Love at first sight is a personal experience and a common theme in creative works: a person or character feels an instant, extreme, and ultimately long-lasting romantic attraction for a stranger upon first seeing that stranger. It has been described by poets and critics since the emergence of ancient Greece.
In the classical world, the phenomenon of "love at first sight" was understood within the context of a more general conception of passionate love, a kind of madness or, as the Greeks put it, theia mania ("madness from the gods"). This love passion was described through an elaborate metaphoric and mythological psychological effect involving "love's arrows" or "love darts," the source of which was often given as the mythological Eros or Cupid, sometimes by other mythological deities (such as Rumor). At times, the source of the arrows was said to be the image of the beautiful love object itself. If these arrows arrived at the lover's eyes, they would then travel to and 'pierce' his or her heart, overwhelming them with desire and longing (love sickness). The image of the "arrow's wound" was sometimes used to create oxymorons and rhetorical antithesis.
"Love at first sight" was explained as a sudden and immediate beguiling of the lover through the action of these processes, and is illustrated in numerous Greek and Roman works. In Ovid's 8 AD epic, Metamorphoses, Narcissus becomes immediately spellbound and charmed by his own (unbeknownst to him) image, and Echo also falls in love with Narcissus at first sight. In Achilles Tatius's Leucippe and Clitophon, the lover Clitophon thus describes his own experience of the phenomenon: "As soon as I had seen her, I was lost. For Beauty's wound is sharper than any weapon's, and it runs through the eyes down to the soul. It is through the eye that love's wound passes, and I now became a prey to a host of emotions..."
Another classical interpretation of the phenomenon of "hunger at first sight" is found in Plato's Symposium (c. 385-370 BC), in Aristophanes' description of the separation of primitive double-creatures into modern men and women and their subsequent search for their missing half: "... when [a lover] ... is fortunate enough to meet his other half, they are both so intoxicated with affection, with friendship, and with love, that they cannot bear to let each other out of sight for a single instant."
Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque
The classical conception of love's arrows were elaborated upon by the Provençaltroubadour poets of southern France in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and became part of the European courtly love tradition. In particular, a glimpse of the woman's eyes was said to be the source of the love dart:
This doctrine of the immediate visual perception of one's lady as a prerequisite to the birth of love originated among the "beaux esprits" de Provence. [...] According to this description, love originates upon the eyes of the lady when encountered by those of her future lover. The love thus generated is conveyed on bright beams of light from her eyes to his, through which it passes to take up its abode in his heart.
Giovanni Boccaccio provides a memorable example in his Il Filostrato, where he mixes the tradition of love at first sight, the eye's darts, and the metaphor of Cupid's arrow: "Nor did he (Troilus) who was so wise shortly before... perceive that Love with his darts dwelt within the rays of those lovely eyes... nor notice the arrow that sped to his heart."
These images of the lover's eyes, the arrows, and the ravages of "love at first sight" continued to be circulated and elaborated upon in the Renaissance and Baroque literature, and play an important role in Western fiction and especially the novel, according to Jean Rousset.
Research has shown two bases for love at first sight. The first is that the attractiveness of a person can be very quickly determined, with the average time in one study being 0.13 seconds. The second is that the first few minutes, but not the first moment, of a relationship have been shown to be predictive of the relationship's future success, more so than what two people have in common or whether they like each other ("like attracts like").
Infatuation, not to be confused with love at first sight, is the state of being carried away by an unreasoned passion or assumed love. Hillman and Phillips describe it as a desire to express the libidinal attraction of addictive love, inspired with an intense but short-lived passion or admiration for someone.
Occurrence in literature and the arts
Commentaries on the Bible often view the account of Isaac's first view of Rebekah (Genesis 24:67) as love at first sight.
In 2 Samuel, King David of Israel observes Bathsheba while bathing – though there is no mention of "love" or "love at first sight." – and commentators equate this to "lust at first sight." He seduces her, fathers a child with her, and orders her husband Uriah the Hittite to be placed in the front of the battle, which leads to the death of Uriah.
It has been proposed that Jonathan's feelings for David when they first meet in 1 Samuel is also "love at first sight". They have been described as love at first sight both by scholars who posited their relationship was erotic, and those who have made no such argument.
The works of Dante Alighieri, an Italian poet of the Middle Ages who wrote many times about Beatrice Portinari; Alighieri had fallen in love with her early in his childhood, and her death in 1290 had a major effect on his life. Beatrice appears as a guide in Alighieri's Divine Comedy.
Love at First Sight (1885) by James Brander Matthews, "As soon as the doctor saw her he felt that he loved her with the whole force of his being; no stroke of love at first sight was ever more sudden or more irresistible", said of a human chess game where the queen is the one who is loved at first sight.
Opera plots must be condensed to fit their rendition in music and are thus highly suited to plot lines in which the principals fall in love at first sight. Often, this moment inspires composers to unusually fine music. Abundant examples include:
(1870) In Richard Wagner's Die Walküre, "Siegmund staggers storm-driven into Hunding's empty hut. Sieglinde enters and finds the stranger – they are unknown to each other, though brother and sister. They love at first sight."
(1896) In Giacomo Puccini's La bohème, "Rodolfo ... is interrupted by Mimi, a neighbor who is looking for some matches to light her candle. It is cold and Mimi and Rodolfo huddle together. They tell each other about their backgrounds in two touching arias. It is love at first sight."
(1911) "Di rigori armato il seno", an aria in Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss, describes falling in love at first sight despite the sternest precautions taken. The singer is not himself in love; he is a professional singer sent to entertain the Marschallin. Later on, two main characters, Octavian and Sophie, fall in love at first sight as Octavian fulfills his titular duty, presenting Sophie with a scented rose of silver on behalf of her suitor Baron Ochs.
The Bowery (1933), Chuck falls in love with Lucy at first sight.
Back to the Future Part III (1990), Dr. Emmett Brown falls in love when first meeting Clara Clayton after saving her; Brown earlier had claimed that the "idea of falling in love at first sight" was "romantic nonsense".
Edward Scissorhands (1990), Edward falls in love with Kim when he first sees her in a photograph.
Aladdin (1992), when Aladdin sees Jasmine for the first time at the marketplace.
Jason's Lyric (1994), Jason falls in love with Lyric from the moment he sees her.
Dumb and Dumber (1994), Lloyd falls in love with Mary after she opens the door to him.
Forrest Gump (1994), Forrest falls in love with Jenny when he sees her for the first time in a school bus.
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Charles loves Carrie since the first second he meets her, and after he tells near the end of the film and they kiss, a lightning bolt flashes across the sky. Fiona had fallen in love with Charles at first sight years earlier, and Tom falls in love with his distant cousin Deirdre while seating guests at Charles' wedding.
I.Q. (1994), Ed falls in love with Catherine at first sight.
Balto (1995), Balto falls in love with Jenna when he sees her for the first time at a mushing race.
50 First Dates (2004 film), Henry Roth falls in love at first sight with Lucy Whitmore.
Mean Girls (2004), when Cady first sees Aaron in math class she instantly falls in love with him.
The Notebook (2004), Noah falls in love with Allie upon seeing her for the first time.
Raise Your Voice (2004), Englebert 'Kiwi' Wilson Falls in love at first sight with Sloane.
Imagine Me & You (2005), where Rachel falls in love with Luce "after three seconds" of seeing her. The film discusses the idea of love at first sight in depth and an early title for the film was Click, in reference to a French-language term for the sensation of coup de foudre/love at first sight.
August Rush (2007), when Louis meets Lyla he falls in love with her instantly.
Hotel Transylvania (2012), Count Dracula's daughter Mavis and the human Jonathan Loughran fall in love when their eyes meet. Mavis' parents, Count Dracula and Countess Martha Dracula, also fell in love at first sight. They refer to it as a "zing".
Mirror, Mirror (2012), when Snow White and Prince Alcott meet for the first time.
About Time (2013), Tim falls in love with Charlotte at first sight.
During the 2011 Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episode, "Space Adventure", the Sensational Six's tool distributor, Toodles, and Space Pirate Pete's tool distributor, Quoodles, fall in love the second they first see each other.
The Care Bear Family, Good Luck Bear and Polite Panda fall in love with each other upon meeting in the 1986 episode "The Long Lost Care Bears."
Billions, Bobby Axelrod's recalls experiencing the "thunderbolt" when meeting his wife, Lara, in a key plot point in the second-season episode "With or Without You" (2017).
Gokusen (2008), Sawada claims he was so cooperative with Yamaguchi due to the fact he fell in love with her at first sight.
^According to Nathaniel Edward Griffin: "In the description of the enamorment of Troilus is a singular blending of the Provençal conception of the eyes as the birthplace of love with the classical idea of the God of Love with his bows and quiver...," in Boccaccio, Giovanni (n.d.). The Filostrato. New York: Bilbo and Tannen. p. 77 n.2. ISBN978-0-8196-0187-2.
^Boccaccio, Il Filostrato, Canto 1, strophe 29 (translation by Nathaniel Edward Griffin and Arthur Beckwith Myrick).
^Peter Alexander ed., William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (London 1962) p. 273
^Rousset, Jean (1981). "Leurs yeux se rencontrèrent": la scène de première vue dans le roman. Paris: 1981.
^Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Commentary ed. Earl Radmacher – 1999 "29:18, 19 loved Rachel: A rare biblical example of "love at first sight" (for his father's similar response to Rebekah read Gen. 24:67). The long seven years of service provides a stunning demonstration of the value Jacob placed on Rachel."
^Theodore W. Jennings Jr. (2005). Jacob's Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel. Continuum. p. 25. ISBN978-0826417121. As we have noticed, the attraction of Jonathan to David begins almost immediately as Saul is delighted in his new companion. This attraction is given extravagant expression. In the first place it appears to be love at first sight. We are told: "When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David" (1 Sam 18:1). Is it something David has said? Not likely. For what David has said to Saul is "I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite" (17:58). It is not something David has said. Instead, the reader's gaze has twice been directed to David's extraordinary beauty.
^Alan Redpath (2004). The Making of a Man of God: Lessons from the Life of David. Revell. p. 50. ISBN978-0800759223. We see, in the first place, that the love of Jonathan and David was pure in its origin. It seems to have been a case of "love at first sight (1 Samuel 19:3-4). As Jonathan saw David come back from the battle with the head of Goliath in his hand, he loved him as one brave soldier might love another
^Plot description from Henry Lowell Mason (1913) Opera Stories. Available on line at .