'Love Bombing' Is Ruining Dating
“The first few weeks felt amazing,” Margaux Valerie recalls of her experience with her most recent ex. “I felt loved and assured through all the compliments, attention, and spending time together.” Within six weeks of dating, he introduced her to family and friends, and he even took her on an international trip to Turks and Caicos. “There were even talks of a proposal, moving in together, and babies,” the 27-year-old said. “It was romantic to the point where I nearly fainted through all his flowery words!”
Then, exactly two months after they started dating, Valerie was hit with radio silence. When they finally spoke face-to-face after a week of ignored texts, “He basically told me that he is not ready for a relationship, things are moving quickly, and that I love hard—which he said he liked—but it was too much.”
That was Margaux’s first time experiencing “love bombing”: when a person showers their new partner with compliments, gifts, trips, love, and promises of the future, only to then claim the relationship is moving too quickly—all within the span of a few months. Mind you, the so-called “love bomber” is the one who instigated the intensity; the love bombee was merely reciprocating.
Why do people love bomb?
Love bombing is classically associated with narcissists and sociopaths, who represent 1% and 1-4% of the population, respectively.
“Narcissists in particular are known for their skills at manipulation, as much as their penchant for self-love,” Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., wrote for Psychology Today in 2018. “They may use flattery and attention as tools to build themselves up as the perfect partner, the better to gain your trust, affection—and, ultimately, adoration.”
Meanwhile, sociopaths may love bomb because they don’t see how it hurts the other person. “Adults with sociopathic tendencies can be charming and sociable, but literally have no empathy, compassion, or concern for others,” says Dr. Karin Lawson, PsyD. “They can put on a show of love, but it’s disingenuous and for their own self-interest.”
But love bombing must go beyond those small populations, because nearly every woman or gay man I’ve spoken to has been love bombed at some point in their dating career. (Straight men had experienced it, too, but to a lesser extent.) These numbers don’t add up. There simply aren’t enough narcissists and sociopaths going around love bombing everyone, which means that your average Joe Schmo on Tinder is doing it as well.
For the record, I, too, have love bombed someone—and not maliciously. I really thought I wanted to be with her long-term, but in hindsight, I recognize that I was simply “swept up in the moment.” (Also, our sex was incredible, which historically has made me think I love a person when I don’t.) When reality set in, I realized I could not date her for a number of reasons. Our entire “love” affair lasted about six weeks.
“These people are ‘in love’ with falling in love.”
Sometimes, the “honeymoon” phase is to blame.
The infatuation (aka “honeymoon”) phase of a new relationship is real, and it could be the culprit behind unintentional love bombing. (The polyamorous community has coined its own term for the feeling: New Relationship Energy, or NRE.)
This stage is exciting! You want to hang out with your new crush as much as possible, and those feelings you have towards them are indeed genuine—they’re just fleeting. Even if you end up with the person long-term, the honeymoon phase will eventually vanish, at least to some degree. Once that high dissipates, some people will love bomb their partner and usher in the end of the relationship.
“These people are ‘in love’ with falling in love,” explains Kevin Darne, relationship expert and author of My Cat Won’t Bark! (A Relationship Epiphany). It’s why they say every cute, complementary thought that pops into their head. In a sense, these people are desperately hoping the honeymoon phase can last forever. In doing so, they’re deluding themselves, which hurts their partner down the line.
“Experienced daters learn to enjoy the ‘infatuation phase’ without becoming overly emotionally invested,” Darne said.
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And other times, love bombers are just players.
Then, of course, there are the folks who use love bombing as one of many weapons in their arsenal to seduce a partner. “There have always been some men, in particular, who were known to romanticize, seduce, and abandon women,” says Darne.
Take the experience of comedian and NYT best-selling author Gaby Dunn, 31, who met a love bomber after he slid into her Twitter DMs. While he traveled a lot for work, he never seemed to be away from his phone and showered her with nonstop praise for months.
“He would repeatedly tell me, ‘You’re perfect.’ ‘You’re unlike anyone I’ve ever met.’ ‘Our connection is once in a lifetime.’ ‘I’ve never felt this way about anyone,’” Dunn said.
“I found out he said the exact same thing to 11 other women.”
This relationship lasted a little longer than the typical love bombing affair, around eight months, but it ended when he showed up to a red carpet event with another woman. “He called me after to do damage control, then claimed we were never together, and then I found out he said the exact same thing to 11 other women, down to the wording of ‘I never do this,’” which is something he said while initially love bombing her.
Love bombers are ruining dating for the rest of us.
Whether they’re narcissists, sociopaths, players, or simply well-intended people “caught up in the moment,” the effect is still the same. We all learn from our past dating experiences, becoming more jaded each time someone screws us over, which in turn, makes it more difficult to be vulnerable and fall in love when the right person eventually appears.
Dunn recalled feeling “so foolish” when her relationship was all said and done. “I felt dumb, but then angry, then validated by talking to all the other women, but then sad for them, me, and his future partners who will probably fall for it too.”
That’s why the experience has “absolutely changed my whole view of relationships.” She’s more cautious of all men, especially ones that show a liking to her too quickly. “Their feelings have nothing to do with me because they can’t possibly know me yet,” she explained. “It killed the romance a bit, but it’s protected me hugely.”
Valerie agrees it’s changed the way she now approaches relationships. While she’s always been selective with whom she lets into her life, she’s come to grips with the fact that “Sometimes, you gotta deal with people who fake and learn how to set clear boundaries to realize your worth.”
From speaking to her, it’s clear she’s now more guarded. “Sometimes it takes heartbreak to open your eyes,” she said.
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