Love at First Sight (and First Chat)
What happened 'between Nicolas and me was not quick, it was instant.'
Posted May 24, 2008
There is a lady sweet and kind,
Was never face so pleased my mind;
I did but see her passing by
And yet I love her till I die. (Barnaby Googe)
Do you remember when we met? That was the date I knew you were my mate. (Phil Phillips)
We have heard many wonderful tales about "love at first sight." Many books and movies idealize this phenomenon, and many people report it as a most intense emotion. Carla Bruni also said that it was love at first sight between her and the French President. She said that what happened "between Nicolas and me was not quick, it was instant. So for us, [the wedding] was actually very slow." Similarly, a married woman said about her married lover, "I loved him at first sight. And the very first time in my life I ever felt passionately was the moment I saw him. It was a feeling so loving, so tender, so wild, so overwhelming and breath-taking, and all-involving, a feeling I did not know before." Some people even consider love at first sight to be the only kind of genuine love. Thus, in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, it is claimed that "Whoever loves, loves at first sight." Israel Zangwill reached the same conclusion but for ironic reasons: "The only true love is love at first sight; second sight dispels it" (see, The Subtlety of Emotions).
Love at first sight is not easy to explain. If romantic love consists of evaluating the other person as attractive and as having positive characteristics, then how can we possibly make an evaluation of their characteristics at first sight? Some of these characteristics, such as kindness and honesty, cannot be revealed in one glance. Knowledge of these characteristics requires familiarity and shared history, which are clearly absent at first sight. It is easier to speak about sexual desire at first sight, since such a desire is based upon the attractiveness of the other person, something that can be perceived at first sight. Although people often confuse love at first sight with sexual desire at first sight, there are nevertheless genuine cases of love at first sight, as many people report.
The fundamental mistake in denying the existence of love at first sight is the assumption that we cannot attribute to a person characteristics that are not present at first sight. Such attribution is done spontaneously by using certain stereotypical evaluations. To activate a schema of an ideal person, not all aspects constituting the ideal have to be present. Sometimes items of seemingly no significance, such as a business suit, a doctor's uniform, a certain smile, or a particular voice, may activate one's schema of an ideal person. These considerations are consistent with the "attractiveness halo," in which a person who is perceived as beautiful is assumed to have other positive characteristics as well. Accordingly, attractive people, who are evaluated mainly on the basis of their appearance, are more likely to be the object of love at first sight. In light of its stereotypical nature, love at first sight can often mislead the participants as it is based more on imagination than on sight.
Can we speak about love at first byte? In online relationships, the weight of the other person's attraction is considerable smaller; getting to know each other is more crucial. As the information in the first message is quite limited, cases of love at first byte are rare. More common cases are those of "love at first online chat," as such a chat provides more information. For example, one may detect in the first chat a sense of humor and wittiness and instantly fall in love with the sender. The following characteristics, which Sandra described in her online mate (who has now become her husband), can be detected at first chat: "He was romantic, brilliant, poetic, witty, funny...everything I'd dreamed about in a man."
Love at first chat is linked with the "personality halo," in which a person who is perceived as having a certain positive personality trait is assumed to have other positive characteristics. People often say that, although they met online, "they hit it off right away." As one man writes: "She was funny and sexy and cute, and I was immediately attracted to her personality." Another woman testifies: "I instantly felt a connection to him for some unknown reason." We may speak here about "Net chemistry." A divorced woman, who spends many hours online every day, told that one day she began chatting with a man (younger than she is) and immediately was attracted to him. After two hours of chatting he asked her: "What are you doing this evening?" "Waiting for you," was her reply. Shortly thereafter, he came to her house and one of her greatest romances began. It was a very intense romance, although brief. She now chats with many men everyday, but she has never fallen in love in that way again-although she is still hoping to (Cited in Love Online).
It should be noted that although beauty has a powerful impact at first sight, the weight of this impact decreases as time goes by and once we know other characteristics of the person. Likewise, wittiness has a powerful impact at first chat, but its impact may be reduced once we know other characteristics of the person. When wittiness is perceived to be superficial and more profound characteristics, such as kindness and wisdom, are found to be wanting, the weight of the positive initial impact of wittiness may vanish.
In love at first sight, the high value accorded to the other's external appearance is projected onto her characteristics. In love at first chat, the high value accorded to the other's writing abilities is projected onto other characteristics, including external appearance. Both are instances of real love that is based on scant information and on imagination that fills the missing gaps.
Love at first sight can be the basis for profound, long-term love, provided that characteristics typically revealed in verbal communication later enhance-or, at least, do not oppose-the characteristics revealed at first sight. Similarly, love at first chat can be the basis for profound, long-term love provided that characteristics typically revealed to sight later enhance-or, at least, do not oppose-the characteristics revealed at first chat. The fact that such types of love may perish does not mean that they were not instances of true love. Time is not an exclusive measure for true love.