What Is Breadcrumbing In Dating? Signs And How To Respond To It

Expert Speak | | Expert Author , Mental Health & Relationship Counselor
Updated On: November 14, 2023
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Navigating the world of modern dating is no easy feat. Swipes, texts, and first dates aplenty. But just when you think you’ve found a connection, you encounter the confounding phenomenon known as breadcrumbing. So what is breadcrumbing exactly? It’s those intermittent messages, cryptic emojis, and lukewarm plans that leave you pondering if genuine interest exists or if you’re simply being strung along.

Welcome to the enigmatic world of breadcrumbing in dating, where the path is laden with confusion, frustration, and emotional rollercoasters. Is breadcrumbing a harmless flirtation tactic, or does it hide more intricate motives beneath the surface? Moreover, how can you respond to it without losing your sanity or self-respect?

In this blog, we’re delving deep into the breadcrumbing psychology with insights from psychologist Nandita Rambhia (MSc, Psychology), who specializes in CBT, REBT, and couple’s counseling. We’ll unravel its elusive signs, decode the hidden intentions behind someone’s morsels of attention and, most importantly, equip you with strategies to master this dating puzzle. So, if you’ve ever found yourself in a dating situation where breadcrumbs are the main course, get ready for a journey where we demystify this frustrating phenomenon.

What Is Breadcrumbing?

It’s like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in the forest, leading someone on a wild goose chase with no real destination in sight. Generally speaking, it is when a person feigns an interest, whether fully or partially, but enough to keep you hooked. This can happen in any dynamic at all. A few breadcrumbing examples:

  • New friendship: Someone keeps telling you that they want to meet up. It’s a new friendship and you’re looking forward to hanging out. They never make a plan but always leave you thinking that one will be made soon. They actually don’t want to be friends but are also not stating it clearly
  • Old friendship: An old friend wants to pull back from the friendship. Instead of having a dignified friendship breakup with you, they leave you thinking that you can still count on them. This is unfair and adds to your hurt because whenever you reach out to them in times of need, they are never available. They still give vague promises about their future support, though
  • Prospective employee: An employee, instead of confirming that you didn’t get the job, keeps you waiting around for a call or text or email. Their “We will let you know” never happens, but they still tell you how “impressive” your skills are and how “interested” they are
  • Parents: A busy parent might constantly promise that they will do something together with you, maybe go on a trip together or create art together. But it never happens and you continue to be disappointed

What is breadcrumbing in dating?

Breadcrumbing, a term coined in the digital age of dating, refers to a perplexing dating behavior that has become all too common in our swipe-right culture. At its core, it involves sporadic and minimal efforts to maintain someone’s interest without any real intention of pursuing a meaningful or committed relationship. A study revealed that “breadcrumbing had an impact on the breadcrumbie’s future relationships, emotional disturbance, self-concept, and signs of depression.”

Nandita says, “This behavior often stems from a desire for attention and validation, the fear of commitment, or a need for an emotional safety net. Breadcrumbing provides a sense of control while keeping one foot out the door, ultimately impacting the emotions of the person on the receiving end.” In the early stages of dating, breadcrumbing is characterized by:

  • Vague promises
  • Flirtatious texts that lead nowhere
  • Intermittent plans that never materialize

Related Reading: Freedom In Relationships – What It Means And What It Doesn’t

What is breadcrumbing in relationships?

When breadcrumbing occurs within an established relationship, it takes a different form. One partner may withdraw emotionally, offering sporadic affection or attention to keep the other partner hanging. Another study showed that suffering breadcrumbing would significantly increase the likelihood of experiencing less satisfaction with life, and of having more feelings of loneliness and helplessness. As Nandita points out, “When you’re in a relationship with a breadcrumber, it usually doesn’t work out.”

In the next sections, we’ll delve into the signs of breadcrumbing and equip you with strategies to respond effectively. Let’s unravel this dating mystery together.

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How Do You Know If Someone Is Breadcrumbing You?

In all the complexities of modern dating and breadcrumb relationships, being able to spot the signs of breadcrumbing is like having a secret decoder ring. It empowers you to navigate the dating landscape with clarity and self-assurance, ensuring you don’t get caught in the emotional maze that breadcrumbing can create.

As Nandita says, “The most obvious sign of breadcrumbing is their unpredictable interest in you and their tendency to show mixed signals.” Recognizing breadcrumbing patterns is crucial because it allows you to make informed decisions about your dating or relationship prospects, saving you time, heartache, and unnecessary confusion.

Here are seven key signs that someone might be breadcrumbing you:

1. Inconsistent communication

Breadcrumbing someone often involves inconsistent and poor communication patterns. You may receive a flurry of affectionate texts, phone calls, or social media likes and comments one day, only to be met with silence or minimal engagement the next. This inconsistency can leave you feeling like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster, never sure when or if you’ll hear from them again. The sporadic attention keeps you hanging, hoping for more, and it can be emotionally draining.

Related Reading: 7 Reasons Your Ex Is Hot And Cold – And How To Deal With It

2. Vague plans

Breadcrumbers are notorious for offering vague or non-committal plans. They might express interest in seeing you again but avoid specifying when or where. It’s like they’re dangling the possibility of a future meet-up without ever committing to it. This ambiguity leaves you uncertain about their true intentions and can lead to frustration as you’re left waiting for something that may never materialize.

3. Breadcrumbing someone entails mixed signals

Breadcrumbers excel at sending mixed signals. They can go from being incredibly affectionate and attentive one moment to distant and unresponsive the next. This inconsistency in their behavior can be emotionally confusing and destabilizing. You may find yourself questioning whether they genuinely like you or if you’re just a passing fancy.

4. No effort to meet

Despite all the digital interactions, breadcrumbing often lacks concrete efforts to meet in person. They might talk about how much they want to see you but never take the initiative to make plans. This perpetual state of virtual connection without real-world interaction can leave you feeling unsatisfied and disappointed.

5. Limited personal sharing

Breadcrumbers tend to keep conversations superficial. They avoid delving into deeper, more personal topics and may be hesitant to share their own feelings, experiences, or vulnerabilities. This can create a sense of distance and make it challenging to form a genuine emotional connection.

6. Excuses and avoidance are two more signs of breadcrumbing

When it comes to commitment or taking things to the next level, breadcrumbers often have a knack for making excuses or avoiding the conversation altogether. They might come up with reasons for not being available or skillfully change the subject whenever the topic of commitment arises. This avoidance tactic keeps you in a perpetual state of uncertainty.

7. Stringing along

The ultimate breadcrumbing move is stringing you along. They offer just enough affection, attention, or promises of a future together to keep you emotionally invested, but they never actually commit to a real relationship. It’s a cycle of hope and disappointment that can be emotionally draining and damaging to your self-esteem. You might find yourself stuck in this loop, always yearning for more but never getting the commitment you deserve.

Related Reading: 6 Signs You Are Leading Someone On Unintentionally And What To Do

Why Do People Breadcrumb?

People often ask biased questions like “Why do guys breadcrumb?” or “Why do women always resort to mixed signals?”. But as we explore the tricky subject of breadcrumbing from a gender-neutral POV, one question looms large: Why do people engage in this perplexing behavior? It’s a question that might make you ponder not only the actions of those breadcrumbing you but also your own dating or relationship experiences.

What drives someone to dole out crumbs of affection and attention instead of pursuing genuine connections? It’s a reflection-worthy topic that reveals much about the complexities of modern relationships. In a study, five major themes emerged defining breadcrumbing — Charm, leading on, incongruence, avoiding emotional investment, and commitment uncertainty.

Now, let’s explore six compelling reasons for why people breadcrumb and dive into the psychology behind each one of them:

1. They fear commitment

For some individuals, breadcrumbing is rooted in a deep-seated fear of commitment. They may enjoy the initial excitement of dating and forming connections but become apprehensive when the relationship starts to feel more serious. This fear can stem from past relationship experiences or personal insecurities. Breadcrumbing allows them to enjoy the benefits of emotional connection without the full weight of commitment. It’s a way to maintain a sense of control over their emotions and the pace of the relationship, even if it leaves their partner feeling confused and unfulfilled.

2. They have a desire for attention

Breadcrumbing often appeals to those who crave constant attention and validation. These individuals thrive on the knowledge that someone is interested in them, and they bask in the ego boost that comes from having admirers. They may breadcrumb multiple people simultaneously to satisfy their need for attention, relishing in the feeling of being pursued without reciprocating the interest. It’s a behavior that serves their ego but is emotionally draining for those on the receiving end.

Related Reading: How Do You Set Emotional Boundaries In Relationships?

3. People lead their partners on in order to avoid confrontation

Some people breadcrumb as a way to sidestep difficult conversations and confrontations. Commitment talks about the future can be uncomfortable, and breadcrumbing allows them to keep these conversations at bay. By maintaining vague and non-committal interactions, they avoid having to define the relationship or make tough decisions. It provides them with a semblance of control over the relationship’s direction, even if it leaves their partner feeling frustrated and uncertain in this one-sided dynamic.

4. It helps them juggle multiple options

In the era of online dating and a plethora of dating apps, many individuals find themselves juggling multiple romantic prospects simultaneously. Breadcrumbing can be a way to keep someone on the back burner while exploring other options. They enjoy the flexibility of having a safety net while they navigate the dating landscape. This approach is emotionally hurtful for those who seek a committed and exclusive relationship.

“In case you, too, are looking for something casual and non-committed, communicate that. Bear in mind that even a casual relationship with a breadcrumber requires a lot of time and energy, and that after everything, it may or may not lead to anything substantial,” warns Nandita.

5. Breadcrumbing creates an emotional safety net for them

For some, breadcrumbing serves as an emotional safety net to prevent feelings of loneliness or rejection. These individuals may not want a committed relationship but they like having someone they can turn to for emotional support or companionship when needed. It provides them with a sense of security, even if it’s at the expense of their partner’s emotions and well-being.

Related Reading: 8 Common Fears In Relationships – Expert Tips To Overcome

6. They lack self-awareness

In some cases, people breadcrumb without a clear understanding of their own intentions or the impact of their actions. They may not realize the emotional toll it takes on their partners. This lack of self-awareness can stem from a disconnect between their behavior and their true feelings. It’s important for individuals who engage in breadcrumbing to reflect on their actions and consider the emotions of those involved.

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How To Respond To Breadcrumbing

Accepting that you have been served breadcrumbs for your romantic meal is a tough pill (or should I say crumb) to swallow, but it’s crucial to remember that you have the power to steer the course of your own romantic journey. In the face of inconsistent and uncertain behavior from someone you’re dating or are in a breadcrumb relationship with, your response can be a game-changer.

Let’s learn how to respond to breadcrumbing. It’s about safeguarding your emotional well-being, asserting your self-worth, and setting general and emotional boundaries to ensure that your needs and expectations are met. Here are some insights from Nandita on how to tackle a breadcrumber:

  • Communicate your expectations: Engage in open and honest communication. Share your feelings and expectations calmly but assertively. Express how their inconsistent behavior is affecting you and causing confusion. Encourage a genuine conversation about the direction of the relationship and what both of you want
  • Set clear boundaries: Define your boundaries and make them known. Let the other person understand what you’re willing to tolerate and what’s off-limits (like booty calls). This can help establish mutual respect and prevent further breadcrumbing behavior
  • Evaluate their response: Pay attention to how the other person responds to your communication. Are they receptive to your concerns, or do they dismiss them? Assess whether they’re willing to make an effort to address the issues and commit to a more genuine connection
  • Prioritize self-care: In the midst of dealing with breadcrumbing, prioritize self-care. Focus on activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. Reconnect with hobbies, spend quality time with friends and family, and take care of your physical and emotional well-being. This self-nurturing boosts your confidence and reminds you of your intrinsic value beyond any relationship
  • Assess your compatibility: Reflect on whether the person’s breadcrumbing behavior aligns with your long-term goals and desires in a relationship. Consider whether their actions demonstrate a commitment to your happiness and well-being. Assess if this is the type of relationship you truly want to invest in
  • Don’t settle for crumbs: Remember your worth and refuse to settle for breadcrumbs when you deserve the full meal. Tell yourself that how they are treating you is unkind and you will not accept it. Note down all the ways they are stringing you along
  • Seek support: Lean on your support network. Share your experiences and feelings with friends or a therapist who can offer guidance and a fresh perspective on your situation and prevent you from more sleepless nights
  • Consider walking away: Be willing to walk away from a relationship or dating situation that consistently leaves you feeling undervalued and emotionally unfulfilled. Especially if the breadcrumbing behavior persists despite your efforts to communicate and set boundaries. Your emotional well-being should always take precedence, and being in a situation where your needs are consistently unmet can be detrimental

Remember that how you respond to breadcrumbing sends a powerful message about your self-worth and expectations in relationships. By addressing the issue assertively and prioritizing your own emotional health, you can either guide the relationship toward a healthier dynamic or make space for more fulfilling connections in your life.

Related Reading: 12 Ways To Fix A Toxic Relationship

Key Pointers

  • Breadcrumbing is a perplexing dating behavior rooted in inconsistent and minimal efforts to maintain someone’s interest without genuine commitment
  • Six common reasons behind breadcrumbing include fear of commitment, desire for attention, avoidance of confrontation, wanting multiple options, seeking an emotional safety net, and a lack of self-awareness
  • Responding to breadcrumbing involves clear communication, prioritizing self-care, assessing compatibility, refusing to settle for less, seeking support, and considering the option to walk away
  • Prioritizing your emotional well-being and self-worth is essential when dealing with breadcrumbing
  • How you respond to breadcrumbing sends a powerful message about your expectations in relationships and can lead to healthier, more fulfilling connections

In the perplexing world of modern dating, where casual relationships and hookups have become the norm, breadcrumbing stands out as a profound phenomenon that can leave you emotionally drained and questioning your worth. Here are our final thoughts on the matter: Remember that you are worthy of a relationship that respects your emotions, values your time, and reciprocates your efforts. Whether you choose to confront breadcrumbing head-on or gracefully step away, your response should always prioritize your emotional health and self-respect.


1. How is breadcrumbing different from ghosting?

Breadcrumbing and ghosting are distinct modern dating behaviors. Ghosting involves abruptly cutting off all communication without explanation, while breadcrumbing entails giving sporadic attention to a person in order to maintain interest without committing to them. Ghosting is a sudden and complete disappearance, while breadcrumbing creates confusion through inconsistent interactions. Both leave emotional turmoil but via different approaches.

2. What is an example of breadcrumbing text?

Breadcrumbing signs in texting can be seen when they say “Hey, we should hang out sometime” followed by periods of silence or vague responses when you try to make plans. Another instance could be sending occasional flirty or affectionate texts like “I’ve never met someone like you” without any concrete commitment to move the relationship forward, keeping the recipient in a state of uncertainty and longing for more consistent communication.

3. Is breadcrumbing toxic?

Yes, breadcrumbing is considered toxic in dating and relationships. It can lead to emotional manipulation, confusion, and frustration for the person on the receiving end who might develop strong feelings for the breadcrumber. It undermines trust and can have a detrimental impact on self-esteem and mental well-being, making it an unhealthy and harmful behavior.

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