Love bomb might sound like a one-hit wonder from the B-52's, but unfortunately it's an all too common method of emotional influence and abuse. You might not be familiar with what love bombing looks like but if you’re planning on dating in this day and age, it’s an important concept to be aware of in order to keep yourself safe.
What is love bombing?
Before online dating came along, the term 'love bombing' was invented to describe the ways cult members treated their new recruits. And there's a reason we still use the same term - because the methods aren't really all that different.
In the most basic terms, love bombing is a lot of affection and attention in a comparatively short amount of time. Obviously, that doesn't have to be a bad sign in and of itself. But if it feels a little suspicious, or a little off based on how long you’ve been chatting or dating, then it could be a love bomb.
For example, you've been chatting for 2 days and they’re already mentioning that they ‘miss you’ when you’re offline. Or if you're being given expensive gifts and promises about your future together that feel out of touch with how long you've known each other. If they’re saying ‘we’ll buy a house together and live happily ever after’ and you still haven’t met in person, it might just be a love bomb.
What does love bombing do to you?
There are a ton of studies documenting the different hormonal and chemical reactions that happen in our bodies and brains when we fall in love. But to summarise, your brain loves to 'reward' you for being in a relationship. At various stages, it will feed you feel good juices like dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine. Your seratonin levels will drop off, which will make it easier for you to start obsessing over a single person.
Your cortisol levels will increase dramatically, which will make it much harder to control your emotions and think clearly. There are even studies that have found an increase in what's called 'nerve growth factor' which is known to increase feelings of connection and euphoria.
Long story short, it's a perfect storm of feeling good AF and not making the best decisions. And that's for people who are just going through regular attraction to regular people. Now add love bombing to that. Someone you're super into, who is telling you you're greatest thing since sliced bread, who is promising you the future you've always dreamed of ... yeah turn that shit up to 11! You are not going to be thinking or functioning at your best.
What makes love bombing dangerous?
Most people who love bomb others don't do it consciously. They don't do it as part of some elaborate masterplan. Like most forms of emotional abuse, it usually comes from a symptom of mental illness or maladaptive behaviour. That definitely doesn't make it okay. But it does mean it's often different from something like, say catphishing where the goal is to scam people out of money or their identity. With most love bombers, their goal is a relationship with you - but they lack a healthy framework to achieve that.
Having someone send you nice messages and give you nice things isn't a red flag in and of itself. Some people are more emotionally vulnerable than others and will say 'I love you' first and feel more comfortable making space for you in their life. That's not a reason to run for the hills.
What makes love bombing what it is, is when the behaviour changes. If someone keeps love bombing you for the entire duration of your relationship until you both die of old age, that's not love bombing, that's just someone who adores you. No red flags there. But the love bomber doesn't do those things. Because once they've secured a relationship with you, their behaviour changes. They may become passive-aggressive or straight up aggressive. They might accuse you of selfishness or use their love bombing behaviour to guilt you. They can start to withdraw their affection and might even begin to punish you with silent treatment or verbal abuse. In short, they become abusive.
What to do if you think you’re being love bombed?
If anything feels off in a relationship, the most important thing to remember is that you are always within your rights to say 'no' to anything.
In fact, saying no is one of the recommended strategies for identifying a possible abusive partner. The No Test was developed by domestic violence counsellor Rob Andrew, and is as simple as this: watch what happens the first time you say no to a new partner. He advises that disappointment is okay, but annoyed is the first sign of ownership or entitlement.
The other thing to remember is to trust your gut - if something seems a little off, it probably is. And this is good advice for staying safe from scammers as well. If you’re getting messages from someone well outside your normal age range, if the person messaging you seems super into all the same things you’re into, or if the whole package just seems too good to be true - it’s probably time to bail on that match.
How to heal after a love bomb?
If you've had an experience with a love bomber, it can be hard to heal. It can be hard to trust any expressions of affection and to believe that they're not traps being laid for the future.
The best thing you can do is remind yourself that you are entitled to move at your own pace. If you're dating someone or chatting with someone online and you feel things are moving a bit too fast for you - say something. Ask to slow down, and if needed you can offer as much or as little explanation as you feel comfortable with. They should respect that. And if they don't, then you know it wasn't meant to be. Your safety and comfort comes first.