If you’re new or returning to online dating, don’t let a fear of love bombers stop you.
I get it. Negativity fuels the headlines that get attention. Online dating is the perfect fodder for even the major news outlets, as this recent article on Love Bombing from the New York Times demonstrates.
Of course, fear is useful. It’s an emotion designed to protect us from risks.
But there are risks to everything in life and playing it too safe can rob us of the best that life has to offer.
As Daisy says in this related article about online dating risks,
“Dating people you meet in real life (say, through a friend or relative) doesn’t guarantee you’ll have a safe dating experience.
Even a blind date arranged by a good friend can go bad, and threaten your safety.
Online dating comes with its own set of safety issues. Going into it understanding this and being cautious of these things can save you from harm and heartache.”
The smart way to date is not to run away from risk, but to manage it, just like we do in all our other daily activities.
For example, driving a car is a risk. So we practice safe driving behaviors to minimize the risk. (Well, most people do!) Walking down the street is a risk. So we watch where we are going. We look before we cross the street.
The same holds true for online dating. Yes, there are risks.
I know because I dated and foolishly married a love bomber.
But once recognized and understood, they become small and manageable.
In this article we’ll cover the risks of love bombing in online dating and how to manage them. Here’s a table of contents.
What is a Love Bomber?
“Love bombers” are one of the risks of online dating, but once explained, are easy to recognize and avoid.
Dr. Chitra Raghavan, professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says in the Times article that love bombing is a manipulative dating practice. One partner showers the other with “grand gestures and constant contact in order to gain an upper hand in the relationship.”
Gestures can take the form of expensive gifts, desirable vacations, or excessive flattery. The intention is to sweep the other off their feet and make it look like they are the perfect mate.
I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but I fell prey to some serious narcissistic love bombing.
It started with a series of expensive gifts within the first few weeks of meeting. Then there was an international trip, paid for courtesy of my “bomber.”
Gifts and vacations can be nice, desirable things. However, when these things happen early in a dating relationship, they are red flags. Love bomb attention and affection flows in one direction. In a healthy relationship, it flows both ways.
What Do Love Bombers Want?
Dr. Raghavan notes that when a person is overwhelmed by such attention, they don’t see danger.
The love bomber is, in effect, controlling the recipient’s social life from the start. Love bomb behavior isolates the victim from family and friends. It’s an unhealthy behavior that can’t be sustained. It leaves the victim with no place to turn when the relationship goes bad.
So, what drives love bombers?
Some (but not all) love bombers are narcissists, which is a person who has an excessive interest in themselves.
According to the Mayo Clinic, narcissists need excess attention and admiration because they have a low self-esteem and are vulnerable to the smallest criticism. Because they are likely to be materialistic themselves, narcissists feel better about themselves with excessive gift-giving. By controlling the relationship and isolating the victim, all attention is directed to the narcissist.
Other love bombers might simply be lonely, depressed or suffer from self-esteem or co-dependency problems.
Love bombing is an exciting way to counter these negative feelings. Or, in the case of a co-dependent, it’s a learned but flawed behavior about “love” and relationships they picked up from their family of origin.
Do Love Bombers Know What They’re Doing?
Jessica January Behr, PsyD, writing about love bombing in Women’sHealth says,
“People who engage in love-bombing are often doing so unconsciously, though they may be aware of the effect their behavior has on others,” Behr says. “Someone who love bombs likely experienced a form of this narcissistic abuse in their own childhood, where a parent idealized and devalued them.”
Although the initial behavior is largely unconscious, once they get the person into the relationship, the love bomber will switch behavior. In the case of a narcissist, the relationship becomes consciously difficult or even abusive. They got their fix, now they want to keep it.
In my case, after the initial flurry of gifts and activity, my love bomber would disappear for days without any communication. So, while she may have been unaware of why she engaged in bombing behavior, she was certainly aware of what she was doing after we met.
A co-dependent bomber may cling to some idealized, romantic fantasy of love and try to change their partner to meet this expectation. This leaves the bomber and victim feeling resentful and unloved. Without therapy and self-reflection, co-dependents can remain largely unaware of the actual dynamics of the relationship.
Are Love Bombers Dangerous?
Yes, love bombing is dangerous in that it does emotional and psychological harm to the victim.
In All You Should Know About Narcissistic Love Bombing in Psychology Today, Darlene Lancer writes,
“As reality creeps into the relationship, they discover that their partner is inadequate or fear that their flawed, empty self will be revealed as expectations for emotional intimacy increase. Any slight or imagined chink in their ideal image of their partner feels painful. As narcissists’ vision of their perfect partner deteriorates, their hidden shame increasingly causes discomfort. They in turn project this onto their partner, whom they criticize and devalue.”
They look elsewhere for a “new supply” of ego massaging and self-esteem boosting. Of course, this leaves the victim feeling hurt, resentful and lonely.
In The Danger of Manipulative Love-Bombing in a Relationship, Dr. Dale Archer says,
Amy Brunell, a psychology professor at the Ohio State University who researches narcissism in relationships, says in the Times article, love bombing can go even further.
“It does plant the seeds for intimate partner violence because typically a person will finally have enough and want to get out of it, and then it’s really hard.”
Can Love Bombers Change?
Maybe, but probably not.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines an abusive relationship as “a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.”
Unless you freely consent to be manipulated and controlled—to be abused—the only solution is to leave the relationship. It’s far easier to do so at the beginning than it is in the later stages.
Narcissists do not change.
Co-dependents can change if they want to, but this takes time and therapy.
If you are in the dating game, there are thousand of potential partners out there who are relatively healthy and who will not abuse you. So why on earth wait for one of them to change?
Why Do I Attract Love Bombers?
First, if you see a repeat pattern of love bombers or other dysfunctional people in your life, therapy can be the solution.
In my case, it took some in-depth therapy to discover why I had a lifetime pattern of failed relationships. For most of my life, I thought it was some defect in me that made me an unsuitable partner.
Sure, I had my list of defects. We all do. But that was not the reason for my relationship failures.
It turned out that I was attracting and attracted to incompatible partners. My “people picker” was broken. I was subconsciously re-creating my parent’s dysfunctional relationship so I could fix it. This was happening in every relationship in my life.
Once I saw the warning signs associated with this attraction, the pattern was crystal clear. I could now see my personal relationship warning flags from miles away.
Dr. Raghavan also says that things that happen in a healthy relationship can also happen in unhealthy ones. That’s what makes love bombing so complicated and confusing.
For example, it’s a good trait to pay attention to your partner and it feels good to receive attention. We also feel good when we get gifts. In early dating, these are signs of interest, and of course we want our potential partner to show interest.
But if we are insecure, lonely, depressed, or anxious, we become vulnerable. Attention and gifts make those feelings go away, which can increase the attraction for that person. If they are saying all the things you long to hear, it feels good. So, we allow the bombing to continue.
My experience with love bombing started at a time when I was feeling pretty low because of a recently failed relationship. So yeah, it felt good to get all that attention.
How to Avoid Love Bombers
The key is awareness. There are two important things to remember:
- Dating is the earliest stage of a relationship. Love bombing behavior does not match what’s appropriate for the early stage.
- Dr. Archer says that given time, love bombing is very easy to see. In the short term, while in the midst of a love bombing event, it’s very hard to see, especially when vulnerable. So, give the relationship time. Take all things slowly.
To recap: some of the warning signs that you are being love bombed include:
- Excessive gifts.
- Excessive texts, emails or phone calls.
- Claims that they’ve found their soulmate, that you’re perfect together, or that you’re instant best friends. The fact is, it takes time to get to know someone well.
- Incongruency in behavior. Does what they say match what they do? For example, is your “soulmate” dating other people? Do they sometimes disappear without explanation?
- Do they hint that you’ll be punished in some way for failing to accommodate a request? For example, if you don’t want to go on a trip with them, do they react poorly?
- It feels too good to be true. If you’re getting that feeling, it’s a signal to give it time. If the love bomber doesn’t want to go slowly, it’s time to end it and move on.
- Your gut is telling you something is not right. Listen to that inner voice, your instinct. It’s telling you something for a reason. It took me fifty years to learn to listen carefully to my intuition.
Time is probably the best defense against becoming a love bombing victim. All of the best relationships take time to develop.
Smart Dating and Love Bombing
Yes, love bombing is a risk. If you’ve read this article and done some self-reflection, it’s likely you’ll see the warning signs. When you see and understand the signs, you can easily manage the risk.
Go on dates. Enjoy the human interaction. We’re on this earth for such a short time. But give the relationship time to develop naturally.
Be sure to check out The Mature Dating Game Plan and Mature Dating Challenges.
In these, Daisy and I share our experiences and what we’ve learned so that others don’t have to make all the same mistakes we did.
Have you had a love bomb experience?
Please share your stories, comments and suggestions below so we can help each other out. We love hearing from our readers!