Can you tell the difference between love bombing and genuine romantic interest?

Jason Brien.

     Most of us have experienced the whirlwind of passion, romance and excitement that comes with meeting a new romantic interest. The start of most romantic relationships is characterised by spending every possible moment together, talking on the phone for hours on end, going on endless dates or spending large quantities of time in the bedroom together. The start of a new romantic relationship is also characterised by gift buying (flowers, presents, trinkets, etc). How can you be sure that you are on the receiving end of genuine romantic interest and not love bombing? Should you end a budding relationship simply because your romantic interest is showing an intense desire for you? Should people hide their romantic enthusiasm out of fear of that their genuine enthusiasm will ‘out’ them as a toxic person?

     Both love bombing and genuine romantic interest occurs during the very early stages of a relationship which is often termed the ‘honeymoon period’. As discussed earlier, the honeymoon period involves “bombing’ a new partner with excessive expressions of love, attention, time, romance, kindness, money and/or gifts. The goal of both genuine romantic interest and love bombing is to attract the attention of the person we desire so as to focus their attention on us and so divert their attention away from our ‘competitors’. From an evolutionary perspective then, love bombing is quite normal, healthy and even expected/required if one is to be successful in finding a reproductive mate. I am sure that you have seen the wildlife documentaries where one species of animal attempts to woo the opposite sex with grand displays of attention, gifts, flattery, colors, dance routines, etc.

     In nature, the one who impresses the opposite sex the most is the one who gets to reproduce hence the notion of survival of the fittest. Since humans are just another animal species, it can be argued that we still persist with these evolutionary behaviours/instincts in order to find and ‘win’ romantic partners. Whilst we may all be susceptible to these evolutionary behaviours/instincts, the outcomes of love bombing can be quite different depending on who is on the receiving end of the ‘bombing’ and what they ultimately do with all the attention, adoration, etc that they receive. Unfortunately, however, love bombing and genuine romantic interest have become unduly intertwined to the point that both concepts have become associated with toxic people only. For the purpose of this article, I am going to refer to genuine romantic interest as healthy love bombing (and so involving healthy people) and unhealthy love bombing as the toxic form that most people are familiar with.

     Love bombing is considered healthy when it continues in regular, periodic bursts well after the honeymoon period has ended. By regular and periodic I mean constant small and grand acts daily, weekly, monthly and yearly (i.e., kindness and loving words/actions on a daily basis, flowers at random times, gifts on special occasions etc). Healthy love bombing is used to reaffirm one’s love for another. Healthy love bombing is genuine romantic interest. Love bombing becomes unhealthy however when it completely stops after a particular goal has been achieved (i.e., “I have won her over so I can stop all this kindness now”) and leads to devaluation and discarding. Unhealthy love bombing can reoccur after the ultimate goal has been achieved, but only during a potential or actual separation. The love bombing will reoccur briefly but only in order to ‘win back’ the mate. It will quickly stop again once they have ‘won’ their partner back. It is this unhealthy, inconsistent and conditional form of love bombing which is commonly associated with toxic people.

     In order to clearly distinguish between healthy and unhealthy love bombing, let us take a look at love bombing which occurs between two “healthy” persons as our first example. When two “healthy” people engage in love bombing during the early stages of a romantic relationship, each person is obviously on the receiving end of the ‘bombing’. It is what these “healthy” people do with the feelings associated with this ‘bombing’ which determines the fate of their relationship. When a “healthy” person experiences feelings of being loved, needed, appreciated, supported, cared for, etc, during the ‘bombing’ phase, they are capable of storing these feelings away and investing these feelings into the long-term goal of developing a long and prosperous relationship. During times when a healthy person cannot receive attention, support, etc from their partner (when the partner is away for work for example, sick in hospital, etc), they can use these stores to replenish themselves.  

     Let us now examine the relationship between a “healthy” person and a toxic person. The “healthy” person goes through all that was mentioned previously so no need to repeat that process. The toxic person is greedy though. The toxic person is too heavily dependent upon attention and adoration so when they are on the receiving end of the love bombing (which as I discussed earlier is possible as a “healthy” person will also engage in love bombing in order to secure a mate), the toxic person consumes, rather than stores, the attention, adoration, etc that they are receiving. The toxic person basically consumes the raw product without investing it for the future because they are so fixated and dependent on immediate gratification. A toxic person who is heavily dependent on attention and admiration is much like a diesel generator. The toxic person can only ‘operate’ so long as there is fuel powering them.

     When a toxic person consumes all of that which they received during the bombing phase from their healthy partner, rather than storing at least some of it, they start spluttering and spurting much like a generator does when it is running low on fuel. Since they cannot power themselves, and since their sense of immediate gratification and entitlement won’t allow them to wait until the healthy partner engages in more love bombing (birthday, anniversaries, etc) the toxic person feels no choice but to begin discarding and devaluing their current partner and go in search of other fuel to power them. So, whilst the toxic person is out searching for more fuel, the “healthy” person is now heart broken and stuck with a storehouse of loyalty, love, etc that they invested in for a future which is now not seemingly possible. This is why the healthy person finds it hard to move on and why they cannot easily devalue and discard their toxic partner no matter how poorly they are being treated.

     If the toxic partner chooses to remain in the relationship, it is probably because they could not find another fuel source and so they would rather settle for a little of something rather than nothing. The toxic person prefers high quantities of attention and admiration but they can settle for a little temporarily but never none. The toxic person will only love bomb their healthy partner when they feel that their healthy partner is losing interest or is threatening to leave the relationship. This is when the toxic person is most likely to resume the love bombing. Once the toxic person is confident that their “healthy” partner is no longer going to leave them, they will abandon their love bombing and return to their usual taking, taking, taking but rarely giving anything back.

     If the toxic person comes across a fuel source, and that fuel source is offering more fuel that what the current source is, they will quickly abandon their current partner. Once that other fuel source has been drained, or has figured out the toxic persons strategy, they will love bomb their former partner again. This is essentially why the concept of ‘no contact’ can be an effective strategy to use against toxic people. By not allowing a toxic person to continually come back and refuel themselves before finding another fuel source you will be saving yourself a lot of time, energy and mental anguish. Going no contact should always be considered carefully because when a toxic person had no fuel source at all, they can become highly dangerous.