On Love at First Sight

The Greeks referred to it as “madness from the gods” when a couple fell instantly and madly in love from the moment they first saw each other. The effect of this overwhelming sensation was like being pierced through the heart, and that’s where we begin to get the idea of this little cherub (or demon, depending on the outcome of the relationship, perhaps) with the bow and the quiver of love-tipped arrows. The afflicted would thus be stricken with “love sickness” that nothing but the object of the affection could begin to treat.

We are not talking about mere infatuation here. Rather, we are talking about the deep, abiding passion that arises when we first see the person we were meant to spend the rest of our lives with. And, since Valentine’s Day approaches, perhaps it’s a good time to examine this phenomenon.

The medievalists took the Greek and Roman notions of the love god and expanded upon it. By the time the concept got to Shakespeare, he, too, spoke of it, writing in in As You Like It, “Who ever loved that hath not loved at first sight?” His contemporary, Christopher Marlowe, used the same phrase in his writing as well. And modern psychologists continue to study the phenomenon, finding through extensive research that we humans make these type of love-in-an-instant decisions in less than 0.15 of a second. They have concluded that it is within these microseconds that we determine whether or not the relationship will last or not, even if we are not aware that is what we are doing. The strength, the intensity of that love at first sight thing is a greater predictor of relationship success than compatibility or any other single factor, the scientists say.

Romeo and Juliet, Sense and Sensibility, many stories in the Bible (father and son, Isaac and Jacob, feel this for their wives), and even the Hunger Games all feature this strong feeling of love between couples. Many (Most?) rock and popular music write about it. “Would you believe in a love at first sight?” Ringo’s friends seem to ask him in “A Little Help from My Friends,” to which the Beatles drummer answers, “Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time.” Mozart, Wagner, several other classical composers created operas around the theme. And let’s not get into the love at first sight film canon.

So, here’s to instant and lasting love. It’s what makes the world go ’round. Or so they say.

Happy Valentine’s Day.


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