Red flags: What is love bombing and why is it bad?

Take care of yourself and your friends by getting to know the signs of relationship red flags

Imagine: it’s a whirlwind romance. A new relationship is blossoming, and the compliments are flying fast and thick.

“I’ve never met someone like you before,” they say. “Don’t you think there’s something really special between us?”

It’s your second date, and it’s flattering. You want to think it’s true, and you’re excited by the potential of where this new connection could lead.

A few weeks pass, things have been going well. You’ve been seeing each other a lot. They ask what the two of you are doing on the weekend. You tell them you already have plans to go to a friend’s birthday. “I really wanted to see you though,” they say. “Stay with me – we’re having so much fun with each other. I don’t think you should go.”

You do go to your friend’s birthday, but while you’re out, they’ve sent you eight messages: “I miss you”, “I wish you were here”, “I’m so lonely without you”, “You should ditch the party and come here instead…”, “Message me back… jk jk! but for real…”

You’re being smothered with affection and attention. You’re being love bombed.

Love bombing is a type of non-physical violence – and one that frequently leads to further abuse, both physical and non-physical.  

It can be extravagant gestures, but it can also look like:

  • regular and constant gifts
  • excessive compliments
  • wanting to spend all your time together, or needing to be in constant communication throughout the day
  • moving the relationship along more quickly than you expected – saying “I love you” very early on, wanting to make things “official” straight away, or making plans to move in together
  • talking about how they know you’re “the one”, your relationship was “predestined”, or how they want to skip to the “real” relationship.

Why is love bombing a red flag?

Love bombing is a type of emotional manipulation. It’s a tactic that is trying to force your trust and dependence, so the love bomber quickly becomes the most important person in your life. Later in the relationship, it’s easier for them to devalue or discard you, or even make you feel like you’re the one who has been doing something “wrong”. You’re more likely to bend to their will (by compromising your own boundaries), or do things you don’t want to do to “win back” their affection.

It can be particularly dangerous for people who are missing attention or affection in their non-romantic relationships.

And because emotional and psychological abuse doesn’t leave physical scars, the abuser has the power to make it an environment of fear, control and submission. They can easily deny that they’ve done anything wrong – and even turn that back around on you: “why would you question my kindness?”

Love bombing is a red flag because it’s a frequent indicator of further and escalating psychological and physical violence.

What’s the difference between love bombing and just really liking someone?

In the media, extravagant, fast-moving and love-at-first-sight relationships are often presented as the peak of romance. We’re told that being in a relationship is the ideal state, and being single is a condition we should shed as soon as we can. And realistically, new relationships are fun and exciting!

So when is it a red flag and when is it just well-intentioned enthusiasm?

The easiest way to check is set and respect your personal boundaries. Make sure you stay connected to your pre-relationship life. When a new partner is appearing too keen too quick, watching how they respond to your boundaries will help you see their true colours.

Let’s go back to the day after that birthday party with your friends. Your new partner starts to challenge: “Why didn’t you text me back?” You uphold your boundary and answer, “I was enjoying my time with my friends – none of us had our phones out.” Do they say:

  1. “That’s fair enough. Next time I know you’re busy, I won’t expect you to answer.”
  2. “If you really cared about me, you would have messaged me back.”

When your new partner acknowledges and respects your boundary, that’s a good sign. But when they push back, they are telling you that they think you should prioritise them over your friends, that your feelings can’t be trusted, and – if they get you to agree with them – that they control your decisions.

How to talk to your friends about love bombing

If you have a friend who is in a new relationship, and it sounds like things are moving really fast, you might be worried about them being love bombed.

While it may be your instinct to talk straight about it, being too direct about your concerns can sometimes backfire – and even make your friend think they shouldn’t talk to you about their relationship.

A safer approach is to prompt your friend to reflect on how they feel about it. Support them to develop and trust their instincts. You could ask things like:

  • How do you feel when they say that?
  • What do you think would happen if you wanted to slow things down?
  • Do you feel like an equal in this relationship?

Most importantly, make it clear that you care and will be there for your friend.

More help is available if you need it. Reach out to a specialist organisation for support or advice

Across Australia, we have a skewed view of what violence in intimate relationships actually looks like. What comes to mind is physical violence, or sexual violence – something that is much easier to categorise as “not OK”. But that type of behaviour typically doesn’t appear out of thin air. It usually follows non-physical violence – insidious behaviour that breaks down a person’s boundaries, instincts and self-esteem to gain control over their independence, autonomy and judgement. 

This post is part of a series getting to know the common types of non-physical violence against women in intimate relationships (red flags), how to spot the warning signs, and how to look out for yourself and your friends.

Learn more about love bombing from our CEO Em Maguire and women with lived experience on the There’s No Place Like Home Podcast.