Love Bombing a Love Addict: Connection in Modern Love
If you had asked me a couple of years ago whether I would ever be caught in the chaos of a love bombing situation, I would have told you (chest puffed, ego spewing) with sure-fire certainty that in no way would I fall prey to a love bomber.
I am too savvy, I thought. Too relationship jaded. Too … well, just too “aware.” LOL. Isn’t this the type of belief that inevitably leads us straight to the jaws of whatever we think we’re so decisively above?
A year ago, almost to the day now, I was love-bombed. And I was love-bombed in part because I am a (newly recovering) love addict. And yes, it still makes me cringe to write that. Of course, I could try to throw some pretty flowers on the whole situation. I learned. I grew. The experience was the catalyst for a deeper evaluation of my love addiction. Blah, blah. And all those things happened eventually, but it was still a jarring experience.
Fresh out of a long-term relationship, it was my birthday when I met ”Nick.” We were at a music release party in the mountains when he approached me as we stood among friends.
“I saw you in the street,” he said, smiling. “You were running around giggling and I thought you might be the most endearing woman I’ve ever seen. What’s your name?”
I rolled my eyes as I said my name, but I smiled back. What can I say? I love the validation.
When I recall what it was about the interaction that sucked me in, it was his intensity I found most alluring. Fueled by my addiction to the dopamine of affection, it was really the validation I sought. And I felt him following me around with his eyes as we danced the night away. Not in a creepy, “Fatal Attraction” way, but in the charming way one does when something is starting to take seed, when there’s a shine in the eyes of two people who have just met and discovered mutual interests.
“You bought a van? I just got done living in a van!”
I grinned. “I did! I’m going to travel the country with my cat.”
“I’ll send you all my camping recommendations.”
To be honest, I knew at the time I wasn’t ready for a new relationship. In fact, I went home that night to a bedroom I still shared with my ex (who had taken to sleeping in the guest room by then).
I had just told my ex: “I can’t do this. I can’t be with anyone. I don’t even know who I am anymore.” I was in no place, mentally or physically, to begin something new. But when you’re a bona fide love addict, you tend to justify poor relationship choices by veiling them as “connection” or “fate.” And Nick seemed to be keener on me than my ex had ever been in 2 years, so I jumped at the opportunity to replace heartache and wavering self-esteem with oxytocin and dopamine.
The chaos that occurred over the following month is nothing short of predictable. In the 30 days Nick and I saw each other, my lease with my ex ended and I moved directly into Nick’s home for the 3 weeks before leaving in my van, my cat in tow. I’d known this person all of 10 minutes before shoving a dirty litter box into his bedroom closet. Love was proclaimed. Work was ignored for cuddles on the couch. Extravagant dinners were bestowed nightly at the nicest restaurants in Colorado. Surprise flowers every other day. Not to mention a diamond necklace and $500 worth of clothing appearing on the bed as a gift.
As you can imagine, I was heart eyed. Who was this Prince Charming? And the truth is I fully would have committed to the whole thing, right then and there, had it not been for a fateful weekend in a cabin in the mountains of Leadville, Colorado.
As another extravagance, Nick had gifted us a lux stay in the mountains. With his dog and my cat in tow, we drove to a cabin on a mountain peak. I was sure this would be the most romantic weekend of my life. But fate had other intentions.
I’ll never really know what happened, to be honest. Nick has never been able to pinpoint the problem. What began with a deep conversation about our experiences with our best friends’ deaths ultimately set off a series of events that can only be described as horrifically uncomfortable.
Almost before my own eyes, as we toasted the memory of our two best friends, I watched him recoil from me. It can only be described as a light in his eyes suddenly going out. He got up from his chair on the balcony and walked inside. I let him have his space, figuring he was grieving. But in a series of hours, the kissing subsequently stopped. The touching no longer. He was quiet, mute almost. And we sat in silence in the cabin while I tried to make small talk and heat up dinner.
The next morning, I woke up hoping for a smoother day. But it progressively worsened, with Nick sulking around the cabin looking like he’d seen a ghost. Like he was being held hostage or suffocating just being in the same room with me. Eye contact ceased. And in a comic twist, he began to play a game of pool by himself, ignoring me completely for 2 hours while I sat silently in the same room, listening to balls clank together and watching him guzzle a liter of whiskey (a habit I’d noticed but chosen to ignore).
I had no idea what to do. No idea what to ask or how to behave. The discomfort only grew as the hours mercilessly ticked by. Finally, he asked if I wanted to eat in town. When we sat down to dinner, I brought out a game of Bananagrams (because I couldn’t stand the silence anymore) and we played six rounds until neither of us could face another round. And frankly, he became too intoxicated to play (again, a signature behavior I’d been ignoring until that day).
I finally asked what was going on. He looked at me point blank, with dark eyes, and said, “I don’t know. I’m freaking out. It all moved too fast. What am I doing? What are we doing here? I don’t even know you.”
I knew, right then, it was over.
And it was. In my incessant need to be love-validated, I’d grasped onto whatever shreds of affection were left when we got back to Boulder, but I sensed his resistance in every instance. It felt like he hated me. At a party that night with mutual friends, I watched as he flirted with other women in front of me, half blacked out on liquor. And it went on this way until I left in the van, where he texted me drunkenly once, then stopped completely.
“How can you treat another person like this?” I asked.
“We barely knew each other, Linds,” he said. “It’s not a big deal.”
That experience ate me alive for months. Like any love addict, I stalked his Instagram, stalked our mutual friends’ Instagram for signs of him. I couldn’t understand why. I couldn’t let go of the belief that the connection we had formed in that short time was meaningful. More meaningful than most. That he was just scared of it, and maybe had an alcohol issue, but would recognize the truth one day.
Of course, it was my own love addiction rearing its ugly head.
A year later, I still don’t think he has recognized what I hoped he would. He did eventually meet me, with tail tucked between his legs, and over a cup of coffee halfway apologized while I just nodded. Love bombing, I told him. “You did it to me,” I paused. “But I suppose I too am not innocent in all this.”
So what is love bombing? “Love bombing is characterized by excessive attention, admiration, and affection with the goal to make the recipient feel dependent and obligated to that person,” says licensed therapist Sasha Jackson, LCSW. To the recipient, love bombing feels like bliss because of the dopamine and endorphin boost they experience. I felt special, needed, loved, valuable, and worthy, which are all the components that contribute to and heighten a person’s self-esteem. Especially someone like me with a history of craving love.
At the beginning of a love bombing dynamic, everything may seem perfect. I thought I’d found someone who not only was into me but also showered me with attention, affection, gifts − all the validation and affirmation I’d been waiting for. Later, of course, the relationship turned into something I didn’t recognize anymore; all of it was gone in an instant.
Love bombing can be detrimental to one’s mental health and is considered by many to be a form of emotional abuse. Psychologists describe it in the context of the law of reciprocity. If someone gives something, then naturally something is owed in return. I put my blind faith into Nick and called it “loyalty” even as the roses became red flags.
We live in a world where dating is hard. Connection is even harder to maintain because so many in our generation are moving around, living online, particularly in the current pandemic..
I don’t categorize myself as a victim of a love bomber. I see it more as being at opposite ends of the spectrum: Nick a love bomber, me a love addict. Both of us − haphazardly, mistakenly, manipulatively at the time − tried to find connection in a world where it can feel hard to do so.
The experience shifted something inside of me, and for that I’m grateful. I began to look at my love addiction qualities, why I allowed a situation like this to happen, and what it says about my self-esteem, self-worth, and core values.
I’d be lying if I said it didn’t take a while for me to recover from that pain. It did. I didn’t snap my fingers and become a healed, self-love warrior. But I now see the roles both of us played and how I can grow from the experience, and that feels like a true fate.
A real outcome.
And I wish Nick, despite everything, a beautiful life of growth, too.