Is love at first sight simply lust?
At least half of all Americans believe in love at first sight and UK surveys suggest we are just as attached to the theory.
The other half of the population are more cynical, believing it’s more a case of ‘lust at first sight’ than anything romantic.
Either way, there’s no denying the feeling of falling in love is an extremely powerful emotion.
In one study, participants rated the feeling of ‘having someone you find attractive ask you for coffee’ as almost as high in intensity as ‘saving your neighbour’s child from a car accident’.
But is it really possible to know you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, simply by looking at them?
Who falls in love at first sight?
One study of 80,000 people worldwide found men are much more likely than women – 48 percent vs 28 percent – to fall instantly in love.
US biological anthropologist Dr Helen Fisher confirms this.
Because men, bless their little hearts, fall instantly in love with what women look like and since physical characteristics don’t usually change rapidly, he’s happy for a while.
As ‘custodians of the egg’, women are more careful romantically, says Fisher.
When we discover he’s not as intelligent/funny/charming as he looks, the feeling evaporates rather quickly and we forget it ever happened.
Not surprising, attractive people are more likely to be the object of love at first sight than the not so physically blessed.
Isn’t real love based on more than just looks?
‘Real’ long-lasting love isn’t just based on physical attractiveness but background, intelligence and important traits such as kindness, honesty and sense of humour.
All of these are impossible to gauge from what someone looks like – aren’t they?
Body language experts say it is possible to get a sense of someone simply by looking at them because we end up with bodies and faces that reflect our personality
Confident, happy people walk tall, make eye contact and have laughter lines on their face.
Bitter, unhappy people tend to walk hunched, eyes averted, with down-turned mouths and frown lines.
So you can sum someone up in a glance.
The ‘attractiveness halo’ helps
There’s also ‘the attractiveness halo’: we think good looking people are kinder, happier and nicer.
There’s no reason why this should be true but we attribute positive qualities to better looking people anyway.
If love at first sight ticks the ‘I fancy them’ box and the ‘attractiveness halo’ makes us tick the ‘I bet they’re nice’ box, we’re nicely primed towards falling in love with this person.
Romantic love is based on idealising our partners and seeing them in a positive light.
Isn’t love at first sight merely a head start?
So long as the qualities we assume the person has aren’t contradicted, it can be the basis for intense, long-term love.
It’s not usually strictly ‘love at first sight’
Most people actually fall for someone after their first interaction rather than the mythical ‘eyes meeting across a crowded room’.
Which means other factors are at play like the way they talk, touch, move and smell.
All of these factors are also strong attractors and things we can learn about someone within a very short time.
It’s also got a lot to do with timing: if you’re open to falling in love, you’re more likely to.
Meanwhile, our olfactory systems are sniffing away, seeing if the person smells like a good genetic DNA match for us and pushing us towards them if they are.
The brain is also looking at the erotic love maps in our heads are totting up how many matches we’ve made.
Erotic lovemaps play their part
From the moment we’re born, our brain starts to make ‘Like’ and ‘Don’t like’ lists in our subconscious.
Aunty Joan with her big nose and mean temper puts ‘big nose’ in the ‘Don’t like’ list; a kind teacher with blonde hair means that hair colour will get favoured.
From then on, all our partners, sexual experiences and romances add their influences to form our own individual ‘love map’.
Some experts think love at first site is simply our subconscious choosing someone who reminds us of someone else we’ve loved dearly (an ex or even good old Mum and Dad).
You feel a sense of recognition because a smell, a memory or a gesture matches one you already know and love.
The more matches on the ‘Do Like’ list, the more intense the feeling of falling in love.
The brain then gets excited, starts processing this information immediately and triggers a biological response in the body.
Your heart rate increases, blood pumps faster and you feel like you’ve just downed six champagnes.
This also causes the brain to release dopamine and serotonin, all of which make us feel happy and emotional.
This amplifies the ‘Ohmygod I’m fallen in love in one second!’ feeling.
So what if it is just lust?
Sexual attraction happens on an innate, primitive level without us even being aware of it.
One experiment showed people are able to decide within a fraction of a second how attractive they find someone else.
Attraction is important and one of the most basic building blocks for love.
But love needs more than just attraction to last.
Intimacy and commitment are also required and they can only develop over time.
The argument for personality
As well an ‘attractiveness halo’ there’s also a ‘personality halo’.
If we like someone, they become more attractive to us.
The saying ‘good looks lasts three dates’ is true.
Looks can only carry you so far and that ‘love at first sight’ feeling can fade rapidly if the person turns out to be dull, boring or rude.
In contrast, the new, not-so-attractive guy in the office becomes mighty appealing if he turns out to have a cracking sense of humour and be incredibly sweet.
Should you give ‘love at first sight’ a chance?
One reputable Israeli study found 11 per cent of people in long-term relationships said they began with ‘love at first sight’.
It exists – but it’s not a very common basis for long-term relationships.
On the other hand, instantly falling for someone means you have chemistry and sexual desire and both these factors are hugely important for satisfying, long-term love.
If the person does turn out to be the person you hope they are, you’ve just struck gold!
Tracey’s website traceycox.com has more information about sex and relationships. Buy her product range at lovehoney.co.uk.
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