You’ve just met someone new, and they seem absolutely perfect. They shower you with compliments, lavish you with gifts, and constantly express their undying affection. It feels like a whirlwind romance straight out of a fairy tale. But what if this overwhelming display of love isn’t as genuine as it appears? Welcome to the world of love bombing, where affection turns into manipulation and kindness masks ulterior motives. 

As enticing as love bombing may seem at first glance, it’s actually a deceptive tactic employed by narcissists with a hidden agenda. Behind the grand gestures and sweet words lies a calculated strategy to win your affection and control your emotions.

In our quest to understand the intricacies of love bombing, we spoke to a survivor who shed light on the unsettling tactics used in this form of manipulation.

Casual dating leads to a ring and red flags

It all started when Priya, 21, met a guy named Sanjay at a party in Mumbai, India. He was six years her senior, handsome, and working as a model for Levi’s and MTV. 

He began pursuing her right away. She didn’t understand what he saw in her, or why he wanted to date someone so much younger, but she decided to give him a shot. 

“Things were good at first. He was a nice guy, he treated me well, he paid for things,” she recalled.

However, it didn’t take long for red flags to start appearing. The first one happened just four months into the relationship, when Sanjay gave Priya an expensive ring that bore a striking resemblance to an engagement ring. He told her they were soulmates who were meant to be together.

“I wore the ring because I thought it was pretty,” Priya said. “But then about a week later, he wanted a ring from me too. He stopped short of actually proposing, but I felt like that was just around the corner.” 

Love bombing turns to isolation and manipulation

Then, when Sanjay was sent on a work trip, he asked Priya to join him. She happily booked a ticket but didn’t realize this would now be expected of her every time he needed to go somewhere. 

“From that moment on, he expected me to go with him on every work trip, even if I was busy. I was working and going to school at the time, but he didn’t care about that. If I said a ticket was too much money, he would buy it for me. Then he started buying me tickets for trips without even telling me.”  

Priya then said that she could go on one work trip with him a month, but no more. He lashed out and asked her why she was “saying no” to him. 

Soon, he was only satisfied if Priya was by his side at all times. 

“I stayed over at a girlfriend’s house one night, and he called me from outside. He said he was there to take me home. He said, ‘I went through all this trouble to come get you, and now you refuse to leave?’”

Sanjay waited outside in his car for the entire night, calling and texting Priya non-stop. He was still there when Priya emerged from her friend’s house the next morning. 

“That was just the beginning. He would make me feel bad any time I wanted to go someplace without him. He would say things like, ‘Why do you want to go shopping with your friend when you can go shopping with me?’”

He later asked to meet Priya’s family – something that made her feel uncomfortable.

“My mother is very conservative and always told me to date with the intention of marrying, so I didn’t want to take this guy home with me. But since he was so adamant, I ended up taking him and introducing him as a friend.” 

paper pieces with LOVE BOMBING phrases messages from Love Bomber
Love bombers chillingly seem to know what you want to hear. (Shutterstock / Ariya J)

Priya’s struggle to break free from love bombing

When Priya realized once and for all that she was in an unhealthy relationship, she broke up with Sanjay. They got back together a few times, partly due to the fact that Sanjay threatened to kill himself as a result of their breakup. Other times, he would apologize profusely, saying he was a jerk and would do better.

“I got my journalism degree in London, and a big part of me going there was to finally get away from him,” she said.

But Sanjay didn’t let her go that easily. In fact, a week before she was due to board her flight to London’s Heathrow Airport, he tore her passport and the student visa that was inside it.

“I had to get an emergency visa and passport in a week, it was very stressful. During all of this, he was telling me that he couldn’t live without me, and that we should get married.”

Priya told him that she was going to England no matter what, and wasn’t going to marry him. When she told him that she wouldn’t have a British phone number until she arrived in London, Sanjay bought her a phone and a British sim card so she “wouldn’t be disconnected” from him. 

She believes he monitored her chats, emails, and social media on that phone, because all of her messages were soon marked as “read,” even though she hadn’t read them. 

“At this point, I knew this was completely unhealthy. I was worried he was going to show up at my doorstep in London, uninvited.” 

When Sanjay finally backed off, there were moments when Priya found herself wondering if she did the right thing by breaking up with him. That’s because sometimes Sanjay was kind and respectful, acting as though he truly cared about her. 

…But that’s exactly how love bombing works. 

How to recover from love bombing

Chloe Adel, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in New Jersey, says that love bombing typically begins with the ‘bomber’ paying the other person lots of attention, showering them with gifts, and demonstrating extreme attraction immediately into the relationship. 

That usually leads to the other partner feeling a bond with the love bomber. Once that connection is made, the bomber’s behavior “changes from idealization to devaluation through the use of manipulation and other abusive behaviors.” 

The consequences of those behaviors can be present long after the toxic relationship has ended, according to Adel. 

“Individuals who have experienced love bombing may experience symptoms of trauma including hypervigilance, sleep disturbances, and other impacts on their everyday ability to function,” she said. 

She added that although there is no one-size-fits-all for recovery, those who have been on the receiving end of love bombing may want to identify healthy boundaries for future relationships.

“It can be beneficial to create a chart with three sections relating to boundaries. This should include non-negotiable boundaries, boundaries that are important but flexible, and completely flexible boundaries,” Adel said.

Fortunately, Priya was able to do exactly that. She set boundaries and went on to marry a man who respected them. They currently live in Vancouver with their two small children. 

The names in this article have been changed to respect the privacy of the interviewee.