“Breadcrumbing” in a relationship is a detriment to both parties

Tara Blair Ball

Man and woman on a datePhoto byJarritos Mexican SodaonUnsplash

The day my ex-husband and I sold the house we’d shared together, I had my first date with Daniel. When I walked into the restaurant, he was sitting at the bar, all 6 foot runner-built of him.

We spent the next hour or so talking. He was interested in building a perfume business.

“Raw ingredients are the most important,” he told me. “If you have poor quality lavender, it’ll smell like soap.”

I talked about my writing. We laughed. We bumped knees and giggled. Even though I enjoyed myself, I wasn’t into him. We were in different life places and not what I wanted for my next serious relationship. He was trying to start his life, while my life was already established and I had two small children.

Even though I didn’t want anything serious with Daniel, I would reach out to him whenever my dating options had dried up. More accurately, I was “breadcrumbing” him.

Breadcrumbing is defined by Urban Dictionary as “the act of sending out flirtatious, but non-committal text messages (ie ‘breadcrumbs’) in order to lure a partner without expending much effort.”

Every time I reached out to Daniel, I gave him false hope that we’d date seriously. It didn’t matter that I’d told him I wasn’t interested in a serious relationship with him and that I was dating other people. The fact that I kept reaching out to him knowing we had two different views of the same relationship was selfish and manipulative.

You might be a “breadcrumber” in your dating life if:

1. You don’t really want to see them.

“You want to meet up sometime?” Daniel would ask me whenever we’d reconnect.

“Yeah, maybe,” or “Definitely soon. Busy now,” I’d say, but then I’d always have a reason not to. “Maybe” would eventually turn into a “never.”

If I really wanted to see and date Daniel, I would have made an effort to.

2. Unless it’s for physical intimacy.

You reach out only when it’s too late to go out, or whenever you do happen to see them, it quickly becomes more intimate. You’re king or queen of the late night “U up?” messages, and if they want to schedule time to see you, you make sure a bed is going to be nearby.

3. You connect through different channels.

While you’d mostly forgotten about them, you might pay attention when you see them come across your Instagram feed. You may watch their story or like or comment on one of their photos. You aren’t responding to their texts, but now that you’ve seen them on your feed, you’re reaching out that way.

4. You don’t communicate continuously.

You may message them a lot over a two day span and then not say anything for weeks or longer. You respond to messages within minutes or you don’t respond to them at all.

5. What you do communicate is pretty shallow.

Intimacy is built on vulnerable sharing. Breadcrumbers like myself would choose to keep the topics on shallow things and keep emotions out of it.

“How are you doing?” they might ask you.

“Good, you?” you might respond.

You aren’t going to tell them how pissed off you are at your co-worker or how your ex-spouse is violating your parenting plan again. You’re going to keep things even-keel.

If you aren’t choosing to honestly share with this person, then you’re not building toward anything. If you’re not building toward anything, you’re stringing them along.

How to quit breadcrumbing:

Breadcrumbing often comes out of a place of not wanting to be alone.

After my separation and divorce, my self-esteem was at an all-time low, so I bathed in the attentions of men. If I wasn’t actively talking to a guy, then I’d get to swiping to find the next one, or I’d reach out to Daniel. I wanted several available to me at once so I was never without someone to make me feel better about myself.

You know what? Using other people to make you feel better about yourself is terribly selfish. They’re not getting any benefit, and you’re basing your self-worth on whether someone else is paying attention to you or not, which is a shaky foundation.

The way to quit breadcrumbing is to succumb to spending some time alone.

If you don’t have any dating options lined up, just deal with that period of being alone. Learn to enjoy it and be okay with you. If you’re still struggling, seek out the help of a trained professional (therapist, counselor, etc.). You’re pretty great, I promise.

If you just want to have a no strings attached thing, be clear about that. Don’t pretend you’re interested in anything more. If they’re not into that, give up and look elsewhere, or just solo-love and be okay with that.

If you don’t want something serious with someone but they do, stop reaching out to them. Don’t watch their IG stories. Unfollow or unfriend them. Actually cut them out of your life.

By essentially cutting these people you aren’t interested in out of your life, you’d be doing them a favor. You’d save them a lot of needless hope and worry. The most important thing, though, is that you’d be letting yourself be a person with integrity, someone whose actions align with their words.

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Tara Blair Ball is a Certified Relationship Coach and author of Grateful in Love: A Daily Gratitude Journal for Couples, A Couples Goals Journal, and Reclaim & Recover: Heal from Toxic Relationships with a 7-Step Guided Journal. She has a Master's from the University of Memphis and is accredited by CTAA. You can find her on Tiktok, Instagram, or YouTube at @tara.relationshipcoach.

Memphis, TN

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