Love At First Sight; or, The Truth About Lies

Dear Duana,

Mick claims he fell in love with me at first sight, which he revealed a whole two weeks into our relationship.  I really like him, but I’m a little weirded out.  Why would a guy say he’s in love that soon?  Does love at first sight really exist?  It’s very awkward saying nothing when we hang up the phone and he says “I love you.”  Will it scare him off that I don’t love him back (yet)?  How do I handle this?      



Yes, Virginia, there is love at first sight. 

In research outside the USA, between 11% and a whopping 43% of people said their long-term relationships began that way; one American study found that 55% of the respondents who had fallen in love within moments of meeting had married that person.  

And despite my skepticism as to how well a relationship based on immediate passion would fare, at least two studies found that love-at-first-sight couples do remarkably wellEven when their personalities mismatch, those who fall like stones can come up roses by romanticizing how similar they really are.  

Yet you’re confused.  Why?  Here are two possible reasons—and ways to get clarity.    


Possibility #1: Mick Really Loves You.    

Studies agree that men aren’t just more likely to be the first to say “I love you”, they’re usually first to feel it too.  In a world where women have literally shaped men’s evolution by favoring the commitment-offering, this makes sense; guys who took too long to attach may have been locked out of sex as women chose their competitors who could and would offer lasting love.  Also, there’s truth to the saying that men fall in love with their eyes, since men can accurately assess women’s fertility by seeing (or, in the case of blind men, touching) youth and beauty.  In some ways, guys can afford rapid love; they can rapidly gauge whether a woman can help them pass their Genes onward.

Also, how old is Mick?  Despite my own guess that folks would become more cautious with the accumulation of birthdays and heartbreaks, the one study I found on that topic disagreed: Men and women became likelier to reveal love quickly as they aged.  It’s just one study and so not something we should put too much stock in yet; still, it’s intriguing. 


Possibility #2: Mick Is Lying. 

So much for the romantic way this response began. 

Studies have revealed that many men say ILY very early in a relationship without meaning it. The liars have feelings, alright.  But those feelings are more aligned with another L-word: Lust. 

Why?  In brief(s), when men give a fake commitment, they often get a real orgasm. 

The longer answer is that Genes are motivated to cast themselves into the future by whatever means will get them there, and lying frequently gets them there.  Any trait that results in successful survival and reproduction eventually spreads throughout a species.    Can you even imagine a world where lying was impossible?  Lying has gone global.   

Men and women, facing different problems to accomplish Gene perpetuation, tell different lies: the ones the other sex wants to hear.  So some women interested in long-term mates lie about possessing what commitment-minded men seek—signs of fertility and fidelity—by posting old (young) photos of themselves online, underestimating their own age, telling men they’ve had fewer sexual partners than is really the case, etc.  And some men hoping to get casual sex lie about what women want—signs of commitment and resources—by faking things such as degrees, cars, homes, incomes, assets, and long-term interest.  


Of course, most people most of the time are truthful.  And the existence of lying as an adaptation doesn’t excuse, condone or minimize the behavior or the misery it creates.  It just means lying exists because at least sometimes it has Worked to get guys into girls’ skirts and girls into guys’ wallets.  Lying is likely to stick around for a while yet; be alert for its signs and listen to your intuition that is urging caution now. 


What To Do: Watch And Wait For Mick’s Actions To Match His Words. 

Worldwide, women see a man’s profession of Love as being a good sign of his Commitment.  And it is *one* sign.  But it’s not the only sign, nor even the most important.  Actions are.   Do Mick’s actions and words line up?

My guess is no: Your inherited mating psychology is balking because Mick’s delivering lip service without compelling actions.  Women around the globe recognize that many acts, small and large, show whether a man is invested with his heart, not only his loins.  In Westernized cultures, this might mean he spends time with you, offers exclusivity, pays for dinner, pays attention to everything about you, and/or gives a gift symbolic of his desire to commit.  Acts show whether he is emotionally and literally banking on you; for where a man’s resources are, so is his heart. 

Put another way, saying I Love You is easy, and any guy who simply wants to use a woman can use that line.  Mr. Right doesn’t just tell his love; he shows it.  And that takes time to see.


So take that time.  Women have evolved a highly effective method for eliminating the “snakes in the garden of love”: Making Him Wait.  Just say No to sex until you feel sure Mick’s words and actions add up to Commitment.  Mick will then either disappear because he was playing, or he’ll fall harder and faster, demonstrating real investment.  


While you’re at it, take time to develop your own feelings.  Regardless of Mick’s motives, you deserve all the time you need to let your emotions develop.  So don’t let his confessions of l ’amour pressure you to say what you don’t yet feel. 

Instead, at That Awkward Moment when Mick says “I Love You” and you’re not there yet, kindly say so:

“I don’t know if I’ll love you, but I know I like you a lot and I hope we’ll be together for me to find out.”

Bonus: This will *not* scare away a man in love; au contraire.  If he really loves you, Mick will see your hesitation as a sign of high status that may make him even more devoted.  


Virginia, love is a risk, but you can hedge your bets and improve your odds.  Watch.  Wait.  Let your own feelings develop while you assess his.  Hopefully, Mick loves you.  But even if he doesn’t—you do. 




*Note: In that study, the researchers were comparing those who had fallen in love quickly to couples who had been friends first.  Therefore, the 43% probably reflects the selection bias in the study, not how common it is to fall hard for someone you’ve hardly met.  Yet other research confirms love at first sight is pretty common, and that people act on it:  In that studyalmost half the respondents having fallen in love at first sight.  Other scientists examining data from multiple sources say 20% is a fair figure. 


All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., and LoveScience Media, 2012.

Do you have a question for Duana? Write to her at


Related LoveScience articles:

How women have shaped men’s evolved psychology:

How men have shaped women’s evolved psychology:

Who pays for dinner, and why:

Why gifts are symbolic to women:

How long women should Wait before having sex with a new partner:

Why telling a man you don’t love him yet can make him fall harder and faster:

Other articles about evolutionary psychology are listed at this link; it’s recommended to read from the last (oldest) articles to the first:


The author wishes to thank the following scientists and sources:

Dick P. H. Barelds and Pieternel Barelds-Dijkstra, for their article “Love at first sight or friends first?”  Wherein they found that although those who fell quickly tended to be less matched on personality than couples who began as friends, the love-at-first-sight group was nonetheless happy.  43% of the couples in their research had fallen in love at first sight.  

Ayala Malach-Pines, for research showing that 11% of the Israeli respondents in their survey had experienced love at first sight as the launch to their long-term relationships. 

Helen Fisher, who reports that 20% of people have fallen in love at first sight and married that person

Edward Naumann, for marketing research where he found that over half of those who had fallen in love at first meeting had actually wed—and they stayed married happily and longer than the USA average. 

 Angel Brantley, David Knox, and Marty E. Zusman, for research on who says I Love You first, and why~including data showing that many men lie about love to get sex, and that men tend to reveal love first.  They also found that as we age, men and women alike become more likely to reveal love quickly. 

E.J. Kanin, K.R. Davidson, and S.R. Scheck, for the first research showing men fall in love at first sight more often than women do (1970). 

Elizabeth Sharp and Lawrence Ganong, for research showing that men tend to be more, not less, romantic in their beliefs than women, and that men tend to fall in love faster than women do. 

David Buss, for his chapter “The Evolution Of Love” in The New Psychology Of Love (edited collection by Robert J. Sternberg and Karen Weis), wherein Buss reveals his and others’ research showing that men admit to exaggerating the depths of their feelings in order to plumb the depths of women’s loins.  Of course, women have evolved counter-strategies, tactics to protect themselves from love-hers-and-leave-hers: Women usually try to lengthen the courtship period before granting sexual access.  

David Buss again, for his textbook on Evolutionary Psychology, which discusses how women assess commitment in a man.


The author has no scientific reason whatsoever to thank the makers of the movie The Invention Of Lying, other than to say she loved it for showing what the world would be like without lying—and how the first person to “say something that wasn’t” would have a huge advantage over others. 


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Reader Comments (7)

Interesting info to think about, as always.

I'm curious and wondering whether there is another effect here -- a tendency to idealize a past event based on subsequent success or happiness. Kinda like remembering an average day at the ballpark with a treasured grandparent as The Best Game Ever. I'm wondering how many initial attractions - not love, but attraction - would qualify as "Love at first sight" if the relationship developed into something very significant...

February 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

Dear Dr. Duana,

Well, I've certainly experienced the liar and the real deal, and fortunately for me, married the latter of the two...the one who had to prove to me over many months that he was real because of my experience with the former!
You would have thought that I'd recognize the following phrase, "My heart languishes for you", as a big fat LIE, but NO! I so wanted his heart to languish for me that I foolishly believed that poor thing. His heart was also languishing for several others at the same time, one of which was my friend!
Enter my hero, who shared his love for me after only a couple of months. He waited and waited some more, ever so patiently until I was sure I loved him too. We've been married for fourteen years now, and I am one lucky lady.
No one should be rushed into something they're not sure of. Listen to your inner will let you know when something is right or not.

Keep up the great work, Dr. Duana!


February 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLouise

Dear Kelly,

Yes! Spot-on observation. In social psychology, that’s called rosy retrospection—remembering pleasant events as even better after the fact. It’s common for folks to recall even good-but-stressful things like weddings, vacations as more fun and relaxed than they really were. And I suspect it also applies to falling in love, which can attain a rosy glow of Totally Happy after it’s a done deal, but which a lot of people know is actually scary as hell at the time.

And I wonder whether there’s something else happening here as well. Are people who are in-love now changing the past to think they were in-love always? It’s well-established in memory research that we do revise our memories in line with our present emotions, and I think that’s what we’re seeing in some of the research now.

To wit, in the Netherlands, 43% of the sample claimed to have been in love from Day 1. Yet that seems unlikely. Instead, I think these long- and happily-wed couples are experiencing the feeling captured in the jazz standard It Had To Be You, or encapsulated in this statement from a former client of mine: “I want you to help me find someone so compatible for me that even though I know there are lots of possible matches in the world, once we’re together I think it could only have been him.”

(Similarly, other research by Holmberg & Holmes showed that now-unhappy couples misremembered that they had always been miserable together; the scientists had the data showing these couples as blissed-out just after the wedding, but all it took to revise the past was a miserable Now.)

February 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.


And yet…

It does appear that Love At First Sight, like jealousy and lying and love itself, is a human universal. People report it in every study on the topic, in every nation where it’s been studied so far; and another clue comes from cultural lore. Just as cultures around the globe have stories of the Wicked Stepmother and the Lustful/Cruel Stepfather—and they have real data to match—cultures studied so far also have the story of lovers who fell at first sight.

Anytime a phenom appears to be universal, evolutionary thinkers don’t stop at noting it; we want to know *why*. And anthropologist Helen Fisher may have answers~it may have come from our animal ancestry. Animals, most of whom have a short courtship, do fall in love—instantly. True, the love may be very brief, but Fisher notes it exists nonetheless. In environments where people were just passing through—when clans or tribes may have met up only briefly—the ability to expand the gene pool through making a quick decision may have been a help.
Whatever the reasons, though, it appears love at first sight is a real phenom. How common it is? Well, Fisher thinks it happens to about 20% of people. That still seems a bit high to me. But it happens. Love is all around.

Thanks for a great question and your note.

February 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Dear Louise,

Well-said! I'm glad you found true love after the lies.

And isn't it funny, really, that we have a phrase, "true love"? It implies the false coin was there all the with guys who feed several women the same line and have 'relationships' with each.

David Buss calls lies and liars the "snakes in the garden of love." He has described a lot of them, lies told by men, lies told by women.

And how do we tell lies from truth? Women's #1 strategy is the one you yourself used the second time around: lengthening the period of courtship and waiting for the Other to prove himself in one direction or the other.

Congratulations on your long and happy marriage, and thank you for sharing your story.


February 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

You mean there are people who lie to get what they want? No way! ;)

My marriage is the result of love at first sight (on my part, anyway), but we'd both been burned before. We also knew each other for years before any dating started (due to other relationships).

The thing is, how do you know you've taken enough time to suss out the other person? If *you* have fallen at first sight, it's tough to wait it out. It would be helpful, I think, to have a bit of a timetable. If you just have to wait \"long enough\" that could lead to some bad moves, e.g. spending as much time with him as possible immediately so that you can count the hours logged as \\\\\\\"getting to know him.\"

Basically, how does a gal (or guy) figure out how long to wait to respond in kind and/or in bed?

Oh, and FWIW, if a guy tells you that you make him want to be a better person, run for the hills!

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMocha's Mom

Dear MM,

"You make me want to be a better man" = great movie line, horrid real-life line. Indeed. If he's not already a better man, he's unlikely to become one (for long).

As far as how long to wait, there's no set timeframe; I can see why you're asking for one, but it doesn't exist as far as I know. I've known people who fell in love on a Friday and were married two weeks later. Vic loved me at first sight, and we wed a whole four-and-a-half months after. You fell in love at first sight, but by the time you were both free, you really did know one another's characters.

No, it's not time per se that's the important variable; it's experience and intuition.

There's a lot to be said for intuition, which is evolutionary psychology's way of protecting us from liars/players/abusers/rapscallions rather than lovers. What made me think "Virginia's" guy could be lying wasn't just that a lot of men admit, in science, that they have used lines to get into women's panties--but that Virginia herself feels so hesitant about "Mick".

That hesitation is her gut speaking, and ignoring that right-brain input would be foolish and dangerous. She needs to slow things down, Watch, and Wait to see what daily evidence will bring her way.

My guess is that your experience with your man before you got together, plus your feelings once you were with him, plus what he was like when you toppled, all equated Mr. Trustworthy Guy. When everything lines up, why wait?

But when intuition speaks out against...heed it. For as long as it takes.

I've written another article about intuition in relationships, and here it is:

Thanks for your letter, and kudos on your happy union!

Cheers, Duana

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.
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