Love at first sight, is it fact or fantasy?

We are joined by coach and author Katherine Baldwin to explore how to decide if a date has potential and whether first date sparks are always a good thing.

Love at first sight. It’s a captivating concept and it’s only natural to want to feel chemistry when we meet someone for the first time. However, first date sparks don’t necessarily mean we’ve found our match, nor does their absence mean we should walk away.

Hollywood has a lot to answer for, in my opinion. Romantic movies set us up to believe that relationships should unfold in a certain way – often with intense passion, incredible chemistry, and lightning bolts from the start.

I remember comparing many first dates to my favourite romcom scenes and deciding the chemistry just didn’t match up. I also remember falling head over heels within ten minutes of meeting, only to find the relationship fizzled out within days.

Even for the most grounded of individuals, dating can be a rollercoaster. So how can we tell whether a date has the potential to turn into something more and if sparks do fly, how do we discern whether they signal a healthy or unhealthy connection?

Firstly, remember that when you meet someone for the first time, you are simply gathering information. All you need to know after a first date is whether you want to see the person for a second date. Go along with an open heart and an open mind. If you don’t feel a spark, try not to write the person off. Instead, ask yourself if you feel curious about them, and if they seem curious about you. Are you interested in knowing more about them? If you’re sure you don’t feel curious and you’re getting nothing back, fair enough, but otherwise take a moment to decide if you are judging them too quickly. Do they deserve a second chance?

Obviously, we want to look out for red flags, for warning signs and signals – perhaps they only talk about themselves; perhaps you feel uncomfortable or on edge in their presence; maybe they overstep your boundaries. But could there be another explanation. Are they talking a lot because they’re nervous, for example? Is it worth giving it another shot?

Secondly, if sparks do fly, try to keep your feet on the ground as much as possible and maintain healthy boundaries. It’s tempting to extend a good date late into the night but ask yourself whether it would be wiser to go home and arrange to meet another day.

What kind of chemistry do you have?

Importantly, remember to question whether the sparks that are flying are the result of healthy or unhealthy chemistry.

Healthy chemistry is the genuine connection we feel with someone we find attractive. We want to get close to them, find out more about them. They may have the physical attributes we usually go for, or they may not, but there’s something deeper going on. We see something in them and they see something in us.

Unhealthy chemistry is different.

We meet someone whom we find irresistible. We feel a strong pull towards them and perhaps they feel the same towards us. We throw our boundaries out the window – we share too much and stay out too late. We wake up in the morning in a relationship, without ever really making the choice. This intensity feels incredible. It’s just like in the movies.

The problem is this passion may come from an unhealthy place. Perhaps we are dating with unmet needs and deep wounds. Perhaps we haven’t done the necessary work on ourselves to feel whole and grounded. And perhaps we’re drawn to this person because they are wounded too.

Our wounds meet in the middle, slotting together like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and fireworks go off. We’re drawn together like magnets and we stick together like glue. We ignore all warning signs because we’re floating on a pink cloud.

Perhaps we stay together and go on to have a fiery, intense but potentially unfulfilling and harmful relationship. Or, in many cases, the fireworks fizzle quickly or the relationship crashes and burns. We get hurt and we hurt others.

With all this in mind, take the time to know and understand yourself, keep an eye out for red flags but, if there aren’t any obvious ones, give people the benefit of the doubt. Welcome the healthy sparks, while proceeding slowly and respecting your own and others’ boundaries. And look out for the lightning bolts that will wow you temporarily but ultimately leave you feeling burnt.

With the above in mind, dating becomes an enjoyable experience that will lead you to the relationship you want and deserve.

Katherine Baldwin is a love, dating and relationships coach, midlife mentor, and the author of ‘How to Fall in Love’, a dating guide for single professionals. She specialises in supporting people to understand and face their relationship fears and to change their dating patterns so that they can find healthy, committed love. Katherine coaches 1:1 and hosts workshops and retreats in the UK and abroad.