Love bombing—a form of emotional manipulation via over-the-top gestures, gifts, and expectations—is typically experienced in romantic relationships. Think: Christian Grey in 50 Shades showering Anastasia with expensive gifts at the beginning of their courtship, or Kanye West whisking Julia Fox off to New York City the very night they met for a lavish date night. But as I have learned first-hand, it is possible to experience love bombing in friendship, too.
One friend said, “Love you” casually within the first month of us meeting, sent me constant BFF reels on Instagram, talked about how we’d get old together drinking tea on our porch. It was quite a shock to my system when that friendship came crashing down by the second month, when I actually had a problem and needed her to be there for me. I realized my reaction to getting “friend bombed” was similar to being love bombed in a romantic relationship—utter disbelief, pain, anger.
“Friend bombing” is essentially love bombing, but in a platonic context. It’s just as important to be wary of these kinds of grandiose offerings in friendships as it is in romantic relationships, says psychotherapist Jack Worthy, LMHC, who specializes in frustrating relationship patterns. “We’ve just met, and you’re offering to treat me to Taylor Swift tickets. We’ve just met, and you’re planning a trip for the two of us,” he says as an example. “It’s a level of generosity that feels uncomfortable and inappropriate. The invitations themselves are often exciting, but create an imbalance.”
Friend bombing can also look like excessive praise or constant need for communication. Danielle Forshee, PsyD, says friend bombers often want to know everything that goes on in your life, and share every detail about theirs—without accepting any boundaries. “A sign to look out for is having a high frequency of communication throughout a 24-hour period along with an expectation of a quick response time, and if it doesn’t go that way, conflict may arise,” she says.
“To move from a flood of positive emotion to an experience of rejection or conflict feels terribly destabilizing. It can leave you wondering, ‘Did I do something? What did I do wrong?’” —Jack Worthy, LHMC
Friend bombers may also have unrealistic expectations about their role in your life, adds Dr. Forshee. “A strong desire to be involved in all things you and part of your life are likely to be present in the friend bomber, whether this comes through at their specific request, subtle hints, or expressing hurt that you didn’t assume this would be the case,” she says. A former flatmate of mine definitely fit that bill—he used to talk about someday walking me down the aisle, and invited himself as my plus-one to an awards event. But when I decided to maintain some distance, he asked me to move out within a matter of weeks.
Why does love bombing in friendship happen?
The motives of love bombing are quite clear: gaining control over a partner. But that’s not always the goal (at least, not consciously, at least), with friend bombing, says Worthy. “The friend bomber wants connection, and that’s [likely] eluded them for most of their life. They’re excited to meet you and hoping you’ll be the friend they’ve never had. So the bombing is a seduction—not deceitful or manipulative, but an earnest attempt to build a friendship using the only tools they understand,” he says.
Individuals who jump head-first into new friendships and relationships are usually motivated by a strong desire to feel needed, attached, or accepted, agrees Dr. Forshee. “Usually, these relationships start on a high because of this, and [the friend bomber’s] hopes and expectations are high to get the need met,” she says. However, she says these relationships tend to end quickly because they are lacking in healthy boundaries—and not grounded in realistic expectations. “It’s only natural that when expectations are not met by others, we become upset,” she says.
Unfortunately, even though the intention of friend bombing isn’t always manipulative, it can certainly end up feeling that way if you’re on the receiving end, says Dr. Forshee. “Let’s say the recipient has a history of not feeling emotionally safe and secure in relationships,” she says as an example. Being love bombed, then ghosted, by a new friend would add “salt to the wound” of those old insecurities, she says, which is harmful and frustrating.
Getting friend-bombed can also be incredibly confusing for the recipient, adds Worthy. “To move from a flood of positive emotion to an experience of rejection or conflict feels terribly destabilizing,” he says. “It can leave you wondering, ‘Did I do something? What did I do wrong?’”
What to do if you find yourself the victim of love bombing in a friendship
Regardless of the intentions of the love bomber, you should not feel obligated to put up with this behavior. How to address it depends on a few factors, including how early it is in the friendship or whether you think they’d be willing to accept boundaries. “If you notice the friend bombing early on, I’d not blame you for dismissing yourself from the friendship [and] becoming unavailable,” says Worthy.
“If you genuinely like the person, you could try setting boundaries and expectations,” Worthy says. For example, if a new friend randomly presents you with very expensive concert tickets and it makes you uncomfortable, you could respond by saying something like, “Wow, what a generous gift. I could never say ‘yes’ to something like this. But I would love to meet for coffee again next week.”
Remember, “if you choose to say yes to the trip or the concert or the box seats, just be aware that conflict and awkwardness are on the horizon,” Worthy says. You will eventually have a need or a boundary that upsets the bomber.
Know what your personal boundaries are to begin with, and be sure to establish them as soon you notice a pattern of friend bombing. For example, if the person immediately begins texting you all day over the course of days, make a conscious effort to delay your responses, says Dr. Forshee. “At the end of the day, let them know that while you love talking to them and want to hear all the things they are telling you, you don’t like to be on your phone all day texting and will respond to them when you can.”
Remember, excuses are not the same as boundaries—and even though they might temporarily spare a person’s feelings, they don’t address the underlying issue. Going back to that texting example above, be direct rather than saying that you’re busy at work or some other reason for not responding. Otherwise, they will become aware of the days you have off and then you will have to figure out another excuse to reduce communications. Be firm and confident in your boundaries and be sure to remain consistent with them. “After all, this is your life, not theirs,” says Dr. Forshee.