I’m not really a curmudgeon wen it comes to love and lust, but sometimes it’s more fun to take a cynical or analytical view than a positive one when other posters have already done that so beautifully.
Love (or lust) at first sight may not be as much an attraction to an actual person as an apparent fulfillment of desires that have built over a very long time. The “actual person” caveat is obvious, since there’s no way we can tell all that much about someone just from the first impression. They may seem to be what we’ve always longed for—handsome in the way of your first movie star crush (who may, in fact, have reminded you of photos of your father or mother when they were very young,) or like a teacher you admired, or the way you imagined the heroes in your favorite romance (or erotic) novels. The actual living, breathing object of your attraction is just that, an object, until you get to know the real, complex person inside the attractive exterior.
It takes time to find out whether your tastes, habits, and expectations of life match up, or have the potential to merge. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. If lust is also involved, as it almost always is, a good time can be had while gradually learning whether compatibility is possible, and if the sex doesn’t turn out to be fun, there’s no point in taking things any further. (I know, I know, “compatibility” is such a stodgy, boring word, isn’t it.)
That’s not to say that you can’t ever recognize your perfect mate the first time you meet, just that you’re lucky if all the things you didn’t know at first turn out to be as wonderful as your first impression. And it’s not to deny that there can be other factors in play. Is the pheromone theory of sex still a thing? I should look it up. It’s highly likely that we judge a potential mate by the subconscious recognition that the chemical signals their body emits tell us that they are a desirable match in biological terms. (That’s assuming that Axe Body Spray for Men or Chanel #5 don’t block out those signals, or substitute for them.) Still, a biological match isn’t necessarily an emotional, practical, or spiritual match, and for someone with powerful emotional or spiritual needs, having those needs met can be by far the most important considerations.
There’s another kind of love at first sight that I find especially intriguing; the sudden discovery of something you didn’t know you wanted, but suddenly can’t do without. At least it seems sudden, even though it may have simmering below the surface for a very long time. This revelatory encounter is no more likely than any other to turn out perfectly, but the self-knowledge it brings is valuable, and may lead eventually to a true match.
Here’s where my attempted cynicism breaks down. You can tell where I’m going with this, right? Many people with non-binary sexual orientations have know their preferences since a very young age, but in others the tendency may be latent, like the spy novel trope of “sleepers” who don’t know what they are until an agent triggers their long-ago training. Sometimes this sexual enlightenment comes from meeting an individual who strikes figurative sparks, the steel to your flint. Love, lust, or infatuation, you’ve discovered it at first sight, even if in the course of time you and that particular individual go your separate ways.
No, this is not particularly autobiographical on my part, but a story I’ve written that reflects it is especially close to my heart, so I’m going to share some snippets from it. Chances are I’ve shared some of this before, but what the heck, here goes. The characters are an Army nurse and a female pilot in London during WWII.
From “To Remember You By”
I wasn’t careless. And I wasn’t in love. As a nurse, I’d tried to mend too many broken boys, known too many who never made it back at all, to let my mind be clouded by love. Sometimes, though, in dark hallways or tangles of shrubbery or the shadow of a bomber’s wings, I would comfort some nice young flier with my body and drive him on until his hot release geysered over my hand. Practical Application of Anatomical Theory, we nurses called it, “PAT” for short. Humor is a frail enough defense against the chaos of war, but you take what you can get.
Superstition was the other universal defense. Mine, I suppose, was a sort of vestal virgin complex, an unexamined belief that opening my flesh to men would destroy my ability to heal theirs.
My very defenses (and repressions) might have opened me to Cleo. Would my senses have snapped so suddenly to attention in peacetime? They say war brings out things you didn’t know were in you. But I think back to my first sight of her, the intense gray eyes, the thick, dark hair too short and straight for fashion, the forthright movements of her lean body—and a shiver of delight ripples through me, even now. No matter where or when we met, she would have stirred me.
The uniform sure didn’t hurt, dark blue, tailored, with slacks instead of skirt. I couldn’t identify the service, but “USA” stood out clearly on each shoulder, so it made sense for her to be at the Red Cross club on Charles Street in London, set up by the United States Ambassador’s wife for American servicewomen.
There was a real dance floor, and a good band was playing that night, but Cleo lingered near the entrance as though undecided whether to continue down the wide, curving staircase. I don’t know how long I stared at her. When I looked up from puzzling over the silver pin on her breast she was watching me quizzically.
As she talked, I did, in fact, fantasize like crazy. But visions of moonlight over a foaming sea of clouds kept resolving into lamplight on naked skin, and the roar of engines and rush of wind gave way to pounding blood and low, urgent cries. Her shifting expressions fascinated me; her rare, flashing smile was so beautiful I wanted to feel its movement under my own lips.
I didn’t know what had come over me. Or, rather, I knew just enough to sense what I wanted, without having the least idea how to tell whether she could possibly want it too. I’d admired women before, but only aesthetically, I’d rationalized, or with mild envy; and, after all, I liked men just fine. But this flush of heightened sensitivity, this feeling of rushing toward some cataclysm that might tear me apart...that I wanted to tear me apart.... This was unexplored territory.
You know what? I take all my cynicism back. I do think that true love at first sight is rare, but that makes it all the more precious.