Part Two: Love at First Sight
‘At the hour of sunset Aragorn walked alone in the woods, and his heart was high within him; and he sang, for his heart was full of hope and the world was fair. And suddenly even as he sang he saw a maiden walking on a greensward among the white stems of the birches; and he halted amazed, thinking that he had strayed into a dream, or else that he had received the gift of the Elf-minstrels, who can make the things of which they sing appear before the eyes of those that listen.
For Aragorn had been singing a part of the Lay of Lúthien which tells of the meeting of Lúthien and Beren in the forest of Neldoreth. And behold! There Lúthien walked before his eyes in Rivendell, clad in a mantle of silver and blue, fair as the twilight in Elven-home; her dark hair strayed in a sudden wind, and her brows were bound with gems like stars.
Aragorn was abashed, for he saw the Elven-light in her eyes and the wisdom of many days; yet from that hour he loved Arwen Undómiel daughter of Elrond.’
–Appendix A, The Lord of the Rings J.R.R. Tolkien
It would not, should not, take any person longer than five minutes to come across some famous example of love at first sight in literature, history, or pop culture. It is perhaps even more popular than the meet-cute trope, and indeed often accompanies it together in romance, but is in and of itself an entirely unique and complex element altogether.
The reason why love at first sight is so prevalent and so widely used is because its history and origin can be traced back to the very root of Western literature, the ancient Greeks and, as they put it, theia mania or ‘madness from the Gods’. The Greeks had four terms that combined would create our modern day sense of love and one of those, eros, dealt specifically with the intense and passionate love that we would associate with romantic intent and of course, the irresistible desire that comes from love at first sight.
But first, what exactly is love at first sight? Not that any true romantic would be hard-pressed to come up with a definition or example but for argument’s sake, let us lay down some common ground to discuss. Love at first sight is a phenomenon, a powerfully personal event wherein a person (ourselves, a character, or a narrator for example) experiences this immediately overwhelming feeling of extreme and complete attraction and affection for someone from the very first moment they see each other. It is an altogether familiar, inviolable, and inalienable part of the human experience and has been discussed and lauded since ancient times and has profound implications in love, relationships, expectations, and our own psychology.
Love at first sight was used by the ancient Greeks not as a cause or result but as a symptom. The radical unreasonableness of falling seemingly head over heels in love instantaneously without consideration or reflection or hesitation was a symptom and it was a symptom of madness supposedly caused by the gods, more specifically Eros in Greek though we would be more familiar with his Roman name, Cupid. How Eros/Cupid caused this madness is also still very prominent in today’s culture, as we often depict Cupid with ‘love’s arrows’, which the Greeks used metaphorically and mythologically to depict how being hit by one of these would cause an overwhelming passionate love. And indeed from personal experience, I can attest that love at first sight feels heavy yet fast, immediate yet lingering, like being pierced straight through by an arrow. It flies straight through your heart in the blink of an eye the moment you see her. The intensity of which seems to take your breath away and pushes you back. It pierces quickly but also with tremendous force, seemingly going through you with no trouble, so that it leaves a giant hole in your heart whose emptiness you feel in every fiber of your being and whose painful void can only be filled with the love of the object of your affection. I can understand too why the Greeks would see this as a form of madness, as once you are hit your every thought and action is inspired and motivated by Her. Food is bland, colors are dull, even the world itself seems slower until you two are together.
The ancient Greeks felt it first but certainly not last. There have been references to love at first sight in the Bible with Isaac and his wife Rebekah in the book of Genesis. Dante used the intense love he had for Beatrice, whom he first saw when they were children at her father’s house, and the tragedy of her early death as inspiration for his Divine Comedy. The two tragic lovers Romeo and Juliet met first also at a party where Romeo fell in love with Juliet the moment he saw her and was overcome by her beauty. The Little Mermaid, Les Misérables, the list goes on and on into present day.
For example, I mentioned before that a big influence in how I learned about love and learned to seek and recognize love was from popular Japanese manga and anime. A big series of the 1990s growing up was Sailor Moon, which, anime fan or not, you have probably come across at least once in some form. In it, the titular heroine Sailor Moon falls in love with the mysterious Tuxedo Mask despite not even knowing who he was. A more obscure though no less entertaining example proves that love does not always radiate from the beauty of a woman’s face. In Strawberry 100% the main character Junpei falls in love with a mysterious girl and spends the majority of the series trying to discern the identity of his love despite the fact that the only thing he saw to incite this passion was her strawberry print underwear which she accidentally flashed him with when he surprised her on the school’s roof and caused her to trip and fall.
Much like soulmates, whether you believe in love at first sight or not, it is an integral and irremovable part of our cultural, psychological, and even biological response to, and identity of, love. And like the meet-cute, it is a well-documented and frequently used trope whose reality and implications for love are much more complicated than a ninety minute movie or book or even comic book can relay. Beyond just recognizing the prevalence and meaning of first love from its very earliest days in ancient Greece, I believe there are many things worth discussing about the phenomenon of love at first sight. There is the matter of how it can happen and what can cause these intense feelings that convince us that we are in the throes of an emotion as complex and intricate as love in mere moments. There is also the delicate relationship between intensity and profundity: two essential and equal components of lasting relationships, and how love at first sight can hint at either. And finally, like the meet-cute and the soulmate, how effective or reliable love at first sight can be at predicting the lasting success of a relationship.
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