What Is Breadcrumbing? 10 Signs & How to Deal With It
Have you ever been talking to someone you really like when, all of a sudden, for a few days or weeks, they disappear, then come back with a flirty message or compliment? Or perhaps you've gone on a few dates with someone who seemed really interested in you, but they kept canceling or communicating with you rarely. In that case, you might have encountered breadcrumbing.
What does breadcrumbing mean?
Leading someone on via inconsistent contact, texts, and calls without intending to build a real relationship is known as breadcrumbing. A person who is breadcrumbing will give you the idea that they are interested in you but won't back this up through continual consistent actions and behavior.
Breadcrumbs are the calls, messages, and phrases that keep you interested and invested in the person conducting the breadcrumbing. Breadcrumbers behave in this way and leave these breadcrumbs in an effort to get your attention and approval.
Is breadcrumbing a type of abuse?
Some consider breadcrumbing a type of emotional abuse because it involves manipulation and control.
If someone is mature, healthy and capable of treating you well, they will be considerate of how their actions impact you and let you know if they are available or not.
10 Signs you are being breadcrumbed
Without being aware of the signals, it could be challenging to determine if you are being breadcrumbed (because, let's be honest, who would assume someone would do that?)
Here are a few indicators that someone is breadcrumbing you without any real intention of committing:
1. They are inconsistent
When you observe that the person you are dating is lacking in consistency, they may be breadcrumbing you. For example, if they keep tabs on you for a few weeks and then abruptly disappear without checking in, they stop returning your calls or texts, take days to reply to texts, and disappear from sight.
The big breadcrumb is when they reappear with a text or call just as you are about to take the hint and move on with your life. This is a way to keep themselves on your radar and keep you directing energy their way without them having to make a more sustained effort.
2. They change or postpone dates with you
Another tip-off that someone is breadcrumbing is that they don’t keep their dates to meet with you. They may stay in touch before meeting, but as the date draws near, they unexpectedly back out.
It's better to decline the offer and set expectations with them about your needs for consistency and follow through - unless you would like this breadcrumbing behavior to continue.
3. They play the victim
Most people who are breadcrumbing will deny that they are doing it. If you confront them about this conduct, they could either act like they are somehow the victim of uncontrollable circumstances or blame you for their absence by claiming that you should have reached out to check on them.
4. They choose unusual hours to communicate
How they interact with you is another potential breadcrumbing tip-off. Breadcrumbers seem to be able to energetically sense when others are vulnerable, open, lonely, or missing them - which is often at odd hours. Conversely, a person who is really available and interested will likely check in on you at consistent times like each morning, on their lunch break, when they get off work, or before bed.
Instead, you are more likely to hear from breadcrumbers in the middle of the night, or when you’re on a date. Since they are busy “working” or "busy" during the day, this is usually not when you will hear from them—unless they notice a social media post that indicates you're busy and happy. This may be a cue for them to reach out and make sure you start thinking about them again.
5. When you call them out, they temporarily pacify you with a behavior change, only to disappoint you later by returning to previous patterns
A breadcrumber will deny they are breadcrumbing when you confront them about it with excuses like "I've just been super busy" or "I'm just in a weird place right now, but it doesn't mean I'm not interested in you." They may even go above and beyond to express their interest verbally in you and send a few short text follow-ups or even call you. However, once they are forgiven and have been released from the hot seat, they fall back on their previous ingrained behavior patterns.
6. Their messages are ambiguous
Because breadcrumbers are usually feeling some conflict within themselves, their messages can be confusing. A part of them may like you and consider taking things more seriously, but a bigger part of them (the part of them responsible for their actions or rather, inaction) just doesn’t have the energy to invest in a relationship.
As a result of their inner conflict, their messages may convey their conflicting feelings. Rather than emphasizing the texts that indicate that they like you, pay extra attention to the behaviors and actions that do not reinforce what their words say. Liking someone does not mean readiness to commit (well, it might in your case, but not in the breadcrumber's case), and despite how conflicted they may feel, the part of them that is taking action is winning over the part of them that likes you.
Because breadcrumbers are unsure of what they want, they will send messages that are difficult to understand, which gives them time to continue to explore options and figure out what they are feeling while you continue to support them and pour attention into them. Taking time and exploring options are not inherently bad; however, breadcrumbing behavior will not be resolved by exploring options. Nor is it likely that a breadcrumber will end up with someone they have breadcrumbed. The fact that someone is accepting these breadcrumbs will slowly make them lose respect for that person, even though they act like that is what they want. In other words, don’t wait around for them because you think they will suddenly get clarity, you will pay the price while they reap all the benefits.
7. You have a strong connection when you are with them, but overall aren't getting your needs met in the relationship
You might have deep conversations and feel a deep connection when you are with this person. You may even feel like you love them. The breadcrumber may say the same things back to you, but if their actions don't make you feel loved and valued 90 percent of the time, let these actions speak louder than their words.
You may assume at first that they are concerned for you based on the words they express or how they act during the time you spend together. However, as they ignore your requests for more consistency or more clarity, you will realize that they care mainly for themselves and see you as meeting a need for temporary companionship while they figure themselves out. Despite your hopes, they likely don't feel the need to learn about themselves quickly in order to overcome this pattern and get close to you.
8. They use different platforms to grab your attention
Many clients observe that breadcrumbers will use unexpected channels to grab their attention. For example, a text may go unanswered when suddenly you receive a heart on a social media channel or they slide into your DMs with a quirky comment. Or, they completely disregard your WhatsApp messages and then text you something unrelated.
9. Your self-esteem starts dwindling
When a breadcrumb comes your way, you may feel elated to hear from your breadcrumber, only to have this elation followed by a sinking feeling of disappointment and anxiety as they fall off the communication train again.
Their compliments may feel disingenuous or empty and leave you feeling confused rather than good due to the incongruence between their words and their behavior. These feelings of confusion may lead to self-doubt as you begin to question your intuition. A healthy partnership should validate your sense of clarity and worldview, not make you doubt it, even when there are challenges in the relationship.
10. They play mind games
This is true of all kinds of mind games, however, some examples of classic breadcrumbing mind games include:
They deflect accountability, i.e. when you call them out after they have a very delayed response to your texts, they complain that you didn't try to call them to ask them why they didn't respond in time.
They try to dominate and be in control and ignore your basic needs and feelings, i.e. they leave your texts unanswered and then start a fresh conversation at random.
They seem to be looking for sex but act like they are looking for emotional connection. If they appear timid and emotional, but their behavior is they only reach out when they need something or want to be physical, they probably have sex as their primary interest.
Why Do People Leave Breadcrumbs?
While there are many reasons people breadcrumb, the main ones are
- Not being ready for a relationship
- Being self-absorbed due to life circumstances or (more likely) personality traits
- Wanting validation and attention
- Lack of self-awareness
What are classic text examples of breadcrumbing, and how should I respond?
"What are you doing right now?," “Wut u up to?” or “Wyd?”
This one can make them seem like great listeners if you take the bait.
Instead of giving a full reply, respond with a similarly low amount of effort and words, i.e., “having a great day, you?”
A single emoji
An emoji is the ultimate breadcrumb formula - Maximum emotional impact with minimal effort
Respond with your own emoji, a thumbs up, or a question mark.
A comment, like, or reaction to your social media posts
Reply to thoughtful engagements on social media, but there is no need to respond to likes or reactions to your posts. There is nothing to say about a reaction.
“Let's meet up soon."
This one places accountability on you. Put the ball right back in their court with “Sounds good, let me know when you’d like to meet,” and don’t count too heavily on it if they have flaked before.
How Do You Handle Someone Who is Breadcrumbing You?
It might be challenging to manage breadcrumbing since you may feel some push-pull in the dynamic and don’t know what to anticipate from it. Here are some ideas for how to handle this frustrating behavior.
1. Be transparent
Being open and truthful with the other person about your feelings, desires, and expectations in any relationship is important. They will understand that you care if you let them know that you are aware of what they have been doing. If the person you are speaking with is truly looking for a relationship and is available, they would apologize and promise to behave better in the future.
When someone is breadcrumbing you, it's a good idea to break off contact with them as soon as you know they aren’t serious to preserve your own sanity.
Your emotional and mental health will be helped by this, and you will free up space to concentrate on other potential companions. If someone has been breadcrumbing you, cutting them off demonstrates to you and them that you are taking your self-respect back.
3. Be honest with yourself
It's possible that you are wasting energy contemplating whether they're interested in you and how to be more patient, generous, flexible, etc. with them to help them see what they are missing. The best thing you can do is get really clear on what you need and let go of anyone who is not meeting that at the beginning of a relationship. Compromise is something you can do with a willing participant who listens to you, shows up for you, and doesn’t play games like breadcrumbing you. Compromise is not giving up your needs to make space for someone else to do things that feel bad to you.
Knowing what it looks like when someone is genuinely interested in you is also important.. Looking to role models - tv characters, friends' husbands or boyfriends, or parents - who model truly loving behavior - can remind you of what genuine relationship interest looks like.
4. Practice acceptance and letting go
Try to see a breadcrumber for their behaviors rather than basing your perception of them on how you feel around them or the words they say. Letting your feelings dictate how you see them causes you to see potential rather than reality.
Instead, look at their actions and see them as the sum total of those actions. Accept that they are unlikely to change these behaviors anytime soon. Let go of the fantasy that they will change for you, and let go of the idea that you will end up together.
5. Date other people
Typically, it can be challenging to recognize other people who are interested in you when you are busy engaging with breadcrumbing. It also might be hard to motivate yourself to get out there and date. You can start with baby steps - call a friend or make plans with people you already know. You’ll start to meet new people if you stay social, and you may even want to date someone you meet this way.
6. Respect yourself
It’s imperative to respect yourself, your needs, and your feelings and not to compromise those things for someone who is giving you crumbs. Always remind yourself of the people who do love you just as you are and from whom you do not need to beg for love, care, or attention.
Using breadcrumbs to entice someone to love you is manipulative. Remember, no matter who you are, you are worthy of a more mature relationship.
In conclusion, breadcrumbing is a harmful behavior that can cause emotional distress, low self-esteem, and feelings of confusion. If someone is sending you mixed messages, but doesn’t show any intention of investing further, watch out.
If you find yourself experiencing breadcrumbing, seeking the help of an online dating coach or a personal counseling service may be beneficial. Online dating coaches can provide valuable guidance on how to recognize and avoid breadcrumbing while also teaching you how to communicate your needs and expectations effectively. Additionally, an online therapist in Los Angeles or San Francisco can help you navigate the emotional turmoil that may arise from being breadcrumbed in these cities and provide you with tools to strengthen your self-worth, self-compassion, and boundaries.
Ultimately, it's essential to remember that breadcrumbing is a reflection of the breadcrumber and not a reflection of your worth as a person. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and honesty, both in the online dating world and in all aspects of life.
by CJ Maldupauna and Lauren Korshak
Frequently Asked Questions
Q.1 What is the difference between an online dating coach and a matchmaker?
A. Online dating coaches provide advice on how to create an attractive online dating profile, how to communicate effectively with potential matches, and how to handle difficult situations and situationships. They tend to be familiar with terminology like breadcrumbing, ghosting, red flags, and other difficulties you encounter in online dating. On the other hand, matchmakers focus on introducing compatible singles through personalized introductions and providing guidance throughout the process of developing a relationship. Sometimes matchmakers will offer some dating coaching as an add-on or part of their service.
Q.2 What kind of issues can be addressed through personal counseling?
A. Personal counseling is an important tool for addressing a wide range of issues that individuals face in their daily lives. Counseling can help individuals to understand and manage their emotions, make better decisions, and build healthier relationships. It can also provide support for those struggling with dating issues like ghosting and breadcrumbing, or mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress.
Q.1 How does online couples therapy work?
A. Online couples therapy has become an increasingly popular way for couples to address relationship issues without having to leave their own home. This type of therapy is conducted over the internet, using video chat or sometimes even the phone. Couples therapists provide couples with a safe and secure HIPAA compliant platform to discuss their relationship issues and work towards finding solutions.