“Love at first sight” is always lust

We just don’t understand that “lust” isn’t always sexual


There are three types of people when it comes to “love at first sight:”

  • The romantics, who want to believe in it and actively look for it (this, along with “a connection” and “chemistry” on a first date)
  • The skeptics, who don’t want to believe in it and actively discount it (and look to build a connection over time)
  • The people who have experienced it

I was skeptical — critical, even — of “love at first sight.” For years, like many people, I wrote it off as “physical attraction;” sexual lust. What else could it be?

I figured people just felt more attraction than normal, or felt it along with actually caring for the person, or felt it for a person who wasn’t normally their type, or kept feeling it for years.

Until the feeling we call “love at first sight” happened to me. And now I know.

Experiencing “love at first sight” first-hand

I met him at a book club.

I zeroed in on him from across the room and, despite the group of people talking in turn, it was as though he and I were having a conversation alone.

It wasn’t anything he said. And — just like everyone always claims — it wasn’t physical attraction. He’s a decent-looking guy, but it wasn’t about that.

It was just as though a rope had been tied across us and pulled taut.

Afterwards I approached him and said, uncharacteristically: “we’re gonna be friends.”

And we were. And more. Within weeks we were inseparable.

There was no specific conversation; no big moments of “omg me too!” It wasn’t similar interests or hobbies; nor backgrounds or aspirations or viewpoints. We didn’t even hate or love the same things.

Except that we both adored each other.

It was like we didn’t become friends, but rather had always been friends. Like we’d known each other forever and it just “wasn’t ever not.”

We not only finished each other’s sentences, but had whole conversations barely saying anything. We’d know what the other was doing and feeling and thinking even miles away, even if it was drastically different from our own state of mind or out of character for them.

It was a vibration thing; a rhythm thing. We were always on the same page because we shared a page; consumed each other’s inner-workings and then refilled and supported them with ourselves.

Like some kind of tree trunk parasite or vine, we wanted to crawl inside of each other’s bone marrow. We sent each other songs, and one of the best was Purity Ring Fineshrine:

“Cut open my sternum, and pull
My little ribs around you
The lungs of me be crowns over you.”

Because that’s how it was.

How I know “love at first sight” isn’t always sexual lust

Exhibit A — Book club boy

You might think the feeling between us would translate smoothly and seamlessly into sexual intimacy. I certainly did.

But it didn’t.

As we actually got physically closer, I found myself totally not into it. I still felt connected, but when it came to kissing and sexual arousal, the whole ordeal was at arm’s length, me watching our encounters as though standing across the room. Not just once or twice but every time. That deep connection was without sexual lust.

Exhibit B — The birth of a child

Right after my brother had his first baby, my darling niece, he proud-papa’d and said,

“I already love her so much, for no reason at all.”

And my aunt, a parent herself, smiled contentedly and nodded, “yep.”

But that doesn’t mean “love at first sight” is love

We think “love at first sight” has to be either love or sexual lust, like it’s a static dichotomy. And if it’s not sexual lust, we figure, “hell, must be love.”

We fuck this up for three main reasons

(1.) We don’t understand “love”

Most of what we think of as “love” is bullshit. We widely accept — and are encouraged to think — that infatuation or limerence is love.

But love is calm and collected. Love is a choice, and it’s: them over you.

What I felt with the book club boy wasn’t love. The minute our interests diverged, I chose my own. And despite all the intensity we both felt, I ultimately prioritized my wants and needs over his.

It was just a non-sexual type of lust.

(2.) We don’t understand the definition of “lust”

We assume lust is always sexual. And it is not.

“Lust is a strong emotion or feeling… a psychological force producing intense wanting for an object, or circumstance fulfilling the emotion.”

You can lust for adventure, for wealth, for power. You can lust for a person.

You can lust for them in your life, long to spend time with them, become preoccupied with them. You can lust for attachment and companionship.

You can lust for the chemical reaction you have when you’re around them — that surge of chemical cocktail it feels good to chug.

(3.) We think it has to be one or the other.

And fail to realize that humans are complex, and feel a myriad of emotions.

Other emotions at first sight

Let’s go back to a child’s birth. There is certainly emotion there. And many parents do truly love their children. But those are two different things.

The emotion when they are born is not love. That emotion is excitement, anticipation, relief, attachment, engagement, arousal, fear, etc… mixed with physiological elements like fatigue, maybe hunger, dopamine, cortisol, etc.

It’s a concoction of things that feels so intense, we figure it’s best chalked up as “love.”

But real love is not a feeling. It’s not pitched and frenzied. It doesn’t feel overwhelming, or bring uncontrollable tears to your eyes — that’s been our mistake, calling love things like this.

Real love is a decision and an act. It comes after, when you make the daily (ahem, hourly) commitment to care for your baby — to keep her warm and safe; fed and well-rested and healthy. And, especially, to do this at the expense of your own emotional, mental, physical health — that is real love.

And what you feel when you first see her — or any person — is merely an explosion of physiological reactions that are intense, to be sure — some of the most intense and awesome that we experience.

They are not “love,” let alone at first sight. Though perhaps we should give them their own vocabulary. Because I agree the feeling is incredible. And it certainly deserves the honor of some kind of name.

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