Is there such a thing as love at first sight in real life?
What do you say when your teenager asks you if you believe in "love at first sight?" I found myself in such a situation a few years ago, and, I must admit, fumbled a bit for an answer.
Movies, magazines, TV, and books are full of stories about people falling head over heels in love the first time they lay eyes on each other. And it is a wonderfully romantic idea. No doubts or questions or second thoughts, just instant love.
Does it happen that way in real life, though? Well, yes, and no.
After almost three decades of working with couples, I cannot deny that many of them recall something like "love at first sight."
Call it chemistry, or destiny, or whatever, but they were aware from almost the very beginning that they were strongly attracted to each other.
Now I mention chemistry because there does seem to be some pretty good evidence that each of us will find certain people more attractive than others, and that a lot of this can be attributed to body type, appearance, mannerisms, voice, and even scent. As for destiny, some of us do believe that there is just one person out there for us to fall in love with and that we will somehow be guided to encounter that one person.
Whether you buy either of these ideas, more than a few couples report that they did experience an instant and almost overwhelming attraction for each other. And that first impression had a lot to do with how their relationship turned out. With such an intense and powerful beginning, marriage can even seem like a predestined conclusion.
Unfortunately, it doesn't always seem to be the best conclusion.
Research on long-term successful marriages suggests that such initial attraction -- or infatuation -- can certainly bring people together, but it doesn't necessarily keep people together.
Healthy marriages, in fact, seem to be a complex mix of both romance and friendship.
An initial "love at first sight" experience can certainly develop into romance, even romance that lasts for decades. And such a romance will likely have regular periods of intensity and even infatuation. It also will, however, have periods characterized more by a sense of comfort, tenderness, and deep affection. In fact, it is unlikely that any marriage could sustain the sort of emotional overload we can experience in falling in "love at first sight."
We will need regular periods of a more easygoing and less all-consuming love if we are going to have balanced and fulfilling lives.
Friendship, on the other hand, develops at a more sedate pace than romance. If we think of our best friends (and our partners need to be among our best friends), we realize that our relationships develop slowly over time. There exists a breadth and depth to our sharing that grows with each passing year. We come to accept, appreciate and cherish each other for who we are and who we are becoming. It becomes hard to imagine life without each other present.
Now, such a romantic best friendship can certainly start with "love at first sight." Such an initial infatuation, however, can blind us to the necessity of doing the hard work of creating sustainable romance and building meaningful friendship into our life together. And, when such "love at first sight" eventually wanes in its intensity (as it always will), we can become confused and disillusioned, and even question the foundation of our relationship.
Do I believe in "love at first sight?" Certainly. Do I believe that such an initial intense attraction is necessary to a long-term and healthy marriage? The evidence suggests otherwise. Though it can be a wonderfully intoxicating experience, "love at first sight" is neither necessary nor sufficient for a healthy marital relationship.
Working toward creating a romantic best friendship will likely lead to the sort of marriage that we will find fulfilling for a lifetime.
• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaracare Counseling Center in Naperville, Downers Grove, Geneva, and throughout the North Shore. His book "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children" is available online.