Ah, love at first sight. It’s a beautiful idea, and with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, it’s easy to get lost in such a romantic thought. This is a trope that’s been present in romance for centuries. Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella and Prince Charming, Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere; all are well-known examples of couples in fictional tales and legends who fell in love instantly. But is love at first sight just a myth fit for fantasy, or is it real enough to warrant a place in more naturalistic fiction?

What is Love?

What a complex yet simple question. If you were to ask several different people what love is, you’d probably get several different responses in return. Everyone seems to have their own explanation, and the most interesting part is that they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

Socially, it’s a strong positive connection between two people. Psychologically, it’s a form of deep affection for another being. Biologically, it’s a chemical reaction in the body that creates a feeling of intense passion. There are many ways to characterize love; it all depends on your chosen perspective and your personal experiences with it.

So what about love at first sight? If love is clearly possible between two people, can such a powerful attraction happen instantly?

The Science of Love at First Sight

Romeo and Juliet fell in love the moment they first laid eyes on each other (Romeo + Juliet, 1996)

Romeo and Juliet fell in love the moment they first laid eyes on each other (Romeo + Juliet, 1996)

I asked a few people I know for their thoughts on love at first sight, and to my surprise, the answers I got came from both sides of the debate. On the one hand, my mom (as well as most other people I asked) believes that such a concept is impossible in real life because love is based on something more than physical attraction, something you can’t discover until you’ve really gotten to know the other person. On the other hand, my dad not only believes in love at first sight, but he swears it’s happened to him at least once in his life. To hear others tell it, it was mostly likely infatuation at first sight, but if he believes it was love, who are we to say otherwise?

Oddly enough, some studies seem to suggest that love at first sight is indeed possible. I’ve read some interesting takes on the subject on sites like HowStuffWorks, Psychologies and Daily Mail, to name a few. Of course, it’s worth noting that most arguments defending the concept refer foremost to the physical side of love, but then again, what are human beings if not mostly flesh and blood, right? What matters is that science seems to support the idea that two people can accurately size each other up within the first three minutes of meeting, and have a good chance at making a subsequent relationship work.

Fiction or Reality?

So what does all this mean to writers of romance? I suppose it means whatever you want it to. Characters in fantasy stories can certainly fall in love instantly without compromising the plausibility of the plot; at the very least, the attraction could be attributed to magic. Yet writers of realistic fiction could also possibly make their characters fall in love immediately and get away with it, provided the event is narrated well enough to work in the context of the story.

As for me, even though I’ve never really experienced it myself (unless you count my first crush in Kindergarten), I like to believe that anything is possible. I don’t normally write about it in my own stories, as I prefer to have my characters’ relationships develop over time, but I wouldn’t discard the idea for a future project. It might be fun to explore the possibilities that come with falling in love at first sight!

What about you? Do you believe in love at first sight? Would you impose such a fate on your characters?

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