It started with a bouquet of flowers.
They were delivered to my desk Wednesday afternoon on a sad day. It was extravagant, over-the-top, bright red roses and waxy lilies shedding petals all over my keyboard. I had to dig through thorny stalks to find the map, which was scratched with a sack message.
You will be forgiven for thinking that it was my birthday, or that this romantic gesture was the work of a longtime lover, but that you were wrong.
Instead, my delivery during the week was from someone I met a few years before when I was traveling in Thailand. The part of Pad Thai and long and uncomfortable night buses initially led to informal texts to check in with each other as soon as we returned home. But a break from his side and a serious health problem from me brought him back to my life.
Along with delivering the surprise, I was bombarded with messages telling me how good I was; how smart; how sexy. As I struggle with the aftermath of my medical problems and a rapid and related decline in my mental health, the attention on me suddenly began to feel like the silver lining in otherwise bad days.
As I planned doctor appointments, he would slip into my inbox and tell me how good we would be together. Of course, the frequency was & # 39; somewhat disturbing; my phone lights up every few minutes, regardless of whether I respond to it. But I had a bad appointment, and too much attention was certainly better than none at one time like this.
Looking back now, the warning signs were clear. Although I had never heard of the term at the time, the idea of & # 39; love bombs & # 39; recently entered public awareness and is almost perfectly connected to his behavior. The practice of love bombing is currently characterized by extravagant gestures and displays of affection, and is often cited as a sign of coercive control.
Love bombers tend to use an initial barrage of affection to later dominate the object of their attention. Once they have a romantic interest, they either pull off their adorable behavior or alternately dress up, leaving their partner desperate for the addictive climax of their approval.
In my case, the relationship came to a halt faster than my love bomber hoped. After a few months of sex that he insisted on being the best he ever had, he was swept out of the city on weekends and endlessly expensive meals, I turned things off. I was at a crossroads in my life and could not see a future with him.
I knew it was the right thing to do, but still felt awful. After all, I told myself: I sadly remembered how he had recently been driving for three hours just to watch The Great British Bake Off with me – see how much he loved me! The fact that & # 39; s a six-hour trip for a few hours of television together was far from normal behavior hardly even took me over.
But if his actions, while we were briefly together, were troubling, then his reaction to the breakup was much worse. The tirade of loving messages I've been accustomed to receiving quickly turns into streams of unwanted, and sometimes abusive, words.
When I felt guilty, I initially apologized, answered and reasoned with him. But every time I beg to be left alone, the contact will act. More flowers and gifts that I was forced to raise sheepishly at my office. Long emails sent to my work account. Books delivered to my front door with notes inside. Abusive posts on my Facebook page, and late night voice messages in which he would threaten to end his life unless I spoke to him.
I started blocking him on social media, but new accounts would come up to replace the latest one I had not yet befriended.
Although he lived there for hours, there were clues that he was in my local area. Even after I went to the police, the harassment continued, six months from fear of checking my phone.
And yet, despite the abuse I experienced, I felt guilty. One of the problems with love bombing is that popular culture paints a bombardment of attention as the pinnacle of romance. There was a clear connection between the obsessive behavior he initially displayed and the controlling behavior that emerged later, but rather than seeing the warning signs, I convinced myself that it meant or somehow earned it. After all, he must have really liked me. Maybe his reaction was only reasonable if I rejected him.
The dangers of love bombing are often overlooked because, who really actually if your mind is overloaded with gifts, abundant with attention, and assured of all your best qualities? But love bombing is a form of abuse – it forces you into a state of vulnerability that allows you to be easily manipulated, leaving you open to much more sinister and harmful behavior.
Even after he finally left me alone, my love bombing experience and the harassment on which it paved the way had a huge impact on me. I was wary of any candid display of affection and was convinced that the simplest gesture should indicate some sinister motive. I was afraid to allow myself to open to everyone, intensely aware of how easily your vulnerability could turn against you.
I'm now in a new relationship with someone who took years to get to know me before making the first move. This new love is a serious relief from my previous relationship. It made me realize that the social narratives that normalize love bombs are absurd. If someone you hardly know says he can't live without you, it is likely to say more about them than about you.
Relationships are rewarding but complicated things. They need parity in how you feel about each other. They are not supposed to look like & # 39; rom-com. And they often start slowly, with a gradual fall rather than a dizzying lead. And if they seem too good at first to be true, then maybe it is.