Snap Out of the Holiday Movie Spell: Love at First Sight isn’t Real

I don’t know about you, but the past month has meant Sundays full of feel-good holiday movies on the couch.

Whether it means a Hallmark Movie of the Week or the big Hollywood classics that reemerge each year like Love Actually and The Holiday, these warm, fuzzy films have one thing in common: someone always falls in love (which could be why a desire for sex rises during Christmas) – and usually at first sight.

Naturally, these films leave you with a desire to fall in love yourself, as you find yourself scoping the scene at coffee shops, in line at the bank or at a cocktail lounge, hoping to lock eyes with that sexy stranger, marking the beginning of a never-ending love story. Maybe you even make it a New Year’s resolution to fall in love in coming year.

While one in three people believe in the phenomenon of love at first sight, new (slightly soul-crushing) research suggests that it isn’t real – aside from in holiday movies, TV shows and novels, that is. Previous research into love at first sight had mostly focused on people who are already in relationships, a factor that is likely to distort the way the people viewed it, as if they are in a healthy relationship, they are more likely to remember the beginning as positive.

The recent conclusions were drawn from a collection of studies that involved 396 Dutch and German students and included around 60 per cent women and participants who were mostly straight. Participants were asked to look at photos of strangers, rank how attractive they were and to rate whether they felt any feelings of intimacy, passion and commitment toward them – the three components to psychologist Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love. The participants were asked to respond to statements, like “I feel the person and I were meant for each other.”

The students were asked whether they experienced love at first sight and believed they were destined to be together from simply viewing the photos. The experiment was repeated in a lab session where participants looked at the images in person. Two other tests involved in-person meetings between participants and strangers that lasted either 90 or 20 minutes before participants completed questionnaires.

Of the participants, 32 reported experiencing love at first sight 49 times – it happened more than one for some of them. It was mostly the men who reported experiencing love at first sight. As it turns out, however, these feelings were more lust than love and linked more to physical attraction than anything (something that’s not entirely surprising). The components to Sternberg’s theory of love were absent. Furthermore, none of the love was mutual during the dating events. The researchers also analyzed surveys completed by the students about their personal lives and found that those who believed that their relationship was a result of love at first sight talked about their significant other more passionately. Because of this, as with previous studies, the researchers concluded that people were projecting their current feelings onto how they initially felt, resulting in a more intense recount of that first meeting.

While it’s possible to be attracted to someone at first sight, it’s not possible to love them. Various bodies of research suggests that we are attracted to people who look like our parents, who look like ourselves and who have qualities like symmetrical faces. But, again, love and attraction are two different things – something that’s important to not lose sight of in our age of dating apps and social media.

I’ve seen the prettiest people turn ugly the second they open their mouth or once you meet them in real life, as opposed to forming rose-coloured opinions of them through their expertly curated, perfectly filtered social media shots.