The science of love at first sight


This is what the farm looks like when you drive up to it.

For a while, I thought that the farm is really what I fell in love with. I felt an overwhelming sense that I belonged on this farm from the moment I got out of my car.

But also, the moment I got out of my car, I fell in love with the farmer.

And I did not fall in love with the farmer when I went to check him out at the farmer's market before I agreed to drive out to his farm. Which tells me that love at first sight is a combination of things: the right setting and right person.

I had love at first sight with my first husband, too. I remember seeing him in a group. I remember asking him if he's Jewish (very important to me then — I wanted to raise Jewish kids) and I remember us being surrounded by the smartest people in LA who were trying to figure out nonlinear media before anyone had even heard of the Internet.

The setting of smart people talking about ideas primed me to fall in love, like the farm setting primed me the next time.

This started getting me thinking about how you fall in love at work. With your job. I think it's also love at first sight.

When people are interviewing each other face to face, it's clear that all the candidates are qualified—everyone has been screened to know that the potential employees are skilled enough, the potential company is interesting enough, the job is a decent enough fit. So that leaves chemistry as the important thing in an interview. And I think it works similarly to falling in love.

The obvious corollary, of course, is looks. We are can't help choosing to work with people who we think are good-looking. It's against the law, yes, I know. But we do it anyway, often subconsciously.

The idea that our love-at-first-sight tools work similarly for other relationships is not that far-fetched. First, it's clear that researchers at Ohio State University found that after just a few minutes of meeting someone face-to-face, people decide what sort of relationship they want to have with that person. And that decision is a good predictor of what will happen in the future between the two people because people act in accordance with their decision.

Here are ways to apply what we know about love at first sight to getting the job you want:

1. Interviews during ovulation are bad.
Women are more likely to fall in love with a man when ovulating. But ovulation changes the type of man women seek. Women prefer gender stereotypes during ovulation—which means not only a square jaw, but a dominant caretaker and a poor-communicator –questionable traits to seek in a co-worker.

2. Telling someone you really want them is good.
You are more likely to have love at first sight if the person likes you. We are naturally more attracted to people who give us cues that they are attracted to us. So telling the interviewer how much you really really want the job is not optional.

3. When discussing your skills, focus on complementary not similar.
We are genetically predisposed to fall in love with someone not like us—it keeps the gene pool safe. So when you want someone to fall in love with the idea of working with you, focus on personality characteristics you offer them that they don't already have.

We all know that love at first sight does not mean love forever. And it doesn't necessarily mean good for you, either. But love at first sight is fun and exciting and invigorating, and I'm certain it's good for the workplace—that is, if it is possible to have love at first sight with the idea of working with someone.

33 replies
  1. Alisa Bowman
    Alisa Bowman says:

    Now, part 2 of this series: what to do when the honeymoon phase is over. In other words, what to do when you think “I love you, but I am no longer IN love with you” about your job. Or how to prevent it in the first place.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        This is a great answer, Tina. Falling in love is so fun. And since it’s a job, not a marriage, there are few ramifications for growing bored and wanting that great feeling all over again.


  2. Don
    Don says:

    It is amazing the importance of a first impression regardless of our desire to debate that in life or work it is not that simple. We decide many things quickly and then act accordingly. This may not be our best trait but recognizing the tendency is important.

  3. Karen Tiede
    Karen Tiede says:

    Hiring only people of your own protected category will get you in trouble. Don’t know about you–I can list a dozen men who aren’t in my “protected category” who are attractive. Hiring attractive people over people who can do a better job will, in the long run, probably send your business into the tank and possibly, your marriage into the toilet.
    Which law is “hiring attractive people” breaking?

  4. Dena
    Dena says:

    Hello, Penelope. This advice is excellent, but better than the advice is the photograph–just gorgeous. I’d fall in love at first sight, too.

    Now about my current job… not so much. I’ll keep this in mind next time around. ;)

  5. chris
    chris says:

    Thanks for the CDi flashback. That was a fantastic, magical work experience, despite the failure of the technology. A lot of families were started between Philips co-workers. I hadn’t thought about the potential causal relationship between the work environment and the family starting. Hmmmmm…

  6. Dale
    Dale says:

    I believe there’s really no such thing as love at first sight. In my opinion, we are seeking something or more likely, to escape something else. When we find it, we feel at home. But 1 week, month or year from now will that be the case? Love (much like the career) is a decision. Everything else is either lust or seeking the easy way out of a bad past situation.

    • Celine
      Celine says:

      Tell that to your hormones when you see someone SO hot that sheer magnetism takes over. It may not last but what a feeling. It’s probably not love but lust and it’s still irresistable.

    • Dave C.
      Dave C. says:

      @Dale: “But 1 week, month or year from now will that be the case?” I can’t speak for everyone, but it worked for my wife and I and is still working 33 year later – your mileage may vary, etc.

  7. Valter
    Valter says:

    There’s an error in the “We are genetically predisposed to fall in love” link (page not found). :-(

  8. Vladimir Kornea
    Vladimir Kornea says:

    “The setting of smart people talking about ideas primed me to fall in love, like the farm setting primed me the next time.”

    But you left out the essential component–the “setting” was a part of the person you fell in love with. The farm isn’t just any random farm, it’s the farmer’s farm–it is a part of the farmer; to love the farm is to love something about the farmer. Same thing with the Jewish intellectual–he has earned the ability to have such a stimulating conversation by virtue of developing his mind. What you fell in love with in both cases is virtue. You’re conceptualizing a concretization of a person’s virtue as mere “setting”.

  9. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    Your second point got me a job four years ago when I was changing careers. I applied for a job that was a step back, but opened doors. At the end of my second interview, I said, “I know you’re interviewing other people, but I really want this job, so I hope you pick me.”

    Later, my boss told me that they had no doubts that I’d be good at the job, but were worried that I would lose interest because I was overqualified. They stopped having those doubts when I told them how much I wanted the job.

    • Casual Surfer
      Casual Surfer says:

      And the flip side of that is true as well. When I’ve been in the enviable position of having more than one job offer (usually during a company restructuring) I have to say, my pulse quickens when someone says, “We really, really want you for this job and can’t imagine another person in the role.” I could be a sucker, but it works.

  10. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I never thought to see work and career this way, but now that I have it makes total sense. And the metaphor can be continued, for example: Baby Boomers were raised to find a steady job and stick with it, for better or for worse. That seems silly to GenYers, who have more options, since perhaps we’re raised to be a little more narcissistic so we play the field a bit more early on, more often we ignore the big corporations that might seem to offer financial stability early on, get “married” later, or not at all. It’s all about finding what you want from a job, and therefore discovering yourself in the process. Just like, I think, in love.

    • Casual Surfer
      Casual Surfer says:

      I’ve used this analogy when having unofficial conversations about other opportunities (outside of the company I work for). I may “meet for coffee” with another firm, but only if it gets to actual interviewing do I consider it really “dating”. The job offer is the culmination of successful dates (aka – proposal) and usually by the time you reach that point you need to be damned sure you want to leave your current employer (spouse) because you’re already “falling in love” with the new job/coworkers/boss.

      Sounds odd, but helps me keep it in perspective when I tell myself, “No biggie, you aren’t even DATING this company, you’re just having coffee!”

    • Tom Hawkin
      Tom Hawkin says:

      Absolutely Harriet. Do you think the trend of moving around more and getting married later will continue? Will marriage eventually disappear? Something to think about…About 1/2 of marriages end in expensive, divorces (some messy). Why can’t two people in love just be together and then go their separate ways if things get sour? That’s what we do with our jobs, no?

  11. Jonha @ Happiness
    Jonha @ Happiness says:

    You sure know the right things to post at the right moment I badly need them!

    By the way, I rarely download freebies or sign up for anything but I guess you have this irresistible charm for turning your readers into followers so I downloaded the free ebook and munching on such a great treat now!

  12. Olivia
    Olivia says:

    My favourite topic in the world, love. I too fell in love at first sight, (I’m literally talking the moment our eyes connected- Dale the stuff does exists trust me), errrr, but… in a nightclub. Not quite the promising setting. Nor a setting I fell in love with either. Alas it didn’t last forever and it also wasn’t good for me- even though we are most definitely soulmates.

    Careers on the other hand I have never had such a love affair. It sounds sad but I have never had an interview for a position that nourished my soul. Bank balance yes, soul no. So I figured I would have a crack at doing something on my own. Something that I loved and believed in. I will check in with you some 700 days or so from now to see how the relationship is getting on. I hear the 18 month mark is usually the make or break marker for relationships.

    Harriet is right though, “It’s all about finding what you want from a job, and therefore discovering yourself in the process- just like love.” As is, (I think just importantly) finding out what qualities you know you don’t want from a love partner/ job. And steering away from them.

    Hopefully I’ll look forward to Alisa’s suggested next installment- What to do when you realise you are no longer “in love” with your career/ job choice.

  13. Dale
    Dale says:

    @ Olivia. Perhaps it does exist but I have never seen it last, when it starts off that way. So was it really love in the first place? I guess it hinges on one’s definition of love, which for me includes those inconvenient little things (for most people) called commitment, acceptance and trust.
    Infatuation at first sight is a good way to start things off though and I won’t knock the existance of that:)

  14. Olivia
    Olivia says:

    @ Dale you are quite right. I too have never seen a couple fall in love at first sight and it last. That’s not to say though that it doesn’t happen. For me it was definitely love and not infatuation, (though infatuation is lovely). I had unexplained physiological reactions upon our first meeting, e.g. my eye sight, (which isn’t the best) became crystal clear for about 4 minutes- among other things I won’t go into here.

    For me love is a feeling rather than a set of prescribed attributes. Though obviously the ones you mention are necessary to sustain that love feeling. I wish everyone would live long enough to experience love at first sight, even if only once, even if it is doomed to fail. While it didn’t work out between us, to this very day I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced it.

  15. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    I met my wife this way. She was spending her holiday at the seaside and when we met we knew something magic happen. We stood together for 4 days and when she left home i visited here after 2 days. Now we live together and really have a great time traveling around the world…

  16. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I really found the BBC news article that discussed the Ohio State University research to be informative. When you wrote “And that decision is a good predictor of what will happen in the future between the two people because people act in accordance with their decision.”, I didn’t get the full impact until I read the section in the article about it almost being a self-fulfilling prophecy. So I think being aware of the power of love at first sight and why it may play out the way it does is very important regardless of the type of relationship.

  17. Dale
    Dale says:

    @Dave C. I live in awe of you and those like you. My relationship took a longer but no less fun route to fruition. Live, love, learn I guess:)

  18. Doug Jordan
    Doug Jordan says:

    Nice metaphor, and substantially true in my experience, but I have a few caveats.

    First, I’m not sure its intellectually honest (and therefore longer term consequences) if we emphasize our differences versus our similarities. Differences may be good for the gene pool but not necessarily for long-term compatible relationships. It also sounds a bit manipulative to ‘make people fall in love with us’.

    Second, surely the real point of a successful job search, ceteris parabus, is to find a job that leads to long term career satisfaction, and like a marriage, or a lasting love affair, it’s our similarities and core value congruencies that really matter.

  19. Sonia W
    Sonia W says:

    For me, my day job is love at first sight. I enjoy the people that I work with and team work that takes place. What makes this job more enjoyable is that they put family first. I can’t say that about the other companies I have worked at, but I am very grateful to work with executives that treats their employees with mutual respect and the same values. My passion is my blog and the excerpts from my life.

    Now, in this economy, I would hope being grateful that you even have a job is the most important thing on your mind, then being in love with your job. There is allot of people out willing to take your job if you don’t want it.

  20. knki
    knki says:

    Hopefully I’ll look forward to Alisa’s suggested next installment- What to do when you realise you are no longer “in love” with your career/ job choice.

  21. Yeoman
    Yeoman says:

    Very nice photograph.

    What I really, really, want to do as a career is just to be a farmer/rancher. It’s all I’ve really wanted to do, I think, but when I started off after high school I didn’t think I could get into it, and so far that guess has been right. But the desire doesn’t go away, even if my wife and kids don’t share that goal.

    But, if I could dump my lousy job as a lawyer, that’s the job I’d want.

Comments are closed.