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Is Love at First Sight Real? Here's What the Experts Say

Falling in love with someone instantly sounds like fantasy, but the truth is more complicated.

Whether we were raised on Disney movies, romantic comedies, or Broadway musicals, the concepts of true love, fate, and love at first sight have been ingrained in us from a very young age. We're led to believe that at some moment in time, we'll lock eyes with someone across the room and know instantly that we've found our soulmate. But is the idea of that instant connection based in reality? Can you see someone for the first time and know right away that they're "your person"? You're not alone if you've ever found yourself asking, "Is love at first sight real?" We consulted experts to find out the truth. Read on for their insights.

RELATED: How Do You Know You Love Someone? Look for These 16 Telltale Signs.

Love at first sight vs. physical attraction: What's the difference?

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Put simply, love at first sight is akin to a feeling that you're just "meant to be" with someone. It's often used synonymously with an instant initial attraction that's so powerful, it truly feels like love.

"The idea of 'love at first sight' is an age-old concept based on a belief that we can feel a profound romantic connection to a certain someone immediately upon seeing them," clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, author of The Joy of Imperfect Love, tells Best Life. "Many people want to believe in 'love at first sight,' as the concept feeds our natural human yearning for romantic love that was 'meant to be.'"

But while love at first sight likely involves some degree of strong physical attraction, the two are not one and the same.

"The key distinction between 'love at first sight' and physical attraction lies in depth and duration," Courtney Hubscher, LMHC, LCPC, NCC, of GroundWork Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, says. "Physical attraction is immediate and primarily based on external qualities—looks, demeanor, body language. It's a visceral reaction that can be powerful but tends to be superficial."

As Manly notes, love at first sight goes beyond this, and you may feel an "indefinable connection." Your intuition could tell you something like, "This person is right for me—this person matches me."

RELATED: The 5 Love Languages and How They Can Help You Communicate.

Common misconceptions about love at first sight

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The feeling will be mutual.

While we often see love at first sight portrayed as two people immediately falling for each other, the feeling isn't always mutual in real life.

As Beth Ribarsky, PhD, professor and director of the School of Communication and Media at the University of Illinois Springfield, highlights, you need to recognize that the person who's caught your attention could have a different opinion of you.

She cautions, "It is important to note that the other person may not experience the same feelings."

An instant attraction means a relationship will be easy.

Falling in love right off the bat doesn't mean that there won't be any bumps in the road. No relationship is entirely perfect, even if it feels like that in the beginning—and it's important to remember that they require effort to maintain.

"People want to believe they can fall in love with someone with an instantaneous connection because it also removes much of the work associated with finding an appropriate match and the effort of building and maintaining a loving relationship," Ribarsky says.

Love at first sight translates to destiny.

Because we've been inundated with the idea of true love, it's easy to believe that an immediate connection is destiny. If you end up together, this can feel that much more valid. Still, it might be a coincidence or good luck rather than the work of the fates. It may also have to do with your perspective.

"After someone is actually truly in love with someone, they often look back on their first lustful meeting with love-filled glasses—transferring their current feelings onto their initial interactions," Ribarsky explains. "Love is a communicatively constructed phenomenon of building feelings of emotional closeness, interpersonal affection, and commitment to one's partner and the relationship."

RELATED: These Are the 36 Questions That Lead to Love.

What does science say about love at first sight?

couple touching sharing romantic moment
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If you've ever wondered if there's actual research behind love at first sight, you'll be interested to learn that there is. But while movies and books perpetuate the idea that "love can be immediate, profound, and predestined," science takes a less romantic approach, Hubscher notes.

"Science provides a more pragmatic view. Research indicates that what we often interpret as 'love at first sight' is more likely a strong initial attraction," she explains. "Neurochemical reactions, such as the release of dopamine and oxytocin, play a significant role in these early stages of attraction, creating the euphoric feelings often associated with falling in love."

Ribarsky also points to this "flurry of feel-good chemicals" that are released when we get a first glimpse of someone we're attracted to.

Speaking of the brain and neuroscience, a 2021 study specifically studied the "impulse of love at first sight," finding that people fall in love faster when they want to. According to researchers, participants who had the desire to fall in love were faster at finding the correct partner, which is conducive to establishing a romantic relationship.

RELATED: 210 Deep Questions to Ask for a Closer Connection.

What are the signs of having fallen in love at first sight?

man falling in love at first sight
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You feel a magnetic pull.

If you do have that instant connection with someone, you might feel like you're automatically drawn to them.

"Falling in love at first sight often feels as if a magnet is pulling you toward the other person," Manly shares.

You want to know them on a deeper level.

Hubscher points out that you may feel an "emotional surge" and want to get to know this person on a deeper level.

Manly adds, "Falling in love at first sight often comes with a sincere interest in wanting to know more about the other person—almost an insatiable desire for emotional and mental connection."

It's also even more palpable if you are both feeling the same way or experiencing the "same draw," Manly says.

You don't have the words to describe your feelings.

happy senior man and woman whispering to one another
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Another sign that you might be lovestruck on sight is being unable to really put how you're feeling into words.

"Love at first sight tends to defy words—you might find yourself faltering at listing off exactly what you love about the other person," Manly says.

After you know more about the person, that's likely to change.

"Once you get to know the object of your love, you will likely be able to list countless qualities that you like—or love—about the other person," Manly adds.

RELATED: 7 Words of Affirmation to Make Your Partner Feel Loved.

Your attraction goes beyond just physical draw.

We've already explained the difference between love at first sight and physical attraction. So, if you do fall in love right away, you'll feel like your interest goes deeper than surface level.

"Falling in love at first sight can also be dizzying—almost as if you're in another realm altogether. And while you may feel a strong sense of sexual pull, the attraction will feel as if it's beyond the purely physical realm," Manly explains.

This is also different from "sex-based infatuation" and sexual attraction, she clarifies.

You feel nervous or hyper-focused.

couple at a bar on a first date
skynesher / iStock

You may notice specific physical signs, but these can also be confused with lust, so keep that in mind when you're checking in with your feelings.

"Because the chemicals that are released in our brains when we are lusting after someone are very similar to the ones released with a drug-induced high, our bodies often react in similar ways," Ribarsky shares. "Our pulse might increase, we might feel flushed, and feel fluttering in our stomachs when you see or especially touch them—the cliché butterflies."

You may also find yourself hyper-focused on the other person, even losing sleep as a result.

"It becomes a bit of a feeling of euphoria," Ribarsky says.

You have a sense of familiarity and a desire for a future together.

Another telltale sign of love at first sight is a "strange yet comforting" feeling that you know the other person already—maybe even that you've known them forever, Hubscher shares.

You might also be able to imagine your life with them from that point on, or "see them as a significant part of your life," she says.

RELATED: 10 Body Language Signs That Mean Someone Is Attracted to You.

Can love at first sight last?

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vorDa / iStock

The jury is somewhat out on whether or not love at first sight truly exists: You very well may experience this phenomenon and that instant feeling of knowing you've found the love of your life. However, experts and research suggest that this initial attraction may not be authentic love.

But let's look on the bright side: If you do have that instant connection and fall fast and hard, your relationship can certainly grow and withstand the test of time.

"Research shows that love at first sight can surely last, especially if the partners are well matched on key areas such as personality, interests, and values," Manly says, pointing to a 2011 study that compared those who fell in love immediately with couples who started out as friends. "Although some might predict that relationship quality is ultimately lower for 'love at first sight' couples compared to those whose romantic feelings grow over time, research shows that these couples enjoy the same relationship quality as those who build a friendship first."

The key to both relationships was a similarity in personality. Manly explains, "Those with more similar personality traits—whether it is love at first sight or otherwise—tend to enjoy a higher quality of romantic relationship."

By comparison, relationships that lack this element and are based solely on lust and physical attraction aren't likely to survive.

"Lasting love must be built upon more than simply physical lust. Love requires emotional intimacy and commitment," Ribarsky stresses. "The chemicals that are released in our brains when we are lusting after someone will eventually fade—or they will have less of an effect on us. So, we must work on developing a relationship built upon a stronger foundation than physical appeal."

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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