Love or Lust at First Sight?

Psychology of Love – Part 4

Since research suggests that we decide whether or not we like a person in the first 30 seconds of meeting them, it would appear the ‘love at first sight’ notion could have some merit. However, according to evolutionary theories ‘lust at first sight’ might be more accurate.

From a distance, particularly if we have poor eyesight, the first thing we might notice about a person is the shape and size of their body. The evolutionary view is that we are more likely to be attracted to people with physical attributes that will ensure successful reproduction. This means that men will be attracted to healthy women with wide childbearing hips and large breasts with which to feed their young. Whereas, women’s preferences are for mates that will be able to provide protection and food for their children; hence they look for healthy men that are physically strong who could bring home the dinosaur burgers.

Since good health is associated with youth and beauty, these theories have frequently been used to provide explanations for men’s preference for younger attractive women. Yet these same theorists would have us believe that women’s preferences have changed and they are not looking for young fit men but older rich men. While this might be a good argument for finding a ‘provider’, healthy genetic material is more likely to be found in younger men. Therefore, it would appear more logical for both women and men to look for youth and beauty. So, it probably isn’t a coincidence that as women have increased their earning power, the sale of men’s beauty products and surgical enhancements, as well as gymnasium subscriptions, have also increased. While, at first glance, the proportions of a person’s body can be sufficient to pique our interest, if the face doesn’t fit then there is little chance of lust or love at first sight.

Despite the old adage, ‘you don’t look at the mantelpiece when you’re poking the fire’, for both men and women, the face is very important when it comes to attraction. In most cultures, men appear to show a preference for neotenous features – a baby-type face with large forehead, big eyes, cherub lips and a wide smile – in other words, a youthful look. Whereas, women keep changing their minds – nothing new there then! At particular times of the month, when women are more fertile, they tend to prefer the craggy features of masculine faces, the rest of the time they favour faces that are more feminine. However, studies have revealed that what most people find attractive are symmetrical faces, those with evenly balanced features that are relatively free from blemishes. Again, this supports the evolutionary theories that we are looking for good ‘mating’ material. So, despite his physical strength and caring, sensitive nature, Quasimodo never really did stand a chance with Esmeralda.

Providing we are sufficiently attracted to the outward appearance of a potential partner, to clinch the deal we need to get close enough to look into their eyes. When people see something they like, their pupils dilate. Although we are unlikely to be consciously aware of the change in other people’s (or our own) pupils we certainly respond to this subtle signal of attraction. In a laboratory situation, it has been found that when two strangers of the opposite sex have been asked to gaze into each other’s eyes for two minutes, they will frequently express feelings of passion. This means eyes can be a powerful weapon in nature’s armoury of ‘love’. But it could also be a case of lust being in the eye of the beholder.

So we meet someone, and in 30 seconds we have decided, from the shape of their body and proportions of their face, whether or not they are good partner material. After a couple of minutes of gazing into each other’s eyes we might not be in love but we could certainly be in lust. It would appear that evolutionary theory could provide us with some explanation of what we are attracted to in our reproductive years.

What about older daters? When we are past our reproductive prime our bodies are far from perfect, faces are rarely blemish free and lose their symmetry, and it is not always possible to see beyond our own (or other peoples) glasses if pupils are dilating. So, it would appear that evolutionary theories have little to offer the older dater. If, with advancing age, we are no longer able to ‘judge the book by its cover’ maybe we take more time to get to know what is on the inside. And love (or lust) at first sight is only for the young.

In Blog 5: Getting to Know You

Dr. Lori Boul gained her PhD at the University of Sheffield in the UK and the research for her thesis, into ‘male menopause’, attracted worldwide media attention. Dr Lori is probably one of the most outspoken speakers on the topic of human sexuality and in writing her book DIY Sex and Relationship Therapy has dared to challenge the need for face-to-face therapy. According to Dr Lori, “Good therapists can be hard to find and for many people a good spoonful of common sense is all that is needed”.

Whether speaking to the general public or professionals, Dr Lori’s expertise, sensitivity and humour inspire new ways of thinking about relationships, sex and psychology. She has presented talks at national and international conferences, provides training courses and executive mentoring, and is featured as a regular guest speaker with Cunard. 


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