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Thursday October 6th

Classic Signals: Love at first sight debunked

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The tale of love at first sight has been around for centuries. However, there’s been debates as to whether or not it’s real. Romantics believe if there is love at first sight and you fall in love instantly, that person could very well be “the one.” But psychologists and scientists have debunked this theory, saying that people can become infatuated with a person at first sight, but real love grows over time. 

In a November 1999 issue of The Signal, a columnist argued why the theory of love at first sight is just an instant infatuation, and not true love. 

Think it's love at first sight? It's time to take a second look

A sophomore sits in the dining hall, asking her friends what they think is in today's mix of alleged mashed potatoes. She looks up for a second and notices a guy two tables down trying to get a good look at her. Their eyes meet, and he gives her a cocky yet confident smile along with a little wink. She gets this fuzzy feeling on the back of her neck. Could it be love at first sight — that passionate and seemingly unimaginable feeling that could affect anyone when they least expect it? 

Quite honestly, there's a better chance that she just felt a draft. The notion of love at first sight is purely fantasy — an idea dreamed up by hopeless romantics and Hollywood producers who know nothing about psychology or romance, but fake it to sell issues of Cosmopolitan or tickets to Leonardo DiCaprio's remake of Romeo & Juliet. 

I had a tough time finding any credible work confirming its existence, but I did notice plenty of articles about it in Seventeen, Redbook, and Ebony. 

Love at first sight is a nice thought, perhaps enough to keep teenagers, dreamers and columnists busy, but it could never happen in the real world. It is a psychological impossibility. Psychological research on relationships strongly refutes the existence of love at first sight. 

Gazing into someone's big, brown eyes might be enough to spark some interest, but calling it love at first sight is a gross exaggeration. It's just a strong infatuation, and, if handled improperly, that can lead to huge letdowns, depression and decreased self-esteem. 

The very idea is a contradiction — love as it is commonly defined by most individuals cannot possibly result from smiles, winks, or a "Hello" from a total stranger. 

So, how do people define love? That’s a tricky one. It always seems to mean different things to different people. Dale Wright, a professor at Juniata College and author of Personal relationships: An Interdisciplinary Approach, defines love as a strong attachment, strong affection or passionate feeling for someone. 

Researchers have identified many different types of love based on the presence of various different factors within relationships.

 For instance, in 1977, Robert Sternberg proposed that the major components of love were intimacy, passion and commitment and that relationships needed all three to be ideal. 

After an initial meeting between two people, the only one of these factors that could feasibly exist is passion. Sternberg labeled relationships with only passion as "infatuated love" - love at first sight being an example of this. 

In 1978, Elaine and William Walster defined passionate love as an intense longing to be with another and stated that such love could develop rapidly. They differentiated this from companionate love, which is a love based on a deep, committed friendship and involves trust and security. It is not always as exciting but is still extremely fulfilling and warm. 

Decisions about whether to pursue a potential relationship are often made at the time of the first meeting. However, relationships tend to develop slowly — a mutual attraction simply is not enough to serve as a basis for any kind of love, including passionate love. 

Individuals still need to get to know each other and see if they have similar values, relate well with each other, and have the same set of priorities in a relationship. They also need time to find out about the other's dedication to pursuing the relationship. People don't have time to do that within the span of a first meeting. 

Some might argue that infatuated love and strong feelings of passion don't require any of this. This may be true, but the question then becomes one of whether individuals consider infatuated love a relationship of love at all. The general consensus among psychologists in the field is that love at first sight as a legitimate form of love disappears as people age and gain relationship experience. 

Specifically, by the age of 20, a person's sense of how love develops seems to become sophisticated enough to support more realistic expectations. These expectations do not include a belief in love at first sight. 

Young people are more likely to believe in love at first sight and other more passionate notions of love. This past March, David Knox of East Carolina University published a study which showed a strong relationship between youth and romanticism. 

Through questionnaires from almost two hundred undergraduates, Knox found that college freshmen and sophomores were significantly more likely to believe in love at first sight than juniors and seniors. He concluded that age and relationship experience heighten individuals' intimacy development to the point where they realize that love takes time to develop and doesn't begin on a whim. 

Also, passion has been found to play a less important role in love than other concepts. Some experts have described love as a prototype, a mix of several overlapping components. In 1988, psychologist Beverly Fehr and others conducted an experiment in which they asked college students to name what was most important to them in love. 

They found that features of infatuated love, such as sexual arousal and ecstasy, were not considered as important as things like trust, respect, friendship and loyalty. Passion seemed to be the least important feature of love to these college students. 

The study seems to indicate that the students, on average, did not classify infatuated love as real love, and viewed love at first sight as nonexistent. 

This should be enough to convince a few people that love at first sight only exists in movies, magazines and dreams. Love is based on more than just a gaze into someone's eyes or a twirl of her hair — with genuine love, the feelings are much deeper than that. 

The first meeting between two people may be exciting, but it doesn't offer the chance to really learn the important things about a person. Relationships develop over time and depend less on passion than on other features. As people mature, their expectations become more realistic and less fanciful (or at least they should). 

If I have just crushed someone's dream of the ideal relationship with the hottie across the hall, I apologize. But people need to get their heads out of the clouds. Think of it this way — isn't it better to read about the falsehood of love at first sight than to find out about it the hard way?


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