Are you being love-bombed? New relationships are often full of excitement, anxiety, romance, confusion, surprises, and fun. In the midst of such strong feelings, it can be very difficult to tell in just a few dates what qualities or aspects of a potential new partner will blossom into great assets… or devolve into harmful patterns. In fact, some relationships that later develop problematic, toxic, or abusive dynamics start with a thick layer of charm, charisma, and a heavy dose of love-bombing.
Love-bombing is a practice used by abusers and so-called ‘narcissists’ to overwhelm a potential new mate with adoration, affection, and attention. Sometimes calculated, sometimes unconscious, the practice of love-bombing can feel like it validates a common wish or fantasy: love at first sight, being “truly seen,” being finally valued above all else— a fairytale romance. However, love-bombing can mask darker motives and distract from harmful relationship behaviors like possessiveness, poor boundaries, controlling jealousy, gas-lighting, or isolating a partner from friends and family. Here are some red flags that might indicate a love-bombing is underway.
Coming On Really Strong: (Relationship Therapy in Philadelphia)
It can be very flattering for somebody we have just met to express strong feelings and enthusiasm for us. Hearing words like “you’re perfect” and “you are my soul mate” after a short time can be seductive and intoxicating– as can grand proclamations of wanting to quickly take the relationship to the next level. A love-bomber may sense our desires– to be partnered, to be married, to “live happily ever after” and exploit those to undermine our natural defenses. If they happen to be a narcissist, they might view this as just a smart strategy to secure a mate. But everyone has flaws and baggage, and determining true compatibility takes time. Being put on a ‘perfect’ pedestal is a setup for a takedown.
Ignoring or Bypassing Boundaries: (Relationship Therapy in Philadelphia)
A love-bomber may say things like, “I miss you so much– I need to see you right now” and push back when we express we are busy or have other plans. They may blow up our phones with texts and calls when we are unavailable or sleeping, and excuse the behavior with words of love and adoration. They might push for more intimacy than usual, demanding to “know everything” about us within a few days or weeks of dating. A love bomber might urge us to have riskier sex than we usually would or are comfortable, perhaps wanting to go barrier-free to feel as close to us as possible during sex. Some might even tell their target that boundaries are unnecessary – defenses learned in past relationships that are no longer needed now that we have found our ‘perfect match.’
Boundaries are important both for their own sake–as protective devices that keep us safe and healthy in relationships– and as an assessment tool for future partners. Even when masked with sweet proclamations, any boundary violation or attempt to persuade us that our boundaries are wrong should be viewed as a red flag.
Over the Top Gifts and Gestures (Relationship Therapy in Philadelphia)
“Excessive” is the name of the game here. The love-bomber may use over-the-top gifts and grand gestures to convince their target that they love them more than anyone else can. These will be out of step with the timeline of the relationship. For example, a love bomber might suggest a big trip away together within just a few dates, or show up with expensive and impressive jewelry more suited to a big anniversary or engagement. These grand gestures might be later called in as debts or used to dismiss other concerns about the relationship. “If I didn’t love you, would I have invited you to Tahiti in the first place?”
It’s good to note that differences of class, income, and culture might play into different ideas of what is an “appropriate” gift or gesture. However, a love bomber will usually be dismissive of the expression of feelings of discomfort or awkwardness on the part of their target, rather than taking the note an adjusting their next gift accordingly.
How do they treat others? (Relationship Therapy in Philadelphia)
It’s always good to note how a potential partner treats the other people in their life. The ‘love bomber’ will often show a strong discrepancy between how they treat their target– with over-the-top adoration and affection– and how they treat those that they don’t deem useful or exploitable to them. Pay close attention to whether their apparent generosity, kindness, and warmth extend to their family, friends, and those in a service role– waiters, baristas, bartenders. Watch for signs of impatience, cruelty, or inappropriate anger or entitlement– these characteristics might be limited to others for a while, but will always show up later in the intimate relationships of a narcissist or love-bomber.
Another red flag might crop up when they talk about past partners and relationships. Is the narrative nuanced, or black-and-white? Are “all” their exes “crazy?” Do they own any part of what went wrong in the relationship, or do they position themselves as the “nice guy” or the “victim,” totally blameless? These are red flags– and a possible preview of how they will speak of new partners in the future.
Too Good to be True? (Relationship Therapy in Philadelphia)
Any creeping feeling of suspicion or discomfort should be noted early in a dating relationship. If our gut is sending an alarm bell, we can pay attention to it as a signal to keep gathering data and evaluating our potential new partner. If somebody is saying exactly what we want to hear or is over the top with adoration and flattery, a clear head might warn that it’s both unsustainable (all partners will have flaws) and may be a sign of a calculated attempt to lower our defenses.
Keep Track: A Dating Journal (Relationship Therapy in Philadelphia)
Worried you might be on the receiving end of a love-bombing? Keep an eye out for these red flags before, during, and after each date for the first few weeks of a relationship. A dating journal can be very useful in tracking feelings and thoughts as one starts a new relationship and can help maintain a record of real-time impressions. Is a date pushing boundaries regularly? Being unkind to service people more than once? Talking negatively about exes and others? Showering you with gifts and praise that, though flattering, make you a bit uneasy? Patterns may emerge over time, right there in black and white.
Each entry in a dating journal should include the calendar date of a notable event, a brief explanation of what happened or what was said, and a few words about how you felt. Does something feel “off” or make you uneasy? Are your boundaries being pushed bit by bit? You might choose to make a brief entry for each and every date, or just write down notable impressions and experiences as they happen. Love-bombing and other experiences with a narcissist can be both disorienting and disarming. The perpetrator will often seek to explain away or distract from any untoward or unsettling behavior. Keeping a journal can help create a record of how you feel at each juncture of a new relationship which you can later use as data– and to help validate your own suspicions and concerns.
Love-bombing can feel so good, it can be difficult to assess whether it’s the start of a healthy sustainable relationship– or an intro to a difficult and painful dating experience. While keeping a dating journal can help you learn to trust your gut and validate your own feelings, sometimes consultation with a professional may be a useful addition to cultivating a healthy partnership with yourself and with others. Contact The Center for Growth (Relationship Therapy in Philadelphia) for support on this journey today.