I know what you’re thinking: Love bombing? Ugh, not another new dating term. Between ghosting, benching, orbiting, etc., it may feel like a different term to describe your love life is popping up every week, but love bombing is nothing new. In fact, the term was first coined in the 1970s, and many of us have experienced this behavior since our first crushes in elementary school. Love bombing can easily go unnoticed, whether on early dates or even in long-term relationships. It can often be mistaken for a “spark” or deep connection, when it is really a huge red flag and commonly linked to other narcissistic behavior. So how do you know you’re being love bombed and what do you do about it? Read on for everything you need to know about love bombing.
What is love bombing?
Love bombing is the use of over-the-top “loving” behavior, such as affection, attention, compliments, gifts, and promises, as a manipulation tactic to gain control over another person’s perception, emotions, or actions. Love bombing ranges from damaging, toxic, and narcissistic tendencies to acts of insecurity that most of us have experienced (either in ourselves or in our partners) at one point or another. How you differentiate between love bombing and genuine interest all comes from the intention.
A romantic partner can (and should!) compliment you, give you gifts, and make commitments for the future. However, they’ll do these things to make you happy, let you know how they feel, and build a relationship together. A love bomber may also be complimenting, giving gifts, and making commitments, but their intention behind those actions are very different. Maybe they offer lots of the compliments and promises but then totally ghost you, or maybe they shower you with gifts in order to get something they want. Since it’s typically hard to tell that you’re being love bombed, what are you to do? While this behavior looks different in all relationships, there are a few common signs to look out for.
What are the signs that you’re being love bombed?
Talking about the future when it feels too early
I am all about making sure you are on the same page with potential partners about your future, but have you ever been on that first date where the person seems to be getting a little too serious too soon? Maybe they’re talking about future vacations together or saying “when” you meet each other’s families before the bread basket has even come. While talking about the future could show that they’re very interested, there is a fine line between someone who is simply eager for commitment and someone who is telling you what they think you want to hear for the purpose of affecting the way you feel (AKA manipulation). Aggressively talking about a future with someone you just met could be a red flag that the person is love bombing.
Gift-giving with ulterior motives
While gifts are typically a thoughtful gesture, if your date is constantly showering you with gifts while you are still just getting to know each other, it could become overwhelming. Love bombers might give gifts early on with the intention to persuade you to commit to them, and then at the first sign of a conflict or disagreement, they may throw the gifts in your face as a way to say you’re not appreciative or that they’ve given you so much. Not sure how to tell the difference between thoughtful and manipulative? Tune into how you feel when receiving the gift. Do you sense that they are giving in order to receive in the long run? Is the gift more expensive or extravagant than you feel comfortable accepting? How would you feel if a friend you just met gave you a similar gift?
Excessive complimenting as a way to gain control
If you are sensing a theme, a recurring factor in identifying love bombing is over-the-top and insincere behavior, and that goes for compliments too. We all want to be complimented and to have a partner who makes us feel good about ourselves, but as with over-gifting, over-complimenting is a classic tactic used by narcissists and love bombers. If compliments from your date or partner feel excessive or insincere, it could indicate love bombing.
For example, is your partner complimenting you only before they ask you for a favor? Are they using a compliment as a way to fish for compliments for themselves (like “you’re way more attractive than me”)? Are the compliments making you feel guilty for not being on the same page? Or are they making you feel guilty when you make plans without them (like “nothing matters to me except for you”)? Pay attention to the context and ask yourself if the compliment could’ve had any other intention besides just to make you feel good.
Not respecting boundaries
Boundary setting is important in every relationship, whether with family, friends, coworkers, or romantic partners. Successful relationships require boundaries and consistent communication of those boundaries. Of course, not respecting boundaries is a huge red flag. Disrespect of boundaries could show up in many ways: Maybe you’ve expressed you need alone time, but they are always checking in on you and want to know what you’re doing, who you’re with, and where you are when you aren’t together, or maybe they try to convince you to blow off other people in your life to spend more time with them. Any disrespect of boundaries is a potential sign of love bombing (especially if their excuse has to do with how strongly they feel about you).
So you may be dealing with a love bomber. Now what?
1. Clearly communicate boundaries
Setting boundaries is important, but having those conversations might not be top of mind when you’re starting a new relationship. If you’re questioning some of their behavior, take the time to have a conversation with your partner about what you need. For example, say “I’m going out with friends for the evening, but I will call you tomorrow” if they’re not giving you enough space. And if they’re giving you gifts that overwhelm you, let them know that you appreciate the thoughtful gestures, but you’re not comfortable accepting extravagant gifts after just knowing each other for a short time.
Likewise, if your partner is moving faster than what you’re comfortable with, whether it be by giving excessive compliments, marking big promises, or pressuring you to commit too early, ask them to slow down and let them know where you are. You may feel like you’re hurting their feelings or being “too honest,” but communication and honesty in any relationship are crucial. If they continue to disrespect boundaries after you’ve clearly stated what you need, you can assume their actions are coming from a toxic, manipulative, or selfish place rather than an innocent miscommunication. Thank you, next.
2. Ask for an outside opinion you trust
If you feel like something is off and you aren’t sure how to interpret your partner’s behavior, chat with your therapist or ask a trusted friend or family member what they think. Love bombing is intended to manipulate you, so many of us fall victim to a love bomber simply because we’re hoping they have the best intentions. We like this person or want to be in this relationship, so we may be missing some signs that their actions are not as well-intentioned as they may come across. Don’t be embarrassed by the fact that you are having trouble reading the situation; sometimes, letting a trusted third party into the situation will be all you need to see the person for who they truly are.
3. Trust your gut
It’s easy to get caught up in all the good and ignore the bad in a relationship that you’re hoping will work out. But when compliments are not sincere or gifts aren’t well-intentioned, we typically can tell (even if we try to ignore that intuition). If your gut is telling you something is off or you’re having difficulty believing this person, there’s probably a good reason. While it’s human nature to seek out positive reinforcement, consistently check in with yourself to ask if your partner’s positive reinforcement is truly from a selfless place to build you up or if it might come with other motives. If you feel even a little doubt, lean into that feeling and figure out why instead of ignoring it. Your gut knows what’s best for you, so trust it.
And if you realize that you’re the love bomber?
While many of us might be thinking of that toxic ex or a Tinder match from last month, others might recognize behavior that they’ve done themselves (we love a self-aware queen!). Love bombing often comes from insecurities (especially if you have an anxious attachment style), so the good news is that we can always be working on ourselves. Have you ever given compliments in order to get them back, given gifts to feel like you have a leg up, or got mad and defensive when a partner set boundaries with you? Maybe you made a date believe you were more interested than you were (even if it was to spare their feelings), and then ghosted them when it got too serious.
To avoid love bombing in the future, check in on your own intentions. Are you complimenting them because you want them to know how you feel about them, or do you just want to be liked? Do you actually want to plan those future dates, or do you have no intention of seeing them again? More importantly, are you seeing this person because you really like them or are you trying to get them to like you so you feel better about yourself? The more mindful you are about your intentions, the more you’ll be able to notice your actions. Talking with a therapist, psychologist, or relationship expert can also be extremely helpful in identifying and changing negative patterns.