain utterly and completely. Love at first sight then, is when this overwhelming force hits you in the split second of establishing eye contact with someone for the first time. And while it’s easy to be cynical, Aaron Ben-Zeév PhD. suggests on PsychologyToday that ‘Love at first sight is not merely sexual attraction. It is an intense form of romantic love that has a good chance of developing into profound intense love.’3
This seems to be an apt summary of the situation – the initial power of emotion and passion of feeling deemed ‘love at first sight’ is perhaps not love itself but the initiator of the forthcoming love. Either way, any individual who can induce that type of powerful emotion from you is worth getting to know.
- Read more: Strong emotions can confuse the savviest of daters. Learn whether it's love or infatuation here!
Lust or love: which is more likely?
While it sounds fantastically romantic to fall in love at first sight and then stay happily together for the rest of your lives, in reality this fairytale ending is rare. Lasting relationships need more than just immediate love feelings after all – compatibility is important, and it's hard to believe that this can be determined from a glance.
Elliot D Cohen Ph.D. asks ‘is there really such a thing as love at first sight? Many would claim that there is, and that they have had first-hand experience of it. But is this merely to confuse sexual attraction with love?' 4 If the answer to the last question is yes then perhaps we're dealing with aesthetics and attraction rather than love, a point driven home by Ben-Zeév when he points out that ‘attractive people are more likely to be the object of love at first sight.’5
Attractive people are more likely to be the object of love at first sight
Aaron Ben-Zeév PhD.
Perhaps, then, a distinction must first be made between love and lust. After all, the idea of having an intense feeling for someone just by looking at them, before any kind of spoken interaction has taken place, would suggest perhaps more of a physical attraction or lust towards someone, as opposed to love. As Ben-Zeév suggests; ‘the agent does not have sufficient knowledge about the person's characteristics in order to fall in love, the response is merely imaginary wishful thinking and not a real emotion.’6 Arguably, perhaps people feel they can fall in love with someone at first sight because they can create a perfect image of that person's personality in their minds – the person can be however they wish them to be.
- Read more: still not sure if it's attraction or amour? Learn more about how to tell whether it is love or lust
Do men fall in love at first sight quicker than women?
Somewhat surprisingly, more men than women seem to believe in love at first sight. According to the survey mentioned earlier, 72% of men believe in it, compared with just 61% of women.
So why is there this huge difference between the genders? Are men actually more romantic than society suggests? Or are they shallower and consider aesthetics an essential part of love? Or perhaps it’s more straight forward; women are more calculated and pragmatic; and more cautious when it comes to love. Men arguably, overthink less and let themselves be immersed in the moment and the person more easily.7
Other EliteSingles studies have shown that men report feelings of love earlier on in a relationship too, such as a 2016 survey of 700 Canadians that showed 8% of men would say 'I love you after a just a week of dating, compared with 4% of women.8 Clearly there is some level of biological difference between the genders; so maybe men really are more open to the idea of love at first sight and, perhaps, they should be seen as the true romantics of this world?
- Read more: not sure when to drop the L-word? We looked at when to say 'I love you'
Can one-sided affection still be love?
Often, one person claims to experience love at first sight, but unfortunately it’s not reciprocated. This would suggest that love at first sight doesn’t exist. How can it if two people are feeling totally opposing emotions on meeting? How can one person feel love while the other merely looks past them, perhaps on to someone else?
One thing is clear – you cannot help the way you feel. And the answer to these differing feelings might lie in the timing. Salama Marine suggests that people experience love at first sight they’re going through other big changes in life, such as moving city or country, as this is the time when people are least looking for a relationship and their thoughts aren’t even directed in that way. Salama says ‘when you’re not looking for a partner at all and you’re 100% focused on your life; when you least expect it, it will happen to you.’
When you least expect it, it will happen to you
Salama Marine, EliteSingles psychologist
As a result though, Salama suggests that unfortunately that the other person may not reciprocate your feelings if they are in a different stage of their life. The overpowering emotion probably doesn’t happen for them because they want to meet someone, and are therefore more likely to be taking the time to closely examine new opportunities and less likely to be surprised by their emotions.
- Read more: facing the difficulties of one-sided attraction? Learn how to move on from unrequited love
Is there an age limit on love at first sight?
The survey suggested that younger people are more open to the idea of love at first sight. Indeed, a whopping 84% of younger millenials (those aged 18-29) say that they believe in it - compared with just 65% of singles over 30. Interestingly, in the under-30 age group, it’s women who wear the romance crown: 90% of women aged 18-29 believe in love at first sight, compared with 81% of men. After 30, this reverses, with men's belief waning slightly (down to 72%) and women's plummeting: the in fact, the group least likely to believe in love at first sight is women aged 30-40 (just 56% think that it's a possibility).
However, it's important not to discount those over 30. After all, 56% of women believing in love at first sight is still a majority, suggesting that most people still think that it can happen. Perhaps the reason for the dip in belief is not a negative thing then, and simply to do with Salama's theory about instant love coming when you're not looking for it. After all, the group most positive about love at first sight are those in their 20s (traditionally a more unsettled age), while those in their 30s, who may be looking for more stability in terms of career and lifestyle, are hunting for an equally stable kind of love.
- Read more: reaching an age where you're ready for stability? Try our guide to dating in your 30s
So does love at first sight exist?
So how do we conclude? We all like the idea of love at first sight in theory; it’s beautifully romantic and epitomizes the intensity and magnitude of love that we all wish to experience. But it is difficult not to be cynical about whether the rush of emotions we call 'love at first sight' is indeed love, or whether it's an instant attraction that may become something more.
One final note: one of the nicest things to come out of the survey was that 95% of singles believe you can fall in love at any age and haven’t stopped believing in it despite experiencing heartbreak and divorce. It would seem then, that no matter what you think of love at first sight, there’s no reason to doubt love itself. Whether it takes a minute or a year, you're never too old to find it.
- Read more: Think love requires more than a physical connection? Find out about the 36 questions that can help you fall in love