Love at first sight is quite the attractive concept. You lock eyes with someone across a crowded room, perhaps have a short conversation, and know with certainty that they’re the one for you. While it’s appealing—and even sometimes convincing—it’s worth asking if love at first sight is actually real. Read on to learn what our expert has to say about the popular phenomenon.
Having an intense reaction upon meeting someone for the first time isn’t extremely rare—and it isn’t just your imagination. It’s basic human biology. “Most of the time when people talk about love at first sight, it’s mostly [referring to] a physiological reaction,” says Lesli Doares, marriage coach and author of Blueprints for a Lasting Marriage. Basically, this is your initial attraction to the other person’s physical appearance. This reaction, however, isn’t exactly what most people would refer to as legitimate love. That kind of love requires intimacy, quality time, a deeper connection, and similar things you don’t typically have after only looking at or just meeting a person.
Think of it as a basic human instinct. In fact, those who study the enneagram—a personality typing system based on how one interprets the world and manages their emotions—are of the opinion that we have three main survival instincts: self-preservation, social, and sexual (or one-to-one). We’re referencing the latter. Simply put, your immediate attraction to someone acts as a drive. Just like food, water, and fight-or-flight serve to keep you alive, this drive serves to influence bonding, mating, and reproducing. “[Upon first sight or meeting,] the “in-love” neurochemicals are flooding your system,” Doares explains. This is especially true if there is no, or limited, physical interaction—like tapping someone’s profile or swiping left. Consider it the mystique and fascination of the quick interaction. “This same reaction can happen if you’re physically close to each other or briefly touch. It feels like an electrical charge goes through you. Again, however, this is mostly physiological.”
That being said, it’s possible to become quickly attracted to more than someone’s appearance. It may happen that you’re swiftly drawn to someone’s personal qualities or “emotional essence,” as Doares calls it.
Think of all the stories you’ve heard where two people speak for a short amount of time and then one immediately tells a friend or family member that they are going to marry the other person someday—and then it actually happens. “This usually happens to people who are more connected to their intuition. You may feel inherently safe with this person. You may be connected enough to finish each other’s sentences or know what they’re about to say,” explains Doares.
While this is frequently met with physical attraction, it’s more expanded and encompassing than that. Beyond liking how someone looks, you also find their general presence appealing. “It’s a connection on a broader level, so it has the potential to last longer and turn into something deeper,” says Doares. Some key initial reactions to look out for:
Oftentimes, interactions are fleeting and the signs aren’t so straightforward. In that case, how do you know if what you felt was physical attraction or a genuine connection? “You can tell the difference by how you talk about the person,” says Doares. “If it’s all about their physical attributes—how hot they are—then it’s more likely lust at first sight. However, if you add in things about their heart, soul, or mind in addition to the physical things, love is a better descriptor.”
As you can tell, saying whether love at first sight is real or fake isn’t all that clear cut. While you won’t be able to develop a deep and fully informed love upon first meeting, it also isn’t fair to rule the concept out entirely. It’s possible to be both realistic and optimistic in case you meet someone you instantly take a liking to. In fact, we encourage it.