Breadcrumbing is one of the most sinister forms of romantic manipulation that can plague our dating lives. Rather than committing or giving us the room we need to pursue what we want, someone who breadcrumbs you only gives you just enough attention to follow along. They don’t really love you, and they certainly have no intention of committing to you in any actual way. All they want is the attention that you offer them, and only on their terms. When you’re being breadcrumbed, you aren’t being considered with humanity or compassion.
Signs they’re breadcrumbing you.
Have you fallen prey to the deadly breadcrumbing trap? It can be difficult to spot the signs when we don’t have a lot of perspective on the situation. Detaching ourselves emotionally, though, can boost our perspective and allow us to see how they are truly leading us along without giving us anything hopeful or validating to hold on to.
Mixing up the channels
Do you have a hard time predicting where or when you’re going to hear from your love interest? That’s not by accident. It’s a method of breadcrumbing that often goes unnoticed. Your crush might message you Instagram one day, then text you the next. There’s no predictability, and it creates a hyper-vigilance and uncertainty everywhere, which is neither healthy nor productive.
Focusing only on the physical
Is there a love interest in your life who only uses you for the physical benefits of a relationship? While this works for some, it doesn’t work for everyone. A lot of people need and crave an emotional connection, too. But the person who is breadcrumbing you won’t give you that. Instead, they’ll give you physical intimacy (on their terms) and tell you that it’s love or affection (in order to get what they want).
Breadcrumbing is defined by the hot and cold nature of at least one of the parties involved. One minute, they may be hot-and-heavy, they may promise you the world or the relationship of your dreams. Somehow, this always falls through, however. As soon as you begin to believe that they’re in, they blow cold again and can disappear for days and weeks at a time.
It only goes so deep with a breadcrumbing partner. They’re giving you just enough to lead you along, but not enough to make you certain of their intentions. And communication is no different. To this manipulative person, they use communication as a tool to get what they want. They can talk you into their best intentions with ease, but these aren’t their real intentions. Which they will conceal from you at all costs.
There’s a lot of mixed messaging that comes alone with breadcrumbing. Generally, people who engage in this behavior want the benefits of a relationship (sometimes) without the commitment. So they have to leave things vague in order to keep stringing you along for that attention. That means texts in the middle of the night and replies that promise you nothing and everything at the same time.
Shifting blame games
Blame games come naturally to the toxic breadcrumb spiral. Blowups and conflict are as inevitable as resentment and upset. When you confront the other person about the attention they’re not giving you, they’re likely to ghost and then turn around to make the entire affair your fault. That’s because they’re not willing to commit. So once you become a problem, you have to be released. And that means blaming you for reacting (rightfully) to their lies.
How to handle breadcrumbing.
You don’t have to settle for someone who comes in and out of your life; someone who is unreliable with the love and care they provide to you. Moving beyond the breadcrumbing relationship takes action. Try to take it to a more substantial place, and if they can’t, set boundaries and prepare yourself to move toward better and more fulfilling avenues in future.
1. Take it to a substantial place
Now, in some cases (not very often) breadcrumbing happens as a matter of miscommunication or insecurity. Some partners, when confronted with the behavior, will take action to commit or do things differently. That’s why it can be important to start addressing the problem by making your desires and intentions clear. Then, ask the other person to take it to a place where you can both be more satisfied with what you’re getting in return.
Try to take your relationship to a more substantial place. You don’t need a wedding ring from this person, but you certainly need more of a regular commitment than what you’re getting right now. Give the other person a chance to follow you there. Meet them in the real world and try to make a standing date with one another.
Your partner’s or love interest’s reaction is going to be a big indicator of your decisions moving forward. Someone who is willing to communicate and move toward a more honest relationship is someone who may have good intentions in mind. Give them the benefit of the doubt. But pay closer attention to their actions than their words. Someone who is breadcrumbing you is capable of playing along…for a time. Make sure their intentions (and their integrity) is pure.
2. Keep your needs up front
At all times — in every relationship that you build — keep your needs up front and in focus. There is no point of investing in someone if they can’t return that investment to you. It doesn’t make any sense. If you are putting time, energy, and love into someone, they have to give you something back that makes you feel you’re doing the right thing. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time in service to someone who neither values nor respects you.
Check in regularly with yourself. Take inventory. Are you getting what you need? Is this person showing up for you? Or do they only manifest when you have something that they want? This might be emotional labor, it might be sex, money, or any number of other things that improve the quality of their life (while detracting from yours). Breadcrumbing is not an act of decision. It’s not an act of love. It’s an act of manipulation and taking, taking, taking dishonestly.
3. Set boundaries and speak out
Every relationship needs boundaries. This is how we tell the other person what we expect from them. It’s also how we protect our wellbeing and show people the way to treat us. You need boundaries, but more than needing them, you need to begin enforcing them.
Set boundaries with this person, and speak out when they’ve violated them. The people who inhabit your intimate circles should be those who respect what you need from those relationships. If this person can’t respect the boundaries, you have around communication and connection, then you need to tell them how it’s affecting you.
Don’t make excuses and stop apologizing. If you have a genuine boundary that is getting pushed or ignored, you’re the only person who can reinforce it and protect your wellbeing. Find a safe time and space to open up, and sit the other person down. If you can’t wrangle them into a face-to-face encounter, get on the phone or schedule a Zoom. Tell the other person how your line was crossed and discuss tactics for getting back on a track to respect and mutual fulfillment.
Putting it all together…
Breadcrumbing can be one of the most hurtful and frustrating experiences in modern dating. Just as we start to fall for someone we think is great, they pull away. They blow hot and cold, and we’re never certain of where they stand. That’s what breadcrumbing does. It strings you along and makes it difficult to determine the intentions of the person that you’re connecting with. It’s manipulative and toxic. To protect yourself, you have to make your desires clear, set boundaries, and cut off dead situations that aren’t going anywhere. If they don’t want to be with you, no amount of effort on your end is going to change that. Let them find their way, and you find your way to a better and more fulfilling love.
- Navarro, R., Larrañaga, E., Yubero, S., & Víllora, B. (2020). Psychological Correlates of Ghosting and Breadcrumbing Experiences: A Preliminary Study among Adults. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 17(3), 1116. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17031116