A minute with Oriana

Debunking Love at First Sight by Oriana Ng

It’s the big myth that films, books and music have fed us for more than two thousand years. You see someone, the butterflies kick in, and then suddenly, you know that you are meant to be together. Yet you know nothing about this person - or do you?


In Ancient Greece, Plato believed that Zeus created humans and sliced them in half “like a flatfish”. Each of us is only one half of a human being, and we spend our entire lives longing for our other half (quite literally) so that we are made whole again. The recognition of meeting our other half is what we would define as “love at first sight”. Interestingly, some languages like French, Italian and Greek call it “lightning bolt”, inheriting the idea that it’s an otherworldly phenomenon left up to destiny - similar to the metaphor of being shot by Cupid’s arrow.


Scientists and sociologists have a more down to Earth analysis. Research shows that love at first sight comes down to chemicals and mating instincts - pheromones, odorprints (your immune system’s smell), wideness of the hips for women, etc. There’s also less ‘primal’ patterns of attraction: people tend to be attracted to similar faces and bodies to their own. “Familiarity is something we find attractive”, Ty Tashiro explains in The Science of Happily Ever After. And it isn’t just physical. Sociologists consider love at first sight to be the mutual recognition of two similar socioeconomic backgrounds. This would make sense since our socioeconomic background heavily determines how we talk, how we dress, how we interact with others, even how we move across a room. All those little things that create the “je ne sais quoi” which mysteriously draws us to a person… so much for star-crossed lovers!

Studies show it takes less than three seconds for you to decide if someone is attractive and only 0.20 seconds for you to fall in love. Whatever the reasons, love at first sight is a very real and powerful phenomenon. A brain experiencing it reacts the same way it does under cocaine. Neurologist Trisha Stratford’s research however attests the importance of mutual connection. “If you are attracted to someone and they return your gaze - the gaze is very important - (...) the reward circuit in our brain is activated (...) If they don't return your gaze, you will actually look for someone else.” This is already a bit more romantic than pheromones and social status.

Perhaps the reason love at first sight works is because we’re so engrossed with the idea of it. We want it so badly that we subconsciously do what it takes make it happen. The person we lock eyes with could have the worst personality, we would still persevere and compromise harder than for anyone else, just to honor that initial chemical reaction. So maybe it’s less about destiny and more about stubbornness. But if you’re happily in love, does it even matter?


Do you believe in love at first sight?

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