This Manipulation Tactic Is Hard to Spot in Dating—Here Are the Signs

Updated 07/10/19
What Is Love Bombing
Michela Ravasio/Stocksy

Out of all the things that can rear their ugly heads in dating scenarios, manipulation is up there with some of the worst transgressions. When someone is willing to trick you into doing something to satisfy their needs and ambitions—however harmless or sinister they may be—it's often indicative of underlying patterns of emotional abuse. And out of all the manipulation tactics out there, love bombing is one of the cruelest. But what is love bombing exactly?

Put it one way, it's the opposite of ghosting and breadcrumbing, yet just as depleting—if not worse. Take the story of Tina Swithin, author of Divorcing A Narcissist, for example. Early on into a new relationship, "I was being lavished with attention, compliments, emotions, gifts and over-the-top charm at every turn. The reality was, he didn’t even know me,” she told HuffPost. By way of further explanation, and to get a clear understanding of the psychology behind love bombing, we asked Kelly McNelis, teacher, speaker, author, relationship expert, and founder of Women for One, to weigh in with her expertise.

Kelly McNelis

Kelly McNelis is the founder of Women for One and bestselling author of "Your Messy Brilliance". She travels the world as a speaker, teacher, and workshop facilitator.

What is Love Bombing

It's been widely reported that the term was coined by a religious cult in the 1970s, where its leaders weaponized love for their own gain. And its modern meaning doesn't veer too far off course. "Love bombing is inundating a person with adoration and attention to the point that it gets overwhelming," McNelis says. In the beginning stages of a relationship, a love bomber's displays of affection—flower deliveries, sweet notes, flattery, other grand gestures—are pretty textbook. However, all of this attention, says McNelis, is manipulative.

Though manipulative behavior can be had to notice when it's actually happening (and it can happen at any stage in the dating lifespan), it's easier to spot when you know exactly what to look for. So to learn what the signs of love bombing are and how to respond to them, read through McNelis's insightful tips below.

How to Spot Love Bombing

Original Illustrations by Stephanie DeAngelis

Some of the signs that you're being love bombed include behavior like "showing up to spend time with you unannounced (and other stalker-like qualities), guilting you into reciprocating grand acts of love, isolating you from other friends and family members, not honoring the time and energy you have to give and constantly demanding more, attempting to control where you go and what you do but under the pretext of love, and saying hyperbolic things like 'We were meant to be together' and 'We're so perfect together' even though you may not really know them well."

"Basically, if it makes you feel uncomfortable," says McNelis, "It's a red flag."

The distinction here is that the attention is bad, not good. To judge for yourself, McNelis suggests connecting with how comfortable you feel with the attention, even if you think your potential S.O. is the kind of person who just wears their emotions on their sleeve, or just seems like a generally earnest individual. Says McNelis, "Instead of just listening to the words they say, look carefully at their behavior, as well as the people with whom they surround themselves." Ask yourself questions like: Are there any signs that they have healthy relationships with other people in their midst? Does it feel like they are trying to isolate you to have you all to themselves?

"Trust your intuition," McNelis says. "If it feels like too much, it probably is. If the person seems like they are too good to be true, that is likely the case. And if it feels like the person is pushing too fast too soon rather than respecting your space and boundaries, it's likely that you are being love bombed."

Why Love Bombing Is a Red Flag

Original Illustrations by Stephanie DeAngelis

Since the immediate emotional response to love bombing is feeling appreciated and flattered—because it's human nature to want to be accepted and loved, it's hard to understand why love bombing is a negative thing. This is where the distinction between intention and outcome becomes important. As McNelis explains, "Love bombing is meant to create feelings of obligation and dependency in the 'object' of attention, the operative word being 'object.' There isn't really a sense of mutuality when you're love bombed." In fact, "what looks like chivalry and good, old-fashioned romance at first can quickly descend into feeling like you're being bombarded and there's no space to just breathe.

That kind of almost-obsessive attention is also a red flag because it's connected to patterns of control and abuse."

Geraldine Piorkowski, PhD, and author of Too Close for Comfort tells Health that love bombers may not be a narcissist, but have an unhealthy attachment style instead. Their feelings may be genuine, however, "They're desperate for a relationship," Piorkowski says. This too can be dangerous; they may turn into stalkers. Experts also say that these types of relationships can turn ugly, and fast. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can help with referrals and resources, and if it’s an emergency, call 911.

What Comes After Love Bombing

Original Illustrations by Stephanie DeAngelis

Successful love bombing is designed to win someone over, so the attention they receive makes them feel special and cared for. Indeed, "the love bomber tries to come off as a kind, attentive person, but often, they're a narcissist. Often, narcissists use flattery and seeming devotion to 'hook' a person and gain their trust," McNelis explains.

"They basically make themselves indispensable. Many narcissists recognize that once people catch on to their game, the relationship will end. But the narcissist tries to hold on to you by putting you in the starring role of the relationship. "

Once you're hooked, says McNelis, "they might retract their attention and leave you begging for just even a crumb of what you used to have. Overall, there is little hope for a mutually loving, healthy relationship."

How to Respond and Cut Ties

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If this toxic relationship pattern sounds familiar to you and you're looking for some ways to move forward, McNelis advises letting the other person know that you don't feel comfortable with what they are doing. When you do, "if they try to make you feel guilty or to justify their behavior rather than respecting your wishes, run in the opposite direction. Sometimes, we unknowingly give other people power to manipulate us, especially if we have a low self-esteem and enjoy someone else being so adoring and attentive to us.

This can give us a momentary rush of validation, which is totally understandable, but at its core, it's not healthy when its foundation is manipulation and dishonesty."

Though much easier said than done, "do your best to connect to practices of self-love and self-care so that the relationships you end up having reflect that kind of genuine adoration back at you and set the stage for healthy, mutual relating."

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