When Lucy* met Abigail*, she thought she’d hit the friendship jackpot. “I’d never met someone who made me laugh so much,” she recollects. “Abi was hilarious, well-travelled, and we had so many common interests, from spirituality to theatre. She showered me with compliments; I was flattered by her attention.” Both ladies had simply bought out of long-term relationships, and in addition each labored in IT – although Lucy was considerably extra senior than Abi. Within weeks there have been joint events, weekends away, even one Christmas collectively. For some time, issues have been nice. But after a 12 months of friendship, one thing modified.
“Abi started to slowly emotionally withdraw from me,” recollects Lucy. “We were in the back of a cab when she told me she wouldn’t be available for Christmas that year, which was odd since we’d been discussing it for months.”
Shortly after, Abi went away for 3 weeks; Lucy took care of her pet. “I made a joke on Facebook that I wished I could keep the puppy,” she says. “I don’t think Abi realised it was a joke – she commented on the post: ‘Well, if it bothers you that much, you can have my dog.’ I emailed her and said it was just a joke but she reprimanded me for judging her as a pet parent. I knew that was the beginning of the end.”
Looking again on all of it, Lucy seems like Abi was inauthentic from the start. “I think I was more of a valuable tool for her than a true friend,” she says, citing work situations the place Lucy helped Abi to get forward. “I feel like she used me – then when she had what she wanted, I was dumped.”
Experiences like Lucy’s are frequent. They are friendships which can be, in some ways, an extension of these fashioned between ladies in nightclub loos: intense, emotional, ephemeral. Take them out of the lavatory and into actual life, although, and issues turn into a little bit extra complicated. I name this “friend bombing”, a selected sort of friendship that varieties unusually quick after which – usually out of nowhere – comes crashing to an finish.
“It’s normal for some friendships to flourish in the beginning but become more distant through the course of our lives,” says Josh Smith, a counsellor on the charity Relate. “Often this is associated with life transitions: the friends we make at school or as a young parent might be less relevant to us when for example we leave school or our children grow up.”
The distinction between this typical course of and a “friend bombing” relationship is that the patterns can mirror these in abusive romantic relationships. “Like with intimate relationships, there’s scope for friendships to become abusive,” explains Smith, making the comparability to “love bombing”, a type of manipulative behaviour the place somebody “bombs” their associate with excessive shows of affection and a spotlight – solely to later do a 180, turning into distant and probably merciless, leaving the sufferer agonising over how they’ll get again to the “bombing” stage. “Psychiatrist Dr Dale Archer describes the love bombing pattern as IDD – intense idealisation, devaluation, followed by discard,” explains Smith.
Integrative psychotherapist Tasha Bailey explains that friendships reminiscent of these can undergo a “honeymoon phase” much like that which is skilled in romantic relationships. “This is an exciting and hopeful time,” says Bailey, “as we imagine what this friendship could become.” There may also be emotions of discomfort on the tempo of the friendship. “An example of friend bombing might be when a new friend says ‘I love you’ or over-showers us with praise despite only knowing us for a short time. This can lead us to feel a pressure to return the favour, even if we don’t feel the same way.”
This occurred to Michelle*, 42, who struck up an intense friendship with a fellow single mum, Rose*, exterior the college gates in Aberdeen in 2018. “I’d gone to pick up my son, Andrew, who had fallen over badly that day. This woman I’d never met before started asking me about him and we totally hit it off from there.”
Over the course of the subsequent 18 months, the 2 ladies turned intensely shut. “The connection was strong,” Michelle recollects. “Rose would regularly flatter me; she really made me feel good about myself. We were in and out of each other’s houses all the time and the kids loved each other in the classroom and out.”
Things began to vary after Michelle went on the lookout for a brand new dwelling. “I felt a bit of jealousy,” she says. “I was moving to a bigger house because of success at work and Rose, I assume, started to feel resentful because she couldn’t afford to move despite wanting to.” Eventually, Michelle stopped listening to from Rose. “It was like she ghosted me,” she says.
Another girl, Ellie*, 34, recollects how she turned fiercely shut with Maggie*, who was relationship her husband’s finest pal. “After he broke up with her, she quickly became completely dependent on me,” Ellie recollects. “I struggled with my friendships as a child and I don’t have loads of friends. So, for me to have this sort of close friendship was a very big deal. I saw us as bosom buddies and imagined we would be friends when we were 80 years old.”
However, as quickly as Maggie entered into a brand new relationship, she slowly stopped contacting Ellie. They had one blow-up argument during which Ellie mentioned some unkind issues she didn’t imply – after which that was that. “I was shocked and totally devastated,” recollects Ellie. “I messaged her and she ignored me. Aside from snapping that one time I had done nothing but look out for her.” It took Ellie a very long time to heal from the dissolution of the friendship. “I would wake up in the night and struggle to sleep because I was so angry and upset,” she says.
There are a couple of the reason why psychologists advise in opposition to shifting too rapidly in friendships. “An instantly intense friendship can be a sign it is unbalanced and inauthentically developed,” says Bailey. “Since one person has more control over the intensity and intimacy of the friendship, the other is left dependent on their cue. In some ways, friend bombing can be emotionally abusive, as it can be a tool of control within that relationship. It is as though the friend-bomber has a remote control that determines the intensity of the friendship.”
Dr Marisa G Franco, professor on the University of Maryland and writer of Platonic: How Understanding Your Attachment Style Can Help You Make and Keep Friends, provides that by turning into associates with somebody too rapidly, you run the chance of constructing untimely judgements and turning into too invested in them earlier than you even know who they’re. “Just as in romantic relationships, instant chemistry does not always mean someone is a good match for us as a friend,” she explains.
Among psychologists, love bombing is commonly linked to narcissism. Dr Franco suggests the identical could possibly be mentioned for pal bombing. “When you become friends with a narcissist, they tend to be really charismatic and pull people in quickly,” she explains. “But as the friendship continues, they tend to turn people off a lot as their manipulative and egocentric behaviour emerges.”
This was one thing Lucy seen with Abi, who she says made a behavior of boasting about males being drawn to her, or flirting along with her when she went out. “I dismissed it at first,” she says. “We all have our foibles.”
If you are feeling like you might be being pal bombed, Dr Franco advises pulling again from the friendship and setting some clear boundaries. “Just be discerning and ask yourself if this is really someone you can rely on during your times of need,” she says. “Is this someone who you feel like you really know? Do they have other good relationships in their life? Slow down the friendship so that you can assess whether it is truly healthy. Just don’t reciprocate.”
Some individuals could also be extra vulnerable to pal bombing than others, significantly those that, like Ellie, struggled with friendships as kids and proceed to take action as adults. For them, the enchantment of a friend-bombing relationship is comprehensible. “It’s a way of experiencing the gains of intimacy while trying to skip over its liabilities; it’s like trying to have cake for your entire meal. But you can’t skip a step with friendship. You need time, consistency and varied circumstances to reveal whether or not this is a good friend.”
For those that have skilled it, Smith advises in search of help, both by way of associates or counselling. “This sort of behaviour can both exploit and be the cause of low self-esteem, which talking therapies can help to address,” he provides. Additionally, Bailey suggests trying on the friendship objectively, probably writing down the issues they’ve completed that make you are feeling uncomfortable. You may additionally attempt confronting them.
“If they are able to take accountability and share why they have pulled away, you can thoughtfully set boundaries together to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” says Bailey. “If they refuse to acknowledge it or invalidate your experience, this is likely a sign that this is not a friend that you need in your life. It is important for us to have friendships that are mostly predictable and secure.”
*names have been modified