Day in and day out, we’re inundated with images of what love is meant to feel like. We’re told what it’s meant to look like in movie posters. We hear the raw emotion of it in songs on the radio, and smell the perfume of it walking through a crowd of people on the street. We’re burdened repeatedly on social media by “Date Night!” posts between couples and pictures of bae.
Hell, even buying food at the grocery store has something to say about what love is. And then there’s love at first sight: You’ve heard of it, I’m assuming. I’d even wager a guess that the idea of love at first sight brings a host of images to your mind – images of two people twirling in a loving embrace, having been thrust into an impassioned state in which they (beautifully) lose all control.
The concept of falling in love at first sight is ripe with the idea that love can—in a moment—grab hold of you, captivate you, sweep you from your own two feet. For me at a young age, the idea of love at first glimpse was narratively fascinating, playing either a starring or supportive role in the stories that grabbed hold of my imagination.
Then later, at the age when I knew “everything,” I would scoff at love at first sight as a false, archaic ideal—one that to led to failure because it was an impossible experience. I’d say things like, “I think love at first sight would be more accurately called lust at first sight,” casually brushing the idea off, while under the surface harboring a deep sense of disappointment.
But I have a new idea about love at first sight.
In her book Love 2.0, Barbara Fredrickson discusses the idea that yes, indeed, love at first sight is possible; however, it isn’t the sweeping off our feet into an abyss of emotion that we’ve been conditioned to believe. Instead, love at first sight is an emotion that arrives in one second, and leaves in another.
Love is fleeting.
This isn’t to say that the “fleeting” nature of love makes it any less significant. “Fleeting” in the context of love is meant to explain that love isn’t a steady-state emotion reserved for our significant others that we’ve been raised to anticipate. It’s not an emotion that you arrive at and which you are “in” for a long period of time.
Instead, as Fredrickson puts it, “Love is that micro-moment of warmth and connection that you share with another living being” – where “another living being” could be absolutely anyone. It could be someone you’re in a relationship with, or it could be a stranger you bump into on the street.
As an example of one of these micro-moments, just the other day I was buying some stuff at the grocery store, and the elderly woman in front of me on the conveyer belt made a comment about how healthy my food was, after which she said jokingly, “Don’t look at what I’m buying!” Our eyes met awkwardly, and suddenly we both burst out into laughter together, and in that moment a feeling of warmth and connection passed between us—if only for a few seconds.
We had just had our own little micro-moment of love for each other. It wasn’t a lesser version of the big Love, it was genuine love at first sight.
The beauty of understanding love as a micro-moment in time is that it removes the pressure we often place on ourselves to “fall in love” within a certain window, to be swept up in love for extended periods of time, and to “reserve” all of the love we have to give for the people closest to us. Love is something that can happen at any moment, on any particular day, with a stranger you pass on the street or the person you wake up beside every morning—who you can fall in love with over and over, every day, in a new way.
“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”
– Ursula LeGuin
A previous version originally appeared on The Strong Silent Hype
Photo: Getty Images