Our culture is filled with literary works that proclaim the merits of finding one’s true love. Many of these stories try to validate the notion that love at first sight is the surefire sign you have found the “one”. They also proclaim  that this form of love will encircle you with a force so powerful that it will cause you to do things for another you never thought possible. Shakespeare’s tragic play, Romeo and Juliet, comes to mind. This young couple’s forbidden love began when they cast their eyes upon each other. Their passion so strong that they defied all societal and family rules to be together. In the final chapters, the two unfortunate lovers sacrifice their lives for one other rather than risk living apart.

I don’t think there is a person alive who has not experienced the intensity of love at first sight. Yet, for as enticing  as this state of mind might be, the truth is more likely a reflection of the chemical/biological and emotional changes that occur in all of us when we are attracted to someone and they repay our interest with like attention.

You might think of me as a killjoy for expressing this negative opinion about love at first sight, but I am not. Allow me to explain. Scientific studies have proven that the bodies of two attracted mates are flooded with natural hormones and chemicals that create a sense of wellbeing. During this romantic phase of a relationship, the brain releases dopamine (an appropriate name for the foolishness that overtakes one) and norepinephrine. These two neurotransmitters help create a rosy outlook on life, a rapid pulse, and a heightened sense of perception. Complicating matters further, every moment the lovers spend side-by-side causes their brains to increase production of endorphins and enkephalins, natural narcotics that enhance a person’s sense of security and comfort.

Scientists can’t explain what causes the brain to release these potent chemicals during these times. They also can’t explain what causes their release to diminish over time. But one thing is clear: experiencing romantic attraction is an intense physical experience with measurable biological components.

The term of endearment I have chosen for this bodily reaction is the “bliss bubble”, and the enveloping effects it can have during the infancy of a romance can indeed dupe the people involved.

So what is this bliss bubble? I define it as the heavenly feeling phase that begins when a dating couple perceive a strong and mutual attraction for one another. As the perception of love grows between the two prospective partners, so does the bliss bubble. Life in this phase of romantic love is blissful, which  eventually convinces each partner that they may have found the one they had been waiting for to help make them complete. A climactic scene from the movie Jerry Maguire correctly depicts this aspect of the bliss bubble when the character played by Tom Cruise announces to his girlfriend, played by Renée Zellweger, “You complete me.”

As I reflect on my time in the throes of the bliss bubble, I can remember how my perception became heightened in the presence of my new female companion. After just a second or third date, I was living in the bliss bubble, where exalted feelings of joy and confidence would supplant my sensible thinking. In the presence of my prospective paramour, my life would appear to be brighter and sunsets more beautiful. I felt more connected to people and living things. The world seemed like a better place where I could feel more optimistic and hopeful. The bliss bubble could turn my new companion into my Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. Everything about her, the way her hair curled around her face, the sound of her voice, her mannerisms, the way she walked, how she dressed, and every other trait all seemed adorable. Every moment together was refreshing and exciting, which only made me want to spend more time with her. When we were apart, I would often think of her. There was even a sense I had known her for a lifetime even though we had just met. It wouldn’t take long before I was convinced I had found my soul mate. I know this sounds like the musings of a lovesick teenager, but I assure you mine are not exaggerated reactions of what typically happens to people living inside the bliss bubble.

There is no denying that the sparks that fly between two lovers when they first meet are necessary, but only fools would jump into a committed relationship based solely on what is a biological reaction inherent to the human body. Some argue that the bliss bubble is a malady that clouds your normal perception. To some extent, this is true, but whatever we may think, although the bliss bubble offers up a mirage of love, the state of bliss is not a figment of your imagination.

Awareness of these facts makes no one immune to their body’s biological and emotional reactions. For example, I am always overjoyed when a first date leads to a second, and then a third. But my past romantic failures have proven that my exaggerated perceptions could a Venus flytrap if I allowed them to coax me into a romantic commitment too early. To become more successful in future relationships, I had to understand that I was experiencing a chemical/biological phenomenon that would diminish. I learned that I could more objectively evaluate the red flags in a prospective partner once I was beyond the spell of the bliss bubble.

How long must one wait for the bliss bubble to pop in a new relationship? Many insist that it lasts for only ninety days. This is known in some circles as the “ninety-day rule”. The theory here is that ninety days is the period any human can successfully fake angelic behavior in front of another. On the ninety-first day, the internal demons are unleashed.

I am not sure you can put a limit of time on this, which is why I rely on a different rule of thumb. The metaphor I use to describe the sudden eradication of the bliss bubble is more cynical. It is like you have been familiarizing yourself with everything contained in a dark kitchen when suddenly someone turns on the lights and exposes scores of cockroaches scurrying around looking for cover. The conclusion to be reached from my example is that the way you know the bubble has vanished is when you are able to see the good and the bad in someone. When you finally are able to see someone in all of his or her glory, then you can truly evaluate and decide if this person would make a good partner.

For as sweet and delightful love at first sight can be, it is not as wonderful as claims or reputation would suggest. Love at first sight only opens the door to love; it doesn’t confirm it. Doing so will take more work on your part. This is a test of maturity, but one well worth taking to find a true and abiding love.

Life in the bliss bubble becomes even more complicated if you introduce sex into the mix. I will dedicate next week’s blog to this subject.

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