The US Should Waste No Time Adopting UK's Official Stance That Love Bombing Is Abusive

With so many toxic dating trends out there, it was just a matter of time before one of them would officially get labeled as abuse. Now it's finally happened. The dating trend in question? Love bombing.

Although love bombing is not new behavior, more attention is being given to it because of its extraordinary prevalence in our society. It even appeared in a recent episode of "Ted Lasso" where Keeley is love bombed by her girlfriend — something that Keeley's friend Rebecca points out as a major red flag. While these are fictional characters, Rebecca is right: love bombing, in which someone is showered excessively with over-the-top gifts and attention, is a red flag — so much so that it's been added to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidance regarding signs of abusive partners. 

According to the updated version: "The CPS prosecution guidance on controlling and coercive behavior and stalking or harassment has been updated and advises prosecutors about the different tactics a suspect can use, including 'love-bombing' which is where they will intermittently carry out loving acts (e.g. sending flowers) between other behavior to confuse the victim and gain more control."

While the U.K. isn't exactly a picture-perfect society, identifying just how dangerous love bombing is and where it can lead is a big step toward stopping potential abusive partners in their tracks. The psychological and physical impact of love bombing can create long-term detrimental effects. That's why the U.S. should follow the U.K.'s lead on this one. It's time we identify love bombing for what it is — abuse — and prosecute suspects if there's enough evidence to do so.

What is love bombing?

From the onset, love bombing tends to come in the form of extravagant flattery and gift-giving, as well as declarations of love — far earlier than most people would ever say the L-word. The person being love bombed is so overwhelmed with the attention that they can become confused by all the over-the-top, swoon-worthy gestures — and that's exactly what a love bomber wants because the motives behind their behavior are actually quite sinister.

"Initially, you might feel safe, secure, and swept off your feet because grand gestures are a self-esteem boost and make you feel important and desired," psychologist Alaina Tiani, Ph.D. tells Cleveland Clinic. "But the love bomber's ultimate goal is not just to seek love, but to gain control over someone else. Over time, those grand gestures are an effort to manipulate you and make you feel indebted to and dependent on them."

In some cases, the person being love-bombed might try to pull away, especially when things become so intense that they don't know how to handle it — but when they do, they're made to feel guilty by the love bomber. Love bombing is a highly effective strategy to gain control in a relationship, and is thus used as a tool by abusers to justify or distract from their abuse. This isn't love and this isn't romance — this is abuse. Abuse that was perfectly planned out and executed in the form of love bombing.

The ramifications of love bombing

Although not a diagnostic term in the medical community, according to PsychCentral, love bombing is described as a form of emotional abuse by mental health professionals. But it doesn't always stop at emotional abuse. It can also evolve into physical abuse. The reason behind this evolution isn't some innocent showering of affection that went awry, but a well-devised plan that is made up of three phases: idealization, devaluation, and discard.

The idealization phase is all about sweeping you off your feet and making you think you've found "the one." Everything feels like a dream come true and because this behavior might be foreign to you, you lean into it. Once the devaluation phase comes into play, that's when tactics like gaslighting start to instill fear and confusion. It's also in this phase that things can become physically abusive. The final phase, discard, is exactly that: They're done with you.

Along the way, the person being loved bomb can even find themselves in financial ruin, as we saw in the Netflix documentary, "The Tinder Swindler." This form of emotional abuse is the "law of reciprocity," in which someone feels so indebted, they'll give the love bomber anything they need or want — including money.

Signs you're being love bombed

Although love bombing doesn't always look the same, it usually starts with aggressive attempts to win you over: flowers, gifts, compliments, PDA, and even talking about building a life together as early as the first few dates. It's easy to think you've found yourself in the greatest romantic relationship of all time, but then things start to go south.

"In abusive relationships, there is often a brief, intense courtship period followed by a desire to quickly formalize and deepen the commitment," integrative trauma therapist Laura Reagan, LCSW-C tells Self. "If the person seems to be madly in love with you days or weeks after you meet for the first time, or if you find yourself wondering how they could possibly feel so strongly about you when they don't know you very well, that's a red flag."

What originally started as signs of affection start to pivot. Your partner begins to make you feel obligated to spend more and more time with them by making you feel ungrateful for the lavish ways they treated you early in the relationship. When you try to set boundaries, they ignore them. When you try to assert your independence, they become needy and demanding, going so far as to insult and demean you. You may start to feel like they're no longer the person they were when your first met, yet because of the manipulation tactics they used, you feel like you can't break away. You also know that if you try, they're going to throw a pity party for themselves to win you back — just so the abuse can start all over again.

Love isn't stalking or harassing

As much as we can turn to films like "Say Anything," where Lloyd Dobler stands outside Diane's window with a boombox playing Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" and think it's romantic, reality is more complicated than fiction. Boundaries are an essential part of any healthy relationship. While Dobler winning back Diane with that scene is admittedly iconic, a man showing up at his ex's house unannounced would not be as charming in real life. In fact, it could be downright frightening. 

But the problem is when someone is being love bombed, it's not always easy to see things clearly. A dozen texts a day can be sweet, but if those texts are used to keep tabs on where you are and what you're doing, that's a different story. Love letters are completely charming, but someone breaking into your home to "deliver" those love letters is far from love — that's stalking. 

A perfect example of a high-profile case of love bombing was when FKA twigs filed a civil suit against her ex Shia LaBeouf in 2020. The suit detailed not only physical abuse, but the early stages of the relationship when LaBeouf would jump over the fence of where she lived to leave obsessive love notes and flowers on a regular basis. But not long after this phase, FKA twigs alleged LaBeouf made demands for her to prove her love for him, then the physical abuse started.

According to the Center for Disease Control, roughly 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men will endure some form of stalking during their lifetime. Stalking victims can suffer from depression and PTSD, and the majority of these victims are threatened with physical violence.

Love bombing can be a death sentence

Although someone of any gender can be the victim of love bombing, it tends to happen to women more than men. Which is a very important factor we need to consider when talking about love bombing. According to Sanctuary for Families, 70% of femicide cases in the world take place in the U.S., and three women are killed every day in the U.S. by an intimate partner. In 2018, 93% of victims were murdered by a man they knew and 63% were murdered by a current or past male partner. These are not statistics to take lightly. 

But we also can't stress enough that anyone can find themselves at the hands of an emotionally abusive partner who's using love bombing as their tactic. People need to be protected from abusers and if that abuse comes in the form of love bombing, then that's something the U.S. should take a stance on just like in the U.K. Love bombing shouldn't be dismissed as some lovelorn person trying to woo another with extravagant gifts and affection. It should be recognized as the abuse it is, and where there's evidence of it, prosecution should follow.