Love at first sight … is it real?

happy woman framing her eye with her fingers in a heart shape

Is love at first sight real? 

As popular and hopeful as the notion is, very little has been done to study what it means to fall in love at first sight.

Researchers in the Netherlands, in a 2017 study, found that "love at first sight (LAFS) is not a distinct form of love, but rather a strong initial attraction that some label as LAFS, either in the moment of first sight or retrospectively."

Sight is unquestionably important to how we process what and who we come into contact with (like that beautiful stranger across the bar). For example, pupils dilate when one person is attracted to another.

So, it makes sense to consider vision when it comes to those initial judgments regarding potential romantic partners. 

Let’s take a closer look at love at first sight:

Love at first sight in popular culture

Love at first sight has been proclaimed and celebrated throughout history and in countless novels, sitcoms, movies and wedding toasts. How many of us dreamed of falling in love in a single, blissful glance when we were growing up? 

An attractive stranger walks through the door, your (now) dilated eyes meet and something deep inside declares that this is true love. 

But will it last?

The odds are in your favor. Relationships born out of love at first sight actually do work out more often than you might think. (More on this in a moment.)

What role does sight play in love?

The visual cortex is one of the largest and most important structures within the human brain. 

Tissues used to process visual information take up nearly half of the cortex’s total area. And these tissues are exceptionally rich with interconnections, which help us to observe and remember what (and who) we see. 

Plus, as many as 80% of us are visual learners. Our ability to recall visual images usually far exceeds our ability to memorize words or facts. We’re much more likely to remember (and even dwell upon) that beautiful stranger’s hair color or facial structure than almost anything else about them. 

And that can lead to the belief that this powerful attraction upon first laying eyes on a new love interest is actually love at first sight.

Does love at first sight last?

Rutgers University visiting research associate Helen E. Fisher finds that while all relationships certainly begin with attraction, not all attraction leads to lasting romance. 

Fisher breaks down romantic relationships into three distinct phases, each characterized by a unique neurochemical signature. 

LUST: Maybe most closely tied to love at first sight, the “lust” phase is marked by the production of testosterone and estrogen.

ATTRACTION: Things slow down a bit in the “attraction” phase, during which dopamine and norepinephrine levels peak and serotonin is reduced. 

ATTACHMENT: Over time, long-term relationships settle into what’s known as the “attachment” phase. This is when we come back to our senses — or, to put it scientifically, when the hormones associated with friendship, closeness and enduring social intimacy settle in. 

How do you fall in love at first sight?

If almost every long-lasting romantic relationship begins with some form of love at first sight, it might be worth it to try to stand out from the crowd. Eye-catching glasses or sunglasses — or even dazzling color contact lenses — may help you become the object of someone else’s affection.

Or maybe you should just be yourself. 

Will you fall in love at first sight, though? That rests entirely in the eye of the beholder.

SEE RELATED: Eye anatomy: A closer look at parts of the eye

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