Countless books, songs, and movies have rapturously portrayed the idea that you might one day look across the room, lock eyes with a stranger, and know instantly that you two are meant to be together forever. This phenomenon is portrayed in the movie The Adjustment Bureau in which Matt Damon’s character meets Emily Blunt’s character briefly in a bathroom and is thereafter willing to defy scary men in suits who control the world in order to be with her.
So what does science have to say about love at first sight? Well, it does appear to exist outside of movies and books in that many people describe falling in love with their partners instantly or at least very quickly (also see our recent post here). Not surprisingly, those who report experiences like love at first sight seem to be heavily influenced by the physical attractiveness of the object of their affection.1 Is there evidence that this type of love is enduring? Probably not. A study which followed newlyweds for 12-years found evidence that those who fall in love rapidly and then quickly marry also often divorce, but the divorces did not occur until later in the marriage (at 7-years or later). It appears that the intense passion they felt at the start of their marriages faded (as it did in most of the marriages studied), but what was unique in those who fell in love quickly was that this fading was more detrimental to the couples’ level of commitment to each other.2 It is unclear why fading passion would be more problematic for couples who expressed the strongest feelings of love at the start of the study, but perhaps individuals who fall in love quickly are those who also miss passionate love the most when it fades.
1Aron, A., Fisher, H. E., Strong, G., Acevedo, B., Riela, S., & Tsapelas, I. (2008). Falling in love. In S. Sprecher, A. Wenzel, & J. Harvey (Eds.), Handbook of relationship initiation (pp. 315-336). New York: Psychology Press.
2Huston, T. L. (2009). What’s love got do with it? Why some marriages succeed and others fail. Personal Relationships, 16, 301-327.