Does Cupid’s arrow work in love at first sight?



FUNNY the way a sentence in a book can jump out at you and start a whole train of thought. Lara Marlowe’s newly published memoir Love In A Time Of War, recounting her years with war correspondent Robert Fisk is a case in point for me.
“I fell in love with Robert Fisk in the office of the Syrian Information Minister on a cold December morning in 1983,” the second chapter of her book begins. Just like that Lara knew; it was a classic example of love at first sight, a coup de foudre, or lightening flash.
It’s not something that happens to everyone when it comes to romance. I remember asking the question: “Do you believe in love at first sight ?” in a psychology tutorial where I was a student and half of those present in the small class immediately affirmed that, not only did they believe in Cupid’s arrow but, that they had experienced that mutual electrifying glance and in some cases it had led on to courtship and marriage.
The other half of the class were adamant that love was something that grew slowly as you got to know the person involved, a better approach they believed and the accepted way affection should follow in an arranged marriage. How, they wondered, could you know instantly that this was the one?
That dart of love can be life changing. Prince Harry apparently knew when he first set eyes on Meghan Markle that she was the one for him and look what that has led to. Some people dismiss the phenomenon as lust at first sight. Harry’s brother Prince William (look how long it took him to propose to Kate Middleton) evidently belongs to the gradualist school of thought. He tried to persuade his brother to wait until he got over his infatuation.
Lara Marlowe pushed aside the feelings that flared between herself and Fisk on that December day and later married another Robert, only to find that it was a mistake to ignore the prompting of love at first sight. It was to be four years before she and Fisk lived together.
I side with Harry and Lara: there are far too many examples in fact and fiction for the lightning strike of love not to be true. “Whoever loved that loved not at first sight,” Phoebe declares in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
After all, it also happened to me and that first glance between us, in Langan’s Brasserie in London where I was on a Press trip, led to 40 happy years together with my late husband.
It seems that there must be more to love at first sight than physical attraction, just fancying someone isn’t enough to explain the life changing effect of being smitten in this way. And there is, I have heard people say that they experience an instant sense of recognition when they see their love interest. The explanation behind this is that they do an instinctive psychological read out of the person they have just encountered which matches their needs.
More prosaically the effect is also down to brain chemicals, as neurones fire into action. Science explains falling in love as a series of neurochemical reactions in which the brains reward system, fuelled by the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine, prompts the individual to seek closeness with the object of their affection, a reaction which can apparently happen instantaneously. One could say that we are physiologically programmed to fall head over heels in love. But the notion of a cherub-like Cupid firing arrows at hapless humans sounds more romantic.

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