Modern-day cynics may scoff at the idea of being suddenly and permanently smitten, but, as three couples living in the UAE tell it, instant mutual attraction that builds all the way to a happy marriage is possible.
Real couples prove love at first sight not a myth
It's the stuff of fairy tales - boy sees girl for the first time and within seconds (30 or fewer, to be precise) feels something akin to an arrow being struck through his heart. Girl is equally taken unawares and in the blink of an eye has fallen for what appears to be the man of her dreams. And well... we all know what happens next.
Cue cheesy violin music as the couple lock eyes and come together in slow motion before they fall deeply in love and live happily ever after.
The more cynical of you may laugh and indeed if you have no first-hand experience of it, the idea of falling in love at first sight, especially in the often heartless modern world, is rather implausible, some would say comical.
But it happens nonetheless. And yes, even in the UAE.
First off, there is nothing new about this notion. The act of feeling weak at the knees and swooning within seconds of first encountering another human being has long been documented. The ancient Greeks actually had a term for it - theia mania (madness of the gods) - and we can blame the classical Greeks and Romans for the figure of Cupid with a bow and arrow, which in some cases was the mythological deity Eros or Rumor. According to legend, the source of the arrow was the beautiful love object itself - that is, the woman. The arrow was thought to pierce the unfortunate man's eye before travelling straight to his heart and causing a beguiling, all-consuming passion. Basically any poor sap who so happened to be hit by such overwhelming beauty didn't stand a chance.
The idea was popular in 12th- and 13th-century Europe and became part of the tradition of "courtly love". French troubadours made many references to it, reinforcing the fact that the love dart, or arrow, came from the woman's eye.
In the case of Kirsty and Afees Hussain, it was a mutual feeling. Both from the UK, they were working at the same telecommunications company in Dubai when they met in 2006. Afees, 34, recalls the impact of first seeing his wife-to-be, who is 36.
"I'd just arrived in Dubai and it was my second day at work," he says. "The guy I was replacing was showing me around the office, introducing me to people. I was in the middle of meeting someone when I looked up and saw this girl stampeding through the office, carrying what seemed to be presents. I couldn't take my eyes off her. 'Who is that?' I said, interrupting the meeting. 'Oh, that's retail,' the other guy said. He meant she worked in the retail section of the company."
Kirsty and Afees had a mutual friend, who before they'd even met had guessed they would get on with each other. "I kept hearing about this girl, but I never thought anything of it. Then I was invited to a brunch and it was there I got to talk to her for the first time. I couldn't believe it was the same woman I'd seen that first day in the office," says Afees.
Kirsty remembers being late for the brunch. "I'd been out the night before," she says. "I came in and I saw Afees sitting across the table. I turned to my friend and said, 'Who is that guy?' I thought he was very handsome, but he was attracting a lot of female attention and I thought, 'I'm never going to get him.'"
By the end of the day, however, Afees had approached Kirsty and the couple were chatting as if they'd known each other all their lives. "By chance she bumped into me and we started talking. She looked so strong but I was surprised at how gentle and sweet she was. It took me completely unawares. She reminded me of home and I was hooked immediately," says Afees.
The couple saw each other for the following six weeks and while Afees was sure he had met the woman of his dreams, Kirsty was less certain. "Our relationship was very intense and it scared me," she says. "I kept trying to talk myself out of it. I'd had other relationships but I'd never felt like this before and I was scared."
Eventually she came to terms with how she was feeling. Four weeks after they met, it was Afees's 30th birthday. "I remember looking at him from across the room," Kirsty says, "and then suddenly I went up to him and I said, 'It's your 30th birthday and... I'm in love with you.'"
Happily married since 2009, both admit they've had ups and downs in their relationship but are now stronger than ever.
"We're best friends. I think he's really intelligent and I feel with him I can put the world to rights," says Kirsty. "We used to argue but we've learnt the hard way that there are certain things we have to do to keep our marriage strong. We treat each other with respect and these days we rarely argue. If we do, it is just over the little things and we make up very quickly afterwards."
Prosper Mundingi and his wife, Leona, both from Zimbabwe, are further proof that love at first sight is possible. The 34-year-old accountant, now living in Dubai, fell hard the moment he saw his future wife in 2007. "I had just come out of a long-term relationship with a girl in Dubai at the time and I was broken-hearted," he says. "The last thing I was thinking about was finding another woman. I had returned to Zimbabwe for a vacation and if you'd asked me I would have told you that it would be at least five years before I even thought about pursuing another woman."
However, Cupid had other plans for Prosper. On one of his first nights back in his home country he walked into a hotel bar and was struck. "This beautiful woman was in the bar and the moment I saw her I knew she was the missing link in my life," he says.
The couple started to chat and found not only were they attracted to each other but that they also had a lot in common. "I fell in love instantly and at a time when I least expected it," says Prosper. "We exchanged phone numbers and began to get to know each other after that, but really I think that night I knew she was the woman for me."
Leona, 26, felt the same. "I remember this good-looking man offered to buy me a drink,' she says. "And once we began to chat I was impressed by his gentle manner and how smart he was. He was different to any other men I'd met." Because Prosper had to return to Dubai within weeks, he quickly decided to introduce Leona to his family, which is an important part of the courtship process in his culture. "I had very little time," he says.
Three months later the couple were married, and although at first Prosper returned on his own to Dubai, Leona followed within two months. "It was not part of my plan to move to Dubai," she says. "I had intended to go to South Africa to study law. However I had to change my plans because I wanted to be with the man I love."
Four years later and the couple have a one-year-old boy. "Our relationship gets better all the time," says Prosper. "Leona really is the missing link in my life."
For the Indian couple Alina Mirzah and Shehzaad Alam, both of whom are from Mumbai but live in Sharjah, it was a case of shopping for spouses. They first met three years ago in the unlikely setting of a Dubai mall.
"I was shopping with my cousin that day," recalls Alina, 29. "She wanted to buy a new dress and we walked around for hours without finding what we were looking for. She went to the ATM and I was standing waiting beside a balcony on the second floor, looking down below. I was carrying a cardigan and it had dropped to the ground but I hadn't noticed. I turned around all of a sudden and there was a very handsome man standing in front of me holding it out. He had picked it up off the floor. He had these beautiful green eyes and a great smile. It may sound a bit odd, but I really believe I fell for him instantly."
Shehzaad, 33, felt an instant attraction, too. "I saw the cardigan on the ground first," he says, laughing. "She was wearing a headscarf so I couldn't see her face. But when I went to pick it up and hand it to her I saw it and I felt something inside me move. She was smiling and she looked so sweet. I felt like I'd known her a long time. For me it was instant and that had never happened before. My parents in India were urging me to get married at the time, but I wanted to be with the right woman. I never thought it would happen like that."
Three years later and the couple are married with a two-year-old son.
"We swapped numbers that day and he proposed two months later," says Alina. "I had to introduce him to my parents, of course. They could see it was a love match and liked him instantly. I knew in my heart he was the man for me. I think I was very, very lucky. So many of my friends are in arranged marriages and not all are happy, but I was blessed with this amazing man."
"She is everything to me," says Shehzaad. "Every day I thank the heavens for my lovely wife. I think we were both aware from the start that we had something very special, so we try to keep it that way. It's not always easy, but if you truly love the person as I do, then you will make it work."
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