Dating is a minefield as it is, without finding yourself victim to toxic behaviour. Beware the latest relationship red flag - ‘love-bombing’.
I met Harvey on a dating app in January 2020," remembers 38-year old buyer, Carolina. Very soon it moved over to WhatsApp, and it was ‘good morning love’ messages and ‘goodnight beautiful.
|We kissed on our first date - something I had never done before - and he told me he loved me in Portuguese. (I’d told him I was Portuguese). I was very flattered."
Soon Harvey was coming over to Carolina’s house all the time. |He’d suddenly text on the way home from a shift and say, 'I’m on my way over'. It made me feel desired, like he couldn’t wait to see me.
"He’d turn up, and stare intensely into my eyes telling me how beautiful I was, that I was his soulmate.
"I pretended to be coy but really, I loved it, and soon I believed I was in love with him too."
For 42-year-old piano teacher Natasha, this all sounds familiar.
"When we first met, Rich would not only send me overly sweet messages, but he’d write them on my Facebook wall so everyone else could see them how devoted he was.
"He bought me endless gifts of flowers, books and chocolates. One time, I turned up to his place and he’d filled the room with lit candles and rose petals. He’d even written me a love poem."
It may have been different scenarios - verbal flattery in Carolina’s case; grand gestures and gifts with Natasha - but, unbeknownst to them, both women were victims of love bombing.
What is love bombing?
Trauma-informed coach and therapist Caroline Strawson, explains it like this:
"Love-bombing is someone ‘bombing’ you with all these different types of attention: verbal, physical, or monetary at the very start of a relationship."
That sounds quite nice - so, why is love-bombing dangerous?
"It’s the intentions and lack of boundaries that makes it toxic," says Strawson. "The love bomber thinks, 'If I bomb someone with all this attention, then surely they are going to think I am the best thing since sliced bread, and they are going to engage in a relationship'. It’s trying to get the love bombed person to feel obligated and addicted to the way the love bomber makes them feel."
And at the beginning, it does feel lovely.
|That’s because we are releasing all the feel-good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. But we literally get addicted to these feelings, making us reliant on the love-bomber which in turn, feeds the love bomber’s own insecurity wounds," says Strawson.
Because the love bomber is actually an insecure person themselves, they need to manipulate and control to feel good about themselves.”
One of the subtlest ways a love bomber does this is by showering you with love and then withdrawing it - which is exactly what happened to Carolina.
"The intense flattery went on for two to three months. He’d come over and have dinner, we’d have sex, he’d tell me how beautiful I was…
"Then I put my flat on the market, was in the process of moving to my mum’s and everything changed. He’d come round, have sex, then suddenly get a text and say 'oh, I have to go. I’ve been called into work.' I was really disappointed but didn’t feel I could say anything because he had such an important job as a firefighter.
"From that point on, he just disappeared. He’d say he missed me - and I would get excited he wanted to see me - but when I said, I’m free, let’s go for a walk, he’d say, “I can’t - but I love you."
When moving day came, there was no offer of help from Harvey and Carolina never saw him again. "The last I heard from him was a text that said, 'I am so busy, I can’t see you but love you.' It was like, now I was at mum’s, where it wasn’t convenient for sex - which is all he wanted - he dropped me. I have no doubt he was doing this to other women."
If the love bomber behaves in this way, why do some people stay in the relationship?
"Because they have their own inner child wounds of not feeling good enough," says Strawson. "They need validation from someone else to make them feel worthy.
"To the love bomber, this scenario is a dream come true. The love bomber is soothing the ‘not good enough’ wounds of the co-dependent, at the same time as having their wounds soothed too. This is what is known as a ‘trauma bond’."
And this is when things can go very wrong .
"Because the love bomber is someone who needs their every need fulfilled in a relationship, the minute that the co-dependent doesn’t behave in the way the love bomber wants, the real toxicity comes into it.
"This might come in the form of gaslighting with the love bomber saying things like, 'Oh you’re such a drama queen. Or, they might use controlling tactics like the silent treatment or guilt trips,' says Strawson.
Rebecca, a 44-year-old marketing manager, still bears the mental scars from her time with a love bomber.
"Mark was full-on from the start, but I’d been single a long time and was just so happy to have finally met someone I fancied and who fancied me.
"He introduced me to his mum after two dates and told her he was going to marry me.
"We went to Portugal on holiday after two months, and he stood on top of a hill and shouted. 'I love you Rebecca!' It was like the relationship was on fast-track: he had a property business and I started to work for him. I relocated to move in with him."
It was only when Rebecca decided she wanted to do an MA - something for herself - that Mark turned.
"The silent treatment at home started," she recalls. "He told me I was negative, critical and nobody liked me. I was devastated."
What can sometimes happen then is that the trauma bond is escalated. The person being love bombed gets stressed that things are turning sour and releases cortisol; just like the lovely dopamine and oxytocin at the beginning, cortisol is addictive and they get wrapped up in the roller-coaster ride of the relationship.
Both Carolina and Rebecca are still suffering with the scars of being love bombed. For Carolina, she finds it very difficult to trust people and her own intuition, for Rebecca it took her back to childhood trauma of not being good enough.
Sadly for Natasha, her love bomber turned into a full-on narcissistic abuser and she ended up fleeing to a women’s refuge, although now, two years later, she is happy and runs her own successful marketing agency.
"I still have nightmares and struggle to trust people, but I am much more confident fearless and stable than I have ever been," says says. "For anyone out there I want to say, there’s help and hope out there and it’s not your fault. Sharing you story is the first step in overcoming it."
5 red flags you are being love bombed
1. They give you excessive compliments. "Obviously, it’s lovely to get compliments but the love bomber will go OTT, all of the time," Strawson warns.
2. Grand-gestures like public displays of affection on social media. "It’s like they’re stamping a sense of ‘you are mine," Strawson explains.
3. Spending lots on you, drawing you in with gifts and expensive dinners.
4. Fast-tracking the relationship, so saying ‘I love you’ very early on; wanting to move in with you quickly. “You don’t feel like you’re ‘getting to know someone’ you feel like you’re immediately in a committed relationship, which can feel overwhelming," Strawson says.
5. A lack of boundaries, which if you push back against saying for example, “I can’t see you this weekend as I’m seeing friends”, they make you feel guilty saying things like, “But I’ve something wonderful planned, I’ve bought tickets." Then they try and sabotage your meeting with friends by orchestrating an argument beforehand so that you’re more focused on them than you are with your friends.