What Is “Love Bombing”?

I haven’t been following the West Elm Caleb discourse—if you don’t already know, you probably don’t want to—so please don’t read this as my Official Take. But I’ve seen some weird distortions floating around of what “love bombing” means, and I wanted to take a second to talk about what it is and why it happens.

Love bombing is a manipulation tactic that takes place over time, usually at the beginning of a relationship that later escalates into abuse, and then cyclically afterward. The New York Times helpfully defined it as “lavishing a new romantic partner with grand gestures and constant contact in order to gain an upper hand in the relationship.” 

It can look different for everyone, but some common patterns include: when your partner overwhelms you with praise, showers you with expensive and impersonal gifts like travel and jewelry, needs your constant attention, ignores and dismantles your boundaries, pressures you into “romantic” early commitments, and manipulates you into codependency.

Love bombing is a vital stage of abusive relationships. It convinces you that they are the perfect partner who adores you and doesn’t want to hurt you. When abuse begins, you look back at a period of love bombing with confusion and longing; it was once that good, and it can be again. 

Abusers can use love bombing as a way to destabilize partners and convince them to stay. Love bombing often follows explosive incidents of violence as a way to lull a victim into denial and complacency. Picture the husband who brings his wife flowers and begs for forgiveness after hitting her, or the girlfriend who assures her boyfriend that he is her soulmate and they are meant to be together after viciously mocking him in front of their friends.

Love bombing shouldn’t be confused with other kinds of manipulation and excessive attention. It’s a specific tactic that can have deadly consequences. But whatever form abuse takes, it is always unacceptable. Emotional and physical abuse, sexual violence, coercion and manipulation are never okay. It is not your fault. It is never your fault.

If you think you might be in an abusive relationship and you’re seeking help in the United States, you can call 1-800-799-SAFE, or text “START” to 88788. You can also chat with the National Domestic Violence Hotline here.

This post was made possible by the support of my Patreon community. Please consider subscribing here.

Posted by

Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.