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Can Love at First Sight Be Real Love?

People often ask me “Dr. Cookerly, can love at first sight be the real thing”?  The answer according to most of the research I’m aware of and the knowledgeable thinking on this question is “No, love at first sight probably does not and can not involve real love”.  “What is it then?” is usually the next question.  Love at first sight most often is a case of Imprint Mating.  Here is how Imprint Mating and the whole love at first sight thing is thought to usually work.

It seems that in early childhood we go through critical periods where we are naturally open to things having really strong effects upon us.  In some of these critical periods we become highly susceptible to certain images that have to do with love sources being powerfully imprinted into our deep non-conscious brain.  These images are of people who give us love or from whom we want our love to come during those critical periods.

Much later we encounter people who look, act, smell and perhaps sound like those images we imprinted.  When that happens we automatically project onto these people a false recognition response.  We subconsciously sense we are encountering someone to love, and to be loved by and to whom we already are love connected.  This often causes excitement and positive feelings similar to reconnecting with a long-lost, very important loved one.

Most commonly it is thought our imprinted images come from how we perceived and experienced our mother, or father (or an integration of both parents) before our fifth birthday.  Usually that means in our subconscious we are seeing a person similar to how one or both parents looked, sounded, acted, etc. when they were younger adults.  Sometimes it is not our parents but an aunt or uncle, or someone else who was a possible source of love which we imprinted at a highly impressionable critical period.

Once we project onto another person and ‘see’ in them our imprinted image, it triggers our deep built in ‘mating drive’ which makes us want to ‘mate’ with that person we feel ‘love at first sight’ with.  It’s kind of like, at that moment, that person is a screen onto whom we are putting our projected image.  Therefore, we are falsely seeing who we want to see, and are basically blind to who is really there, at least for awhile.  Mating, by the way, means much more than just having sex.  Our built in mating drive frequently pushes us to much more totally ‘mate’ with that person usually for at least several months.

Another fact quite vital to understanding the love at first sight phenomenon is to know that attraction and love are two very different things.  We can be attracted strongly and quite quickly to people we will never love.  We also can deeply and powerfully love people we do not find necessarily attractive.

Most love at first sight relationships don’t last very long.  Unfortunately some people who strongly rely on first sight love discover those relationships sometimes end in life damaging disappointment and heartbreak.  Others keep missing out on real love because they continue looking for the love at first sight false thing mistakenly thinking it is the real thing. Still others just give up on romantic love entirely.

Does all this mean that ‘love at first sight’ never leads to a lasting, healthy, real mate-type love relationship?  No, not at all.  There are those who grow a real love relationship after getting their relationship started with Imprint Mating.  That’s probably what keeps people believing in love at first sight; there are just enough people succeeding with a love at first sight start-up to keep people believing in it.  Also, it is a very pretty romantic myth, even though it probably causes more hurt and harm than it causes good.  Thus, love at first sight is best regarded as a form of false love which, nonetheless, could (but probably won’t) lead to a lasting, good love relationship.

What is the best thing to do if you feel like you have a love at first sight experience?   I like to suggest that the best thing to do is to operate from the Apostle Paul’s declaration, “love is patient”.  Therefore, taking lots of time to get to know who is really there usually works best.  Look long and hard for what is behind your projections and beneath your first impressions.  If real love is going to happen and grow, it will show itself to be real in time.  So, give it enough time.  Most forms of false love die out within a year.  Some can last a lot longer but usually don’t.  Proceed cautiously but also enjoy all the adventure and excitement of a first sight love experience, while getting to know the real person who is there over time.

Real love may develop but it will take exploration, experience and time to know if that is what’s happening.  If and when a first sight relationship ends you may know that you have had a good, and hopefully growthful love related experience.  Now, with this forewarning and knowledge you will know not to count on it too much, and hopefully you will avoid most of the hurt and all of the harm potential in a love at first sight experience.  Good luck!

As always – Grow in Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Image credits: “The Binocular Bunch” by Flickr user Supagroova.

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