Note: This post contains mentions of abuse and domestic violence.
When the story of "West Elm Caleb" dominated TikTok, it also sparked a conversation about love bombing: an early-stage relationship tactic of showering a romantic interest with over-the-top displays of attention and affection, followed by abuse.
Recently, u/-ethereality- asked women, "How did you know you were being love bombed?" In response, many women bravely shared their stories of being love bombed by partners, family, and friends, and how they recognized the signs:
1."When he was courting me, he was like a romance novel. When we fought, he would turn into a complete monster and do anything to hurt me, mentally and emotionally. And then when he thought I was about to leave, he would be like a romance novel again. When I finally had enough and decided I was in fact leaving, he turned so mean I didn't even recognize him. He pulled the breakers from the breaker box and left for four days, leaving my daughter and I with no power or water. In July, in Alabama. He also bolted locks on the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator. The breakup was a year ago. I've maintained no contact."
"He messages me about once a month asking why I won't talk to him. He cannot believe that I don't want him in my life anymore."
2."I didn’t figure it out until I told him I was leaving, for real, after 13 years of marriage. I agreed to one counseling session to appease him and the treacle that flowed out of his mouth — how great I am, how much he loves me, blah blah blah — was so fucking fake and inconsistent with his actions. I was physically repulsed. He was so kind when he was begging me not to leave him, and then so cruel when he realized I wasn’t backing down. So cruel. It was unreal."
3."It happened after every screaming session. My mom would just go off on me for the most random of reasons, very 'wire hangers, mommy dearest.' Then afterwards, it was a complete 180, with lots of hugs and kisses and affection. As an adult, I could recognize it in men and steered very clear. People who love bomb seem like they are trying very hard, because that’s what they are doing — 'trying.' Love and affection is a natural thing, not something to be forced."
4."I was pretty starved emotionally as a child. When dating became a thing, it was like I’d cracked the code to being loved — I was really cute and decent looking in my teens and early twenties, so it made finding boys really easy. The first few times, the love bombing turned into future-faking and eventually completely slowed to a grinding halt, then turned the other direction towards complete neglect or being cheated on. Those experiences completely destroyed my self-worth for a while. Then I had to put a guard up and really get to know someone before believing a thing they said. It took until I was about 25 years old to get there, but I guess that’s a pretty normal age to feel like you’ve really matured."
5."I figured him out when he began to project his insecurities onto me and gaslight me. He'd say things like, 'I bought you all these nice things and you still want to go out with your friends?'"
6."I dated an ex for three years that was incredibly abusive in every way except physically, though he threatened it a number of times. I can only remember this incident toward the end of the relationship — I came home to his house and there was a big bouquet of flowers with a cookie from my favorite place waiting for me. All this from a man who used to brag that a florist knew him by name because he went there so much for his exes, but not once in our three years ever bought me flowers. He never went out of his way to do anything nice for me. He came home that day and was suddenly being really sweet, asking if I liked the flowers and saying, 'Oh, did you see the cookie was from your favorite spot?' At that point, I had already signed a lease to move the hell away from him and was just waiting for the keys. I wasn't falling for it anymore."
7."Every thing I did was amazing. He got excited that my favorite animated movie was a movie he had only seen on time as a child. He didn’t even remember it! Yet, he cited that as a reason I was a 'perfect' match for him. Anything I did, even if it directly conflicted with one of his opinions, would turn into yet another reason I was perfect."
"I honestly didn't know this was love bombing. The concept makes so much more sense now. I had an ex who treated me like shit but our relationship started out with him saying I was amazing just because I knew who Future Trunks from Dragon Ball Z was. I was insecure and took the compliments where I could get them...even from a dude who seemed to brush his teeth only once a week."
8."My now ex-boyfriend wanted to get me a promise ring after three months, later added me to his life insurance policy without asking me, and somehow made me out to be the bad guy. He said I was overreacting and that he was just 'giving me the serious relationship' I wanted."
9."Any suggestion that we slow down or not make big future plans was met with sulking and the silent treatment."
10."A day after us meeting, he was texting me and telling me what a 'good girl' I was and that he wanted a future with me. He would insist I stay on the phone with him as he slept, even though it made me super uncomfortable. The last straw was him sending hundreds of messages in a row without response, and parking outside my house hoping to catch me on my way to work."
"He texted me from two different numbers for some odd reason. When I messaged him back and told him it was all too much, he said I’d never get another guy like him. When I reminded him that I didn’t care as I wasn’t interested, he invited me out for dinner and drinks...and later that same night told me to come over and watch Netflix. We had only been on one date, but that was a roller coaster I’ll never forget."
11."I didn't know until we broke up. He was very abusive, and I looked back at how he was when we first dated. I realized that if someone can be so extreme one way (love bombing), they are probably capable of the other extreme (abuse)."
"It also happens in the workplace — you can meet a colleague and they force some kind of connection too soon and talk to you like you're friends, not colleagues. Those ones are the ones to be the most cautious around. I learned this the hard way."
12."He stopped being loving when he got me. He quit giving me attention and barely spoke to me at all, like a kid getting tired of a toy. I’m still angry about it."
13."I just got out of it. He love bombed and gaslighted. He told me he was going to marry me on our first date. I thought maybe he had a strong intuition. Then came the compliments. Honestly, it was hard for me to believe most of them but they were nice to receive anyway. Then I came to find out he uses IV drugs and was cheating."
14."He pretty much immediately wanted us to spend all of our free time together. He introduced me to his kids immediately — I met his older son on our second date. When I told him I thought it was too soon for that, he just convinced me by talking about how compatible we were, how much fun we had together, and how great I am. I had been pretty lonely before then. I moved to a new city and didn't have many friends yet. I welcomed the attention and chose not to notice the stuff that bugged me. I remember a few weeks in, I was going to a friend's wedding and I ended up taking him with me. He kept telling me how he wanted to fast forward to the part where we have been together for a couple of years and he knew all of my friends and we were getting married. We weren't even together a month when he said that stuff. He was actually the one to end things initially, which led to a long push and pull of breaking up, trying to be friends, him wanting more, etc."
15."I am in a situation right now where I think the love bomb has finally exploded. Everything I do and say is wrong. I literally can’t get through a sentence without being interrupted by him. He called me a bitch, wrestled with me, and actually psychically hurt me. He wouldn’t let me hug or kiss him. Then I brought up that I didn’t feel good and cried, and he yelled at me for that saying I’m 'manipulating' him. I left and am scared to go back and face him. The love bombing leads to nothing but misery and danger."
"I feel like a fool. What do I even say to him when I go to pack up my things and leave?"
16."I knew on the first date. He kept talking about future plans with me, using 'we' — 'I’ll take you to this place,' 'we can do this thing...' I was like, 'Dude, I don’t know if I even want to go on a second date yet!' If I disagreed with him on anything, he’d either act like I was so charming or change the subject. Usually when I disagree with others, they’d explain themselves, which is great cause I want to know more about them and how they think. This guy kept hiding himself."
17."When he invited me to come on his study abroad trip to Europe. I had only met him once in person."
18."I knew once his actions weren't matching his words. In the beginning, he was really affectionate. He kept making elaborate plans for the future, gave me a lot of attention, and made me feel like he was falling in love with me in a short period of time. Two weeks later, he was just not the same. He kept telling me he wanted to meet me and still made plans for the future, but there was never follow-through. Initially. I chalked it up to him being busy or work stress, but after a while I realized that this inconsistent behavior was not okay with me and broke things off."
19."At the beginning, it was constant compliments. He told me everything I ever wanted to hear. I didn’t even realize what was happening. After a year, it all stopped. Then came the control and manipulation. He'd constantly tell me me how much marriage and kids sounded horrible. Then when I tried to end it after five years, he suddenly wanted me to be the mother of his children, saying we should go look at rings. I almost fell for it, but I’m glad I stayed strong."
20."She was, at the time, my most intense relationship — friendship or romantic. We had a tumultuous years-long friendship, marked by lots of build-ups to what looked like long-term romance, only for her to get cold feet, walk away, then come back around a couple months later, and start the whole thing over again. Each time was cyclic, the same pattern of testing the waters for how I felt. I was always still head-over-heels and happy just to have her back, and we would slowly escalate. It would be this cascade of how amazing and wonderful and special I was. I just ate it up because I felt that way about her too. The difference was I didn't ebb and flow in how I felt about her, which is why I always welcomed her back with open arms. She was deeply insecure and wanted me to try and fight for her attention and love, which is why she would withdraw it."
21."He was having a bad day and lashed out at me. He was too stressed to keep up the act, or pretend to be kind, and dumped me a week later. When I met this man, he would text me and call me constantly. If I didn't respond or answer, he would just keep going. He'd compliment every inch of me... even my butthole. He told me pretty much that he thought I was the one. He'd say he was going to take me and our future kids to France one day. We even debated about circumcising our said kids. He told me he was going to provide for me and that he wished I could move in with him...all within the first month of meeting."
"I actually thought, 'Hmm, I don't know what love bombing is. Is this that?' I ignored that thought because I enjoyed someone being so in love with me.
There were glimpses of him behaving in ways that didn't align with his words, especially when he would have a bad day or I'd try to set a boundary. But the facade didn't fully slip until that last time I saw him. He ignored me, hurt me, and showed he didn't really care."
22."I haven’t had this from a romantic partner, but from multiple 'best friends.' In the beginning, they made it a point to highlight how all our commonalities made us 'the same person,' or talked about how I just naturally 'got' them. That evolved to shaming me when I expressed a different opinion, had a different preference, or expressed any individuality. 'Getting' them turned into expecting me to anticipate their needs without communication. I felt stuck, shamed and accused, blamed and discarded."
"My new rule is anyone who finds my individuality threatening — 'why would you like that thing?' or 'why don’t you like my favorite thing?' — off the bat I know is not a safe person. Take me as I am, or not at all."
23."There were a lot of smaller instances leading up to this, but one time, I changed every single radio preset he had in his car just to see if he would actually get upset with me and finally stand up for himself. Instead, he apologized TO ME for having radio stations that I didn't like before that."
24."One guy ordered an expensive sweater for me after our first date. Then, he proceeded to talk about taking me on a trip to Hawaii. He kept wanting to take me out to incredibly expensive restaurants, the ones with four dollar signs on Yelp. But then he kept testing me and always wanted to know where I was and who I was with, one month into meeting — we were not together or exclusive."
25."I know I need time to warm up to people gradually, so no one has gotten close to me. The one guy who got closest I met one time very casually, and fairly shortly, at the beach. A few days later, I told him I didn't want to meet again. He sent a picture of a gift bag. He was trying to guilt me into giving him another chance probably, by expressing his disappointment because he had a gift for me...as if it was terrible of me to end things because he had a gift for me."
26."I was always put off by this one person who kept singing super high praises of me when we barely knew each other. I didn't feel flattered by it. It's not that I don't already know some of the things they praised me for, it's the way they tried to express it to me that turned me all the way off from them. Plus the way he would apologize sounded more like he was expecting sympathy than actual forgiveness. My suspicions were confirmed when I learned he was trying to isolate me from a friend of mine — I cut him off as a friend and he attempted to publicize it. It was just pathetic behavior."
27."My mom would act as if everything I did was spectacular...as long as it fell in line with what kind of person she wanted me to be. She never treated any of my siblings this way, so it caused a lot of jealousy towards me which I think was also part of it. If they wanted love, they needed to try harder. And if I wanted to maintain the love from the one person who could love me (because my siblings hated me), then I couldn't step out of line."
"One huge blessing from all this is that I can spot these signs and recognize when someone is trying to manipulate or lie to me, and I can handle it pretty gracefully."
28."He spent over $100 on me for our first date. Then when I went on a trip, he messaged me all day and kept FaceTiming me, begging me to turn around and just stay with him as a staycation. There was so much loving that I really thought I was so super special and that this man would do anything to have me be his girlfriend. But once I started reciprocating, he dropped the act and showed his true self."
29."I knew as soon as he wanted a relationship after about a month of dating me. I was fine with us just being friends and explained that to him. He was very adamant that he wanted a relationship with me. Before then, he was very attentive to every detail about me, from my hair to the color of my eye shadow to the design of my nails that week. He took me out every week. The first sign of his temper was one night I showed up 'late' to his place because I needed to re-do my makeup. He was very displeased over it, and I took note."
30."My dad did this to me every time he did something horrible, like 'disciplining' me with the belt, or throwing me outside in the middle of the night when I 'misbehaved.' It was repulsive to be held tightly in his arms afterward, with him crying and whispering fervently for me to forgive him. Fuck that. Now, as an adult, I cannot stand to be around him."
31."It is so weird to be with someone who only shows or tells you what you want to hear. For most things, my ex was like that. He never drew any hard line with me ever, until I said no to anal sex. Then he got weird and argued with me for five hours, because I had the audacity to draw that boundary. I was on the phone with him since we were at different colleges, and I didn't hang up or break up with him then — it took me another eight months."
"The final straw was when he got pissed that I wanted to hang out with friends instead of chat with him all night on AOL Instant Messenger since I finally had friends at school after two years of spending time with only him every night online, and almost every weekend in person."
32."He would ‘sincerely’ apologize for things he’d done, and then the next time it was brought up, he would turn around and blame me or refuse to acknowledge the things he did. When I was breaking up with him, he offered to pay for a tattoo I wanted, only to turn around and ask me for money for the things I was taking that were mine."
33."It started with 'I am so lucky to have you' three days after we met to 'I am always right, let me teach you.' He shut me down every time I tried to express an opinion. Our 'discussions' were a monologue. Everything I said was wrong. It was the first time I had a relationship that wasn't long distance or forced, so I fell face-first super fast. We got together less than a week after we started talking. Love bombing lasted for less than a month, then he ignored me and only wanted sex."
"I didn't realize it was bad until after I broke up with him because I was tired of fighting for the relationship alone."
34."It happened to my godmother. He wooed her for two weeks straight, proposed, and then married her within a month. Soon after he had her, he moved into her home. Then the violence began. Six months after she went radio silent on friends and family, she had to sell her home and flee the state where we live."
35."Because once I became dependent on it, the love went away."
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger as a result of domestic violence, call 911. For anonymous, confidential help, you can call the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or chat with an advocate via the website.
Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.