The idea of love at first sight has a long history in the romance genre. Thousands of heroes and heroines have experienced the pitter-pat of their heart when first laying eyes on their love-to-be.
While we might laugh at the trope, as we discussed a few weeks ago, many story tropes are actually quite common in real life. In Angela James’s Twitter poll of her followers’ real-life relationship tropes, insta-love or love at first sight was the third most common real-life trope.
But what does “love at first sight” really mean? Do we believe people fall in love instantly? Or do we recognize that people are more likely to fall in like or lust instantly—and love comes later?
More importantly to me as a romance author, I wondered why the “love at first sight” trope sometimes works for me and why it sometimes makes me roll my eyes. *smile*
A Real Life Example: Selfishness vs. Selflessness
I started thinking about these questions after I read a sweet and insightful post with the seemingly controversial title “I Didn’t Love My Wife When We Got Married.” Yet despite that title, the author not only told his wife that he loved her on their second date, but he also really wanted to tell her on their first date. She, of course, was merely amused and didn’t proclaim her love in return.
It was only years later that he realized that the emotions he felt upon meeting her—no matter how strong the sparks and connection—weren’t what makes for real, lasting love. Practicality and day-to-day struggles make keeping up those emotions difficult at best.
Real love involves selflessness, of giving of ourselves for the benefit of the other person. Lust, on the other hand, is—by its very nature—selfish. It’s being in love with the adrenaline rush of a new relationship and wanting that excitement and feel-good emotion for our benefit.
Love Is a Verb
The author goes on to explain:
“I’ve finally come to realize something. Something I haven’t wanted to admit for a long time, but is undeniable. I didn’t love my wife on that second date. I didn’t love her when we got engaged. I didn’t even love her when we got married.
Because love isn’t an emotion. That fire I felt, it was simply that: emotional fire. From the excitement of dating a woman I felt like I could marry. But it wasn’t love.
No, love isn’t an emotion or even a noun. It’s a verb. Better defined as giving. As putting someone else’s needs above your own.”
That’s a great way to put what makes for real, lasting love. The concept that “love is a verb” means that the value comes from action, from doing. Words alone aren’t enough.
The Trouble with “Love at First Sight” in Romance Stories
This distinction makes the difference for me in whether use of the “love at first sight” trope in a story elicits an “aww” or induces a gag reflex. If a romance explores only the superficial emotions of those initial stages of a relationship, the story is likely to feel superficial as well.
Anyone can fall in lust. Lust requires only attraction or sparks or a connection. There’s no work involved.
What’s another phrase for stories where the plot unfolds without requiring effort by the protagonist? Lacking in conflict.
That’s not how we want our stories to be. So how do we avoid it?
What Makes “Love at First Sight” Stories Believable?
Readers won’t believe in a “happily ever after” (and might not even respect a “happily for now”) ending unless they’ve seen evidence in the story that this couple has more going on than superficial attraction. And just like in real life, characters saying “I love you” won’t cut it by itself.
Words alone aren’t enough. The characters must show their love with selfless action. Love is a verb.
I can fully believe when characters experience that spark immediately. I can believe they feel a connection immediately. But I can’t believe anything real or lasting will come out of their relationship if I haven’t seen them willing to sacrifice for each other.
Not being willing to sacrifice for the relationship. For each other.
Sacrificing for the relationship is still too close to a selfish act. The character likes this other person, and they want the relationship to continue. Sacrificing for the relationship is still serving what they want. So the sacrifice must be only for the benefit of the other person to be a true, giving action.
Even in a “happily for now” story, we still need to believe the characters have seen the reality of the other person. We probably know from our own life that there’s a limit to how long we can act on our best behavior. Couples who haven’t been through enough together to see each other in good times and bad can’t know the real person on the other end of the bed.
This is one instance where “show don’t tell” definitely applies. We have to show readers the struggle, the sacrifice, and the good and the bad. If we do that, the number of sparks at their first meeting is irrelevant to the relationship’s believability. We’ll believe it because we’ve seen the #LoveIsAVerb evidence for ourselves. *smile*
Registration is currently open for my workshop on how to do just enough story development to write faster, while not giving our pantsing muse hives. Interested? Sign up for “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writers Guide to Plotting a Story.” (Blog readers: Use Promo Code “savethepants” to save $15 on registration.)
Do you believe in love at first sight? Is that feeling “love” or “lust”? Do you agree with the #LoveIsAVerb idea? Do you have examples to share from real life? What makes “love at first sight” stories believable or unbelievable for you? Do you have other suggestions for how to show love in our stories?Pin It