How can one tell the difference between love bombing, and the usual excitement of a new relationship (especially romantic but it could apply to platonic as well)?
I think part of what makes it insidious is how difficult it can be to identify as a person caught up in that moment. Like you’ve properly recognized, lovebombing and the honeymoon stage of a relationship have a lot in common. I’ve made friends that I’ve hung out with for hour and hours, days on end. Was that love bombing?
Love bombing is nested in a greater pattern of control and abuse. Its easy for me to say something is love bombing in retrospect now that the abuse has been carried out. From my experience, I’d say you want to look for a few things:
Is the affection making me uncomfortable, am I able to stop it by expressing that discomfort, or do I feel otherwise subjected to affection? A difference in power can make it coercive. Always make sure you have the ability to safely express yourself. If not, that person may not be safe.
Is the affection disproportionate to what I’m looking for or does it feel unwarranted? Love bombing is BIG. Big displays of romance, huge compliments, constant attention. It isn’t just someone being nice and then being kind of a jerk when its not taken well. These displays have a lot of oomph because they are meant to take you off balance.
Do they respond poorly to boundaries? This is a red flag for literally every situation, but if the person makes you feel guilty for wanting space or doubles down on the raw lovey-dovey output in response to you distancing yourself, be careful. Getting mad or being mean isn’t their play- they want you to feel at ease and worshipped- so they will instead use emotional manipulation to maintain a vicegrip on you.
Am I being isolated? If the person wants you all to themselves without concern for your other relationships, if they vocally put down or demean your other relationships, if they create situations where you’re alone or dependent on them, be very wary. Love bombing works best when you are outnumbered, have weak relationships outside of this person, or have no other sources of socialization. Its also relative to your situation- someone might notice you don’t have a lot of gay or trans friends and use place in an LGBT space to validate your identity and make themselves your sole connection to that environment.
To be clear, love bombing is not: someone becoming very infatuated with you in a one-sided manner, you falling quickly head over heels for someone, a group of people trying to get you to join their friend group, or a bad relationship that started out well. It is a specific tactic applied with the express intention of controlling and manipulating someone.
The best thing you can do in all of your relationships is to set expectations quickly and clearly. State what you want out of an interaction and what you don’t want, and manage the expectations of others as best you can by acting in a way consistent with your stated desires. People can often feel taken advantage of by mismatched desires, and communication is the best medicine for that.