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Does Love at First Sight Really Happen?

An exploration of how people react to meeting their future life partners.

As a relationship therapist working with couples for decades, I have certainly heard my share of “first time you met” love stories—stories that recount how people met the loves of their lives. The stories run the gamut of “I just knew they were the one” to “ugh.”

I’ve also been asked many times whether it is possible to recognize “the one” right away and whether love at first sight really happens after a first meeting. I’ve made it a project of mine to explore patterns and similarities in the stories presented over the years and I'd like to share some of my findings.

I have heard many stories of “just knowing,” experiencing an electricity-like feeling and, yes, love at first sight—when it was known immediately that they had met their life partners. And yet, some first meetings were also quite awful and lacking any sense of connection, and even arguments were included in the mix.

It's not necessarily the case that people “just know,” but rather that there is something intuitive that led them to a second meeting. The common theme was that there was something special about the person perceived in that first encounter and an unexplainable desire to keep seeing them. Sounds like the obvious, but in hindsight, people reported actually "knowing" something but not being able to articulate what that meant and not knowing much for sure in the beginning.

What was more significant was that people reported that it was the lack of anything wrong that propelled them to want to see the person again rather than a concrete positive reason. The fact that there was nothing particularly wrong with anything in the encounter became the positive.

Another consistent finding was that there seemed to be a visceral positive reaction, despite the person not presenting as the "perfect person" for them. There was the theme of feeling comfortable, feeling as if the person was family, or that they knew the person forever.

Many times, they really didn't know that they were dating "the one" until a significant period of time had passed. It turned out that continuing to spend time with that person and realizing that there were no red flags that helped identify the "one" in hindsight.

Spending time with the person was also a pleasant experience, meaning they looked forward to seeing them again and could see themselves spending more and more time together going forward. No fireworks. For this reason, I would encourage staying the course when dating someone who might not inspire fireworks, yet presents no particular reason to walk away.

What are some things that might present a reason to run, not walk, away from a relationship? Ask any person who has been married and ended in divorce; they will gladly give you a lengthy checklist of horrible traits and behaviors to avoid. I would narrow the list down to the following:

  1. Is there any active addiction?
  2. Are they too self-involved to ever care for you despite what they might say?
  3. Do they lack empathy?

Everyone has their own brand of “dysfunction.” It is whether you are compatible and accepting of the other’s brand that determines whether a relationship has potential.

Finally, a word of caution about love at first sight. Oftentimes the person that we have a strong visceral attraction to is really not the best choice in life partner. We are oftentimes attracted to people that help us finish our unfinished business and issues from childhood — something worthy of working out with a therapist instead. Not sure how the universe manages to make that happen. And yes, love at first or fiftieth sight does exist.

More from Maria Baratta Ph.D., L.C.S.W.
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More from Maria Baratta Ph.D., L.C.S.W.
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