Have you ever been in a relationship that left you feeling more overwhelmed and drained than happy and fulfilled? Without realizing it, you might have been the victim of love bombing.
Maybe it wasn’t always toxic; maybe in the beginning, everything seemed to fall into place and develop organically. But as you stuck around, you found yourself sacrificing most of your time, energy and other relationships for your partner.
Sammi, 24, remembers her experience with love bombing very clearly, though at the time it wasn’t so obvious.
“I was in high school, at a time in my life when I was vulnerable to manipulation,” she said. “The guy I was dating made me feel special. At first, it was endearing and almost addicting.”
But once the relationship progressed, Sammi said, he grew extremely jealous and spiteful. If he didn’t have her full attention at all times, he would send message after message, telling her how much he loved her, how they should run away together and get married—all while he pursued other girls on the side, which Sammi said she was unaware of.
“I would spend hours in my car alone, feeling nothing but guilt and confusion, because this guy continuously convinced me I was the issue, without directly saying it,” Sammi explained.
Unfortunately, love bombing isn’t always easy to detect when you’re the victim, especially when you’re invested in a relationship.
Understanding love bombing
Love bombing is a disproportionate show of affection done with the intent of monopolizing someone’s time and attention. This might include flattering comments, surprise gifts, a constant flood of romantic text messages and more—until the love bomber’s target has no choice but to devote all their energy to that person.
It’s also a symptom of love addiction, according to Alexis De Los Santos, licensed professional counselor for Awaken Into Love, an online community for relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD). The “love bomber” acts on a strong impulse to continuously seek affections from and provide affection to their partner, hoping to feel a sense of fulfillment in return.
“Love bombing is trying to get attention and seal the deal to then move on to the next search for an adrenalin fix,” said De Los Santos. “It is showering someone with affection such as love notes, poems [and] flowers. Not that any of that is wrong, but the amount and speed of it is what falls into the love addiction category.
Signs of love bombing
We all want to feel wanted, right? But where do we draw the line? What boundaries are necessary to prevent dependency and manipulation? Be on the lookout for these behaviors, which should raise alarm bells if you notice them in someone you recently started dating:
They seem too good to be true
If they’re saying all the right things and making all the right moves, look out. By pouring on the charm and affection, love bombers typically portray themselves as the perfect partner, only to guilt people (often subconsciously) into spending all of their time with them.
They can’t get enough of you
Even if you’re living your best, most glamorous life, a love bomber may seem to adore you so much that you wonder if you became a celebrity overnight without realizing it. Don’t fall for it.
“For many reasons, the person doing the love bombing is actually trying to get attention fast and big to then fall off and create a dependency and an emotional need from the other party involved,” said De Los Santos.
They’re quick to talk about being “soulmates”
Is it possible the person you just met is “the one” or your “soulmate?” Sure. With any luck, you’ll one day be able to look back at the early stages of your relationship with your forever partner and point fondly to when you realized it. But it is also possible that this day may not have arrived yet, appearances notwithstanding. The love bomber may be trying to rush you into letting your guard down.
It’s normal to feel butterflies at the start of a relationship—this person is new and exciting, and it’s normal to want to spend lots of time with them. But if all the time you can reasonably allocate to your new squeeze never seems to be enough, that could be a sign that they care more about their needs than yours.
Buying gifts for a romantic interest is a common sign of appreciation, and a signal that you’re willing to devote some of your financial resources to them. But gifts that are clearly outside the norm (e.g., very expensive jewelry after one date, a lavish vacation) may well be a red flag. They’re trying to bulldoze through your instincts and reservations, putting you in a position where you feel like you owe them your time in exchange for their generosity.
It’s exciting to talk to someone you’ve recently started seeing. But what if it was near-constant texts, chats and phone calls? Not so much. This is another way that love bombers may monopolize your time—if you’re always talking to them, you can’t be talking to anyone else.
Running hot and cold
Remember, love bombing is all about the bomber chasing a “high” of sorts, and once they get it the affection may wane. But if they feel that they might be losing you completely, they’ll likely pour it on as strong as ever.
No respect for boundaries
Do you have a personal policy of not kissing until at least a third date, or not introducing a partner to your friends until you’re official? The love bomber cares not for such pesky limitations. Remember, the relationship is about fulfilling their interests and desires, and they’ll try to push through anything that keeps them from realizing them.
Pushing for commitment
Most people agonize over where, how and especially when to have the talk about defining the relationship. Are you exclusive? Are you ready to use labels like “boyfriend” or “girlfriend?” Even things like announcing your relationship on social media can feel like a big step.
But love bombers want big steps and they want them now. If the person you’re seeing starts talking about things like marriage or kids far too soon, that could be a sign that they’re going through the motions more than they’re actually trying to build a real relationship.
In a new relationship, it’s not unusual to get wrapped up in your emotions, sometimes feeling compelled to kiss or hold hands in public. But love bombers crank the displays up to the next level. Beyond being part of their attempt to push through your boundaries, it’s also a gaslighting tactic: when you’ve finally had enough, they’ll try to make you feel bad by pointing out how you seemed OK with it before.
Something just feels wrong
It’s normal for a new relationship to be exciting. But if your seemingly perfect new partner still makes you feel uneasy, that’s a red flag. If your intuition tells you that something is off despite everything appearing great on the surface, you might do well to trust it.
Love bombing vs. just being in love
So how can you tell the difference between love bombing and simply being in love?
“Being in love is something that ultimately develops slowly with time,” said De Los Santos. “Infatuation is something that happens fast. Love bombing is trying to reach addiction highs and withdrawing to create some lows in the other person.” Once the love bomber feels needed and wanted, they try to start the cycle over again with a new victim.
When someone is in love, they consider their partner’s well-being—not just their own. However, when someone is love bombing, their actions and intentions are selfish and narcissistic in nature. They might love their partner, but the love bomber is more concerned with how their partner makes them feel about himself or herself.
What to do if you’re being love bombed
Just because you’re dating a love bomber doesn’t mean you need to cut all ties and run in the opposite direction. The person might not have malicious intent, but simply an unhealed trauma that needs reworking.
“The first [step] is acknowledging and taking ownership on how you’re feeding into it, noticing and getting curious [about] what personal wounds are feeding into that distorted view of love, relationship and connection,” De Los Santos said.
From there, you should take a step back and reach out to friends or loved ones for perspective and support. Once you gain some clarity, you’ll be better equipped to build healthy boundaries and strong foundations.
But for some, like Sammi, a clean break is the right decision. “It wasn’t until I removed myself from the relationship that I realized I was compromising my own happiness for someone else’s,” she said. “And that’s not love.”