Love at first sight is an attractive concept if you’re a fairy tale prince or princess whose life need not heed the inherent datedness of romantic notions and the flimsiness of fanciful flights—am I right? Can you say that five times fast? Faster than you can fall in love across a crowded room?

The question of the day is this: what is love at first sight in the modern world as we know it? Is it a real phenomenon or an eternally damaging bit of wishful thinking bound to end in miserable disillusionment? Was love at first sight real once upon a time but is no longer a feasible concept?

A concept like this can’t simply expire, can it? Dare I point out that Prince Harry has said it of Meghan? “I knew I wanted to marry her, the moment I met her,” he shared. “The fact I fell in love with Meghan so incredibly quickly was confirmation to me that everything was aligned.”

Believe it or not, some research suggests that 60% of people (most of whom are not celebrities or royalty) have experienced ‘love at first sight.’

In a crapshoot world where the utter modernity of (online) dating often requires a ton of tedious and ofttimes unsavory work, falling in love at first sight understandably has a very strong pull. But for all you naysayers and postmodern-type cynics out there: there is hard scientific proof that ‘love at first sight’ is an actual thing—and likely always has been. 

First, how do we define ‘love at first sight’?

Some of the eye-rolling that happens in response to the expression ‘love at first sight’ may have something to do with the fact that the idea is a common trope in poetry and literature hailing back to ancient times: somebody feels an instant, extreme, and ultimately long-lasting romantic attraction for a stranger the very first time they see them.

Love at first sight actually is an experience people have, but it’s not exactly ‘love’—at least not right away. Rather, according to a 2017 study, it’s a strong pull or attraction that makes someone particularly open to the possibilities of a real relationship.

Neuropsychotherapist Dr. Trisha Stratford explains that when you feel like you’re falling in love, you’re actually undergoing a chemical reaction: your brain is creating dopamine and serotonin, which is what’s releasing all those warm, happy feelings.

In turn, you might feel an instant attraction or even attachment to someone. If your brain can sense that feeling is mutual, a sort of positive feedback loop is created. It’s in cases where this happens instantly and then proceeds to stand the test of time that stories of ‘love at first sight’ emerge. And why shouldn’t they?

But what about this anti-romantic online era, you ask?

Fact: not some, but most people now meet potential love interests online. Crazy but true. We all knew it was coming. If it seems to you like online dating is not the best way to create meaningful real-life connections, tell that to the many people who’ve ended up in longterm relationships and marriages after having met online—some of whom still claim it was ‘love at first sight.’

While for some this means actually having felt it in the presence of a photo, for others it means having felt it upon their first in-person meeting. So maybe ‘love at first sight’ is less about pure Luddite definitions of the notion and more about simply being open to all the possibilities of the universe? 

A few caveats

Attractiveness

‘Love at first sight’ can’t really happen without an initial attraction, can it? And while it’s true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the attractiveness factor is significant.

According to research, one rating higher in attractiveness corresponded with a nine times greater likelihood that others would report ‘love at first sight.’ Research has also shown that people equate attractiveness with trustworthiness, which provides further explanation. 

Gender

Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio in ROMEO AND JULIET (1996)

Did you know that more men believe in love at first sight than women? That’s 61% of women compared to a whopping 72% of men, according to data collected by Elite Singles. One survey found that 60% of people believe in love at first sight while 41% of men and 29% of women have reported actually experiencing it.

Why the discrepancies? Maybe it’s because women are more selective about who they date, but no one can say for sure. But which cases actually lend themselves to the development of real relationships is another question altogether.

Reciprocity

Apparently love at first sight isn’t typically mutual, which means that a feeling of reciprocal instant love is pretty rare, all told. Researchers believe, however, that one person’s initial feelings of passion can help shape the other person’s memory as similarly intense.

However, this theory of biased memory is difficult to prove, and can in no way explain all cases of remembered reciprocity. Some people do fall fast—together.

What does it all mean?

Bottom line: even though some people don’t believe in it, there’s actually lots of hard science behind the feeling of falling in love at first sight. The thing is, as with many other phenomena, love at first sight is possible, but only if you believe it is. It’s hard to argue with belief as the best mental and emotional landscape for such imaginings to ripen into something real if the right person should come along. 

So why stop believing?

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