We are all, through experience or observation, aware of ‘The Spark’. We’re told about it in all the stories of how our parents met, in the dating advice our friends give us, in the anecdote about how an uncle adopted a stray dog on a whim. Every story chronicling the beginning of a significant relationship features ‘The Spark’ in some way, shape or form. Maybe it’s romantic love at first sight, or laughing at the same joke and knowing you’ll be friends forever. Maybe it’s instant, intense hatred. What it’s not is casual interest, or indifference, or anything that doesn’t jolt you awake and make it very difficult to get back to sleep.
Using the evidence I have acquired by being in constant observation of feelings and art and other humans, I have formulated the following definition of ‘the spark’: ‘the spark’ is a definite and undeniable physical, emotional, and psychological indicator of belonging. It is the closest we get to proof that Fate really does exist and that she is sending us one of those signs we keep asking for.
My mother says she felt it when she met my father. My cousin says she felt it when she met her fiancé. Almost anyone I know that’s in a healthy and committed relationship mentions knowing. Meet-cutes in movies and impassioned lyrics about love at first sight have only reiterated this narrative. But do we always know? And is knowing a prerequisite for a successful relationship? Or are the pressures we place on first impressions standing in the way of real connection?
The science behind love at first sight asks even more questions of it – whether it’s love or lust you’re experiencing, whether it’s still love if it is unrequited, whether there’s still a chance if ‘the spark’ doesn’t come into play at first. To answer the first question, a recent study concludes that a lot of the same areas of the brain respond to both lust and love, making it confusing to pinpoint which you’re feeling. The difference in how your brain processes love and lust, however, is that it treats the former as a more abstract, complex representation of the latter. Whether love grows out of lust or whether the two can exist simultaneously remains unanswered.
Love at first sight is, apparently, often one-sided, although one partner’s intense initial reaction may influence the other’s recollection of that first meeting. And as for whether a relationship can be successful if there is no spark present initially – only a third of Americans have reported experiencing love at first sight, and yet more than half of them are in relationships. So maybe there is life beyond ‘The Spark’. Why, then, am I still so preoccupied with the concept?
It could be because I’ve heard more success stories coming out of love at first sight than not. Or that I’ve watched Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes stare at each other from either side of a fish tank one too many times. Or that I’m surrounded by romantics who could have, in retrospect, projected the intimacy and affection they feel in their relationships currently onto its inception. Which is why I wonder whether ‘The Spark’, and my fixation with feeling it immediately, is standing in my way when it comes to forming meaningful relationships. I’ve built my expectations up so high for the first meeting that I won’t give anyone a chance unless, when we first meet, a solar eclipse, a medical miracle and world peace all occur simultaneously.
Perhaps we should stop putting so much pressure on first meetings, on first impressions, on all kinds of firsts. Second, third, fourth chances are all opportunities for a delayed Spark. After that, I’m drawing the line. If it’s not love at fourth sight, then it’s not love. And if it doesn’t keep me up all night feeling like several sparklers are being lit in my stomach, brain, and heart, then it deserves to be slept on.