I’ve been in the dating world for about twenty years. With those twenty years comes a lot of experience, for the better and for the worse. I’ve been ghosted after three months of dating, I’ve dealt with intermittent reinforcement, and I’ve been in my fair share of rocky relationships. But the most common dating experience I’ve had? Love bombing. I only recently realized exactly what love bombing is, so I thought I’d share the warning signs and how to avoid it. Because – trust me – love bombing never ends well.
How I got love bombed: an example
I met Tim on a dating app a few years ago while living in London. We immediately hit it off, with long messages back and forth late into the night.
“Oh man,” he wrote. “I really want to keep chatting with you but I need to get some sleep. Can I call you tomorrow?”
I was just about to write my response – yes – when he messaged again.
“Honestly, I’m so excited right now. I don’t remember the last time I met someone as amazing as you. I can’t wait to talk more.”
Giddy from the great banter, flattered by the compliments, I was over the moon. I went to bed smiling, my mind drifting off with dream scenarios of the first date that might happen with this man I hadn’t met yet, with this man whose voice I had never even heard.
By the time Tim and I finally met up for a date, our relationship already felt serious. We talked on the phone every day. He always texted me a lot from work, giving me updates. He told me – repeatedly – that he couldn’t believe how lucky he was to have met me, that I was the most amazing woman he’d spoken to in years. When I showed up at the bar to meet Tim for that first date, I saw the bouquet of flowers he brought me before I even saw him.
Little did I know it, but I was being love bombed, and it was about to get worse.
So what exactly is love bombing?
Loveboming is a form of romantic manipulation. It’s achieved by inundating someone with an excess of romantic gestures, especially in the beginning stages of a relationship. Think constant compliments and praise, over-the-top gestures, multiple gifts, and endless promises of future plans. A love-bomber will essentially try to sweep you off your feet, saying and doing all of the things we associate with grand romance.
And don’t get me wrong, I love romance. I love when a boyfriend tells me how much he loves me. I love when he brings me flowers, or surprises me with my favourite meal, or when we talk about the first time our eyes met across the room, and how we both knew that the other person was someone special. I love that, all of it.
But what love bombing does is take all of those often wonderful, romantic gestures and turns them sinister. Someone who is love bombing you will smother you in praise, promises, and gifts, only to use those gestures as a way of controlling you, of manipulating you, of conditioning you.
The most common way of doing this is to make you feel as though you haven’t reciprocated enough, and that they’re carrying the full weight of the relationship. They’ll switch, seemingly overnight, from being ultra romantic to suddenly and inexplicably ultra critical, mean, or distant. Suddenly, you’ll wonder if any of that praise or those romantic gestures were even real, if any of it was authentic or genuine.
It may only take a couple of dates, or it may take weeks or months, but someone who is love bombing you ultimately has an ulterior motive behind their romantic gestures. They want to gain your trust and loyalty in order to eventually manipulate and control, leading to feelings of confusion, anxiety, and even emotional and/or physical abuse. And anyone can love bomb, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Usually, the love bomber will suddenly stop all of their adoration just as you’re feeling reliant on it. The romantic gestures, words of praise, and proclamations of love can swiftly change to coldness, or, even worse, cruelty. Suddenly you feel desperate to get that attention back, and you feel perplexed as to why it stopped. Without realizing it, you’re now the one anxiously trying to woo the love-bomber, left feeling in a place of submission, confusion, desperation, and/or heartbreak.
And then the love-bomber has you right where they want you.
Warning signs of love bombing
A telltale sign of being love bombed in the beginning of a relationship is that it feels like way too much, way too soon. All of the excess is to groom you to make you feel as though you owe them something. The love bomber might not even consciously know what they’re doing, which makes it sometimes difficult to spot. Watch out for:
Lavish gift giving
Tim sent me no fewer than four bouquets in our very short time together (from meeting on the app to me ending it, we knew each other for ten days). Other gifts might include jewellery, clothing, or plane tickets. They might also give you cash or pay for bills unprompted.
Excessive compliments and praise
Of course we all want to be told we look good, that we’re intelligent, that we’re funny. Of course we want the person we have a crush on to tell us that they have a crush back. But after a while, too many compliments, especially if you haven’t known the person for very long, can start to feel inauthentic and hollow.
Someone who is love bombing you will say things like, “I love absolutely everything about you,” or “You’re my soulmate”… even though you’ve just met. Love-bombers will usually also tell you that they love you very early on in the relationship.
A love-bomber won’t respond well to “no”; in fact, they’ll see any boundary you set as a personal attack against them and against your relationship. A person who is love bombing you will want to be in contact with you all the time, often bombarding you with texts and phone calls.They’ll want you to spend all of your time with them, potentially asking you to scrap plans with friends or family to see them instead. They’ll usually want you to constantly check in with them, and will text or call multiple times until you answer.
They’ll also often assume that you’re committed and monogamous immediately, expecting you to be OK with talking about things like moving in together, what your wedding would be like, or other life changing events very early in the relationship.
In effect, the person doing the love bombing will demand your full attention, commitment, and affection, to the point that your entire life feels as though it is revolving around theirs.
In a healthy relationship, you should be able to have boundaries. Maybe you can’t text while you’re at work, or Saturday nights are always saved for your friends. Those things should be OK in a relationship, and I believe one of the keys to a happy relationship is balance, and having some time apart.
Something just feels off
The biggest sign that you’re being love bombed? Your gut instinct.
In the beginning, being love bombed can feel amazing, even addictive. Having someone sweep you off your feet is an exhilarating experience. But if those feelings of uneasiness start to creep in, it might be time to listen to them.
Perhaps you start to feel overwhelmed or anxious. Perhaps those dozens of texts per day start to feel annoying, not sweet. Perhaps it all suddenly feels like too much, that you’re in a serious relationship with someone you barely know. Perhaps the displays of affection and romantic gestures start to feel transactional or inauthentic.
At the end of the day, only you will know when something feels wrong. And at the end of the day, it’s your prerogative to end any relationship that doesn’t feel right to you. Love bombing unfortunately has a tendency to be the precursor to more serious forms of abuse, and you are ALWAYS within your right to end a relationship that is making your gut instinct want to run the other way.
What’s the difference between love bombing and just being romantic?
This is the question I thought about a lot when writing this article.
And I get it. We see these sorts of extreme displays all the time in media.
We see celebrities in rooms filled with roses from their paramour.
We see the protagonist running across a baseball field toward her love, the packed stands cheering her on despite the security guards chasing her.
We see huge proclamations of love – often alongside proposals! – on shows like The Bachelor or Love is Blind, despite the couple only spending the equivalent of a few days or weeks together.
You’re always going to meet the couple who says, “It was love at first sight.” You’re always going to hear about the couples who got married after a few months, or moved in together on the second date, or said I love you within an hour of meeting.
And hey, if you’re/they’re happy together, that’s awesome! If those romantic gestures and positive affirmation continues in the relationship, that’s just how someone expresses themselves in love, and that’s great.
I’m not knocking romance, nor am I denying that some people move a lot faster than others. I usually look to become exclusive fairly soon after dating a person, for example.
But love bombing is very different than that. Love bombing is the act of overwhelming a person with romance with an underlying ulterior motive. Typically, those who love bomb have narcissistic tendencies. As Darlene Lancer writes in Psychology Today:
“Despite their seemingly strong personality, narcissists are actually very vulnerable underneath their protective armor. Command of their feelings and of other people is all-important, because without control, they feel weak and humiliated.”
She goes on to write:
“It’s easy to fall in love with narcissists. Don’t judge yourself for succumbing, because research showed that […] they’re seen as charming, agreeable, confident, open, well-adjusted, and entertaining. Their alluring performance is designed to win trust and love, implicitly promising that their attentiveness will continue. Only later did the research subjects see through the narcissists’ likeable façade.”
It’s easy to see, then, how narcissism often plays a role in love bombing. It’s only after you’ve been fully seduced – that you’re hooked, shall we say – that the love-bomber is able to drop the “likeable façade” and completely turn the situation on its head.
Suddenly, the adored (you) is now the adorer, and you’re the one scrambling to woo the person back, desperate to get back to those early, heady days of romance. It’s as if the love-bomber has built you up, put you on a pedestal, and then, without warning, heartlessly knocked you down.
Bottom line: authentic romance is very different than love bombing. Want even further proof? The phrase ‘love bombing’ is often thought to have been initially associated not with romantic relationships, but with the way cults indoctrinate their subjects. Think of how cult leaders use excessive praise and positive reinforcement on their new recruits in order to gain loyalty and trust. Yeah. Yikes.
Love bombing is also different than intermittent reinforcement, in which a relationship is constantly fluctuating between hot and cold. Love boming is all the way hot – scalding, even – and then suddenly freezing cold, a complete 180.
Quick examples of lovebombing
-Sherri’s girlfriend Tina overwhelmed her with praise and compliments for the first two months of their relationship. But now Tina doesn’t want Sherri spending time with any of her friends, claiming that the relationship should always take top priority. Since Sherri has asked to hang out with her friends, Tina will barely speak to her. If she does talk to her, she tells Sherri she’s selfish and that she doesn’t deserve her love.
-Mark and Heather have been dating for three months. Mark told Heather he loved her after two dates, and Heather thought she finally found her Prince Charming. But after a month of spending 24/7 together and endless romance, Mark suddenly turned cold. He now tells Heather he isn’t sure that he loves her, and he constantly criticizes her body, her clothing, and her job. Heather is desperate to get back to that first month, when Mark couldn’t seem to get enough of her.
-Lulu and Steve met on a dating app and instantly became serious. Lulu always told Steve that he was so much better than her past boyfriends in every way: better looking, smarter, funnier. She bought him the expensive headphones he wanted after two weeks of dating, and after a month offered to pay off some of his student debt. After six weeks, however, when Lulu asked Steve to move in with her and he wasn’t ready, she turned extremely cold and critical. Steve feels awful because he accepted her gifts, and wonders if he should just move in with Lulu to make her happy.
What to do if you’re being love bombed
I’ll say it again for the people in the back: you are ALWAYS within your right to end any relationship that makes you feel uncomfortable. And, unfortunately, ending the relationship is often the way to go with a love bomber; it very rarely gets any better until the person has worked through their demons.
It really helps to talk to trusted individuals in your life about what you think you’re going through. Tell them as honestly as you can. I have concealed abuse when talking about past partners, and my friends and family always say, “If I had known how bad it really was, I would have never told you to stay and try to work it out.” It can be hard not to defend the person we’re dating, even if we think they might be doing something wrong.
If you’ve had the conversation about boundaries and needing more space with your partner, and they react badly to that, it might be time to start thinking about where this relationship could possibly go if you’re already uncomfortable or feeling pressure. It can be hard to give up all of those romantic things: the texts goodnight, the unexpected gifts, the compliments. It can be hard to give up the hope that we can get those things back if only we play our cards right.
But if something doesn’t feel right about what’s going on, and if your partner is unwilling to talk about it, this may not be the relationship you truly want for yourself. You should never feel as though the relationship is one-sided, or that you are staying with someone because you “owe” them something.
So all of this brings us back to Tim.
Back on that first date, over our first glass of wine, Tim started planning our second, third, tenth dates. He told me I was beautiful again and again. He made a grand show of opening the door for me when we left for another spot, told me he was a gentleman who knows how to treat his lady.
At first, I was flattered. Tim was handsome, ambitious, and articulate. Why wouldn’t I want this person to plan future dates with me, to call me beautiful? And yet, when he leaned in close over a cocktail and told me he wanted to take me to Paris so that we could make love for the first time in view of the Eiffel Tower, my stomach dropped. It all felt like way too much, way too fast.
Here’s the problem. I didn’t actually know Tim, and Tim didn’t know me. We had approximately five days of phone calls and flirty texts, but there was no substance to our relationship yet. And while I arrived at the date nervous but hopeful that perhaps we’d want a second date with one another, it appeared that Tim felt that we were already in a relationship, that we were a done deal.
But on that date, I pushed that gut instinct away, trying to convince myself that I was overreacting, that Tim was a great catch, that nothing was wrong, that this is just what old-fashioned romance feels like. At the end of the date, standing in front of my Uber, he kissed me on the cheek.
“I can’t wait to see you again,” he breathed into my ear as we hugged.
In the car ride home, I thought, “He was intense, but I’ll give it another date.” I tried to tell myself that it was because I liked him, not because he had brought flowers, insisted on paying for dinner, insisted on paying for every drink, insisted on paying for the ride home. I tried to convince myself I wanted to see him again for HIM, not because I felt guilty that I had gone along with his plans for dates and for Paris.
The day after our date, while at work, I received an email that there was a delivery waiting for me. At the front desk, there was another bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates, too. The note attached simply read,
“Thanks for being you xoxo”.
All of my coworkers oohed and ahhed, telling me how lucky I was to find such a gentleman.
I felt confused. Why wasn’t any of this wooing me? Isn’t this what every romcom has told us we wanted? Why did I feel embarrassed in front of my colleagues? And how did he find out where I worked?! I had told him the name of the company I freelanced for, but we had three buildings around London. The entire thing just felt… off. Suddenly I felt scared that I had used his Uber to get a ride home, so he could look up my home address.
But still, I shrugged off these pangs of worry, this instinct that something wasn’t quite right. Isn’t Tim exactly who I had always hoped to find?
Tim continued to text me constantly. He friended or followed me on every social media platform. He sent me photos of kittens and said they made him think of me. He sent me photos of couples kissing on beaches and said he couldn’t wait for that to be us. When I told him I was meeting up with friends at the pub, he told me he was sad that I didn’t want to spend the night with him instead.
I know what you’re thinking – this guy sounds way too intense. But when you’ve been in the dating world for long time, and when you haven’t had any positive experiences in a while, and when you find someone who showers you with attention… sometimes it’s difficult to see clearly. Even with that thrum of unease in my stomach – I mean, he didn’t even know that I’m a dog person, hah – I met up with Tim for our second date a few days later.
Over cocktails, Tim said he wanted to ask each other the famous “36 questions that lead to love.” I thought it was a pretty intense thing to do on a second date, but thought I’d play along. I was hoping the first few questions would lead to long conversations and laughter, that we’d get to know each other in the in-betweens.
Question #4 is: “What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?”
I answered truthfully: That I’d wake up in white bedsheets with the view of a beautiful beach outside my window. I’d be with my family on holiday, and we’d have coffee and Eggs Benedict on the porch overlooking the ocean. I went on to describe the fun things we’d do that day, the things we would eat, and I couldn’t help but notice his face grow angry and flat as I talked.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“And where exactly would I be in this perfect day?” he spat out.
I couldn’t believe it. This was our second date and he was livid that I would spend a day with my family…?
“Tim, this might be moving a little fast for me,” I said into my cocktail, afraid to look into his eyes. We had known each other for less than a week.
“Oh really?” he responded. “That didn’t seem to be a problem for you when you happily received the flowers I sent. That didn’t seem to be a problem when I told you I was looking up train tickets to Paris for us.”
Wasn’t he right? Wasn’t this what I had always wanted, flowers and trips to Paris and a man who thought I was the most amazing woman he’d ever met?
“I just think we should slow things down a bit. I really like you, but I’m worried that this is too much, too fast.” I was trying to sound confident but friendly. I really did think that we could perhaps start fresh, move at a more comfortable pace.
By the time I asked him question #8 – “Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common,” – he laughed in my face.
“Honestly, at this point? Nothing,” he sneered. He turned away from me, indignant.
I took the bus home that night confused and upset. Wasn’t I SO EXCITED about this new man only last week? As I looked out from the top deck of the double-decker bus, my phone dinged with a new text message.
“You clearly don’t appreciate all of the things I do for you,” Tim had texted. “I am giving you another chance to let you make it up to me.”
And I get it – this situation only lasted about a week, and is nowhere near what true love bombing looks like. True love bombing can take weeks or months to cultivate, the love bomber taking their time to inundate their partner with love and affection before turning as cruel as Tim did.
But I saw those glimmers of love bombing with Tim. I saw how easy it could have been to have been fully swept up in his romance, and how easy it could have been to have wanted to desperately get it back when he felt I didn’t deserve it anymore.
Things with Tim ended very badly. I texted him back that I felt the relationship was just too intense for me, and that, while I thought he was a great person, I needed more space from the people I date. He responded with multiple angry texts that dragged my personality (and my looks) through the mud. I was thankful that I had a trip to Prague for work, and that I could get out of London for a few days.
I believe I narrowly missed getting into a serious love bombing situation with Tim. Love bombing is so tricky to recognize at first, because it is so easily mistaken for genuine romance and authentic love. Over the years, I’ve seen so many warning signs when starting a new relationship: the excessive yet empty praise and the over-the-top gestures, followed swiftly by disdain and guilt-tripping if I ask to slow things down.
At the end of the day, all I can say is trust your gut. Know that if something doesn’t feel quite right, or if you feel as though your new partner is using romance as a means to an end, rather than as an honest display of affection, it might be worth it to talk to a trusted friend or family member about what’s happening.
Even if the relationship is in its early stages and you’re not sure how you feel, talking openly and honestly to your partner should always be allowed and welcomed. If you ask for space, you should be granted it, and you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for asking for it.
It’s not your job to fix someone, nor is it in your best interest to stay in an uncomfortable relationship because you hope things might go back to the way they once were. Love bombing is awful, but if you know what to watch for and if you know to trust your gut instinct, it’s something that’s avoidable.
Have you ever heard of love bombing, or has it happened to you?
Want to read more like this? Head to the Dating and Relationships archive on this blog. You might be interested in On Ghosting (and what to do if it happens to you), or perhaps my recent post on Intermittent Reinforcement in Relationships.