When you first meet someone, being swept off your feet can feel fun and exciting. Having someone shower you with affection and admiration is especially exhilarating when you’re in the beginning stages of a new relationship.
Love bombing, however, is another story. It happens when someone overwhelms you with loving words, actions, and behavior as a manipulation technique.
“It’s often used to win over your trust and affection so that they can meet a goal of theirs,” explains Shirin Peykar, MA, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
Here’s a look at some of the classic love bombing signs. If you recognize some of these, it doesn’t necessarily mean your partner is toxic, but listen to your intuition if the person trying to woo you seems too good to be true.
Love bombing often involves over-the-top gestures, such as sending you inappropriate gifts to your job (dozens of bouquets instead of one, for example) or buying expensive plane tickets for a vacation, and not taking “no” for an answer.
All of this can seem harmless enough, but the point is to manipulate you into thinking you owe them something.
“Most often, love bombing is done by a narcissist with the intent of drawing in and gaining control over the person who is being love bombed,” says licensed professional counselor Tabitha Westbrook, LMFT.
We all crave admiration, but constant praise can make your head spin. If someone’s expressing their undying love after just a short amount of time, it’s a potential red flag that their feelings aren’t genuine.
Some common, over-the-top phrases they might use include:
- “I love everything about you.”
- “I’ve never met anyone as perfect as you.”
- “You’re the only person I want to spend time with.”
On their own, these phrases aren’t necessarily harmful, but it’s important to consider them in the larger context of someone’s overall behavior.
They call, text, and message you over social media 24/7. While being in constant communication is normal when you’re first dating, it’s a red flag if the communication feels one-sided and becomes increasingly overwhelming.
Take note if they begin texting you early in the morning and every hour on the hour.
When your focus isn’t on the other person, they might become angry. This can look like pouting when you’re on the phone with friends or refusing to leave after you say you have to be at work early the next day.
“True love does not want all your time and energy focused on them alone,” Westbrook emphasizes. “They respect other commitments, ideas, and boundaries.”
Telling you they dreamed that God told them you two should marry is a manipulation tactic. If what they say sounds right out of a film, take heed, Westbrook notes. “Hollywood is great for entertainment, but true love and relationships don’t look like the movies.”
Some other things they might say:
- “We were born to be together.”
- “It’s fate that we met.”
- “You understand me more than anyone.”
- “We’re soulmates.”
A love bomber might pressure you into rushing things and making big plans for the future. They’ll mention things like marriage or moving in together when you’ve only known each other a short while.
The thing to keep in mind, according to Westbrook, is that real relationships take time to develop. “It’s very unlikely the person really can love you more than anything in the world in 2 weeks. Or two days. Or 2 hours. Or even 2 months,” she explains.
When you try to tell them to slow down, they’ll continue to try to manipulate you to get what they want. Someone who legitimately cares, on the other hand, will respect your wishes and back off.
“Love bombers also get upset about any boundaries with regard to access to you or you accepting their displays of ‘love,’ says Westbrook. “It’s like a tsunami of affection and they expect you to accept it all.”
No matter how much time and access you give them, it never seems to be enough. But ask yourself: Are you bailing on friends because they can’t stand to be alone? Or do you feel obligated to answer every text because they gifted you that expensive iPhone?
Someone toxic will make you feel indebted to them so that they can rely on you day and night.
They never turn down the charm and seem to be running on all cylinders when you’re with them. You never know what to expect from one moment to the next and feel pressured into seeing them round the clock.
Legitimate love has its ups and downs, but it’s respectful and not overbearing, says Westbrook. “It is patient, kind, and gentle.”
Being love bombed can feel intoxicating at first, but you might also feel a bit uneasy, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Pay attention to these anxious feelings, says Westbrook. “It’s important to be attuned to your intuition, so you can be informed instead of being carried away by love bombing tactics.”
If you’re in the early stages of a relationship and everything feels like it’s happening too soon, check in with your gut. Remember: Falling in love should be savored, not rushed.
If you’re worried your partner has crossed into manipulative territory, try reaching out to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health therapist who can help you assess their behavior.
You can also check out the below resources for additional guidance on next steps:
- Love is Respect is a national dating abuse helpline that offers support and provides information on unhealthy relationships and behaviors.
- One Love is a foundation helping put a stop to relationship abuse.
Cindy Lamothe is a freelance journalist based in Guatemala. She writes often about the intersections between health, wellness, and the science of human behavior. She’s written for The Atlantic, New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, Quartz, The Washington Post, and many more. Find her at cindylamothe.com.