When it comes to relationships, there can be a fine line between sweet and scary. Your crush standing outside in the rain with a boombox may seem cute in the movies, but it’s weird in real life. The mixed messages we get from films and pop culture can make it hard to tell the difference between falling head over heels and toxic love bombing.
Here’s a look at what love bombing looks like, how you can spot it, and what to do if it happens. Hint: sacrificing a perfectly good, working vintage boombox by taking it out in the rain might be a sign. Keep those relics dry, folks!
What Is Love Bombing?
“Love bombing is excessively showering a romantic partner with loving words and behaviors. However, it has the potential to be manipulative,” says Saba Harouni Lurie, licensed therapist and owner of Take Root Therapy.
The term originates in the study of cults to describe the recruiting tactics of the Unification Church of the United States, or Moonies. Recruiters would find lonely people and aggressively bond with them by faking common interests and acting like their new BFF. And you wouldn’t leave your new friend to face Doomsday alone, right?
Today, people use this term to describe similar behavior in romantic relationships. You might be ready to ghost someone you’ve gone on a couple dates with. But what if they’ve been texting you constantly, making grand gestures, and saying you’re their soulmate? Suddenly, it’s harder to extract yourself from that relationship.
And, with a dozen red roses, who’s looking for red flags?
What’s the difference between love bombing and real love or the honeymoon stage?
“The excessive nature of love bombing is the first sign that something isn’t right. Sure, many couples experience a honeymoon phase where they might constantly be thinking about their partner and offering them tokens of affection.
But with love bombing, this is done in such a way as to overwhelm and blind the intended target so that they’re potentially unaware of the manipulation,” says Harouni Lurie.
Of course, not every person who love bombs is malicious. Sometimes it may just be a result of insecurity or inexperience. In those cases, having a conversation about how their actions are making you feel should help resolve the issue.
However, some people – often narcissists – use love bombing to manipulate and exert coercive control over their partner, Harouni Lurie explains. It’s often used by “those who have a fear of or aversion to abandonment and who want to prevent their partner from leaving.”
Why can love bombing be dangerous?
You obviously deserve to be showered with love and gifts. Of course your partner should be obsessed with you! But if they have good judgment and relationship skills, they would be conscious of healthy boundaries and express their affection honestly.
And, be open to changing their behavior if it makes you feel overwhelmed or suffocated.
“Love bombing…can be a form of gaslighting and coercive control. And in many people’s experience of domestic violence, it can serve as one of the initial signs of an abusive partner. It can create a smokescreen of over-the-top gestures and shows of affection, ensuring that the individual doesn’t even recognize the flaws within their relationship or how their partner is exerting control over them,” says Harouni Lurie.
Intentional love bombing as a manipulation technique is most dangerous for people who are the most vulnerable. Think: people with a history of emotionally abusive relationships, inexperience in relationships, or in a relationship that has a power imbalance.
“For someone who is desperately hungry for affirmation or companionship – especially if they do not have a lot of experience with equitable, healthy relationships – love bombing can be a technique to manipulate them,” says Dr. Timaree Schmit, sexuality educator.
“If someone is coming out of an abusive dynamic, for instance, and suddenly they are met with this overwhelming affection and presents and all these things that are glamorized in romantic movies, it might feel like they’ve hit the jackpot! They may want to discard other parts of their life for this person, throwing away friendships or jobs.
But if that generosity is only temporary, the emotional fallout might be devastating, compounding whatever trauma or self doubt the person had before.”
5 Signs of Love Bombing
1. It’s too much too fast.
After trudging through the swamps of “I’m looking for something casual” and “I’m not sure if I’d still date you if you were a worm” on the apps, it can feel like a relief to find someone who is ready to go all in. But you should trust your instincts if it feels like excessive attention and commitment.
“The primary sign of love bombing is that it’s sudden. It comes quickly and disproportionately. It isn’t earned gradually over an extended period, like more sustainable forms of intimacy,” says Dr. Schmit.
If you’re trying to build a relationship that lasts with someone who has healthy emotional boundaries, look for signs of good judgment. And, beware of signs of Joe from You behavior.
And honestly, Dan from Gossip Girl, too. You’re making it really hard for us to root for you, Penn Badgley!
2. The texts never stop.
Love bombers may try to “reinforce the relationship by sending tons of loving texts and messages throughout the day, “says Harouni Lurie.
Now, this can be a normal thing. Especially if you’re in the honeymoon phase your your love language is words of affirmations. But, it the “they just texted me!” excitement has devolved into “oh god, a quadruple text?” dread, the constant contact may be a sign of something scarier.
3. You get “gifts” that are used against you.
Diamonds are forever, but obligation shouldn’t be. Love bombers may shower you with expensive gifts, then say, “but I got you that diamond bracelet” when they want something from you.
“Gifts and statements of love should be given freely, without the expectation of being paid back. So if someone holds it over your head that they did things for you – especially if you didn’t ask for them – that would be a red flag,” says Dr. Schmit.
If the gift giver expects something in return, it’s a transaction, not a gift. And no matter how much money they took out of Silicon Valley Bank before it crashed, they can’t afford you.
4. They have control issues.
Love bombing may be a first step in a pattern of controlling behavior or cycle of abuse. So Dr. Schmit advises to look out for other signs that fall into this category to understand if their actions are intentional.
This could be things like surveilling your communications with others, demanding your time, being punitive, making choices for you without your input, disregarding your feelings, and failing to show remorse for being hurtful.
Google may know your every move and entire search history, but that doesn’t mean your potential new partner should. That’s creepy. And they could never give as good suggestions on new products to buy, anyway.
5. They don’t take feedback.
Love bombing can be a symptom of insecure attachment or inexperience in relationships. So, it’s possible the love bomber isn’t doing it on purpose. But if you communicate how their behavior is sketching you out, they should be open to that feedback.
“The biggest indicator of a controlling dynamic is that one partner doesn’t have a voice and doesn’t feel able to influence the other,” says Dr. Schmit. For example, if you push back on something and your partner rejects your feelings without consideration. Or, if you experience some kind of punishment for expressing your thoughts.
“People who love each other are invested in each other’s well being and happiness, not just their compliance,” says Dr. Schmit.
What Should You Do If You’re Being Love Bombed?
Love bombing messes with your perception, so it’s important to trust your instincts if you sense something’s off. That’s why you should look for support outside the relationship to get a fresh perspective.
“Talking openly and honestly about your feelings is the first step. And if you don’t feel equipped to do that alone, a therapist can help. Seek the opinions of the people who have demonstrated they love you and want you to be happy over the long haul. Give yourself distance and space to be able to think independently of the relationship,” says Dr. Schmit.
If you want to stay invested in the relationship and feel safe to do so, have an honest conversation with your partner. Maybe the case of love bombing you’re experiencing isn’t coming from a place of intentional manipulation, but insecurity. In that situation, your partner should be open to learning and adjusting.
But if the love bombing is part of a pattern of control? Then switch that red flag to a white flag and bail. “If it comes from a potentially abusive place and you feel that confronting your partner about this behavior could be dangerous, trust that instinct,” says Harouni Lurie.
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