Question 1-2021 from Mr Still-loving-you

Love at first sight – can it last?

Dear Mr Still-loving-you,

We cannot generalise of course, because every person, in fact every couple is unique. However, the precise meaning of “love at first sight” implies that it is bound to falter because of a contradiction in the term itself.

You see, “love” is what you give to your “beloved”. The giving of love requires utmost commitment towards your beloved’s needs, conditions, and well-being; sometimes even more than that of yours. Such a commitment develops only because you have known your beloved so thoroughly as to believe your beloved is worth all that commitment and sometimes sacrifices.

On the other hand, “first sight” implies an instant look on the superficial features of another person. At times, even these are covered by make-up and clothing. Rarely does “first sight” reveal a person’s true character and inner qualities, which could only be discovered through sufficient period of knowing. For this reason, we believe “love at first sight” is a self-conflicting concept and is hence bound to falter.

However, based on your background story, yours is not a straight-forward case of “love at first sight”. Most real-life love stories are not straight-forward, anyway. Although you mentioned being struck by her beauty the first time you saw her all dressed up in an occasion, you had actually interacted with her a day earlier and yet another after. That was her in her true colours without the make-ups, nice dresses and the revelry of that occasion. Based on these two casual interactions alone, there are plenty of opportunities for both of you to discover your respective inner qualities. Not to mention those discovered during courtship – the good and the bad.

This brings us back to our opening line: every person and every couple is unique. So, when we allude to a sufficient period of time for couples to know each other thoroughly, before true love develops, that too varies between people and couples. Whether two days of interaction plus your courtship were sufficient for the two of you to develop true love is too complex to determine. But what made you “fall in love” with her is something you definitely know. If you have no clue right now, it’s only because you have never thought about it. Put some serious thought into it and you will definitely rediscover it. Was it purely her “dressed-up” beauty on that occasion? Or, in addition to that, were you also attracted to her character, mannerism and many other inner qualities as you interacted with her, in her true colours, before and after that “first sight”? In fact, you should likewise ask her why she fell in love with you. The answers to this question would tell you the depth of your love-foundation.

However, having said that, these answers only tell the beginning of a love story. There are many possibilities after that. Some love stories may have started on a deep-seated soul-to-soul connection, but then the couples get complacent and eventually grow apart. While some others may have started shallow, but the lovers realise this fact and made efforts to deepen and enrich their relationship beyond their initial superficial attraction. Even though we said “love at first sight” is bound to falter, that only refers to those who rely entirely and continually on their physical attraction to sustain their love. In any case, whether your love started shallow or deep, for it to last depends more on what you do about it after you fell in love.

In his book, The Art of Loving, the philosopher Erich Fromm described love as “the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love”. This does not happen automatically after falling in love. Instead, he said, it requires lovers to know, respect, care for, and respond to each other. To achieve this, couples inevitably need the often-repeated relationship skills of good communication, conflict management, problem solving, and adjustment. All this is hard work which many couples are not mentally and emotionally prepared for. It requires lots of effort to understand each other profoundly including their respective needs, wants, dreams, opinions, feelings, fears, and so on and so forth. Then they have to manage the inevitable conflicts that arise between those belonging to each other respectively. After which they have to work towards developing common interests and values to further bring their two souls ever closer even as they learn to respect those that differ from each other.

From your background story, we believe you asked this question because you sense that you and your wife are drifting apart after such a long marriage. We shall address that as a follow-up question. For now, suffice to say that even though “love at first sight” is a problematic concept, it is not necessarily your kind of love with your wife. Besides, even if it is so, if you want it to last, what matters is not how you “fall in love” but how you “grow your love”.