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  • Isabelle Morley, PsyD

Is "The Idea of You" A Movie about Love Bombing?

Examining if pop-star Hayes Campbell crosses the line in his courtship.

Spoiler Alert!

This post will discuss plot points from The Idea of You. If you haven't seen it, you may want to watch it first and read this after.

Podcast Alert!

Did you know that I have a new podcast with my amazing co-host and dating expert Kira Sabin? In RomCom Rescue we break down the love lessons from your favorite romcoms and, you guessed it, we did an episode on The Idea of You. If you want more great content about this movie, head over to your favorite podcast platform to listen to RomCom Rescue's to hear our analysis!

Looking at Love Bombing in "The Idea of You"

Love bombing has become an increasingly popular term for people to use when they feel someone’s affections are over the top. The term is often used incorrectly, however, and it’s important that we use terms related to abusive tactics with care and accuracy. So, with the character of pop star Hayes from the new Netflix film The Idea of You as an example, let’s look at whether the actions depicted meet the definition of love bombing

The Hayes-Solène Love Story Synopsis

In The Idea Of You, Solène (Anne Hathaway) is swept off her feet by younger pop star Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine). Solène has been divorced for three years, a shocking change in her life after discovering that her husband Daniel (Reid Scott) had been cheating on her with a coworker for a year. Solène had been willing to work on the marriage for the sake of their daughter, Izzy, but Daniel wanted to end things so he could pursue a relationship with the other woman, Eva (Perry Mattfield). Solène is on the cusp of her 40th birthday when she meets Hayes at Coachella (in a most unusual way). Despite misgivings about their 16-year age difference, Solène decides to be impulsive and travel the world with Hayes on tour while Izzy is at summer camp. Although they try to keep their romance a secret, the world finds out, and people judge harshly. Solène and Hayes try to make a real go of things but the painful scrutiny that comes with fame is too much for Izzy, and Solène ends the relationship. They decide to wait five years and reunite if they’re both still single and interested. (In the book by Robinne Lee on which the film is based, the couple don’t make this arrangement).

Love Bombing Defined

Love bombing is a tactic of abuse used to gain power and control in a relationship. Along with strategies such as isolating the victim and gaslighting, love bombing is a way for an abuser to manipulate a partner into obedience. In love bombing, an abusive partner showers someone with excessive affection, flattery, gifts, and communication. They tend to be in constant contact as well. The love bomber extends generous gifts and compliments and expresses shared values and goals as they attempt to ingratiate themselves. They also pressure the partner into commitment, such as becoming exclusive, saying "I love you," or moving in together quickly. The other partner becomes overwhelmed with the apparent love and investment in this process.

This inordinate affection does not last, however. The abuser will become wounded and angry if a partner does something to make them feel unprioritized or unappreciated—which inevitably happens. Love bombing can be seen at the start of a relationship with an abusive partner, and it can also happen following a conflict when the abuser attempts to regain good standing—and, as always, power and control.

Healthy affection, in contrast, might involve compliments and gifts, but its purpose is to create or strengthen connection and security. It's not intended to be a strategy for getting the upper hand; it's meant to express genuine interest and care for a partner.

After Hayes meets Solène at Coachella and then dedicates a song to her, he’s clearly infatuated. He shows up at her art gallery and proceeds to buy every single piece. She’s initially miffed by this, thinking he is carelessly buying artists’ works, but he expresses genuine interest in the pieces she has collected. After looking at even more artwork in a warehouse, he asks her out to lunch. Due to the unwanted attention his fame garners, Solène offers to make him a sandwich at her home instead. When they discover the fridge has broken, Hayes insists on helping her clean it out and separate the savable food from the trash. Here we see that Hayes not only spends money on Solène, but shares her interests and wants to help. He also wants to hear Solene’s life story and appears riveted by her painful tale of discovering her husband’s infidelity in a public setting.

The gifts continue throughout the film, though: He leaves her his expensive TAG Heuer watch. He offers to pay for a new wardrobe and fund her attendance on the European leg of his tour. And when Solène returns home to California, she sees a painting she'd long coveted waiting for her in her house. From the note attached to it, it’s clear that Hayes convinced the artist to sell it for a significant sum. From the start of their courtship to the end, Hayes is generous with his affection and wealth.

Is Hayes Love Bombing?

There is no doubt that Hayes spends a lot of money, time, and attention on Solène. He spares no expense. But is it love bombing?

One important consideration is if Hayes exhibits other behaviors of abuse. Abusers don’t tend to use just one strategy one time; they employ multiple tactics repeatedly. In the film, though, we don’t see Hayes do anything else that could be construed as abusive. He doesn’t gaslight Solène, he respects her decisions, he doesn’t try to isolate her (quite the opposite, actually), and he’s never physically threatening.

Another way to assess love bombing is to see if the person abruptly stops being loving and becomes rageful when they feel hurt. We don’t see this from Hayes. When Solène decides to leave the tour (and him), Hayes fights for their relationship with hope and sadness, but does not become cruel or punishing. In fact, he accepts her decision, as much as it pains him, and then offers to sleep elsewhere and secure a flight home for Solène.

There are other indications that Hayes isn't love bombing: He doesn’t pester Solène with texts or calls. After their initial breakup, Hayes understands her decision and gives her space. He maintains respectful and kind communication even after being left by Solène; he does not become abusive.

The Fine Line Between Healthy Affection and Love Bombing

It can be hard to see the difference between normal or enthusiastic displays of affection and love bombing, especially when a partner has significant financial resources like Hayes. He spends a lot of money as he courts Solène, but it's a genuine effort to express his interest and desire to spend time together. He can afford to buy her clothes and whisk her away across Europe, so why not? He's also generous in his compliments and attention. But when we're assessing love bombing, we need to look at three things:

  1. The use of other abusive tactics: Are they gaslighting, manipulating, demeaning, intimidating, or isolating their partner?

  2. Their intent: Are they trying to show love, or are they trying to gain power and control?

  3. Their actions after feeling spurned: Do they lash out, or do they continue to show respect?

When consider Hayes, we don't see an abusive person trying to control Solène. He respects her decisions, even when they break his heart, and even during their worst fight, he remains empathic. Hayes represents an example of how displays of affection at the onset of a relationship can be intense but not abusive. Looking at the larger context of their relationship confirms this.


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