Love at first sight is a common trope in Western literature, in which a person, character, or speaker feels romantic attraction for a stranger on the first sight of them. Described by poets and critics from the Greek world on, it has become one of the most powerful tropes in Western fiction.
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 schema 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 Metamorphoses, Narcissus becomes immediately spellbound and charmed by his own (unbeknownst to him) image. 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..." "Love at first sight" was not, however, the only mode of entering into passionate love in classical texts; at times the passion could occur after the initial meeting or could precede the first glimpse.
Another classical interpretation of the phenomenon of "love at first sight" is found in Plato's Symposium 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.
Boccaccio provides one of the most memorable examples 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."
Shakespeare pays a handsome (posthumous) tribute to Marlowe by citing him in As You Like It: 'Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might: "Who ever lov'd that lov'd not at first sight?"'.
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 of a relationship have 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").
Occurrence in literature and the arts
Commentaries on The Bible often equate the account of Isaac's first view of Rebekah (Genesis 24:67) and Jacob's first sight of Rachel to 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. David marries Bathsheba and makes her queen of Israel. After Bathsheba gives birth to the son fathered by David's adultery, the prophet Nathan extracts a confession and repentance from David when he confronts the king about his sin brought about by lust. Nathan then predicts that the son will die, which comes to pass within a week. David laments his transgression in the writing of some of the Psalms.
Other literary works that use these tropes include:
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.
Catch-22 (1961) by Joseph Heller, "It was love at first sight" is the opening sentence
Shadow Falls (2011-2013), Derek Lakes feels attraction towards Kylie Galen; Lucas Parker falls in love with Kylie at the age of 7, when they first met
Gamble Fish, Emily Dawn is described to have a "love at first sight" personality, especially when she falls for Tomu upon first arriving,
Gokusen (2008), Sawada claims he was so cooperative with Yamaguchi due to the fact he fell in love with her at first sight; also in the live drama series Yamaguchi seemed to have a love-at-first-sight personality to a specific male character added to each new season.
"Love at First Sight" by Dr. Dieter Massion (composer), feat. Dania König (v) and Ro Gebhardt (g). Diego Imbert (b), Sergio Parra (sax,fl), Thomas Schmidt (g,p), Jochen Krämer (dr,perc). On album with the same titel; 1999, genre jazz
"Get Together" by Madonna, has a line asking "Do you believe in love at first sight?" and then she answers "It's an illusion/I don't care", since the subject of the song falls in love at the first sight, and she doesn't care if her lover believes it or not
"Heart Song" by Automatic Loveletter says "Love at first ain't messing around!"
"As She's Walking Away" by the Zac Brown Band describes a man who fell in love with a woman at first sight
In the chart-topping music video for Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved", the young man (lead singer Adam Levine) falls in love with the socialite mother (Kelly Preston) of his girlfriend at first sight; lyrically, the verse describes his seeing the woman for the first time, "Beauty queen of only eighteen/she had some trouble with her self".
Hotel Transylvania (2012), Dracula's daughter Mavis and the human Jonathan fall in love when their eyes meet. Dracula and Mavis' mother Martha also fell in love at first sight. They refer to it as a "zing".
Just Married (2003), when Tom And Sarah first see each other on the beach they fall in love and get married
Titanic (1997) Jack falls in love with Rose when he first sees her.
Coronation Street, Ken Barlow falls in love with Valerie Tatlock for the first time when they are introduced by Valerie's father Albert Tatlock in 1961, they get married the following year and it lasts solidly for 9 years, spawning twins, until Valerie's death by electrocution. Ken who is still in the series has married twice since that, but still misses her a great deal more than all the others (especially Deirdre Langton to whom has been married for 31 years).
The Vampire Diaries, Stefan Salvatore falls in love with Elena Gilbert the instant he sees her (although some might argue it was because he thought she resembled Katherine Pierce)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel sees Buffy Summers being called to become the Vampire Slayer and he falls in love with her; it's also widely speculated that Buffy fell in love with Angel the first time she meets him, though they both admit their feelings to one another early in the first season
^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."