In the Philippines, is love bombing any different from ligaw (or courtship)? Writer Marella Ricketts finds out.
“Paris is a city of love bombers,” a friend of mine lamented over coffee one afternoon.
Even if she meant this as a joke, she had every right to complain, having just experienced the woes of love bombing—a term I had learned from her earlier this year. She went on to describe her experience: girl meets boy, boy woos girl with romantic dates around the city, making promises for the future and referring to himself as her boyfriend after their second night together. Eventually his true colors started to show. It was when he said degrading comments on her outfits and made criticisms, disguised as suggestions, on her mannerisms when the adjective controlling first popped up in her head. A few weeks in, when she started speaking out, he grew cold, until he distanced himself for good.
Apparently this experience isn’t uncommon. The more people I asked, the more stories were revealed to me. There was one friend who was in a long-term relationship with someone exhibiting signs of narcissism who would often gaslight her. “Oh it was definitely love bombing,” she recalled, detailing how he would list down all the things he did for her to justify his behavior. In conversation with another friend of mine, who had recently experienced a few fleeting romances, I was asked, in an air that was reminiscent of Carrie Bradshaw: “What if I’m the love bomber?” I was quick to squash this fantasy by saying no, the difference was in his intention. He wasn’t manipulative; he simply wanted to love and be loved.
“Love bombing, a term associated more with pop psychology, is ultimately a form of manipulation and abuse,” starts Lissy Ann Puno, a counseling psychologist, author, and co-founder of the International Counseling & Psychology Centre in Singapore. She confirmed some of the research I had made, pointing out that this term has actually been around since the ’70s, first used to describe behaviors displayed by cult leaders.
“Initially, getting pulled into this web of instant attraction and ‘love’ can feel good. Who doesn’t like the feeling of being loved?” Puno says. “But the romantic love stage, characterized by infatuation, passion, and attraction, will pass. As this isn’t sustainable in the long run, the love bomber can replace a brewing relationship quickly the moment it requires more time, effort, and attention. There’s nothing instant about a healthy, authentic relationship,” she adds.
Love bombing consists of two stages: ideation and devaluation—one cannot exist without the other. It is about showering a romantic prospect with excessive attention, exaggerated statements and grandiose gestures, all for the the sake of gaining the upper hand in the relationship. Often, it is paired with narcissism. “Love bombing has been associated not only with narcissistic personality disorders but also anxious attachment styles and abusive past relationships. In the long run, the victim may experience self-doubt, confusion, and mistrust in others,” Puno shares.
Is this behavior common in Manila as well?—a question suitable to ask Ciari Luna and Bea Trinidad, hosts of the podcast show Thirsty & Thirty. The podcast, born in the middle of the pandemic, fearlessly explores modern love and dating, covering topics from getting inside the mind of a cheater to egg freezing.
“At the beginning of our podcast, a lot of listeners would actually write to us about love bombing,” shares Luna. “Personally, I don’t have any experience with this, but one of us does,” she teases, her eyes quickly darting towards Trinidad during our Zoom call. Their synchronized laughter reveals the many years of their friendship.
“What can I say? I love love. Love bombing is really good manipulation and it can be easy to be blinded by it. There are warning signs—saying ‘I love you’ too fast, showering one with words of affirmation, saying how unique you are, introducing you to family or friends too quickly. Social media only adds to its intensity and speed too. But as a former victim, I think it’s really helpful to listen to other people like your girlfriends,” Trinidad shares.
The topic of differentiating this from courtship also comes up. “There is a big ligaw or courtship culture here in the Philippines, of course, where everyone wants to put their best foot forward,” Trinidad says. Luna adds, “But what makes the difference is the intention, if it’s genuine or not. Whether something is love bombing or ligaw all comes down to the difference in motivation.”
Having heard numerous stories from friends, I thought I was smart enough to avoid potential love bombers. But true to the words of my sources, this isn’t easy, particularly when they come in the form of an attractive Frenchman. There were warning signs, of course: a palpable arrogance, pompous statements about his career as an artist and the effort he puts into working out. When I cancelled on plans once, I felt terribly guilty when he replied that he doesn’t usually forgive ‘faux plans.’ But he consistently showered me with attention and sweet nothings and soon, his arrogance turned into a funny quirk. When I woke up the morning after a whirlwind of a first date, I knew I was in trouble: I had a dream about him.
How do we make smarter choices to avoid experiencing this, then?
“Instead of focusing on the red flags you want to avoid, I think it’s good to focus on the green flags you want in a partner. We’re all works in progress. But we do have an idea of what works for us, so I think that instead of becoming easily scared with these red flags, we should focus on what we want,” Luna shares. Trinidad nods in agreement, adding the three things important for her in the beginning of a relationship: “Communication, clarity, and consistency.”
A lot of it, Puno mentions, has to do with trusting your gut. “If there are things that are quite unrealistic, such as grand gestures or statements that make you wonder, trust your gut instinct. When the romantic love stage passes, there will be a need to shift the relationship to something more authentic and sustainable. The question to ask is, ‘Do I feel safe in this relationship?’”
Others are smart to stay away, but some of us learn through experience. I still agreed to see him a second time when he invited to meet a few of his friends. I followed his cues, acting like one half of a couple because I was curious to see if it was worth it. It was not. He made a comment about women not coloring their graying hair despite having graying hair himself. Later, he invited to drive me home, his motorcycle glistening, tempting me like it did the first time. But I booked an Uber instead, happy with my decision to return home alone. I didn’t realize it then but it would be the last time we would see each other, my choice probably turning him off. As the car drove away, I watched him put on his helmet, his silhouette getting smaller and smaller until Paris swallowed him whole.