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The reality of 'love at first sight' 

Advice Goddess

High, I think I love you

Two friends of mine are in "love at first sight" relationships. (One went from chills at seeing the guy to moving in with him weeks later.) Each has said to me, "When it's right, you just know." Well, as I get to know this new guy I'm seeing, I like him more and more. It's just not the instant love of the century like they have, and that makes me feel a little bad. — Lacking Thunderbolts

Getting the chills the moment you set eyes on a person may be a sign that you have love at first sight — or an incipient case of malaria. (In time, you'll find out whether you have lasting love or lasting liver damage, seizures and death.)

Love at first sight is made out to be the rare, limited-edition Prada purse of relationships — that extra-special luvvier kind of love that we romantic commoners don't get access to. However, what the "first-sighters" actually have is not the enduring love poets write about but the kind animal behaviorists do — when the boy baboon spots the girl baboon's big red booty. People in this fleeting first phase of love are basically on a biochemical bender, high off their asses from raging hormones and neurotransmitters, and shouldn't be operating heavy machinery or making plans any heavier than where to show up for dinner on Tuesday.

Those who end up staying together will often sniff, "We just knew!" — which sounds better than "We are idiots who got hitched 20 minutes after meeting and got lucky we turned out to be well-matched." Their initial belief that they're perfect for each other is probably driven by a cognitive bias — an error in reasoning — that psychologists call "the halo effect." Like the glow cast by a halo, the glow from "Wow, she's hot!" spills over, leading to an unsupported positive view of a person's as-yet-unseen qualities. But, early in a relationship, you can only guess how someone will behave — say, at 3 a.m., when you're awakened by period cramps that feel as if some big Vegas boxing match accidentally got scheduled in your uterus. Will he mumble "feel better" and roll over or go to the drugstore and roll you home a barrel of hippo-strength Midol?

Maybe real romance is finding out all the ways somebody's disturbingly human and loving them anyway. This happens about a year in, after the party manners have fallen off and after you see — for example — whether your partner fights ugly or like someone who loves you but thinks you've temporarily fallen into the idiot bin. In other words, you're wise to get to know this guy instead of immediately drawing little sparkly hearts in your head about your magical future together. Keep unpacking who you both are and see whether you keep wanting more — or whether one of you goes out for a smoke and, a month later, sends a postcard from the Netherlands.

Toad rage

I'm in my early 40s and newly divorced. I fooled around with this guy — my first time with somebody besides my husband in 12 years. We had weekend plans, but two days passed with no texts from him. I texted him angrily, repeatedly telling him he'd hurt my feelings, and he cut off contact. Now, months later, he has resurfaced, saying I've been in his thoughts. What could he want? — Puzzled

Men you've dated briefly will sometimes resurface — much like bloated dead bodies in New York's East River.

As for why this one's coming around again, chances are, the paint on "she's crazy" dried and he remembered that you are also pretty and do that crazy thing with your tongue. Okay, so you were short on nonchalance in your first post-divorce dating situation. After a long sex-and-affection famine, a newly divorced woman, like any starving refugee, is unlikely to simply nudge a hot piece of meat around on her plate like one of those skeletal "ladies who lunch" (but do not eat).

The truth is you probably weren't going off on him merely because he failed to meet your text-pectations. Your behavior most likely stemmed from what psychologists call a "priming effect," describing how exposure to one situation colors how you react to another. Being mindful of this can help you tell a guy what you need and give him a chance to come through — instead of immediately texting him with all the casual cool of a kidnapper demanding a bag of unmarked small bills. Should you give this guy another chance, see that you're only asking questions he's prepared to answer, like where he went to elementary school and why his previous relationship ended — not "Will I be alone forever?" and "Wanna come over and try to fill the vast void I have inside?"

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Her latest book is Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck.

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