DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a long-time reader of your column and have found your advice helpful and enlightening in the past. I’m writing to you today because I’m not sure if I actually have something to be worried about or if I’m just making trouble for myself.
I met my new partner, let’s call him ‘A’, about two months ago, and things have progressed very quickly between us. A LOT quicker than most of my relationships – not that I have had many for comparison, if I’m being honest. A is charming, attentive, and overwhelmingly affectionate, which initially was really exciting and felt great. He showers me with compliments, often expressing his deep love for me, and insists that we spend almost all of our free time together. In fact, just within the first few weeks of knowing each other, he began talking about our future together, including moving in, marriage, and even having children.
While part of me is thrilled to be in such an intense relationship, another part is starting to feel overwhelmed and, if I’m honest, a little anxious. His rapid declarations of love and his urgency to progress our relationship feels like too much, too soon. I have tried discussing these feelings with A, suggesting that we might need to slow things down a bit, but he seems to take this as a personal rejection, growing upset and asking if I don’t love him as much as he loves me.
I have also noticed that whenever we are not together, he floods me with text messages and calls, sometimes becoming upset or anxious if I don’t respond right away. He often needs constant reassurance of my feelings for him and gets jealous easily. A has even begun to express dissatisfaction when I spend time with friends or family without him.
My friends are incredibly suspicious. They’re telling me that this is ‘love-bombing’ and it feels like an accurate description of A’s behavior. But I’m also conflicted, because none of my previous exes showered with love and attention like this, and I’m already anxious enough about being taken advantage of. So I really don’t know if this is me making problems for myself or if I should be worried.
I would really appreciate your perspective on this, Doctor. Is this love-bombing? How can I handle this situation without hurting A or damaging our relationship? Should I be worried about this behavior escalating?
Can I Trust My Instincts?
DEAR CAN I TRUST MY INSTINCTS: So this is an interesting letter, CITMI, because it’s basically two different questions at once. There’s the obvious aspect of “is this dude’s behavior a warning sign”, which we’ll get to in a second.
But there’s also the underlying question: when do you trust your Spidey-sense and when is your Spidey-sense just anxiety f--king with you?
This part is important, precisely because red flags and unfamiliar situations can seem very similar. It’s very easy to talk yourself into bailing on a good thing because you’re unused to being treated a certain way, for example, especially if you have an avoidant or ambivalent attachment style. It’s a little like when people complain they keep getting involved with partners who treat them badly; sometimes it comes down to “this is what you’re used to” or “this is the relationship your parents modeled for you”, and the idea of someone actually being receptive and responsive to your needs or actually giving you time and attention can feel unusual or uncomfortable.
Other times, it could be that you’re used to having your needs be ignored or never have them met and so instead you try to pretend you don’t have them and instead focus on trying to please someone else – with the unspoken belief that if you just give enough, you might actually “earn” their love and attention.
As a general rule, I’m team “trust your instincts”, but that requires your instincts are actually trustworthy in the first place. If, for example, you have a history of falling for people who ultimately turn out to be bad for you or actively toxic, then your instincts in those situations may not actually be trustworthy.
This requires a certain amount of self-awareness and trying to be as objective as possible about your own choices, so this can be difficult. Having friends that you can trust to be honest with you and who generally have good judgement can be helpful here. But at the end of the day, it comes down to how fine-tuned your Spidey-sense is and how often it works for you, instead of against you.
Now with that having been said: oh f--k yes, this dude sounds like trouble with a capital RUN THE HELL AWAY. I think your Spidey-sense isn’t tingling so much as screaming at you that something’s not right here.
I’ll be blunt here: love-bombing is one of those terms, like “narcissist”, “gaslighting” and others that caught on with a lot of TikTokers, Tumblr kids and other social media communities and gets misused constantly. Love-bombing describes very specific forms of behavior, and the way it gets misused and misapplied makes me grind my teeth to powder. Excitement, overly-enthusiastic behavior or even “being a little more considerate than the norm” all get called out as “love-bombing” and manipulation when they demonstrably aren’t. Watering down terms that have distinct meanings – especially in mental health – is the sort of thing that ends up making it that much harder to recognize actual red flags.
Love-bombing is frequently done deliberately as a way of overwhelming someone’s best judgement. A lot of cults or communities will use love-bombing to create an early sense of both connection and dependency in their potential victims. So do abusers and predators, for that matter. Someone who’s deeply insecure, on the other hand, or who has poor emotional intelligence can perform actions that’re similar to love-bombing but are rarely consciously thought out; it’s more akin to having really piss-poor judgement and pushing for a connection that isn’t there because they’re afraid of losing someone and have no faith in their own value.
But here’s the important thing: in your case, this is very much a distinction without a difference. There’s definitely something hinky with your new beau. Whether this dude is trying to manipulate you and keep you under his thumb or if he’s just deeply insecure and reacts by being over the top ultimately doesn’t matter. What matters is that none of this behavior is reasonable or acceptable, and it makes me worried for what would come next.
What matters here isn’t any one thing in isolation so much as the combination of behaviors and what those say as part of the holistic relationship.
The high amount of praise and compliments is sus, but not necessarily bad; some people are very expressive and over the top. This can be annoying and can seem performative, but isn’t automatically a red flag. It’s more akin to being a potential mismatch. The intense focus on future plans – talking about marriage and kids when you’ve not even been together for six months – is worrisome. That, in isolation, is the sort of thing that suggests a lack of emotional intelligence under the best of circumstances. Those would be reason to tread cautiously, or to bail entirely.
But it’s the pushback you get when you suggest slowing things down, the flood of texts if you don’t respond immediately and the way he weaponizes his feelings at you that makes me think this dude is bad news. The way he tries to make you feel bad about not being on his level already and the way that he flips everything to how it makes him feel? That’s the part that sets off my Spidey-sense and says something’s not right here, and I’m getting all of this second hand.
Put those altogether and you have a GTFO/DTMFA situation. It isn’t necessarily time to run like all of Hell and half of Hoboken is after you, but it’s certainly time to say “we’re not right for each other, peace out, cub scout” and never take his calls or texts again.
Now here’s the important part: I will bet you twenty bucks cash money that the instant you say this, he will push back. He will demand that you “work through this”, that you “owe him” an explanation or even that you’re being unreasonable. Fun thing though: you don’t owe him s--t. You don’t owe an explanation or a justification; you want out, and that’s the only explanation, reason or excuse required. He doesn’t get to veto your break-up, nor does he get to judge your reasons for doing so.
If he does, then this is when you want to bust out the magic words “BECAUSE I SAID SO”. “No” is a complete sentence. Anything that comes after “I’m breaking up with you” that isn’t “here’s where you can get your stuff” means that what you said isn’t final. If he gets you to start justifying the ‘why’, then you aren’t breaking up with him, you’ve just entered the opening stages of a negotiation. And once you’re there, it’s very hard to pull back to a break up. It’s best to just say “We’re done, you’re dumped, have a nice day” and just repeat it until he gets tired of hearing it and goes away.
Now keep in mind, it’s highly possible that he will go full-court press on you. My bet is that, if he does, he will go with a dual pronged approach of even more affection, attention and gifts mixed with weapons-grade guilt to make you feel bad about turning him down. It’s even money as to whether this would be that you’re being unreasonable or how he’s so unlucky, nobody loves him, everybody hates him and now he’s going to go stand out in the rain until he gets sick and dies and won’t you feel sorry then?
If he does this, you don’t go just nuclear (blocking him on every way he could possibly reach you), you go full scorched-earth, making it clear to your friends and family that he gets no access to you, no information, nothing. It doesn’t matter how seemingly harmless or insignificant the ask is or the information might be. It doesn’t matter if it’s something he could easily see on your Instagram account (if he still had access to it). Absolutely nobody in your life is to give him any information or access to you, no ifs, ands or buts. No passed on messages, nothing.
Is this unreasonable? To some, maybe. But they’re not you and they’re not dealing with someone like him. So, no matter how unfair they may think you’re being, you get to lay boundaries where you please. You are free to be as “unreasonable” as you want, and if folks take it upon themselves to try to “help” by getting involved? Especially after you specifically said not to? They get cut off too.
But hopefully it won’t come to that, especially since your friends are pretty clearly on team “DUMP HIM”. So, worry less about what to call this; the label means less than what you do about it. And kicking this dude to the curb with the recycling and compost is precisely what needs to be done.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com