Sex, Love, and All of the Above is an advice column written by Psych Central’s sex and relationship writer, Morgan Mandriota. If you have a burning question for Morgan about mental health and sex, and intimacy, she’d love to hear from you! Submit your anonymous questions here.
Things started off perfect with my boyfriend about a year ago. He was literally the ideal person for me when we first started dating. I thought I found my soulmate, but then things totally changed a couple of months in.
He bought me a ton of gifts like new shoes, furniture, and even a new phone within the first two months of dating. He texted me all day every day and wanted to spend every single day with me. I loved that because quality time is one of my love languages. I really thought I hit the jackpot … then all of a sudden, it stopped.
He pulled back. He stopped buying me things. He didn’t text me as much. He didn’t want to spend a lot of time together anymore. It’s like the person I started dating disappeared into thin air and became this totally different person that I don’t even know or really like, and now, I’m left wondering what happened.
It’s been really hard for me to handle. I miss the old him and how giving and attentive he was. I even asked him what’s going on many times over the last few months, and he denies anything is wrong. He says he’s just stressed with work, and relationships get stale as time goes on. But I just can’t wrap my head around this shift.
I honestly feel like I was love bombed. I hear and read a lot about it and feel like this might be what happened. But does that mean he’ll never be that way again? I feel almost tricked into this relationship, to be honest. I don’t know if I’ll ever get my boyfriend back or the boyfriend who I THOUGHT I had.
Did he love bomb me? How long should I stick around to see if the old him comes back? What do I do? Please help me.
Dear Bombs Away,
Terms like “love bombing,” “narcissist,” and “sociopath” get thrown around way too much these days. Simplifying complex mental health conditions and human behaviors like these may be problematic and harmful.
But this increased awareness could also help spot potentially toxic traits and red flags in relationships with others, including our romantic partners.
In your case with your boyfriend, I think what you’ve read and seen about love bombing has opened your eyes for good reason. You’ve (very likely) identified the issue at hand here.
According to Ebele Onyema, the director of programs at One Love Foundation in the New York Tri-state area, you’ve described the classic signs of love bombing. These include:
- coming on strong in a new relationship
- disproportionate actions (e.g., lavish gifts and a lot of time spent together early on)
- quickly tapering off after the initial burst
- getting defensive about the change or denying anything is wrong when confronted
So, why do people love bomb?
For starters, you might feel relieved that it’s never about you. According to Onyema, it’s more about them. People who love bomb might:
- need you to believe they’re a good, loveable partner
- feel insecure and possibly have an insecure attachment style
- lack trust that someone could ever fall for them at a “normal” pace
- have a need to view and present themselves in a certain way to others
“Sometimes, we like to seek out psychological diagnoses and descriptions to try to understand a situation,” Onyema says. But in some cases, the love bomber could very well live with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or narcissistic tendencies.
But everyone may be susceptible to love bombing, especially those who really want a romantic relationship.
According to recent research from Thriveworks Counseling, 82% of Americans report being treated in ways that harm their mental health, including 20% of participants who have been love bombed.
After all, it’s hard not to fall for someone who sweeps you off your feet with grand gestures and promises of a beautiful future together.
I know you want things to go back to the way they were at the start of your relationship and you’re hoping that the longer you hold out, maybe, just maybe, it could happen.
But Onyema doesn’t recommend waiting at all. Instead, she encourages you to take action by talking with your partner again. Open communication will be key in this situation, as it is in all relationships.
“Using ‘I’ statements can help partners focus on the problem they want to solve together, rather than blaming each other for tension,” Onyema says.
For example, you might try saying, “I’ve noticed that we don’t text as much as we used to and I feel lonely,” rather than, “You’ve abandoned me and you don’t text me like you used to.”
Most important, Onyema recommends paying close attention to how your partner responds to your emotions. She notes that a healthy partner will respect your feelings and aim to find a compromise together rather than shut down, lash out, or play the blame game.
Best case scenario: You talk it out, understand each other’s perspective, and build a healthier relationship over time.
But Onyema warns that it’s unlikely that your partner’s behavior will go back to that initial level of intensity. And even if it did, that could also be concerning of a deeper issue.
“Love bombing can have similarities to cycles of abuse,” Onyema explains. “A return to the boyfriend’s previous behavior could invite a very unhealthy cycle into the writer’s life where the two of them fluctuate between intense and cool phases.”
That may seem like no big deal, but Onyema says this situation isn’t healthy and doesn’t usually improve in the long run. “In a healthy friendship or relationship, mutual investment and involvement build over time,” Onyema says.
Mental health professionals can be a great neutral, nonjudgmental resource for insight. They can help you better understand love bombing, narcissistic tendencies, and other red flags to look out for in romantic relationships.
Before I sign off, Onyema specifically wants to acknowledge what you said about “the boyfriend you thought you had.”
“Reading that really broke my heart because it gets to the core of what’s hurting the writer,” Onyema says. “They rightly feel tricked into the relationship because they were.”
I think it’s important to remind ourselves that many of the relationship ideals we learn from the media or romantic fiction are not always healthy, nor are they realistic.
Whether your partner is a love bomber or someone whose relationships fall flat over time, Onyema says that it’s OK to acknowledge your pain. Wanting, missing, and losing a relationship you thought was the real deal hurts, no matter what you call it.
I’m sorry you’re in this position, Bombs Away. I’ve been love bombed by a partner before, too. And like a hopeless romantic, I stuck around for months waiting for “The Old Him” to pop up again, much like you’re doing right now.
But he never came back. The truth is I just had to accept that and move on. I wanted to find someone capable of consistently loving me the way I believe I deserve to be loved.
If need be, I wish you the courage and strength to do the same.
With love and pleasure,
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