Is There Such a Thing as Love at First Sight?

Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS
September 3, 2019

Movies love to tell the story of love at first sight.  Two unknowing strangers in the same place at the same time casually look over at each other and instantaneously fall in love.  In that instant, they know that their lives will never be the same and that they are soul mates. Usually, the couple is at the forefront of the screen as everything else dreamingly melts into the backdrop.  The dreamy music plays in such a way that the audience knows that something miraculous is happening.  At the end of the movie, viewers shed a tear as the movie couple either lives happily ever after or are destined to live the remainder of their lives with unrequited love.

love first sight

Love at first sight is irrefutably a magical notion, but is there really such a thing?  Can people truly fall in love without ever having talked to a person?  Can a person fall in love without knowing a person’s character or true personality?  Could it be just a physical attraction, infatuation, or deep lust?  Or, is the magical notion of love at first sight nothing more than the result of pop culture, movies, and fairy tales?

These are all good questions.  Some believe that love is a biological notion and representative of a primal drive to perpetuate the species.  Biologists assert that humans have the capacity to love and are genetically wired to be able to fall in love at first sight, although it does not happen this way for everyone. 

Scientists contend that the brain has the capacity to assess an attraction within seconds.  Love is said to be wired into the brain’s electrical and chemical pathways and can be triggered from the appropriate type of stimulus. The brain releases hormones like dopamine, oxytocin, and adrenaline that trigger euphoric feelings.  Similar to a drug, the body tries to maintain this euphoria by keeping that person present. 

Another theory is that love at first sight occurs because a person’s physical appearance reminds one of a past love or another important person who has made a substantial impact in their life.  Impression formation is the term used to describe when the subconscious mind interprets facial features to be related to various characteristics based on past experiences.  Impression formation would dictate that a person may fall in love at first sight because they look like someone who was important to you.  Furthermore, the subconscious links the notion that if this prior person was great, this person is likely great for you too. 

Love at first sight may also be a compensation for feelings of loneliness, a fear of getting older, or frustration about dating.  Any of these circumstances may make people feel more pressured to get into a relationship quicker.  Love at first sight may be nothing more than instant gratification of the heart.  Maybe people are not actually in love with somebody, but really would like to be. 

Others view love at first sight as merely a myth that has been perpetuated by pop culture.  The Bachelor and Bachelorette is a perfect example of a wildly popular television series built on the premise that a person can fall in love as soon as their suitor exits the limousine.  Disney movies and fairy tales are also based on the premise of love at first sight.  How can anyone forget the moment that Prince Charming lays his eyes on Cinderella.  With all of this influence, how can this notion not filter through society? 

Despite this or maybe because of this and based on personal experiences, people tend to make their own judgment calls regarding the credibility of love at first sight.  Regardless of the final outcome, we will always be able to watch it unfold in the movies.

Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy  facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.

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