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Natalie Girshman | Love on screen

Love at first sight

Published: Monday, February 3, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 3, 2014 08:02

Our second trope is one that starts off many classic love stories: love at first sight. Two strangers’ eyes meet across a crowded room, or on a train or city street, and their fate is sealed with one glance. It’s as beloved by the makers of Disney movies as it is maligned by legions of online commentators. In our current era of virtual connection — where it’s possible to discover Google and be disappointed in a new crush all in an hour — why does the idea of love at first sight linger on? And how can the dedicated scholar of love tropes best dissect it?

The most famous incarnation of love at first sight, and probably one of the main reasons it endures today, is “Romeo and Juliet.” Who doesn’t want to meet their soul mate by sharing a sonnet, having a romantic moonlit balcony rendezvous, getting married, having a lot of family members die and then committing double suicide because a friar wasn’t very good at planning? Well, maybe not the last part. Despite, or perhaps because of, its tragic end, “Romeo and Juliet” (1597) has become the classic love story. In the case of love at first sight, it could even be called the trope maker. Since then, hundreds of couples have locked eyes and fallen for one another, some of them even doing so with references to “Romeo and Juliet.” But the trope has probably been best expressed in the oeuvre of Disney. Cinderella and Prince Charming, Jasmine and Aladdin, Aurora and Prince Philip, Ariel and Prince Eric and practically every couple on “Once Upon a Time” (2011-present) — a TV show airing on ABC, which is owned by Disney — are prime examples of this trope.

Admittedly, love at first sight can be beyond frustrating as far as tropes go. It can serve as a way of manufacturing chemistry between two characters — an instant connection replaces character development and frees the creator from having to bother with all the annoying details of how a relationship slowly develops. When one character needs to instantly trust another and flee the vampires, join the revolution or travel back in time with him or her, love at first sight can be an incredibly convenient plot device.

Most of all, though, love at first sight requires suspension of disbelief on a grand scale. Many of us don’t believe in love at first sight — I know I don’t. We’ve all experienced an instant attraction or an instant lust for someone, but instant love is a lot trickier. So often, our first impressions are mistaken; in fact, there’s an entire sub-genre of pop culture dedicated to disproving love at first sight (Disney’s “Frozen” (2013) and many of Jane Austen’s novels, to name a few).

Yet maybe the sheer impossibility of love at first sight is what keeps us believing in it. After all, we make wishes on falling stars, stop to pick up lucky pennies and flock to movies about men in tight spandex costumes who fight crime. Some people say that the media feeds us unrealistic ideas of love — and sometimes they do — but I think that with this trope, they offer up a promise that we all cherish. I believe that many of us hope that the fantasy we love will reflect itself in the life we lead. And maybe one day our wishes will come true: we will meet a stranger’s eyes and feel an undeniable spark. And maybe they won’t. But maybe it’s worth watching all those imaginary couples because they allow us to hope for the kernel of truth hidden at the heart of each trope.


Natalie Girshman is a sophomore majoring in history and drama. She can be reached at

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