Your room is dark, save for the luminous blue glow of your iPhone which sends a signal to the world that you are not yet asleep. It’s 11pm on a Tuesday night, you’re sitting in bed and willing yourself not to put the phone down. But you can’t.
You met him late night in the soggy final hours of a club night, the time period reserved for picking up other people’s lost loves from the black sticky dancefloor after you order another vodka soda lime that you didn’t need. That was three weeks ago.
In those three weeks, you’ve been on five dates, snogged constantly, slept together three times, planned a romantic trip to Sri Lanka and tried not to laugh when he said you were his ‘soul mate’ only semi-ironically. You’ve also not had a moment of peace but, for some reason, you can’t look away. The last time you saw him he gave you flowers. Nobody has ever given you flowers and these weren’t just flowers, they were your favourites: Cala Lilies. He found that out from your Instagram.
You’ve told your best friends about him. The responses were mixed. One congratulated you on the fact that you’ve managed to bag a unicorn. The other warned you that you’re probably dating a sociopath and implored you to run for the hills.
You’re looking at your phone because there is no message to read. He hasn’t been in touch for two days. The last message you sent him, responding to his about how beautiful the beach he wants to take you to in Sir Lanka is, has been read. It’s just sitting there, blue ticked off and languishing. You didn’t want to believe it was too good to be true, was it? He’s probably just busy at work.
If an iteration of the above sounds familiar then the chances are you’ve been love bombed.
Love bombing, contrary to what other purveyors of clickbait will have you believe, is not a new concept. The expression was coined by members of the controversial Unification Church of the United States in America in the 1970s. The phrase then started to be used in psychology after Professor Margaret Singer discussed it in her book Cults in Our Midst which was about how cults use persuasive and coercive techniques to recruit new members, she wrote:
‘As soon as any interest is shown by the recruits, they may be love bombed by the recruiter or other cult members. This process of feigning friendship and interest in the recruit was originally associated with one of the early youth cults, but soon it was taken up by a number of groups as part of their program for luring people in. Love bombing is a coordinated effort, usually, under the direction of leadership, that involves long-term members’ flooding recruits and newer members with flattery, verbal seduction, affectionate but usually nonsexual touching, and lots of attention to their every remark. Love bombing – or the offer of instant companionship – is a deceptive ploy accounting for many successful recruitment drives.’
So what have the recruitment tactics of some of the world’s biggest cults got to do with the guy who promised you everything and then went AWOL? Think of the seemingly perfect guy as a cult, he really wants you to become a fully paid-up member and, until you do, he’ll say or do anything to get you onboard. Once you are, however, he’s likely to turn his attentions elsewhere and this really should set alarm bells ringing.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction at Nottingham Trent University explains ‘love bombing is a manipulative strategy to make individuals more emotionally pliable’. In a relationship setting, he says, ‘the individuals engaged in love bombing are more likely to be egomaniacs and/or narcissists who like to feel dominant and powerful and/or love psychologically humiliating others.’ (See The Dark Triad).
As with so many distasteful dating behaviours (see breadcrumbing) love bombing is about power control. It feels so good when the sun is suddenly shining down on you and only you, but when that warmth is withdrawn you’ll feel the dark cold even more acutely than you did before. If someone you barely know is lavishing you with excessive attention and affection then, sadly, the odds are that sadly it’s because they want to manipulate you and you’re unlikely to be the only one. Dr. Griffiths explains ‘if love bombing is part of an individual’s behavioral repertoire there is no reason why they wouldn’t do it with more than one person at the same time. However, I don’t know of any research that has shown this to be the case but it wouldn’t surprise me if some individuals were unfaithful love bombers (but I’m sure there are serial love bombers who just do it from one relationship to the next without being physically or emotionally unfaithful).’
I’ve been love bombed more than once and, on both occasions, I fell for it. The pressure for a rapid commitment is troubling and uncomfortable but if you want to believe what you’re being told, and who doesn’t, it’s all too easy to ignore the warning signs. In fact, you might not read them as bombardment or manipulation at all because they fulfill the rom-com stereotype of what we’re supposed to desire because it’s ‘romantic’. A post-it stuck to the mirror when you wake up reading ‘soul mate’ after less than a month of dating? Texts from the moment you part until the moment you meet again? It is, truly, the stuff of fiction but, like reading fiction, this story requires your full participation and attention. By constantly flattering and communicating with you, you cannot focus on anything else which is where the control comes in. At its most serious this can be the foundation for a problematic and abusive relationship.
We’re hearing about love bombing in dating more and more, and everyone has a story to share. when I asked around the office, one woman instantly recalled the semi-urban myth of a ‘friend of a friend’ who ‘went on 10 dates in 10 days with a guy she met on Tinder – they spent every night together – and then he just disappeared into thin air.’ That story has done the rounds in her friendship group ever since. So why so many new cases of the Mysterious Disappearing Soulmate? Could it be that it’s happening because it’s easier than ever to contact the people? Let’s blame social media shall we, that’s always the root cause of everything, isn’t it…
Dr. Griffiths says that the Internet ‘tends to facilitate pre-existing problematic behaviour rather than cause it’. However, he points out that social media and online communication have probably enabled people with a propensity for love bombing. ‘It is well known that the internet is a disinhibiting medium and that individuals lower their psychological guard online’ he says, ‘in the case of relationships, the perceived anonymity of being online means that individuals reveal things about themselves, often very private things, because the medium is non-face-to-face, non-threatening, non-alienating and non-stigmatising. Individuals can develop deep emotional relationships online without even having met the other person because of the internet’s disinhibiting properties. Consequently, online methods of communication are another tool in love bomber’s armoury in (initially) showering their professed love for somebody and can happen 24/7 (something which couldn’t have happened in the days prior to online ubiquity).’
The moral of the story? Sometimes the best romances are the ones that look nothing like the movies, the slow burners that gradually and steadily develop. 7 times out of 10 if something’s too good to be true, that means it probably is.