You’ve been dating a new person for two weeks, and they seem amazing. Unlike your last few relationships, they actually text back immediately…with five more follow-up texts asking you all about your day. (Swoon.) They’ve actually planned romantic dates for the two of you every weekend for the rest of the month. They even sent a huge bunch of balloons to your office, just to say they were thinking about you.
Sounds too good to be true, right? That’s because it probably is. If you’re getting a lot of grand pronouncements from your partner very early on in your relationship, they could be “love bombing” you. And while it might seem harmless, love bombing is a sneaky manipulative tool that narcissists can use to control you.
What Exactly Is Love Bombing?
There’s a honeymoon phase in most relationships. You know the one: You can’t stop calling and thinking about one another, you start dreaming about a future together and while you’re usually really cynical, you find yourself writing poetry for the first time in your life. But love bombing is a bit different—mostly because it’s one-sided and feels a little cringey. “It’s flowers delivered at work with hearts dotting the i’s in your name,” says counselor and professor Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D. “It’s texts that increase in frequency as they increase in romantic fervor. It’s surprise appearances designed to manipulate you into spending more time with the bomber—and, not coincidentally, less time with others, or on your own.” If you’re caught off-guard by the sudden onslaught of romantic gestures, chances are, you’re being love bombed.
Why Is Love Bombing So Harmful?
So she has a huge crush. She really cares about you, and you haven’t quite caught up yet. What’s so bad about that? Because it isn’t a legitimate feeling of love she’s having; it’s a tactic she is using to manipulate and ultimately gain power over you.
In the textbook What Is Psychology?: Social Psychology, Hal Belch identifies love bombing as a tactic that cult leaders use: “To attract potential members, cultists use a variety of self-esteem building techniques collectively known as ‘Love Bombing,’ in which they shower recruits with continual love and praise.” It’s also a well-known strategy that sex traffickers use to gain control, according to the book Gangs and Girls.
Love bombing is so effective because it creates the illusion that the love bomber is being vulnerable with you. This, in turn, causes you to open up to them more than you usually would feel comfortable doing, leaving the door wide open to be manipulated and controlled.
In the digital age, love bombing has also become an easy tool for people with narcissistic personality disorder, a mental illness that manifests as an intense preoccupation with a person’s own power and prestige, to gain power in a relationship. A study in Discovery found that love bombing has become especially prevalent among millennial narcissists through texting. A narcissist could even be love bombing many victims at the same time.
How Can I Tell if It’s True Love or a Love Bomb?
In a healthy relationship, communication is key. “When a relationship moves too fast—or one partner tries to push it too forcefully—it’s essential that you call your partner on it and let him or her know how you feel,” says Degges-White. “If he or she is willing to listen and dial it back a notch, there may be reason to give them, and the relationship, more time to develop.”
If it’s a love bomb, your attempts to slow things down might be met with more manipulation. If your partner bristles at the idea of taking a step back, makes excuses or tries to brush off your feelings, you are being love bombed. Time to abandon ship and head back to the safer shores of Bumble and Hinge. (You know, relatively.)