Is it love or lust at first sight?

When it comes to empowered sexuality for women, Dorothy Black asks whether ‘love at first sight’ is a harmless expression or the product of a deeper cultural problem…

I don’t believe in love at first sight. You see, I learnt my lesson in my hormonal teens. Then I was willing to give my life and affection, at the drop of an eyelid, to Egbert (in Grade 7), Clinton (in Grade 8), and Neil (in Grade 10). Also Anton, Helmut and my Grade 7 maths teacher, Miss Moore.

Oh and Michael Jackson and Johnny Depp.

Unsurprisingly, my love went unrequited. So I learnt the hard way not to trust the nebulous flashes of passion – for someone I’d shared five words with – when they threatened to overwhelm me as an adult.

No. By the time I hit my 20s I called ‘love at first sight’ by its real names: infatuation and lust. Or, by its longer, less common title: ‘The feelings of attraction between two animal bodies as determined by a complex system of chemical and hormonal reactions.’

It’s not that I stopped falling in love, I just didn’t label it ‘LOVE’ until I was pretty keen on waking up next to their morning breath.

The whole ‘love at first sight’ business – still an energetic trope in pop-culture – has a habit of confusing infatuation and commitment

I don’t think I’m a love Scrooge. I just know the difference between infatuation and commitment. The whole ‘love at first sight’ business – still an energetic trope in pop-culture – has a habit of confusing the two. Which is why I think women sometimes find themselves in relationships with guys they should’ve dropped after the initial sex glow wore off. After all, the ‘L’ word was used right? So doesn’t that mean ‘trying to make it work’?

A probable origin of this misguided connection between lust/infatuation and love became clear for me the other day.

In trying to corral our budding sexuality into a safe space, our parents made the mistake of locking the physical into the emotional

I was sitting with a group of women talking about the stories we were told about sex as kids. One of the biggest fibs was the ‘when a man and woman really love each other, the man puts his pee pee in her fee fee’ line.

In trying to corral our budding sexuality into a safe space, our parents made the mistake of locking the physical into the emotional. As if the two are inseparable: sex = love. If you’re going to get naked with someone, the story went, the proper context is to have love feelings for them also.

And, of course, this misinformation was compounded for young women whose moral value was said to reside in their hymen.

I don’t know why I’m writing this in past tense.

‘Love at first sight’ may be a frivolous term, but its implications run deep.

One of the women in the group admitted that the ‘sex = love’ connection is exactly what she’s teaching her daughter, to ‘protect’ her from being taken advantage of by selfish people.

All I see is the next generation of women being groomed for a conservative society that keeps them feeling guilty about enjoying sex and locks them into making long-term commitments to incompatible partners because they shagged.

‘Love at first sight’ may be a frivolous term, but its implications run deep. If this wasn’t true, we’d call it what it is: Lust at first sight. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

This column was first published on W24.co.za