A bit of a ramble on this very absurd thing we call love.
Is love at first sight possible?
Yes! Well, no. And yes. Ah, this is not going to be easy to answer. Let me give some context.
Love for me has always been complicated. I think that's the case for most of us, maybe more so for those of us raised with unhealthy views on love, or taught to aspire to an ideal or a representation over an experience---or rather a series of experiences. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, my particular brand of love-confusion included a base of religious indoctrination coupled with a seemingly healthy, but also extremely reserved example during my childhood, seasoned with some undiagnosed conditions of a neurological and psychosocial quality, and just a dash of complex trauma, finally garnished with repeated instances of obsession, regret, avoidance, despair, isolation, revelation, desperation, and compensation throughout, oh, I don't know, about 26 years? Give or take. So, not too different from the majority of my peers. Or the majority of human history, I suppose. But that is, perhaps, best left for another day.
Suffice it to say, I've had to do a lot of unpacking over the years, along with a lot of packing and moving and traveling and running out of money and working and ruminating, and all that beat generation bullshit that trickled into our psyches through the half-drunk half-jacked haze of overheard coffee-shop advice from a stranger at 2 in the afternoon on a Tuesday in January. But love has always been a topic that's stuck with me. A strange universal in the human experience, limited primarily by the ways in which we choose to box it up and refuse to label it anything more specific than the eternally frustrating vaguery that is "Love".
I won't go into any interminable contemplations on the nature of love and the way it's conceptualized in other languages (we can save that for the seminary students just starting their second semester of Koine). But I will say a few things about love: Firstly, it's almost never just love. You love pizza? Great, but that carries with it the concepts of need and the satiation of hunger. You love to write? Cool, but this also might indicate that you need to write, or you feel at home when you write, or that writing brings you to a place where love (and all the other emotions) are more tangible. You love a person? Ah, well perhaps that's true, but because you're human and mortal and can't detach yourself from the finite nature of all things. There comes with love all this fear and longing and identification with another and control. Or maybe not. Maybe some people can just love and not be afraid all the time. A lot of people, unfortunately, tend to love humans just like they love pizza.
But we're talking about love-at-first-sight. What even is that? Hormones flooding the brain? Would it change if you noticed them at a different time of day? What about on an empty stomach instead of a full stomach? What did you dream about last night? Well, if any of these could impact the moment of love on sight, then is it really love? A part of me is inclined to say no. It says that it's only infatuation or lust or idealization or some other "lesser" form of love that isn't really love. Maybe you love someone because of how they looked at you when you met them, or because their hair moved just the right way in the breeze. Maybe they laughed and it made your heart flutter in your chest, or they smelled like leaves falling from trees, or the way they tied their shoelaces was just a little bit off, or they growled at something that frustrated them when they thought no one was near enough to hear it. Maybe you only fell in love because everything surrounding that encounter just happened to be exactly right to cook up the sudden result of total and unexpected enchantment.
So, another thought then: Is such an experience invalid simply because of its circumstances? Perhaps such love-experiences aren't the "I must marry you and no one else, for I've found my soul mate!" kind, but they also aren't necessarily the "I must collect you, control you, use you and abandon you" kind. What I've come to realize---what I'm still slowly coming to realize---is that love is much simpler than all this. The former lies at the extreme of sanctity and the latter that of profanity. One of elevation and the other of degradation. Both may contain a form of love, a form of connection and melding identities, of coming into the place where there isn't you and me, but just us. But because they inherently lift someone up or put someone down, they force the one loved to be an object of love, instead of the beloved. It's as though we get too excited about love, this thing that breaks down separation and gives us a taste of unity, and in that excitement we break the spell, force the other back into the other.
Take art, for instance. You listen to music that harmonizes with your soul or look at a luminous painting or read a fantastic poem, and you're in it then, you're moving with it, you're flowing in and out of its dynamism. You're a part of it. And then that voice says, "I need this, I need to show my other people," and suddenly it's you and the art, and the art becomes a catalyst for seeing beauty instead of beauty itself. There's not just Art anymore, but the observer and the observed. There's still art there, still that connection and that emotion, but the power of the spell is faded, and it might take some time to regain it, if you can even manage it.
Sorry, I'm digressing. Back to love-at-first-sight: My answer is yes, there can be love-at-first-sight. But it turns so fast into need and fear that we hardly ever notice it and give it space to breathe. It tells us, "Ah, a kindred spirit," and then our terror of our recurrent solipsistic nightmare hurling through the Void comes swooshing in, smothers it, grabs on, fights everything else off, and squeezes a new healthy flame into a tiny ember. It is interesting that this act takes some people all the way to life-partnership, and others to the edge of a cliff---often literally. I often wonder if those that succeed in holding on to their love-object manage to keep their flames alive better than those that failed to. In the end, as I've found and continue to find, it isn't either of these who experience love the most.
Maybe I'm getting too far into Buddhist territory here. But fuck it, maybe that's where this should go. I mean there's a shit ton of very relevant commentary in Buddhist traditions that could have helped me immensely as a miserable pubescent cretin. Not that I'm bitter. Anyway, there's a saying that "out of emptiness arises compassion", and I really feel like that's the key to real love-at-first-sight situations. Here's a person I see and suddenly I experience love. Ok, so, what does that mean for me? Well, my survival instinct might jump on top of it, smother it. But then the love is there and gone, and suddenly I'm a pining romantic or a cynic, both putting me as far from love itself as one could possibly be. I suppose the other option is to do... nothing. Just feel it. Observe it if you like, but don't hold on to it, and don't flee it. Leave aside the urgency, the desperation, the heaviness of all the chaos and need and lack of solid identity. Ok, so maybe emptiness isn't achievable, but what about just scooching over on the bench? Here's something that feels right, that makes you alive and aware and tells you quite strongly: "You Exist", and in a way that isn't half bad. Could you give it a little space for a minute? Without fawning over it, trying to feed it or entertain it or collect from it---just sit with it. Don't rush it out the door. Don't beg it to stay.
If you haven't seen the movie Spirited Away, consider this a categorical imperative: go and watch it. WARNING: I'm about to give some minor spoilers!
No-face is a wonderful example of love-at-first-sight. He sees Chihiro, and from that moment forward, she's all he thinks about. He follows her constantly, intoxicates her coworkers with wealth, and continues to expand and expand, trying to control her with the same method he's used on others, until he nearly destroys her because of all the pain and desire and fear and confusion that he's consumed in his pursuit. It isn't until he literally empties himself that he finally sits down beside her, without need or fear or control, and suddenly all he hoped for from the moment he saw her is fulfilled. Chihiro has her own journey; she is her own person, and is not simply an object for No-face to pursue. Yet No-face's journey, from love-at-first-sight to pain and suffering to reconciliation and release, walks us through many layers of the way in which we complicate this love-experience, and illustrates beautifully the simplicity of it all when we just quiet down a bit.
So, yes: I believe love-at-first-sight is real. But not in the way I used to imagine. It's not always forever, or frequent, or even about a person. It might be falling in love with a place or a book or a photograph or a time of year. Even when it is about a person, it isn't always romantic. For some it happens once and that's it. For others it happens time and again; these are the lucky and the cursed. The trick (I think, for, as I say, I'm still figuring this out myself) is to approach such sudden love neither with rejection nor obsession, but to simply acknowledge it, experience it, and empty, empty, empty oneself, so that where there once was that terrible desire there is now simply, "Ah, and this too. How lovely." And that doesn't mean not to enjoy it. Luxuriate in that warm glow, that tender constant reassurance of, "You are not alone." But do so gently, without expectation, without pushing. Who knows? Maybe the more we give such moments space to exist with us without scaring them away, the more comfortable they will be hanging around a little longer.
Love is a wild fox, curious about the wood-walkers, here spooked by the excited hiker, there startled by the angry farmer. But occasionally it finds the traveler without anger or excitement. Here it walks beside them for a time, then moves on. And the traveler sees the fox, maybe shares a bite of their food, then watches it go, and keeps walking.