One of the most exciting experiences is the beginning of a new relationship. The feeling is like no other. You’ve just met someone new and special, and the chemistry is electric. Suddenly, you’re swept off your feet in a whirlwind of romance. They shower you with affection, shower you with compliments, and play your knight in shining armor.
Dreamy, right? They seem willing to commit. They are spontaneous and romantic. They are protective and nurturing. In the heat of the moment, this can look like a perfect romance. However, research shows that these behaviors could be potential red flags in disguise. As intoxicating as a budding romance feels, it’s important to remember that sometimes love can wear rose-colored glasses—the ones that make red flags look green.
Imagine Sarah, who has just started dating Alex, and is swept off her feet by his irresistible affection. From the moment they met, Alex bombarded Sarah with lavish gestures of love and affection. He sent her flowers every day, wrote her love letters and constantly reassured her of his undying devotion. Sarah, struck, felt like she was living in a fairy tale. She enjoyed the excitement of being showered with affection and felt loved by Alex’s passionate displays of love.
Many in Sarah’s position would assume that Alex is a catch. Feeling loved and appreciated is something that everyone desires. However, this lovable behavior may not necessarily be a green flag. In the early stages of a relationship, excessive grandiose gestures and displays of attention and affection could be a sign of love bombing: a big red flag in disguise.
According research, people who engage in these excessive displays of affection may be struggling with insecurities rooted in their attachment style. Those with insecure attachments may seek validation and reassurance from their partners as a means to fill a void or soothe underlying anxieties.
Researchers have found that many lovers actually have low self-esteem. Because of this, they may see excessive displays of affection as a way to bolster their sense of self-worth and stave off feelings of inadequacy. In this regard, love bombing serves as a coping mechanism and a guaranteed source of reassurance.
Further research shows that love bombing can be indicative of much darker intentions and can serve four dangerous functions:
- Attached. To show how strongly the person feels and how committed they are to the relationship, and to observe and record the development of a strong, pervasive bond.
- Virtue signaling. To prove how pure, authentic and benevolent the love-bomber is.
- Gas lighting. To place the target in an immersive bubble in which they are manipulated into believing a shared fantasy—almost a cult experience.
- Inducing addiction. To drag the target into a self-centered illusion where they idolize them, creating an addictive cycle that reinforces the lovers’ control.
Once the relationship develops, lovers may occasionally withhold affection from their target. Placed in a perpetual cycle, the target can become addicted to the thrill of regaining the love and affection they were once given unconditionally. Constantly alternating between the cold shoulder and adoration can trap the target in an emotionally manipulative relationship.
In the beginning of a budding romance, it’s important to trust your gut. Pay attention to the subtleties of your interactions. True love is consistent, patient and respects boundaries. Most importantly, true love is something that grows slowly over time. The speed at which your relationship moves should always be closely monitored. Remember, love isn’t about grand gestures or constant affirmation, but rather the quiet moments of connection and support.
Imagine Michael, a devoted boyfriend who always put his girlfriend, Emily, first. He cared for her fiercely, constantly worrying about her whereabouts and always offering to accompany her wherever she went. Emily felt flattered by Michael’s attention. She appreciated his protective nature and the sense of security it provided, and she valued and appreciated his unwavering commitment to her safety and well-being.
In Emily’s shoes, it’s easy to see Michael as a dream partner. After all, who doesn’t want to feel loved and protected? However, this seemingly ideal behavior may not be as reassuring as it seems. Michael’s seemingly desirable actions could actually be a sign of a deeper issue, camouflaged as concern.
According research, there’s a fine line between protectiveness and overprotectiveness—and crossing it can lead to possessiveness and mistrust. An overprotective partner may try to rationalize his behavior by downplaying its negative effects, emphasizing that he is “just looking out for you” or that it is “what any good partner would do.” While this is a tempting narrative, it is also one that obscures the underlying issues.
While caring for a partner’s well-being is undeniably important, it’s just as important to recognize when protectiveness crosses over into the realm of control. Genuine care should not begin and end with safety and vigilance. It also includes respecting boundaries, trusting your partner’s judgment, and supporting your partner’s autonomy. Instead, controlling behaviors seek to limit freedom and independence, ultimately eroding the foundation of a healthy relationship.
In a whirlwind romance, it’s all too easy to turn a blind eye to red flags waving furiously in front of us—especially those that at first look green. Maybe it’s out of fear of hurting our partner’s feelings or the nagging fear of being alone, not sure if we’ll find someone better. Whatever the reason, ignoring these warning signs can lead us down a path of ultimate heartbreak. In doing so, we are betting against ourselves and risking our own happiness and well-being in the process.
Not sure about the messages you’re getting in your relationship? Take the evidence-based evidence Relationship Satisfaction Scale to gain clarity.