"This was love at first sight, love everlasting: a feeling unknown, unhoped for, unexpected--in so far as it could be a matter of conscious awareness; it took entire possession of him, and he understood, with joyous amazement, that this was for life."
Love at First Sight (by Robin Nixon Uncapher):
Not long ago, AAR Reviewer Rachel Potter asked the rest of our staff if she was the only one who was skeptical of the idea of love at first sight. Love at first sight is not a concept that she finds credible and this fact has spoiled a number of romance novels for her.
This issue of At the Back Fence is going to be devoted to Love at First Sight, whether it is credible, and which books people liked or didn’t like as a result of stories based on this phenomenon. We'll hear not only from Rachel, but AAR Reviewer Christine Peterson as well; their point-counterpoint discussion forms the basis for this column. We'll also hear from some readers and LLB.
As I see it, there are two questions at work here. The first is whether or not love at first sight actually exists, the second is whether it makes for a good story.
Personally, I believe that it has to exist because so many reasonable people say it has happened to them. Almost everyone agrees that lust at first sight exists but there are many level-headed people who will tell you that what they experienced was not lust - it was love.
LLB asked our readers to comment on this on our Potpourri Message Board and we received, what I think was an interesting array of answers.
Margaret is a woman I would put in the “true believer category,” because her answer to the question describes what I take to be a real instance of Love at First Sight. Margaret writes the she met her husband in March, married him in April and was happily married to him for 30 years before he died. She is quite adamant in arguing that this really can happen, saying ,"Love at first sight? Definitely!! You can meet someone and have such an instant, complete connection that you just know - this is the person I was meant to be with for the rest of my life. It happens it real life so I don't have a problem when it happens in books...So, of course, I love a book where the hero meets the heroine and the attraction is immediate."
Others, however, were more mixed in their reactions. They believe but their experiences are more complicated than those in the “thunderbolt” category, which is how Mario Puzo described the Love at First Sight experience in The Godfather. Fiona was one of these somewhat less enthusiastic about the concept. She experienced what she described as “love at second sight.” It happened very fast but the two had known each other for a bit of time. Fiona wrote, “The first time I saw my husband it didn't hurt that he was handsome, his eyes were the most beautiful shade of blue and he looked great in his military uniform. The way we met was very romantic and funny, and after 33 years of marriage we still remember our first conversation.”
But, it seems, in spite of this attraction, things became problematic when two very real people got together. Fiona continued,
"It was afterward that we found out that we had very different goals, came from different parts of the country and our family backgrounds were completely different (mine was very stable, his was chaotic at best). We stopped seeing each other after about six months and then met by accident some months later on a train platform in a city with millions of people. I looked up and there he was. He said something romantic about not wanting to spend the rest of his life meeting me by accident on train platforms in large cities. We were married 2 months later and I can't believe 33 years has slipped by so fast."
Rene is a true believer like Margaret, but explains that life get more complicated after the thunderbolt. Rene was her husband’s secretary and the attraction was instantaneous. “I remember during the interview being instantly attracted (not particularly in a sexual manner) and being disappointed that he had a son (didn't know he was divorced). To make a long story short, I worked for him a month before dating. We dated 3 months before he popped the question. He wanted to propose earlier but his sister's boyfriend hadn't proposed yet and begged my honey to hold off. My fiancé wanted to marry right away, but I insisted on a princess wedding. So we got married 10 mos. later. We celebrate 7 years in August.”
Rene explains the experience as real love not just attraction. “I knew on my first date that I was going to marry him. I wouldn't classify it as love, I just knew. I was a 25 year-old college graduate that wasn't particularly starry eyed. It wasn't lust, physically, he's not my type. I can't explain it.” And she lets us know that the initial burst of feeling would not have sustained a marriage, “I also agree that it wouldn't have been enough to maintain a marriage. That takes work. A lot of work.”
Though many see Love at First Sight as merely lust, the stories seem to go beyond that. I enjoyed reading Anna's answer to this question because it explained that there was more going on in these meetings than hormones. Anna wrote:
"Any student of psychology can tell you that love at first sight exists because of the phenomenon of positive transference. We meet people and instantly feel connected to them because they remind us of some significant other from our past. This 'instant rapport' response can occur in varying kinds and degrees all the way from an inner sense that the other person understands and likes us to a feeling of lustful longing to a deep and profound certainty that we have found our soul mate.
"The fact that love at first sight (positive transference) is a real phenomenon is not to say that it is a good basis for making a commitment to that person. One should consider whether or not the individual's total character and personality would constitute a compatible relationship over the long term. As I told my children, there are many people one can 'fall-n-love' with, be it at first sight or otherwise, but not many people in this world whom you would be able to live in harmony with on a daily basis for many years of your life. As Kevin Costner once said, 'Marriage is a tough gig.' "
My personal feeling about love at first sight is that the people who experience it have two things in common. First, they trust their emotions. They are the kinds of people who believe that what they are feeling means something larger than what is on the surface. For thirty years I have been good friends with a woman I will call Dorothy. Dorothy is brilliant talented and beautiful and has been married for twenty years. Dorothy met her husband about three months before they got married. From the moment Dorothy met Larry she said, “He is the one for me. I just feel it. I have never felt this way before.”
But, impressed as I was with Larry, her fiancé, I have to admit that I was skeptical. Why? Well, because Dorothy had been in love before. Each time she fell in love fairly quickly. Each time she said, “He is the one for me. I just feel it. I have never felt this way before.”
Dorothy wasn’t flighty - as her twenty year marriage shows - but she is the kind of person who is willing to stake her life on emotion.
The second question I think we should ask is whether love at first sight makes for a good story. I think the answer is “yes,’ but that it is trickier to pull off than many writers think it will be. Just because something occurs in real life doesn’t mean that it is easy to make believable.
The major love at first sight romance that jumped out at me when I was thinking about this was Romeo and Juliet. I was fourteen when Franco Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet came out. I absolutely loved it especially the bedroom scene after the two are married. I still love things about it: the acting, the costumes and the beautiful words. But the story no longer moves me the way it did. Why? Because I can’t help that pesky wondering how these two would have gotten along once they had to sit down together at dinner at nigh. Would they have had anything to talk about?
Dickens makes his own point about love at first sight in the autobiographical David Copperfield. His answer about what the two would have had to talk about it a resounding “nothing.” David’s falls in love with his first wife Dora the moment he meets her, he is entranced:
"We turned into a room near at hand (I think it was the identical breakfast-room, made memorable by the brown East Indian sherry), and I heard a voice say, 'Mr. Copperfield, my daughter Dora, and my daughter Dora's confidential friend!' It was, no doubt, Mr. Spenlow's voice, but I didn't know it, and I didn't care whose it was. All was over in a moment. I had fulfilled my destiny. I was a captive and a slave. I loved Dora Spenlow to distraction!
"She was more than human to me. She was a Fairy, a Sylph, I don't know what she was - anything that no one ever saw, and everything that everybody ever wanted. I was swallowed up in an abyss of love in an instant. There was no pausing on the brink; no looking down, or looking back; I was gone, headlong, before I had sense to say a word to her."
It is obvious to the reader how foolish Dora is, almost from the start. But it takes David a bit longer to realize his folly. In a chapter entitled “Housekeeping” we begin to see that Dickens fully intends to expose the difficulty of marrying when love at first sight has not gone on to deeper understanding:
"It was a strange condition of things, the honeymoon being over, and the bridesmaids gone home, when I found myself sitting down in my own small house with Dora; quite thrown out of employment, as I may say, in respect of the delicious old occupation of making love."
And as life goes on Dora reveals herself fully and we begin to despair for David and his future happiness:
" 'my precious wife,' said I, 'we must be serious sometimes. Come! Sit down on this chair, close beside me! Give me the pencil! There! Now let us talk sensibly. You know, dear'; what a little hand it was to hold, and what a tiny wedding-ring it was to see! 'You know, my love, it is not exactly comfortable to have to go out without one's dinner. Now, is it?'
'N-n-no!' replied Dora, faintly.
'My love, how you tremble!'
'Because I KNOW you're going to scold me,' exclaimed Dora, in a piteous voice.
'My sweet, I am only going to reason.'
'Oh, but reasoning is worse than scolding!' exclaimed Dora, in despair. 'I didn't marry to be reasoned with. If you meant to reason with such a poor little thing as I am, you ought to have told me so, you cruel boy!'"
Now, as everybody knows, Dora goes on to do the best thing a really unsuited wife in a Victorian novel can do. She dies, beautifully and tragically.
David goes on to marry Agnes, the calm, intelligent woman with whom he has been friends for years. David did not fall in love with Agnes at first sight and Dickens seems to be making a point about that.
I looked over the list of books that I’ve read in 2001 and found only two that I would put in the Love at First Sight category. The first is Barbara Samuels’ Night of Fire. In this book the hero and heroine have been correspondents, writing to each other about a manuscript. Their epistolary relationship leads to friendship and each has imagined the other to be much older and less attractive than they would considered acceptable in a mate. From the moment they meet they are attracted, so much so that they consider not pursuing the friendship for fear that it will become a love affair. The hero, Basilio, is engaged.
As the relationship develops, however, Barbara Samuels makes it clear why the attraction is more than physical. The two actually know each other very well and have a lot in common. This author used a similar device when writing as Ruth Wind in In the Midnight Rain wherein the hero and heroine have previously exchanged emails over the Internet. Neither imagined that the other was so attractive, but it made the instant attraction when they met, much easier to accept.
The second book that I read in 2001 with a Love at First theme was Georgette Heyer’s The Spanish Bride. What makes this interesting is that The Spanish Bride is a novel based on a real love story and marriage. At the very start of the book, the heroine walks into an English encampment in Spain with her aunt. The aunts asks for protection for her niece at which point the hero steps forward and offers to marry the fourteen year old girl. A twenty-five year old man marrying a fourteen year old stranger strikes me as the makings of a complete disaster, but this was a successful marriage. Apparently both claimed to the end of their days that the meeting had been love at first sight.
So how do you feel about it? Does love at first sight hurt a book for you? Does it make it more exciting? And, do your own experiences color how you feel about it?
Rachel and Christine face off next.
|Love at First Sight - No Way!|
Okay - you know the drill:
A man and a woman meet, feel an instant attraction to each other, often accompanied by an overwhelming degree of lust. Within weeks, days, hours, or minutes, they are willing to throw all caution to the wind to be together and to commit to each other, because they know they have found their soul mate, their other half. They know they can trust each other absolutely, and, therefore, all consideration of financial matters, social diseases, religious beliefs is completely unnecessary.
When I read something like this sirens begin screaming in my head, red flags go up, and I hear my inner voice say, "Um...no."
Call me cynical and closed-minded, but I don't believe in fate, I don't believe in past life relationships, and I don't believe in Love at First Sight.
For the sake of clarity, I would also include in this category stories that have the hero and heroine declaring undying love after three weeks or less. (Although there's nothing that magically reassuring about weeks four, five and six.) I'm a rather pragmatic, skeptical sort of gal, and when the hero and heroine meet and just know that they've found their soul mates after spending minimal time together, it just doesn't ring true. I mean, how can they just know? All I can think about is that these two don't really know each other, and down the line two or three years a divorce lawyer is going to make a killing on their rushed emotions.
For a romance to really satisfy me I have to know when I turn the last page that these people have both the basic compatibility and communication skills to survive a lifetime of hardships together. It's part of the HEA ending, and a requirement for me. I don't feel that the Love at First Sight plot very often demonstrates that the hero and heroine have what it takes to stay together for the long haul.
Here is a short list of books that didn't work for me because the the Love at First Sight angle:
|Born in Shame by Nora Roberts||Even if I could buy all of that past life relationship stuff, Shannon and Murphy still got together mighty quick. I would have thought these two would have had more catching up to do on what all they'd been up to since last they'd been alive. But I guess if you're soul mates, you don't need to catch up. You already know everything.|
|On Bear Mountain by Deborah Smith||Okay, I know there's a complex web of family history between these two, but Ursula and Quentin spend almost no time together before:
|Prince Joe by Suzanne Brockmann||I'll cut this relationship a little more slack because while Joe and Veronica are together, they are really together (24/7 togetherness), and they also survive a number of very stressful situations. (Surviving an assassination attempt gets a few more relationship points than surviving a long car trip, for instance.) Still, they've only known each other a few weeks by the time the book ends. What are they going to do when they come down off that adrenaline rush?
Brockmann writes a lot of these short, very intense plots. I like her writing style, but the length of the relationship in her books is almost always too short to be credible, in my opinion.
|First, Best, and Only by Barbara Delinsky||This book contains a variant of the Love at First Sight plot. Marni and Web were involved together a long time ago. When they meet again, they fall in love and commit to each other in a matter of days. It's very sudden, especially since the hero admits that he didn't love the heroine during their long ago affair. And, you know, a lot can happen to a person in fourteen years. A lot more than can be properly communicated in a few short hours. This book would have really worked for me if the time period had been a couple of months instead of a couple of days.|
And lest it be said that I am just a nasty nay-sayer, I would like to point out that I am not alone here. AAR Senior Reviewer Katarina Wikholm says that a lasting HEA after a couple falls in Love at First Sight doesn't ring very true. She says it seems "terribly clichéd;" she prefers time and intimacy instead, adding that "Eyes meeting across a crowded room feel too 'teenaged.' " And AAR Editor Jennifer Keirans concurred:
"I'm a pretty skeptical person. I can accept it in romance novels, but I need to see pretty compelling evidence that the hero and heroine are right for each other, and that they both have what it takes to see it through in the long run.
"This was, in fact, exactly the problem I had with Jo Beverley's The Dragon's Bride. The hero and heroine fell in love at first sight when they were fifteen, and then spent the next eleven years apart. When they see each other again as adults, they're just as much in love as they ever were. I just didn't buy it. Maybe grownups can fall in love at first sight and know that this is a commitment they mean to keep forever - but I can't imagine still being in love with the boy I liked when I was fifteen. I can't imagine anyone looking at me and loving me because of his memories of me at fifteen. I just can't bend my mind around it."
Finally, AAR Reviewer Maria K also had doubts about the Love at First Sight phenomenon. She does believe in instant feelings of infatuation, sympathy, and sexual attraction and says that it's conceivable that she could have positive emotions about a person after meeting them only briefly, but she wouldn't call it love "until it has stood the test of time and the couple have come to know each other, trust each other, and support each other...I don't believe you can love someone you don't truly know."
Now there have been a few - very few - instances when I have been willing to suspend my Love at First Sight disbelief because I enjoyed the story so much. Two such examples are Judith Ivory's The Proposition and Jennifer Crusie's Welcome to Temptation. In both of these books the duration of the story is short - about six weeks - but the characters are with each other constantly. And I liked both books so much that I stomped down my skeptical nature with a forceful, "Oh, what the Heck!" Similarly, the courtship of the couple in Rachel Gibson's short story, Now and Forever from the anthology Secrets of a Perfect Night is very fast, over a weekend, but in this case the characters had known each other extremely well at some time in the past. I could have chosen to make a mental stink over this, but I did not.
AAR Editor Nora Armstrong expresses this more articulately:
"If the author is skillful enough I'll buy the story. Can she introduce me to characters that I can believe in? Is the situation presented in a plausible manner? (Note I did not say, 'Is the situation a plausible one?') Does the author show me that there's more going on between these people than just rampant lust or raging hormones? Does she show how her characters act and react in difficult or challenging circumstances? Does she demonstrate how they build a real relationship, instead of glossing over any possible problems? Do the characters stay in character? If the answers to these questions are positive, then yeah, I'll accept it. If not, get out the plaster-patching kit for that dent in the wall."
So there are the thoughts of an admitted cynic on the Love at First Sight premise. My colleague Christine Peterson, in response to the question "Do you believe in Love at First Sight?" answers with a resounding...
|Love at First Sight - Yes Way!|
Some enchanted evening, you will hear him calling....
Okay, so to the logical mind Love at First Sight makes no sense. It's crazy, absurd, and irrational. This is precisely why it works in romance. What's more romantic then two strangers getting caught up in an all consuming passion? What makes the heart soar more than the possibility of meeting your soul mate, feeling an instant connection? Isn't the theme of every romantic story that love does conquer all? It's no more outlandish then the adversarial romance or the arranged marriage plot. If plots of novels followed how most people proceed in relationships, let's face it, it wouldn't be very exciting.
When two people feel a special connection upon their first meeting, it is often that very thing that keeps them fighting for what turns into a more lasting bond later. When people fall in love, in romance or otherwise, it's never sunshine and roses for very long. Obstacles and conflicts are bound to arise. AAR Reviewer Marianne Stillings reminds us that anyone who feels an instant attraction for someone is basically falling in love at first sight. She continued to say, "After that, it's a matter of the other person's actions or ideals that make us fall out of love, or more in love, depending."
Remember Splash? Daryl Hannah's character saves Tom Hanks and they both never get over it. This is why they are able to overcome the whole man/fish thing. The series Darhma and Greg is also based upon the Love at First Sight premise; the pair met and fell in love in the first episode and the rest of the show has been dedicated to them keeping the romance alive between them. Of course, for Love at First Sight or any plot to work, is all in how what the author does with it. In Dara Joy's short story My One from the Lovescape anthology, the hero is an alien who falls in love with the heroine before seeing her. He hears her "calling" him from light years away and shows up on her doorstep. Being a reasonable woman, Lois is resistant at first to the advances of this hunky stranger but the connection and attraction to Trysten prove too powerful. In Alice Hoffman's books, including Illumination Night, Practical Magic, and The River King, couples fall in love at first sight. Since Hoffman's style is dreamy and magical, love at first sight fits right in. Another example comes from Was it Something I said? by Valerie Block; the hero and heroine are sitting next to one another on a crashing plane. Before they even exchange names, they are kissing, kissing while the plane loses altitude. They develop a closeness in those few moments that wouldn't necessarily come with a normal courtship process.
When this topic was raised among our staff, it created some very lively discussion. AAR Reviewer/Pandora's Box columnist Linda Hurst mentioned that she's been married for more than thirty years to a man she met and married within two months of their meeting. She added that she has several friends who "knew" the other was "the one" immediately as well, so Love at First Sight stories work very well for her. She points to Jayne Ann Krentz's Grand Passion as a favorite. "The scene where they first meet is very believable, that immediate awareness they have is so nice, but they do have a few hurdles before they fall into bed - like he thinks she is someone's mistress."
Senior Reviewer Lori-Anne Cohen still believes in Love at First Sight, but doesn't believe people always recognize it right away. She sees that reflected in many, many romance novels when there's that "I loved you from the beginning but just didn't know it" scenario.
Now, The Sound of Music is one of my favorite movies and has one of my favorite love stories. Those watching will see that Maria and the Captain are falling in love but they don't admit it until later. When they do finally admit their love, they ask each other when they first knew...they both relate stories (his blowing that silly whistle and her sitting on the pine cone at dinner) that took place the day they met. I always wondered if they really "knew" that day or if they only really thought about it in hindsight. In any respect, they definitely knew that something was up from the beginning.
In Madeline Hunter's newest, The Protector, title characters Morvan and Anna have a real bonding moment, but they aren't together. There is this great scene where Morvan, convinced he will die of the Plague, is sitting looking out onto the water. Anna is back at the house but is looking in the same direction and sees him. They both watch the sunset and as the sun goes down, the both feel connected to each other and to everything going on around them. They don't know that they have had a bonding experience at that point, but the reader does. It's a truly beautiful moment in the book because it's easy to see that though they are going to fight their love, they are already bonded together in a way.
So in life, be cautious, be skeptical, question everything, but when you read about love, let loose and allow yourself to believe that Love at First Sight is a close as your next car accident or trip to the grocery store.
On What They Said (by LLB):
Okay, I admit it, Jimmy Carter isn't the only one to have lusted in his heart. I've had physical reactions - even crushes - several times in my adult life, and yet none of them compares to that moment when I first met my husband back in the late summer of 1978. I was a 17-year-old college freshman 1,500 miles from home and he was a 23-year-old law student; we both fell in love immediately and never looked back. There have been good times and bad; we faced a horrible 5-year period together when my father was dying of cancer. That last year, we flew to Los Angeles after work and returned to Dallas late Sunday night every weekend for the entire summer. We've been through many difficult issues related to our daughter. There was my husband's business traveling for the period I was pregnant and during the first two years of Rachael's life, occasional career set-backs and personal crises to resolve. We've been through my growing up from a child to an adult, and my husband's growth from a hermit to a man who can at least "fake it" around company. My husband and I are best friends, and it all started at a deli dinner across from the SMU campus.
It may only take a moment to fall in love, but what it takes to build on that love and stay in love is time and effort. If an author shows me that Love at First Sight is followed by that time and effort, she's got me hooked. Time, however is relative. I mentioned Phantom Waltz last time. The effort was definitely there, but the time frame was just a bit too compressed to be totally believable. The obstacles this couple faced were so vast that the hero's readiness to commit forever so quickly to the paraplegic heroine when he had always been a "player" in the past turned what could have been a Desert Isle Keeper into a very strong B instead.
On the other hand (and there's always one, isn't there?), there's Sally Tyler Hayes' Magic in a Jelly Jar, a recent series title that featured a Love at First Sight premise that was utterly engaging. The time frame was compressed in this book as well - often a problem for Love at First Sight series romances - but because the conflict and the effort put into resolving it was so real, the time frame was not an issue for me. What I particularly appreciated about this book was the conflict: what do divorced parents do to keep from having a parade of "uncles" and "special friends" in and out of their kid's lives? I can't remember ever reading a romance that dealt with this difficult issue; it was very realistic in this book and I have no doubt in my mind that the hero and heroine will be together forever.
I think the Love at First Sight premise often works if the premise has a twist. For instance, A Whole Lotta Love by Justine Davis features a fabulous-looking hero who first "meets" the heroine on the phone. She's got such an incredible voice he's immediately drawn to her, and when they meet, it's difficult to reconcile her appearance with her voice; the heroine is "big," but she's also healthy, fit, and has the proverbial "pretty face." Even though her body doesn't match her voice, he can't seem to get her out of his mind, even though she's doing her best to keep him away out of fear of rejection. His courtship of her and the moment she actually believes he loves her for herself is quite special.
Another twist that I find highly effective is one Lori-Anne mentioned previously - the unconscious Love at First Sight scenario. I don't think Love at First Sight has to strike with a thunderbolt. What about the heightened awareness that immediately seems to occur for so many of the heroes and heroines we read about? There's a good reason why the hero just can't seem to "get her out of his mind" after that first meeting, and it's called love. Many of the romances I consider Desert Isle Keepers feature heroes and heroines who fell in love at first sight even though they didn't know it at the time. There was lust, to be sure, but there something more. It might have been disguised as frustration or hidden by humor, but something about these couples' souls locked together in that first moment, and I believed it. But then, as Robin wrote earlier, I'm one of those people who trusts her emotions, who listens to that little voice inside whenever it speaks. After all, I dreamed about the baby we had conceived the same night my husband and I made her.
Regardless of whether or not Love at First Sight strikes loudly or more quietly, it's a scenario that can be quite effective in a romance. As others have stated, it depends on how the author presents it and follows it up. Is there sufficient time for love to grow, is there enough effort expended on the part of the hero and heroine that illustrates their commitment and compatibility? Or does it all happen in a mad-cap weekend followed by a two-week courtship that doesn't involve reality as we all know it? Clearly there is a great deal of disagreement on this; it seems some of us have great difficulty ever believing Love at First Sight while others heartily embrace it. Where do you fit in?
Time to Post to the Message Board
Here are the questions we'd like to have you consider this time:
Reality Check on Love at First Sight - Do some people really fall in love at first sight? Has it happened to you or a friend or loved one? If not, do you still think it's possible? Love at First Sight as a Romantic Premise - Does the treatment of love at first sight in romance novels work for you as a general rule? If it depends, upon what does it depend? What factors make it believable to you, and what's simply too far-fetched? Reality and Fiction Merge - Does your personal belief in the love at first sight affect whether or not you'll like a book using that premise? Can you enjoy it in a book if you don't believe it in real life? Premise with a Twist - Some have noticed that the love at first sight scenario works best when there is a twist to the premise. Do you agree or disagree, and which twists do you think work best? Work Works, What Doesn't? - Which love at first sight romance novels did you love, and why? Which didn't work for you, and why? Let's Play the Match Game - We've presented a variety of viewpoints on the love at first sight premise in this column. Which comes closest to your own, and why?
Here are the questions we'd like to have you consider this time:
-- Robin Nixon Uncapher
In conjunction with Rachel Potter and Christine Peterson
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