You lock eyes with a stranger and feel “that thing.” Time slows down and the world seems to fall away — is it love at first sight? It’s real alright.
You’ve likely heard some version of a “love at first sight” story: two people meet, one likely a skeptic. Sparks fly and the pair realizes they’ve met “the one.” Then, as they say, the rest is history.
Love at first sight is a beautiful concept, etched into fairytales and echoed in popular movies, television shows, and celebrity interviews, like when Prince Harry met Megan Markle.
But is it real? Perhaps it’s a predestinated, spiritual connection with your soulmate. Yet there may be other explanations worth considering, too, before you dive right in.
Can you actually fall in love at first sight?
Many people say they’ve experienced love at first sight. So, for them, it is possible.
In fact, this is a popular concept.
Exact figures are scarce, as it can be difficult to measure how common love at first sight is. But one older Gallup poll suggests that 52% of people in the United States believe in love at first sight.
A 2017 survey of over 5,000 single adults found that four in 10 of them have had a love-at-first-sight experience, slightly more often men than women.
So, what is love at first sight? The sensation is commonly described as:
- a sense of “coming home”
- sharing an instant, soulful connection
- feeling like the only two people in the room
- unusual chemistry that you haven’t felt before
What are the signs of love at first sight?
When you experience love at first sight, you may feel wildly sexually ignited and think “Wow, this is the one,” says Dr. Brenda Wade, a psychologist in San Francisco.
Other common signs may include:
- anxiety sweats
- “butterflies” in your stomach
- euphoria or feeling under the influence (love drunk)
- inability to stop thinking about them
- looking for them, even when they’re not around
- magnetic attraction (emotional, physical, sexual)
Is it real love?
Love at first sight is actually attraction, not real love, says Wade. But, it can be a profound energetic hit that screams there’s something very special about this person, she adds.
Research supports this view. A
“True love takes time, awareness of who the person is, and who you are,” says Wade. “It’s like a garden. You must water it, cultivate it, shine sun on it, and have patience so you can produce blossoms that will flower.”
Still, there are several reasons why those initial “fireworks’ may feel like the real thing. And nothing says love at first sight can’t actually develop into real love given the chance of acting upon it.
What’s behind love at first sight?
In the early days, it may seem like your partner can do no wrong.
“On the surface, they seem to have everything that you are looking for and you are swept up in the moment, unable to take your eyes off of them,” says Wade. “Everything about them seems perfect because you don’t know all about them yet.”
Experts call this the “honeymoon phase” of a relationship.
When two people fall in love, several changes take place in the body.
Physical touch and emotional bonding activate the limbic system, also known as the pleasure center, says Dr. Lee Phillps, a psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist in Virginia and New York.
“Hormones such as oxytocin play a critical role in relationships. It is a neuropeptide hormone manufactured in the brain with a wide range of effects,” he says.
Research shows this feel-good neurochemical can:
- enhance bonding
- heighten a sense of safety
- improve your mood
- increase social connection
“This hormone plays a vital role in developing romantic bonds between partners because it is released during physical intimacy,” he adds.
If your feelings or emotions were not nurtured by your caregivers, you may have felt abandoned, says Phillips.
“As an adult, you can develop an anxious attachment style where you will latch onto your partner, idealizing them, because you may have unmet needs from childhood,” he explains.
Getting really close really fast to someone else might not be love at first sight, but rather an anxious attachment.
Real love vs. idealized love
Real love has a healthy balance between emotional and sexual intimacy, says Phillips.
“Both partners try their best to respect each other’s boundaries, make time for each other, show appreciation, and make each other feel safe and validated. There is also encouragement to grow and celebrate success,” he says.
With idealized love, there is a lack of balance, as one partner sees the other as a perfect person who won’t hurt or disappoint them. “The truth of the matter is our partners hurt us and heal us. There will always be disappointments and relationships are not perfect,” he explains.
How to handle what you’re feeling
Falling in love at first sight can feel like a whirlwind, but there are ways you can cope.
Try to enjoy it, but stay grounded
“Take a deep breath and enjoy the heady intoxication emotion, because it is a beautiful feeling — and you deserve to have that feeling,” says Wade.
At the same time, Wade suggests that you put your head to work and ask yourself:
- Is this true love?
- Are they really “the one”?
- How do we create a well-cultivated pathway to grow and solidify our love?
“Step back, take it slow, and begin the process of really showing your authentic self and getting to know who they are. Then see, over time, if it is a great match,” she adds.
Try to hold off on big decisions
You may find it helpful to pace the early parts of the relationship.
Take some time to get to know each other before:
- moving in together
- meeting each other’s families
- merging each other’s social groups
- making a serious commitment, like marriage
Consider working with a therapist
It is important that we know ourselves first before we fall in love, says Phillips, and working with a therapist can help with this process.
“Many of us do not stop and ask what we think and feel,” he says. “I recommend getting to know yourself first and determining your relationship goals.”
As a new couple, you may also find it helpful to go to therapy together.
“Sex and couples therapy is a great resource in creating a healthy balance in the relationship,” she says. “I always recommend a certified sex therapist because they can address both the emotional and physical intimacy.”
Love at first sight can be a polarizing prospect. It refers to the feeling of falling in love instantly without officially knowing the other person.
Some surveys show that many believe it exists. Other research indicates that it comes down to physical attraction, hormones, the honeymoon phase, and attachment styles.
You may find it helpful to take it slow and work with a therapist for support. It can also be useful to learn more about healthy, secure attachments.
Phillips recommends a few popular titles:
- “Getting The Love You Want” by Harville Hendrix
- “Keeping The Love You Find” by Harville Hendrix
- “Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman and Nan Silver
- “Attached” by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller