There are all kinds of red flags to look for when you’re dating someone new. Some are easy to spot, like talking endlessly about an ex or treating a server badly at a restaurant. But certain behaviors that point to bigger problems, like gaslighting, love bombing, and future faking, may have warning signs that are harder to see.
What is love bombing?
Love bombing means showering someone with over-the-top positive attention, often through flattery. It might include compliments, frequent texts, public displays of affection, and surprise gifts, among other things.
Although showing affection is part of any healthy relationship, the motivation behind it is what can take these displays from sweet to toxic. That’s because love bombers try to influence their partner’s thinking by controlling their emotions. Constant affection at the beginning of the relationship can be so effective that it makes their partner feel like they’ve found “the one.”
Love bombing starts early
Almost every relationship goes through an infatuation stage, also known as the “honeymoon phase,” when bonding hormones are at their highest. During the first few weeks or months, it’s normal for new couples to be captivated by each other and want to spend as much time together as possible. Love bombing takes this to a completely different level.
Starting from day one, love bombers exaggerate their feelings. They might say things like “I’ve never loved anyone so much in my life,” or “You’re everything I’ve ever wanted.”
Once a love bomber has their partner hooked, they may enforce rules, test the other person, or try to make them prove their love. For example, if a love bomber’s partner doesn’t respond to every text within a few minutes, they might accuse them of not caring.
Love bombing vs. future faking
Love bombing and future faking are sometimes used together for double-whammy manipulation. Future faking means making false promises or claims about the future to get the other person to stay committed (or do something else the faker wants). The faker strings the other person along without any intention of following through.
A future faker might tell their partner they’ve booked a luxurious romantic vacation for three months from now, but never actually plan or book anything. The idea is to keep their partner invested in the relationship for at least the time leading up to the supposed vacation.
Over the next few months, the manipulative person may love bomb their partner by buying them expensive gifts “for the vacation”: jewelry, designer clothing, handbags, sunglasses, and so on. This makes their partner feel valued and loved while reinforcing the false promise of the trip.
Is love bombing a form of gaslighting?
Gaslighting and love bombing both involve an abuser manipulating their partner. Both types of behavior are used to gain control of another person and can cause victims to question themselves or their own feelings.
The difference lies in the instigator’s approach to gaining control. A gaslighter aims to control the victim by creating doubt and confusion, while a love bomber seeks to control through overwhelming affection and attention.
In many cases, these two types of emotional abuse can go hand in hand. For instance, a gaslighter might love bomb their victim to make them feel indebted before they escalate manipulation. This way, the target is also more likely to buy into and stay in the relationship.
What happens when you try to stop love bombing
When confronted, love bombers may accuse their partners of being selfish or unreasonable about boundaries. If the affected partner tries to take some distance, the love bomber will do whatever they can to reel them back in. They may try make them feel indebted, or like the love bomber is the only person who could ever truly care about them.
In healthy relationships, partners acknowledge and respect each other’s boundaries during the infatuation stage and onward into the longer-term companionate stage. A person who doesn’t respect boundaries could simply be selfish or immature, but this behavior could also be a sign of greater risks.
Why love bombing is so unhealthy
Love bombing has spread widely enough to become the subject of academic research. One study suggests the behavior is most common in people with narcissistic tendencies and low self-esteem.1 It can also be an indicator of an insecure attachment style.
At its root, though, love bombing is a form of emotional abuse. People who love bomb their partners use positive reinforcement to create dependency and eventually control. Victims who continue to accept the flattery may go on to experience traumatic bonding, a type of unhealthy attachment where victims stay in abusive relationships because they feel emotionally connected to their abusers.2
The goal of love bombing is to make a victim feel obligated to do what their abuser wants. Victims fear that if they don’t follow these commands, they’ll be guilt-tripped and labeled as insensitive or selfish.
6 signs you may be dating a love bomber
Love bombers put a lot of emphasis on “the chase,” which is why love bombing is so prominent very early in a relationship. Here’s what you should watch out for.
They’re extremely affectionate right from the start. If your new love interest has been telling you how much they like or even love you from the moment you met, consider it a sign that they’re trying to create a sense of attachment as quickly as possible.
They put you on a pedestal. They might call you their soulmate or say you’re destined to be together—before they actually get to know you.
They want you to commit quickly. For instance, they might pressure you into labeling the relationship, having sex before you feel ready, or moving in together quickly.
They surprise you with gifts. Frequent or extravagant gifts for no reason at all may be intended to win you over so you feel compelled to stay.
They continue to violate your boundaries after you’ve mentioned things you’re not okay with. They might even act like the victim and accuse you of being unreasonable or selfish.
You’re afraid of upsetting them. You might feel like if you don’t do what they ask, they’ll feel hurt or angry.
How to handle a love bomber
If you think you’re involved with someone who’s love bombing you, the first thing to do is discuss your boundaries and make it clear they aren’t negotiable. A partner who’s in the relationship for the right reasons will agree to respect your limits.
If they make a big deal out of it, though—or if they say they agree, then keep violating your boundaries anyway—that’s a good sign it’s time to call things off. Love bombers want to take away your sense of control, so ending the relationship may be the only way for you to regain autonomy.
Remember the bigger picture
It can be hard to draw the line when someone showers you with affection and attention—especially when they seem so sweet in the beginning. But it’s important to keep in mind what genuine interest and respect look like between two people in a budding romance. Healthy relationships are centered on respect, equality, and, of course, boundaries.
If your relationship is showing signs of love bombing or other harmful behaviors, talking with a therapist can help. Search our directory to find a mental health professional who can help you navigate your feelings and work toward a healthier, happier romantic life.