Everything You Need To Know About Breadcrumbing

Look out for these signs to know if your partner is breadcrumbing you.

Reviewed by Nathalie Maggio, LMFT Nathalie Maggio Nathalie MaggioLMFT
Written by , Integrated MA, Certified Relationship Coach Sneha Tete Integrated MA, Certified Relationship Coach linkedin_icon Experience: 4 years
Edited by , MA (English Literature) Madhumati Chowdhury MA (English Literature) Experience: 7 years
Fact-checked by , Integrated MA, Certified Relationship Coach Sneha Tete Integrated MA, Certified Relationship Coach linkedin_icon Experience: 4 years

As a culture, we have been moving toward more casual relationships for quite some time now. The digital age has made it easier to meet people, interact with them, and move from relationship to relationship without committing to anything long-term. With this freedom and opportunity also come relationship struggles like dealing with breadcrumbing. But what exactly is breadcrumbing? And is your date breadcrumbing you? Let’s find out all about it!

What Is Breadcrumbing?

Breadcrumbing is the act of leading someone on through text messages, social media interactions, or any other form of communication. It is done by sending out flirtatious signals and then backing off before the person they are interacting with becomes too invested in a relationship. The breadcrumber withholds communication and affection when the signals are reciprocated. Breadcrumbers start looking for their next hookup while they keep in touch with you. They feel insecure with the prospect of any sort of commitment. They prefer digital communication over any IRL plans. These individuals may not be aware of the impact of their actions on the recipient.

Breadcrumbers may possibly feel like they will suffocate if they commit to one person. So, instead, they string people along by placing them on a long line. They often fear that strong connections will only end in rejection and pain, so they are quick to pull away before anyone can really get to know them well. Breadcrumbers may pull away when things get serious because it is hard for them to imagine being loved by someone else when they don’t love themselves enough to commit. They will often blame their behavior on your lack of commitment if you try to accuse them of breadcrumbing.

Woman looking at phone feeling confused and worried
Image: IStock

Breadcrumbing can make you feel confused, frustrated, angry, and even depressed after being led on for so long. Phubbing or breadcrumbing in relationships can also be a red flag that your partner is not fully committed to the relationship. This type of behavior is unacceptable if you want to avoid hurting others’ feelings or gaslighting each other. If you feel that a person is throwing breadcrumbs at you, it is best to delete them from your life by blocking all forms of communication and moving on with your life.

Check out the next section for some signs that you should look out for.

Signs Of Breadcrumbing

Disappointed woman waiting for her date
Image: IStock

Breadcrumbers use flirtation tactics to come off as interested in someone while simultaneously trying to avoid getting too close, often fearing rejection if they commit to one person romantically. The best way to deal with a breadcrumber is to simply walk away.

If you have not been able to tell yet, here are some examples. Your partner may be breadcrumbing you if they:

  • Only contact you through text messages rather than calling or seeing you in person.
  • Talk about their other relationships even though they are not serious.
  • Stay in touch with their exes from a previous fling.
  • Try to make you jealous by talking about other people or by flirting or sexting them.
  • Only show up when they are in the mood to hook up.
  • Make plans but fail to follow through on them.
  • Ask to see you but never make it a priority.
  • Talk about future plans but are never specific.
  • Are always available on the weekends but disappear during the week.
  • Are often around their ex and never make an effort to cut ties.
  • Often react with hostility whenever their flirty behavior is challenged.

Some other breadcrumb techniques include love bombing, stashing, orbiting, and cushioning. If your partner is breadcrumbing you, it is best to confront them or distance yourself from them. They are likely using this tactic because they have no interest in being in a relationship with you at all. Keep yourself busy and keep looking for someone who will truly value your company.

Ashley shares her journey in her blog, reflecting on how she recognized her value after being fed breadcrumbs in a relationship. She explains, “We wouldn’t talk for a week, then we’d go on dates and spend multiple nights together. We wouldn’t talk for a week, then I’d be one of the hottest, kindest people he knew. I could never fully comprehend where we stood or if this is what I wanted. My mood often depended on if we’d been texting or hanging out that day, or how long it’d been since we had last (i). ”

Moving on and staying away is the best solution. However, it could be helpful to let them know why you are moving on, how their actions made you feel, and why the situation doesn’t work for you. It depends on the situation, but ghosting someone due to breadcrumbing just puts us in less-than-ideal ways of communication and behavior.

Keep reading to learn how to deal with breadcrumbing and move on from an unfulfilling relationship.

How To Deal With Breadcrumbing

Fashionable woman moving on with confidence
Image: IStock

If your partner is breadcrumbing you, the best thing to do is to move on. For example, if someone tries to draw you into a flirtatious chat that leads nowhere, end the conversation with a smile and move on. Be patient and keep your eyes peeled for someone better. Otherwise, you will find yourself wasting time and losing hope. You can avoid getting breadcrumbed by not putting too much effort into the relationship if your effort is not being reciprocated.

Breadcrumbers will quickly fade out of your life if you don’t put too much effort into the relationship. When they feel like you are not putting in enough work, they will slowly start to pull away. Set boundaries with them and wait until things get serious before defining the relationship and making it more serious.

If someone tries to convince you that they are committed to you while ‘friendly-flirting’ with other people, it is best just to walk away. If they can treat you this way during the initial days, they are likely to take you for granted once things get serious. Breadcrumbers want others to fight for their affections constantly. If you make it seem like you don’t care about them, they will seek out other people who will satisfy their ego. Don’t allow yourself to be strung along with empty promises – it is not worth the trouble.

protip_icon Quick Tip
The best way to avoid breadcrumbers is by ditching meet-up plans with them, unfollowing their social media handles, and not responding to their calls and messages.

Many people confuse breadcrumbing with ghosting. Learn the difference between the two in the following section.

Ghosting Vs. Breadcrumbing

Ghosting is different from breadcrumbing
Image: IStock

Ghosting is when someone ends a relationship by completely disappearing rather than breaking up with you face to face. When they don’t even have the courtesy of saying they are not interested anymore, that usually indicates a ghoster.

On the other hand, when someone breadcrumbs, they give you crumbs of attention while pulling away for extended periods, so there is no scope for a confrontation. In this case, they still want to keep their options open, but they don’t want to cut ties with you completely.

protip_icon Trivia
The term ‘ghosting’ was popularized during the early 2000s and was used by the media while discussing dating and relationship dissolution. It was included in the Collins English and Merriam-Webster dictionaries in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

Now, many people think breadcrumbing is gaslighting given these both share some similarities as both involve manipulation in relationships, but they are not the same. Scroll down to understand the distinction between these two.

Is Breadcrumbing Gaslighting?

Are gaslighting and breadcrumbing the same?
Image: Shutterstock

Breadcrumbing is “leading someone on,” where one may flirt and spend time with another person but struggles with committing, often due to uncertainty or commitment issues. It can lead to emotional frustration and confusion.

Gaslighting, on the other hand, is a more deliberate and harmful form of manipulation. It involves intentionally distorting someone’s perception of reality, causing them to doubt their judgment and perceptions. It is a method of control and can be used to manipulate or even harm the victim psychologically and emotionally. It is a purposeful act to control and dominate.

Now, you must be wondering how to respond to a breadcrumber when they text you. Find out in the next section.

How To Respond To A Breadcrumbing Text

Woman showing emotional detachment while responding to text
Image: IStock

If someone is leaving a breadcrumb trail, it can be difficult to respond. If they are only giving you crumbs of attention, they will continue to pull away no matter how much you pursue them. So, whether you are excited about receiving their text or are furious at their behavior, it is best to avoid responding emotionally. Contact them via a polite message on social media. Tell them that you noticed how they treated you and ask what their intentions are with this behavior. If their response is not satisfactory or does not contain any valid explanation for their absence, don’t be afraid to tell them that you are not interested in someone who does not believe in your potential for a future together.

Many people also engage in something called narcissistic breadcrumbing, while some might even just be catfishing. Learn what that is in the next section.

What Is Narcissist Breadcrumbing?

Narcissist breadcrumbing is a form of emotional abuse. Narcissists become increasingly aggressive when they feel like their partner is not giving them what they want from the relationship. They give out crumbs of affection and attention to keep someone interested, but as soon as they have had enough of that person, they will completely cut them off without a second glance. They will also go back to old relationships that they have already ended just to get a taste of what they are missing out on. Narcissist breadcrumbers are usually very charming at first, but when things start to get serious, their true colors begin to show. This is why it is crucial not to let your feelings for them overshadow who they really are.

Infographic: 7 Signs Of Breadcrumbing

If you are unsure of your relationship and feel that your partner is not as invested in you as they should be, you may be dealing with a breadcrumber. Breadcrumbers usually leave some breadcrumbs, such as their unavailability to commit or only communicating on their terms, that let you know they aren’t really interested in a serious relationship with you. Go through the infographic below to learn some of the signs of breadcrumbing.

7 signs of breadcrumbing (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that any efforts from your end regarding a breadcrumber will lead anywhere – because it won’t. The only thing that a breadcrumber wants is for you to keep putting all of your time, effort, and emotions into them while not reciprocating even the bare minimum. This makes them feel powerful. Hence, the less effort you put into the relationship, the faster they will give up trying to pull you in, and the faster you will be emotionally free to pursue a good life partner.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens when you ignore a breadcrumber?

The moment you start ignoring a breadcrumber, you stop feeding their ego. Eventually, they will get the message and move on.

Is breadcrumbing toxic?

Yes, breadcrumbing is considered toxic and harmful to a person’s mental health. It is believed that breadcrumbers do this to exert power and control over people who have feelings for them.

What are the red flags of breadcrumbing?

The red flags of breadcrumbing could be canceling plans at the end moment, not showing up at the given time, and being too busy all the time.

What is breadcrumbing in marriage?

Breadcrumbing in a marriage can be identified if you find that your partner’s promises are all based on lies with no intention of following through. This mean that their love and attraction are also transient.

Is breadcrumbing a form of emotional manipulation?

Yes, breadcrumbing can be a form of emotional manipulation. The person breadcrumbing might play with your feelings and emotions initially through some sugar-coated words and later leave you hanging without any guilt.

Can breadcrumbing lead to feelings of insecurity or low self-esteem?

Yes. It makes the person feel immensely lonesome, helpless, and less confident and breaks their will to find love and happiness.

Key Takeaways

  • Breadcrumbing is the act of sending flirtatious signals through messages or social media interactions to someone.
  • Breadcrumbers only contact you through text messages; they try to make you feel jealous and ask to see you but never make it a priority.
  • If someone is breadcrumbing you, ask them through a polite message what their intentions are. The less effort you put into the relationship, the faster you will be emotionally free.
Breadcrumbing Meaning

Image: Stable Diffusion/StyleCraze Design Team

Personal Experience: Source

Was this article helpful?
Nathalie Maggio is a licensed marriage and family therapist and EMDR-trained and certified clinical trauma specialist with 5 years of experience. She pursued her Bachelors in Psychology from the University of Wuerzburg, Germany, and MS in Counseling from California State University, Long Beach. Nathalie is the founder and CEO of Coastal Therapy and Wellness, a psychotherapy practice in California that...read full bio

Latest Articles