Can you really fall in love at first sight?

Kathryn Wheeler
By Kathryn Wheeler,
updated on Feb 14, 2024

Can you really fall in love at first sight?

It’s the ultimate romantic notion, but what’s the reality, and can love at first sight stand the test of time?

The string section is rising, the camera slowly zooms in: someone has fallen in love at first sight. We all know how this plays out on the big screen, but can love at first sight truly happen in real life, and what’s going on inside our minds as we begin to fall?

When we fall in love, a lot of activity happens in our prefrontal cortex, the region of our brains responsible for executive functions like problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making. But while this part of the brain takes care of some important processes, it also makes snap decisions with minimal information. In fact, it’s estimated that 50% of the cortex is devoted to processing visual information – the stuff we see right in front of us.

In the context of love at first sight, that means falling for the way someone looks, or their visible actions and presentation, rather than the intangible aspects of their character that show themselves with time.

Next up, our bodies are filled with the feel-good hormones dopamine and oxytocin when we see someone that we’re attracted to. This emotional rush feels really good, and the chemical reactions that are happening also play a role in romantic attachment and bonding, giving us that sense of closeness. But that’s just the practical side of love at first sight, the full picture is much broader.

“One way of understanding why love at first sight, or initial deep connection, happens is that we all have a wish to return to a primitive love that reminds us of the unconditional love between the mother and baby,” says Soulmaz Bashirinia, a psychotherapist, sharing her own theory. “This is a time when the mother is not felt as separate from oneself but part of ourselves, and all our needs can be met in this intense cocoon of love. This is why we might feel we have found our ‘soulmate’, or that we are ‘one’, because we have regressed into a comfortable place where there is no difference. This can be a powerful feeling that gives us energy and makes us believe anything is possible. It may give us a great sense of fulfilment and happiness; it makes us feel as if we are among the clouds. This energy can be used in other areas of our life and can make us more confident.”

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It’s also worth considering what impact stories of love at first sight can have on us. When we see examples of bold, immediate, true love that inevitably leads to happily ever after, it can prompt us to lean into feelings that we may otherwise be more cautious around.

“It is often thought that this is a period of illusion and fantasy when we do not really see the other for who they are, but how we would like them to be. We might think of them as the perfect partner just because we deeply want that ideal partner with no faults,” Soulmaz continues.

“Sometimes idealisation can make us blind to unsafe and destructive aspects of the other. Safe and healthy relationships allow both to express themselves, and there is space for flexibility and movement. Both partners respect each other’s independence, and there is a shared feeling of giving and taking. So, while you enjoy the ride of being in love at first sight, you want to also give yourself time to reflect on your own hopes and ideals, and learn what your rosy glasses make you not see.”

So, can love at first sight ever last? When trying to land on an answer to these questions, psychologist Robert Sternberg’s 1980s ‘triangular theory of love’ is often pointed to. His theory suggests that all relationships are built on varying levels of three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment. You can apply these ideas to your own relationships. For example, think of a friend. You may be able to tick off ‘intimacy’ as you’ve grown to know each other very well, but not the other two. Another example is what Sternberg names ‘compassionate love’ – which ticks off ‘intimacy’ and ‘commitment’, but not passion, something which can happen in long-term relationships when the fire has dulled out a little. When it comes to ‘love at first sight’, Sternberg terms this ‘infatuation or limerence’ – a kind of love that only ticks the ‘passion’ box, seeing as ‘intimacy’ and ‘commitment’ are currently out of reach. Only with a balance of all three components will you achieve true love or, as Sterneberg termed it, ‘consummate love’.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop infatuated love growing into consummate love. And, despite all this, a study by dating app, which analysed more than a million search queries from across Europe to find out which country believes in love at first sight the most, proves many of us do have faith in the concept. Topping the list was Slovenia, but the UK was right up there – coming 6th out of the 46 analysed countries. One such person who would fall into this category of love at first sight believers is Dr Hana Patel.

“I met my husband, Surinder, online,” she shares. “I joined the website on a Friday and saw his profile that day. On Saturday we contacted each other and, as Surinder’s subscription was about to end the next day, he offered to give me his email and telephone number. We started chatting via email, and on the phone. I thought that – if Surinder was as nice in person as he was via email, as he sounded really fair, genuine, and a lovely guy – he would be the man I would marry. It felt fated, actually.”


Hana and Surinder had an adventurous first date on a mystery tour of London, all the while covering important topics such as religion, values, morals, career, and finance. By their third date, Surinder had met Hana’s parents – and she met his parents on their fourth. Three months later, they eloped to Barbados to get married. In November 2023, they celebrated their 10-year wedding anniversary.

Hana and Surinder’s story is an example of when love at first sight works out. But, when it comes to assessing the validity of love at first sight, ‘success’ doesn’t have to be the marker. As long as it is safe and healthy, there’s nothing wrong with falling head over heels for someone. Yes, deep connections take time and, if that’s what you’re looking to pursue, you should take note to curb the urge to rush in. But, whether it lasts 10 years or 10 days, as long as we’re in a secure and self-aware place, being open to love can be an utter joy.

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