What the Eff Is Love Bombing?Are gifts and compliments a red flag? Maybe!
After approximately one-and-a-half dates with Tinder Bro, you wake up to a paragraph-long text about how amazing/beautiful/unique you are and how they’ve never felt this way about anyone else. There’s a bouquet of roses at your door and grand plans to jet off somewhere romantic together. It feels nice? But sorta…icky, right? You might’ve heard this awkward, overwhelming type of affection described as love bombing. And while the term’s origins aren’t totally clear, the kids on TikTok describe it as a thing that happens when you first start dating someone who ultimately turns out to be an asshole, a manipulator, or even abusive. That narrative along with #lovebombing has racked up hundreds of millions of views. So here we are.
But love bombing is a bit more complex than what you may have seen on social media. For starters, it’s not just a beginning-of-the-relationship dating phenomenon. It can technically happen at any time—and even in relationships that aren’t romantic. Also, it’s not always (but definitely can be) a manipulation tactic, according to the mental health pros we talked to. So, yeah, it’s complicated.
Here, we explain what love bombing is, what it isn’t, why it happens, and how to deal if it’s happening to you. Tell your friends.
So, what is love bombing?
Obviously, you can’t be diagnosed as a “love bomber” (that would be weird, right?), but love bombing basically means doing or saying things that show excessive affection and attention in relationships (yes, romantic ones, but also friendships or within your family), says relationship researcher and therapist Marisa Cohen, PhD, LMFT. This can look like tons of gift-giving, loads of compliments, or lots of calling or texting to tell you how awesome you are (I mean, you are awesome, but still!).
This coming-in-hot phenomenon is typically spotted when you first start dating someone, which usually makes the person on the receiving end feel overwhelmed, says Dr. Cohen. It puts you in a position to reciprocate loads of affection at a time when you’re still getting to know each other and building a bond, she explains. And that can be awkward as hell.
Yes, it’s totally fine to enjoy a random Venmo “just cuz,” but, when someone’s love bombing you, those compliments and sweet gestures happen before the love bomber even knows what you like. It can feel inauthentic because they don’t have that connection with you, says psychologist and Monmouth University psychology professor Gary Lewandowski, PhD, who studies romantic relationships.
But love bombing can actually happen at any point in a relationship. Sam, 28, tells Wondermind that a college boyfriend would go above and beyond to buy her stuff like sports tickets, clothes, and jewelry after they fought. Looking back, she says she can see how he was using love bombing to win her back.
Why do people love bomb?
It’s true that love bombing is often used to manipulate others or to gain your trust before ultimately putting you down. Someone might shower you with heart emojis and attention to keep you close (and, often, away from friends) or to distract you from their sketchy qualities, says Dr. Lewandowski. And after dropping all of those love bombs for a while, the person might say things like, “Well I did X for you, so why won’t you do X for me?” Manipulative people give a lot (see: love bombing) when they expect something in return, Dr. Lewandowski says.
But they aren’t the only ones who might rely on love bombing as a means to an end. People with an anxious attachment style—who are insecure about their relationships—might love bomb to bond with you faster or keep you around, Dr. Lewandowski says. Since they’re worried about relationships ending, they might think that being extra will make you less likely to leave them, he explains. They may not even be aware that what they’re doing is manipulative.
A lot of people online (see: TikTok) say narcissistic people are a classic example of love bombers. And they might be onto something: One small study suggests that having narcissistic tendencies was associated with love-bombing behaviors. That could be because those with narcissistic personality disorder are often trying to boost their self-image, which sometimes means finding “ideal” people to keep in their lives, explains clinical psychologist Mark Ettensohn, PsyD, who specializes in treating narcissism issues. If they view you as one of these people, they can get swept up in “fantasies of that person’s beauty and perfection and an ideal love with them," he says. But when they start to see that everything isn’t actually perfect (because literally nothing is), they can feel betrayed or fooled, so they put the person down. This is often referred to as the “discard” phase, Dr. Ettensohn says.
All that said, love bombing might not always come from a manipulative place. This person could’ve had shitty relationships in the past, and you’re actually the best person they’ve ever been with, so they get caught up in their feelings, says Dr. Lewandowski. They may be super excited that they’ve found someone who isn’t horrible, he says. Or, they could just think that people want excessive displays of affection after seeing it on The Bachelor or just assuming this is how you treat someone in a relationship, he notes. So even if their love bombing is a little too intense, their intentions aren’t necessarily bad.
How to handle love bombing.
For some people, love bombing is obvious and awkward and gross. But others might think it’s really nice, so they’re hesitant to even label constant compliments and over-the-top romantic gestures as something to be wary of. It was the latter for Sam, who says it felt good when her college ex showered her with gifts after a fight. Whatever your reaction, it's important to be clear with the love bomber about how you feel.
If you’re really flattered by love bombing, take a sec to think about the things you like about this person and your relationship outside of the compliments and presents. Are they kind, supportive, caring, trustworthy, and fun in addition to being generous with words of affirmation and gifts? Relationships last long-term because of compatibility and friendship, not just fluttery feelings you get when they tell you you’re the most attractive person they’ve ever seen, Dr. Lewandowski cautions. You can also ask yourself: Does this person have the connection with me to back up all the things they’re doing and saying? Does this person actually care about me? Do I care about them?
If you're fully weirded out when they try to sweep you off your feet, pinpoint the specific things that feel off. Is it what they’re saying, how soon they’re saying it, or something else? That can help you figure out what boundaries you may want to set, says Dr. Cohen. Be as honest and direct as possible, says Dr. Lewandowski.
Finally, if you’re unsure of what’s going on and how you feel about it, ask your people what they think. For example, if you gag at literally any type of compliment, your loved ones might be able to tell the difference between your standard of cringe and what’s too much, says Dr. Lewandowski.
If grand gestures aren’t your thing, you could be like, “Hey, I know you’re really excited about us. And I am too—you’re awesome! But I don’t love that you’re spending so much money on me.”
Then, whether or not someone is open to hearing your concerns can help you decide if you want to move forward or not. Usually people who don’t intentionally love bomb to manipulate you will change if you tell them that you don’t like how they’re treating you, says Dr. Lewandowski. If not, they might be combative or may ghost altogether, he adds. That’s a sign you don’t want those types of people in your life, anyway.
At the end of the day, people love bomb for different reasons, whether it’s meant to hurt you or not. Stay skeptical of over-the-top affection when you barely know the person and tons of flattery that comes before or after a massive tone shift in your relationship. Of course, if you feel unsafe—or just unsure about your relationship—seeking help from a mental health professional is a good idea. Therapy can give you a better sense of what’s making you feel uneasy, if and how you can address it with the person, and how to leave a relationship if that’s what’s best for you, says Dr. Cohen.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any type of abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) for anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, or visit thehotline.org.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.