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It’s the age-old question, Do you believe in love at first sight? As a hopeless romantic, I would have to say, Yes! But, I'm also no fool and I know that many things masquerade as love, including our old childhood traumas. So, while I hate to be the bearer of bad news, especially to all you Sunshine Sally’s out there, but love at first sight is often not love at all, but a deep unconscious longing to finish our unfinished business. But before you start hating on me because I’ve murdered your love-fantasies, let me throw it into perspective for you.

You see, the feeling of love at first sight can be beguiling because the person you see at first sight is not real. Of course the person before you is a real flesh and blood human being, likely with many wonderful qualities that make them a real contender for your heart. But as far as who the person is – you really haven’t a clue yet. They are largely a fantasy, a projection of whom you imagine your ideal love-object to be. In short, the person before you is an illusion of your own making. And so, it can’t be love because love is not about illusion, it is about what is real. However, this is not a bad thing. In fact, love-fantasies are an important part of the mating and love-making process. Let me explain.

Sometimes we need the love-object to be idealized. We need to use our projections to create someone we desire, it helps us move toward them and open our hearts to experiencing the real person we are with. Idealizing the love-object gets our juices flowing, excites us, and generates that initial attachment so that we want to be with them more and more. It’s the adult version of the child’s experience of their parents. Say what?! Again, let me explain.

Children adore their parents. Mom and dad (or, mom and mom…or, dad and dad…) are the sun and the moon. They can do no wrong. And children delight in time spent with mom and dad. Can’t get enough of it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be with the perfect person who loves us despite our shortcomings and makes us feel so darn fabulous?

Now, you and I know that moms and dads are hopelessly flawed, but children don’t yet know this, nor can they. They need to labor under the illusion that mom and dad are perfect – perfectly reliable, perfectly attuned, perfectly smart, perfectly everything, that way they can securely attach to them and trust that their emotional and physical needs will be met.

Then one day the kiddos see the forest for the trees and realize mom and dad are, in fact, riddled with imperfections and so begin to act out their anger at being duped for so long. The disillusionment can be a challenge for both kids and parents, but if imperfect mom and dad have enough sense to respond to their children’s feelings about this colossal bummer with understanding and strong, yet empathic boundaries, then children learn that parents and, well, everyone else in the world, are flawed.

Kids also learn that these flaws do not mean the entire person is a bust and we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. They learn to experience the person as an integrated whole, with good parts that are pleasing and bad parts that are disappointing, but who, overall, is definitely a person worth liking if not loving. This is an imperative developmental achievement that, if gone awry, can wreak havoc later on in adult love-relationships.

Cut now to adulthood and the notion of 'love at first sight.' Playfully entertaining the possibility of Love at First Sight is harmless, but clinging resolutely to it is dangerous. It is, essentially, holding tight to a fantasy born of the longing for the perfect love-object that doesn’t exist and reflects a struggle to accept others as integrated sums. It also reflects an impaired capacity to tolerate the often negative feelings that arise when confronted with others’ humanness.

Clinging to this ideal doesn’t allow us to accept the reality of the individual we are with and, tragically, the other person’s authentic self does not become known to us. If we continue to do this, we can get angry, frustrated, hurt, disappointed, and sometimes confused when they fail to live up to our expectations and match our ideal. An unrelenting grip on the love-fantasy can only lead to heartbreak. It takes profound risk to release that grip and dare to love a real person - a person who has the power to hurt us if we open our hearts to them, unlike the ideal love-object who would never do such a thing.

This is why children react so strongly to the disillusionment they experience when they can no longer deny mom and dad’s characterological blemishes. It hurts to be disappointed. And feeling hurt makes us feel angry.

And so, that energetic charge you experience the first time you meet someone and suddenly your whole life has meaning and purpose – that feeling is a very real feeling, just don’t mistake it for love. Allow yourself to be enamored by your suitor; Let yourself splash and play in the warm, bubbly water of the love-fantasy, just keep your head above water. Remember, love is not in the fantasy, love is in the real. And if love is what you want, you have to take a risk to live beyond the fantasy.

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