Sorry Romantics, but Love at First Sight Isn't Real

One of these people thinks they're in love. (Hint: It's probably the guy.). klublu/Shutterstock

You spot someone across the room and lock eyes. Your heart flutters, and time seems to slow. You might call it love at first sight, but it's probably not actually love.

At least that's the word from a study published in the journal Personal Relationships. The researchers found that the concept of love at first sight was almost always a strong initial physical attraction, and that people either applied the label of love right in the moment or did it after the fact.

On the upside, the lust people feel is very real.

Cool it with the heart eyes emoji, dudes

Researchers from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands conducted a few different experiments to study the love at first sight phenomena. The first involved 396 Dutch and German university students. Sixty percent were female, and and most of the participants were straight.

Recruited through an online survey, the students filled in a questionnaire about their current relationship statuses and and then were asked to rate their attraction to photos of people they'd never met before. Respondents also noted if they experienced any feelings of love, intimacy, commitment and passion upon looking at the photograph. Most significantly, the students were also required to to state whether or not they were experiencing love at first sight.

Some other students went through the same process, but in a lab setting instead of in front of a computer monitor.

Two other experiments involved a speed-dating exercise. The first involved participants spending 90 minutes with a potential partner and the other had them spend 20 minutes. In both instances, 50 students answered questions about their feelings and if they experiences love at first sight.

A woman and a man make a love connection
A mutual love at first sight experience was rarely seen in the study. pathdoc/Shutterstock

Across these studies, 32 of the participants (mostly men) reported experiencing love at first sight in 49 different instances. However, the feelings of love were strongly tied to a sense of physical attraction; for instance, a one-point increase on the attraction scale (1-5) resulted in a nine-fold increase in the likelihood of declaring love at fight sight.

Unluckily for those love-at-first-sight types, the response was rarely mutual during the speed-dating sessions.

As a result of their experiments, the researchers concluded that their "findings suggest that love at first sight reported at actual first sight resembles neither passionate love nor love more generally." Instead, it's likely that people who say they fell in love at first sight is "a strong initial attraction that some label as 'love at first sight' — either retrospectively or in the moment of first sight."

That retrospectively part might hit close to home for some, too. When participants described their current relationships and explained that they fell in love at first sight with their current partner, they did tend to describe their relationship with more sweeping, passionate vocabulary when compared to those who said they didn't fall in love at first sight. The researchers think it's far more likely "that people project their current feelings into the past," hence the idea that they fell in love when they first laid eyes on their partner.

Love on the brain

Speaking to Today, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher at the Kinsey Institute said, "Romantic love runs along certain electrical and chemical pathways through the brain. And these can be triggered instantly."

Fisher, who wasn't involved in the Groningen study, argues that these "love maps," or a pattern of desirable traits we develop early in our lives, are easily activated whenever we meet someone who checks off a good number of those traits. "You can get scared in an instant, and you can fall in love in an instant. But the person, to some degree, does have to fit into your love map," Fisher explained to the Toronto Star.

So, if you're a more romantic reader, take solace in the fact that the Groningen study's experiments were all somewhat contrived. Rating pictures online, while not unlike how some of us decide who we may want to date now, can't necessarily recreate that spark of attraction you experience in person.