At the risk of inciting a revolution among die-hard romantics everywhere, we have some disheartening research to share about the mystical experience of “falling in love at first sight”—a phenomenon that’s been depicted and analyzed in everything from Shakespeare’s plays to Jane Austen’s novels to J. Cole’s hit single “Déjà Vu,” so it must be legit, right?
According to a study published in November in the journal Personal Relationships, not exactly. At least, not in the way popular culture—think back to that heartbeat-skipping moment when Leo DiCaprio’s Jack spots Kate Winslet’s Rose wandering along on the upper deck of the Titanic—has historically portrayed it. The study, courtesy of researchers now based in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and England, is one of the first to explore this phenomenon.
Trying to explain how you knew your partner was the one for you is complicated enough without the added pressures of when and where. Researchers, understanding that love is complex, hypothesized that what we think of as “love at first sight” (LAFS) might really be either an intense physical attraction or an illusion that our minds create to add more meaning to the relationship.
To test their theory, the study’s authors conducted a handful of experiments, collecting data in an online survey, a laboratory study, and at three dating events. In total, they surveyed 396 participants, 62 percent of whom were women. Participants were asked questions about feelings of attraction toward their dates or partners; feelings of love, including intimacy, passion, and commitment; and whether they thought they were experiencing LAFS.
Ultimately, some people did say they fell in love upon first setting sight on another person, though researchers found that their dates were people they found really attractive. And because physical attraction is such a powerful force on first impressions and relationship development, the authors write, it’s possible “that people project their current feelings into the past and that therefore experiencing love increases memory bias.”
Additionally, researchers found that none of the instances of LAFS reported at the dating events were reciprocal. Dashing the hopes and dreams of single romantics everywhere, the authors write: “Given the small frequency of LAFS across first encounters, mutual LAFS at the spot might generally be rare.”
They conclude that magical moment when a person falls in love with another at first sight “does not seem to be marked by high passion for a person and does not seem to involve feelings of love at all, but a readiness to experience them at best.” While that moment “is associated with experiencing more love and passion in the relationship,” the authors believe it’s a result of “a strong initial attraction that some label as LAFS—either retrospectively or in the moment of first sight.”