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What Is Love Bombing? Here’s the Definition, & Why It’s Potentially Dangerous

It may make you giddy at first.
What is love bombing? Here's what to know about the dating phenomenon
Image: Getty; Adobe. Design: Sasha Purdy / StyleCaster

In a recent episode of season three of Ted Lasso, PR queen Keeley Jones meets the head of the VC funding her firm—Jack Danvers—who turns out to be hot, stylish, and super wealthy. Spoiler alert: After a steamy night of champagne and gossip, the two end up hooking up, and soon, Jack starts treating Keeley to all of the things. Fresh daisies for the office? Check. A spontaneous trip to Norway to see the Northern lights? Check. A signed first edition of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility? Not an issue, apparently. 

Shortly after, Keeley’s bestie Rebecca affectionately warns her about love bombing—a manipulation tactic used to gain control over another person in relationships. Love bombing is sneaky in that it’s usually disguised as flattery and charm, but it can actually be a major dating red flag

“Love bombing is when someone showers you with tremendous attention and affection, exciting compliments, grand gestures, and often, expensive gifts,” says Heather England, PhD, a licensed clinical psychotherapist, certified sex therapist, and owner of the private practice Love Filled Life. Although love bombing can sound romantic at a glance, it can be harmful—and in some cases, abusive—for the person on the receiving end. (As Rebecca advises in the show, “Sometimes, shiny things can tarnish.”)

Here’s what love bombing is, why it’s problematic, and what to do if you suspect you’re being love bombed, according to experts.

What Is Love Bombing & Why Is It Bad?

Dating someone who treats you to sparkly jewelry and fancy vacations abroad sounds like a dream situation, right? So what, exactly, makes love bombing a negative thing? According to Ann Russo, LCSW, a licensed therapist and the clinical director at AMR Therapy, love bombers use excessive flattery, gifts, and affection strategically to gain trust, affection, and sometimes, control over someone else.

“Love bombers use this technique to rapidly create a false sense of intimacy and connection, often in the early stages of a relationship, to control and exploit the other person,” Russo explains. “While it may initially feel flattering and exciting, love bombing can quickly become overwhelming, leaving the target feeling confused, manipulated, and unable to set healthy boundaries.”

Love bombing can also create an unhealthy relationship dynamic where you constantly feel like you “owe” your partner in some way. John Dolores, PhD, a clinical psychologist and COO of BeSpoke Treatment, explains, “[This dynamic] enables the love bomber to take advantage of the reciprocity norm, which promotes the pressure of needing to match another person’s freely given grand gesture,” he says. Remember when Jack offers Keeley another gift at the café, but Keeley immediately gets skittish and is afraid to accept it out of fear that she can’t reciprocate? That’s the idea.

To be clear, loving your partner and treating them to nice things is a positive thing, but love bombers tend to have a hidden, not-so-pure agenda behind their nice gestures. England explains the difference: “In a healthy relationship, the honeymoon phase feels thrilling…your affection skyrockets,” she points out. “The difference is that the love bomber’s gestures are over-the-top [and] they also are meant to impress you and garner praise. The goal of the love bomber is for you to feel indebted to them—to prime you for future control and manipulation.” Love-bombing behavior is often rooted in narcissism and unhealthy attachment, England adds.

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How Can You Tell If Someone Is Love Bombing?

It can be tricky to recognize love bombing at first, especially at the start of a relationship, when everything feels exciting and sweet gestures are the norm. According to England, it’s important to trust your gut instinct—especially if things start to feel off-putting—and notice if things feel too intense, too soon. “Typically, [love bombing is] characterized by an intensity and by you feeling uncomfortable,” she says. “Trust your intuition. If it feels wrong, it likely is wrong.”

You should also consider how well you know the person. Do their actions seem genuine, or does the excessive attention seem disproportional to the relationship? “While it may initially feel gratifying to have your emotional needs met by a potential romantic partner, it is important to be cautious if someone showers you with excessive affection, compliments, and intense emotions too soon, particularly if they do not know you well and have not had sufficient opportunities to establish genuine emotional connections,” Dolores explains. “This type of behavior should raise questions.” 

Here are some signs you’re potentially being love-bombed, according to experts:

  • The person bombards you with gifts, texts, compliments, and grand gestures
  • The relationship progresses very quickly and things feel particularly intense
  • Their gestures feel good at first but eventually, they start to make you uncomfortable
  • The relationship feels unbalanced (i.e., you feel like you aren’t doing enough)
  • It feels like you can’t voice disagreement or set boundaries with the person
  • The person makes you feel like they’re the only person who can truly “understand” you
  • You feel like you’re walking on eggshells around them or constantly trying to please them
  • The person subtly or explicitly tries to isolate you from friends, family, or loved ones 
  • They expect a lot of attention and withdraw or get upset when they don’t get it
  • The person puts pressure on you to commit, move in together quickly, or declare your affection for them early on (i.e., says “I love you” quickly and expects you to say it back)

Somewhere along the way, you may start to doubt yourself, have lower self-esteem, or even lose your identity trying to satisfy your partner’s wishes. If any of these happen, it’s a sign that this may not be a healthy relationship.

How Do You Deal With Love Bombing?

Realizing you’re being love-bombed can be an alarming experience, but experts say there are ways to protect yourself and your mental health. “To protect yourself from being love bombed and manipulated, take a pause and reevaluate the relationship the moment you feel like things are escalating faster than you can handle,” Dolores recommends. “You can also set healthy boundaries by refusing gifts and only doing things you’re comfortable doing when you’re comfortable doing them. This way, you can avoid conforming to [the love bomber’s] control.” 

England agrees that boundary-setting is crucial. “If you find yourself feeling love-bombed in a relationship, you can protect yourself. Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, explore why. Maintain your personal boundaries,” she says. Building your sense of self-esteem and independence can also help. “Insist on having space to continue to do the activities that bring you joy,” England says. “Nurture other relationships with friends and loved ones.” She also recommends taking the romantic relationship at a pace that feels good for you—and reminding yourself that you don’t have to rush into doing or saying anything until you’re truly ready.

“If you suspect you are being love bombed, it is important to take a step back and assess the situation objectively,” Russo adds. “Seek support from a trusted friend or mental health professional, set healthy boundaries, and prioritize your own well-being. Remember, true love and connection take time and effort to develop, and should never be based on manipulation or control.”

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Image: Adobe; Getty. Design: Sasha Purdy / StyleCaster
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