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What does it mean to be ‘love bombed’

Spotting the signs and how to start your journey to recovery

In recent years the term “love bombing” has persistently circulated in the news and media.

Love bombing is a type of “psychological and emotional abuse [that] is often disguised as excessive flattery”.

According to Charlotte Ball, co-founder of Bond The Agency, love bombing “initially happens at the beginning of relationships and is characterised by the overabundant use of excessive attention, huge displays of affection (in words and actions), or extravagant gestures/ expensive and over-the-top gifts to gain the attention of someone”.

She said: “It is usually a strategy employed by narcissistic people with the aim of ultimately controlling their partner.”

What are the signs of love bombing?

Ball explains that “The love bomber will shower their new partner with affection, gifts and compliments so much that the partner will feel crowded and not have the space to consider the relationship or their feelings. The ‘bombing’ usually then stops abruptly and is reused as a tactic to gain control over their relationship”.

So how can we differentiate between love bombing and genuine “love at first sight” style scenarios?

Ball said: “Before you consider the status of your relationship, it is crucial you have space to differentiate and consider your judgement of your prospective person first. Love bombers, however, will not give you this time or space.

Within love bombing, “excessive” communication is habitual. For instance, the bomber will frequently make time to communicate with you – even when they should be busy at work, in class, or with friends and family. Genuine partners will communicate with you frequently but without the same intensity. For instance, they will want to communicate with you but because of daily life, they will naturally have times when they cannot.

The behaviour of bombers is often inconsistent which makes it difficult to discover the “real” them. A bomber may say amazing words to you – but their actions don’t line up. That is not the case with genuine partners whose attention towards you is consistent and whose actions match their words.

A love bomber will often make you feel like the most important, special, amazing person alive, but this is a trap within an abusive relationship, to ensure you stay with them because their attention makes you feel so great. When a person has genuine interest in you their attention will feel more balanced.”

Why do people love bomb?

Ball explains that love bombing is a “form of manipulation to ensure the victim stays in the relationship. It is also used as a strategy to ensure bad behaviour will be overlooked.”

She said: “Anyone can be love bombed as you are in the midst of the relationship before you know it. But those who are emotionally vulnerable, with low self-esteem make for good targets for ‘bombers’ as they can be manipulated easily.”

How does love bombing affect victims?

According to Ball, “You can lose a sense of who you are and start to question your own beliefs and thoughts because of the gaslighting that has occurred. It can also damage relationships you have with others as you may not realise what a healthy relationship looks like.”

Whilst love bombing may often be used as a throwaway comment, it is, in fact, a serious and harmful assault. Dumpees commonly label toxic relationships as ‘love bombing’, which can leave negative emotional impacts on victims, myself included.

I hadn’t actually heard about love bombing until after it happened to me. 

My Experience

At heart, I’ve always been a hopeless romantic and dreamed of finding that undying requited love. Maybe this is why I appeared to be an easy target. 

It was my first “official” relationship. I had just finished my final year of my undergrad at the University of Leeds and Covid-19 restrictions were finally coming to an end. The pandemic had, as it did with most people, really impacted my mental health. Most of my housemates were in relationships or romantic situations, and in the isolation of the pandemic, I saw the comfort of having a romantic partner during this tough time. It made me more ready than ever for a relationship, and I think that was obvious. 

We matched on Hinge, and he decided to skip the small talk by immediately asking me out on a date. Endeared by his forwardness, I agreed, and he arranged for us to meet the following week at a nice bar in Leeds. We barely spoke before the date, so I had no idea what to expect. All I knew about him was his age, height, where he was from, and that he went to Leeds too. 

We arranged to meet in the student area first and Uber into town together. I must admit, I felt an immediate spark when I saw him walking towards me with a big smile on his face. It was one of those real, genuine smiles and I immediately felt at ease with him. He later told me he felt the same and that he knew that I was the one within the first five minutes of meeting me. So, to me this was a classic example of love at first sight, thus it was only natural that it would move quickly.

We had an amazing first date together and ended up spending the night together as we didn’t want the date to end. The following morning, we were both a bit hungover, and he suggested we go for brunch to prolong the date even further. Now that we were sober, the brunch solidified the connection I felt. We only ended the brunch date because I had to go to work, or we’d probably have spent the whole day together. We even arranged a second date the following week. However, with us living close to each other, we saw each other numerous times before then and even met each other’s friends. This wasn’t all on him though, I invited him out too.

We continued to see each other most days of the week for the commencing fortnight; the only time we’d have apart was when I had to go to work.

It seemed too good to be true, and I was, at times, worried that it was getting too intense too quickly, but I was staying in Leeds for my master’s, and he was hoping to move to London in a few months for a grad scheme, so if we wanted things to work, he said, we needed to build a solid foundation beforehand. 

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that whilst I was developing feelings for him and got on with him better than I had anyone else, what I liked most was that he seemed to really like me. I really believed that he did at the time. So, as his tenancy in Leeds was running out, I agreed for him to move into my house for the summer before his move to London as my housemates were going home for the holidays. 

A month after we met, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I was scared, and it felt like it was too soon. I physically froze. But I liked him, and he was moving in, and he’d already asked me to be exclusive with him two weeks before, so why not? I was happy, and he liked me, and I often tend to be the destroyer of my own happiness, so saying no would only be an example of this. 

Although he didn’t shower me with gifts and expensive dates, he said all the right things. He told me he loved me a week after he’d asked me to be his girlfriend. While I’d been feeling like I was falling in love with him, I felt that it was too soon for this, so I cried and ran away when he said it. But he was there for me and understood my fear. He seemed so perfect. So, I told him I loved him too.

The first month or so was bliss. We had our obstacles and arguments, of course, but we were enjoying living together despite spending almost every second of the day together. He was so understanding of my problems in the relationship; I was far from the perfect girlfriend. 

We were in our own little love cocoon, and I loved that he seemed to like me more than I did him; he said he’d be happy if I was the last person he ever slept with and asked what I’d say if he asked me to marry him – we’d been together for a couple of months. These comments scared me as at that point in the relationship, I wasn’t sure that he was my forever person or that I wanted my first boyfriend to be my only boyfriend, but I must admit, they made me feel good too. I loved the feeling of being loved, and it was still early days, so I assumed these feelings would grow.

However, things soon changed. As I fell deeper and deeper in love with him and started to see longevity in the relationship, he started shouting at me and picking on my insecurities, such as my weight.  I’d call him out on it, but he’d gaslight me into thinking it was my fault or that it was all in my head. He’d tell me that I’d never seem to remember the nice comments he made about my appearance and hone in on the mean ones. He’d say that it didn’t matter that I had a “podgy” belly because he preferred bigger women anyway and liked me for my personality; that he didn’t care for appearances. I took this as a compliment; I wanted him to like me for my personality, but he’d constantly talk about other women’s appearances, so I became really insecure. 

Thus, I was worried I was ruining the relationship and even called an eating disorder (ED) helpline even though I wasn’t showing any signs of an ED at that time.

I also broke my ankle at this point, it was tough, and he was there for me. I was in a cast for months and only felt comfortable going out with him because I knew he would help me/ carry me if I needed it. I became dependent on him. 

And just like that summer came to an end. It was time for him to move out, but he found out that he could work remotely, so he decided to stay in Leeds as it would be better for our relationship, and he could be closer to his friends. He got a place in Leeds, and I was overjoyed; I didn’t want him to move away. But things changed, despite my being in a cast, the only time I’d see him was by going to events with his friends. He said we couldn’t go on dates because I was struggling with money, but I wasn’t bothered about dates. I wanted us to just spend evenings together at one of our houses. I wanted to go back to the early days when we’d cook for each other and watch films, but he’d say he was too tired. He wouldn’t even have sex with me anymore and I started to feel undesirable. Like he just didn’t fancy me anymore. 

I’ll admit, I was probably drinking way too much at the time. But I needed it to get through the nights out with the pain in my ankle. The alcohol made my insecurities come out though, which had a toll on our relationship, but I kept going to the events with his friends as these were the only times I’d see him. I also match the anxious attachment relationship type, so I was constantly seeking reassurance. There was something in my gut that things might be coming to an end, but he reassured me that the relationship was worth fighting for and that he was just stressed out about work. I felt like it was all my fault, that I was too much, so I promised to do better. But before I had the chance to "do better", he ended the relationship out of the blue. He said we weren’t working and that he wasn’t sure why. I was shocked. Everyone around me was shocked; we seemed so in love.

 I was utterly heartbroken, but I didn’t want to lose him completely, as we’d shared so much of ourselves, so we agreed to be friends after some time. But I never saw him again. We did, however, speak over the phone a couple of times after the breakup. He told me why he thought the relationship didn’t work. He blamed it all on me. That was the second blow. Now, I wasn’t just mourning the loss of the relationship, I was also questioning myself and my character, whether I deserved love, whether I could be loved. 

I spent months feeling depressed. I hated myself. And it wasn’t until I told a friend about everything that had happened, that she said that it sounded like I’d been love bombed. I subsequently researched love bombing and felt that my situation matched the definition. He’d told me everything I wanted to hear, made me feel special and loved so that I’d fall deeply in love with him and become dependent on him. Then when he had me, he slowly started picking me apart until he no longer needed me. He’d been in a short relationship before me, and I realised it was likely he’d done the same to her, but I didn’t question it, at the time, as I’d not been in a relationship before, so he was already ahead of me in that department. The situation took a huge toll on my self-esteem. I learnt to hate myself and regretted every action I took during the relationship. I had him on a pedestal and myself in the gutter. 

So, I started attending therapy sessions I paid for. This helped me learn that I wasn’t the only problem in the relationship, to stop blaming myself, and to get over him. But I could only afford a few sessions, so I’m not fully healed yet. I still worry about how I act in romantic situations, and I’m cautious now whenever things feel like they might be moving too fast or if a guy seems invested early on. And whilst the thought of me being love-bombed gives me some comfort in that I wasn’t the one who ruined the relationship, it makes me sad to feel that maybe he never loved me and that maybe the happy times weren’t real. I still have a way to go to boost my self-esteem again, but I know I’ll get there. Love bombing is unfortunately common, and I am not the only one. 

Real-life experiences

One woman in her mid-twenties from London, let’s call her ‘A’, told me about her experience of love bombing. 

A was love bombed a few years ago by a guy she met in August 2016. 

She said: “We went on four dates before he went to university in September. Things became very intense very quickly. He told me he loved me very quickly; I would say it was at the end of September.”

After visiting him for a weekend at his university, he asked her to cut her six-week trip to Sri Lanka to four weeks.  

She said: “When I was in Sri Lanka, he would send me long paragraphs when I was asleep. Very long and intense. I had only seen this guy like five times. When I was in Sri Lanka, I told him I didn’t think things were going to work out. He was really upset about this and told me that he loved me and thought we worked well.

“Then when I came back, he insisted we spend every day together until he went to Thailand. So, like a whole week. He went to Thailand for two weeks, came back, and spent fourteen straight days with me until he went to uni again. He also left flowers outside my door etc.

“Then I went to visit him in February. This is when he did a 180. I was upset he hadn’t got me a Valentine’s Day card and I told him it felt like he didn’t care. He… switched and told me I had hurt him, and that he needed to think about things. I was so upset.”

After telling her friend that she and her boyfriend had fought, they went clubbing, only for her boyfriend to start texting her, asking her to come over. So, she did.

“We slept together, and then in the morning, he told me he wanted space,” A said.

She said they didn’t speak for two weeks before having a video call with him, whereby he ended the relationship, but when she went clubbing, he got jealous and showered her with compliments. 

“This cycle continued for four years, and it got to a point where he would just want me to stay the night, and I would feel that dopamine hit again,” she said.

Like me, A had not known about love bombing before. She entered a “healthy” relationship a year later and realised that she was not “crazy”. So, she researched love bombing and sought therapy.

The relationship had a negative impact on A’s mental health. 

She said: “The relationship had really high highs and then low lows. So, I would get a really intense number of compliments one minute, and then he would turn cold and distant. The longer the relationship went on the more emotionally exhausted I would get. By the end of the relationship, the intense paragraphs and confessions of love turned into me begging him to speak to me, and when he did, I would be head over heels again. 

“He would break up with me, and then when he would get scared I might be with other people, he would want me back, and it would be really intense. 

Like the last time we broke up, I slept with someone, and he told me I owed him and invited me to his.”

When she first met her current partner, A was worried about moving too quickly again. So, they took things slow by only seeing each other once a week, and she found that “this really helped”. 

A found therapy useful too.

Sue, mid-forties, from the Liverpool area, was a victim of the extreme aspects of love bombing whereby her partner bought her extravagant gifts. Sue said that he was “really desperate to get [her]” because he wanted a family, as he did not have one of his own. So, he took her to Bond Street in London to buy her watch that cost £10k. However, when he broke up with her suddenly, he asked for it back. Like a queen, she said no and instead sold the watch, which she then used the money to pay for a new bathroom and two mortgages on her house. 

And of course, men can be love bombed too, as Brian Gross, LA, explains. 

Brian said that his partner brought up their being monogamous and starting “this partnership almost immediately” at the “very beginning of the relationship” to which he agreed. 

He said: “The love bombing in the beginning consisted of little things, whether it was stuff for my home, clothing, and so on. I only recognised this as time went on (the relationship was a little over three years) that the gifting towards me became far less than it was in the beginning.”

But the extravagant gifts did not feel abnormal to Brian, he showered his partner with gifts too. 

He said: “I certainly put in a lot of time, energy and creativity into some of these gifts. But later on in the relationship, it absolutely felt like all of my energy was being sucked out, and I simply had no more to give.”

Brian also had not known about love bombing before the relationship, but after a few breakups they had had, he realised that something wasn’t right and began doing research.

He said that the relationship caused him “mental strain” and “an overall exhaustion as it came to a very abrupt ending”. 

“Looking back and seeing what took place in the beginning and certain aspects were very eye-opening and certainly does affect one’s self-esteem,” he said. 

For Brian, seeking help from his friends and others who had been in similar situations and knowing that he had been love-bombed helped him “greatly”.

He said: “The fact of the matter is it [recovery] takes strength, and it takes time when you’ve been in a long-term relationship, and it ends in a manner that you don’t understand and you sometimes wish it could have continued, but unfortunately, this was not the case. 

“For me, focusing on my career, my goals, and just having the experience of knowing that it was time to move on has helped in my own recovery from the relationship. That being said, the love bombing aspect is no joke and is something to always keep an eye on when starting a relationship.”

As you can see, love bombing is real and can have severely negative impacts on victims. If you have ever experienced love bombing, just know that you are not alone and that you can heal. 

How to heal from being love-bombed

Ball has some expert advice on how to overcome love bombing. 

She said: “It is important to give yourself time to overcome the trauma. Talk to trusted friends and family and perhaps consider therapy.

“Once you have overcome the trauma, journal what a healthy relationship looks like to you.

“Have set boundaries so you know what your comfort zone for communication/affection/gifting etc is. Remember boundaries make it difficult for someone to overstep within a relationship and find ways to manipulate you.

“Ensure you have open communication about your feelings especially with the person you are dating post-love bombing.

“Finally, never ignore your intuition. If it feels wrong and makes you uncomfortable, then it is probably not a healthy relationship for you.”


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