Love bombing—what is it? The phrase itself is so magically contradicting. It evokes the mental image of cherubs, champagne fizz, angel wings, and candy hearts, but also of dynamite, explosions, and danger. Sade Watkins, one of my favorite girls currently posting on YouTube, described love bombing in a recent video of hers as “an act against the self of the other. A grand gesture that makes you small.” In her video, she had been discussing Summer Walker and her boo, London On Da Track, but for the sake of this piece, I want to tackle simply the concept of Love Bombing as-is: what is it? What do we do when we recognize it? What does it mean if someone is doing it to us, or if we’re doing it to someone?
When Sade said those words, my world as it is sort of came to a halt. All of my beliefs were suddenly worthy of re-inspection. I started looking back down my memory-tunnel in order to closely analyze a few of the situations I’d found myself in within the recent past; situations in which I was an object under the weight of somebody else’s affection for “me”. I’m placing myself between quotation marks here because, truthfully, they didn’t know enough about me to warrant the sort of feelings they were convinced that they had. I became something else in their eyes, something that they had easy control over. When someone doesn’t know you, but they’re convinced they love you, you may easily become their salvation, their rescue, their purpose, or their happiness—all of which are uneasy roles when trying to build an equal, honest standing with somebody.
Although deep down I knew it couldn’t logically be true, I often went along with it anyways. Love-bombing works best on those who don’t have a full understanding of their own worth. After all, the term itself originates from the outburst of 1970s cult leaders conning their followers into obedience and loyalty as well as mass suicide and murder.
It’s not always so extreme, but it’s a good thing to be aware of.
The last man I gave a significant enough amount of energy to was completely and utterly deceptive, although I assume he didn’t realize it (neither did I, at the time). A fever took over my body in Venice after I flew to Italy to eat penne and olives with a man who would barely look up from his phone during our meal. I want to explain the slow dissolving of my sanity. How something that I had thought was mine ended up in his hands. My sense of self, my ability to stand up and leave a space that wasn’t good for me. I knew his insecurity was clipping my wings, and yet instead of calling it out, I tended to it, I wanted to ensure that this own acidity wasn’t hurting him. I paused over him, I attempted wildly to put him back together. My wings melted in this position of crisis. My dignity relocated itself.
We engaged in a completely blindfolded enactment of love, creating a space where neither of us knew the worst of each other, the “real” of each other. And that sounds wonderful, simple and easy, but is in actuality unhelpful when attempting to grow alongside someone. When we met, his favorite thing to tell me was, “You’re so nice, you’re an angel,” which I thought was sweet at the time, but as I began pushing back against his ideal of me, showing him more of my truth (“I can’t talk right now, I’m at work”, “I’m with my friend—yes, he’s a boy—no, we’re not sleeping together”, “I don’t feel well right now, can we talk tomorrow?”) his expression of affection grew more erratic.
I quickly began to feel trapped, restricted. I knew in my heart that this was a space where I would not be able to expand and show up in full, and that’s why I made the decision ultimately to cut it off.
So. How can we recognize love bombing?
Let’s talk about it.
First of all, is everything moving too quickly?
Yes, you’re wonderful. But you don’t have to rely on somebody who’s known you for three days or two weeks or three months to tell you how wonderful you are. Are they making grand declarations about how you’re meant to be? Maybe you should get married, maybe they’ve been waiting on somebody like you since the beginning of time? Maybe you’re different from everybody they’ve ever met? In the end, this could be true, but it’s always smart to keep your wits about you. Watch the situation. Closely. Take the rose-tinted glasses off and make notes. How much are they willing and wanting to know you and see you for what you are, rather than what they hope you are, what they want you to be? As David Richo wrote in his book How to be An Adult in Relationships, “You can only love me as I am, not as you need me to be. I’ll disappoint you again and again as long as you expect me to meet your criteria.”
Secondly, are the compliments dropping off a little?
In the beginning, love bombers enjoy showering their object with endless affection, presents, and presence, telling them how beautiful they are, how perfect they are, how they seem like an angel, a dream that’s come to life. They might tell them that they’re nothing like their “crazy” ex, they might talk about marriage within the first two weeks of meeting, they might buy gifts, free their schedule just to talk—all of these things often done with the sole purpose of winning their prize over. They place their object of affection on a pedestal, and then once that placement has been comfortably established, it’s suddenly ripped away. And, of course, once that source of attention begins to dwindle, we begin to frantically attempt to revive the unique/special/wonderful bond that we experienced in the beginning. But to no avail! We cannot bring back what was never really there.
1. Is everybody who “love bombs” us a bad or toxic person?
In short, I actually don’t think so! Sometimes people are simply unconscious and acting out embedded historical patterns, acting out of trauma, or personal pain that they haven’t resolved. The active attempt to deceive us is genuinely not always there. I’ve definitely been involved in long, drawn-out romantic scenarios in which the person vying for my attention was simply unaware of what it meant, for me, to have them hunting me down in that specific manner: constant texts, compliments, and declarations. This always seemed so huge to me, and it put me in a place where I became dependent on this person for my internal livelihood, my sense of confidence. But that’s why I think it’s so important to become aware of what love-bombing looks like, so that we can have power over it, and reject it as a method of connection.
“Love-bombing” is terminology that is often used in connection with narcissists and their active and intentional manipulation of your heart, but there is also the more unconscious use of this tactic, which is also worth being aware of. I love awareness of our own wants/needs because it helps us not be swept away by somebody else’s.
2. What can we do about it?
Call it out! If you feel like someone doesn’t know enough about you to make the claims they’re making, try your best not to accept their attention on the basis of your loneliness, sense of lack, or need. When we recognize that someone is love-bombing us, we gain a chance to come forth and assert our own desires. What would you like out of this connection? What do you value when entering into a relationship? Is this a place where you are welcomed in full? When we know what we want and assert what we want, it becomes clear whether or not the person we’re dealing with is a suitable match. We can operate with full control over what we’re engaging in, the connections that we’re sustaining. We are no longer anybody’s ego boost.
What can we do? Commit to reality. Embrace the reality of ourselves and other people. Say no to bonds built out of an obsession with potential, or a belief that anybody can arrive—perfect, untouched by a history of their own—to save us from ourselves. Only from a place of acceptance from both of us can we make improvements; otherwise we are rejecting what is true, we are spinning in circles trying not to be bad, or moody, or selfish sometimes, or deny that we can we love each other and still have work to do. Love is not an activity that benefits from faces. It requires real expression.
Closing with an excerpt from David Richo’s How to Be An Adult In Relationships, “I can only be loved by someone who loves me for my frailty…I can only be loved by someone who loves me with my arrogant ego, with my shadow, and with all the scar tissue of my childhood. I can only be loved by someone who, like me, has let go of the belief that anyone can be perfect for anyone else.”