Are you a victim of ‘breadcrumbing’ in dating? Here’s what you need to do…

Are you being breadcrumbed? (Picture:

Most of us can probably relate to the confusion that comes in the early stages of messaging or dating a potential new love interest.

That weird period of sporadic WhatsApps, love heart emoji replies to your Insta stories (never under your grid pictures), drunk FaceTimes, promises of future in-person drinks (not this week, though, this week is crazy busy), and not knowing where you stand.

While there’s nothing wrong with some of this behaviour, the problem arises when one person is giving false hope to the other, dipping in and out of contact when it suits them and – essentially – leading them on.

But, because we love new terms for age-old problems, this is a dating behaviour also known as ‘breadcrumbing’. And it has only become worse since we’ve all moved our whole lives online.

If you recognise the feeling of someone leaving you ‘breadcrumbs’ of interest that don’t actually end up taking you anywhere worthwhile, you might be a victim of this.

What is breadcrumbing?

It’s all about piquing someone’s interest without the payoff of a date or a relationship.

‘The key to spotting this behaviour is to notice pattern and to sense when someone is being genuine or if they feel flaky,’ suggests relationship expert Cheryl Muir.

‘For example, does this person seem interested? Are they asking questions about you and your life, do they remember details from your last conversation and ask you about them later?

‘Or, does it feel surface level, and like they’ve copy-and-pasted their message?

‘If it’s the latter, and it’s combined with inconsistent or sporadic messages, it’s a sign of someone who either isn’t committed to moving forward with you, or they’re not looking for a long-term meaningful relationship,’ she says.

Another warning sign that you are being breadcrumbed is somebody who continues to make suggestions of future plans, and then disappears again, with lots of excuses and no firm commitment ever made.

There are lots of these red flags to watch out for. Often, the initial engagement is driven by the breadcrumber – which can be vey confusing.

‘They might like things on social media, or drop you a message – but there’s no consistency and they never make you feel like you are valued,’ says psychologist Emma Kenny.

‘You might notice that they message you first and then don’t reply to your response.

‘Or the’ll get in touch when they notice other people on your social media being interested in you.

‘This might mean they have this competitive element where they are interested in you a bit, but they get more interested when it seems someone else is – so they try to sabotage it.

‘Things never progressing to another stage is another thing, as is someone who makes a point of telling you they want to see you and then doesn’t turn up.’

Emma has some straightforward advice: ‘If you feel like someone is leading you on, the chances are, that’s true. Listen to your instincts.’

The impact of being breadcrumbed

A young female Black character sitting on the floor and hugging their knees, casual daily life sceneIt can make you feel embarrassed, invalidated and under valued Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Being led on is never a nice feeling – but breadcrumbing is a particularly difficult form of this type of behaviour to deal with, for many reasons.

‘In a breadcrumbing situation, you can end up feeling undervalued and driven to over-give,’ explains sex and relationship expert Rhian Kivits.

‘It’s easy to make excuses for the breadcrumber, or to hope that they’re going to see your value one day and decide to alter their ways.

‘But accepting breadcrumbs is damaging for your self-esteem, and the here and now is what counts.’

According to Rhian, a breadcrumber has very little motivation to change because the dynamics of the relationship suit them.

‘Breadcrumbers thrive off the fact that they get back more than they put into their relationships,’ she says.

‘And once a pattern has been established between two people, it becomes perpetuated as long as you allow it to continue.’

Rhian adds that while this behaviour might be common, it’s important to remember it’s emotionally abusive.

‘A breadcrumber has led you on, given you just enough attention to keep you interested, and manipulated you to get their needs met on their own terms,’ she says.

And the principle is the same whether you’ve just been engaging in texts and messages or whether you’ve met in person.

‘When someone makes promises to you and fails to deliver on them, it can make you feel invalidated, unworthy, insecure, and embarrassed,’ adds Emma.

‘It can also make you feel as though you are being a bit “stalker-like”.

‘You might feel as though you’re going out of your way to stay in contact with this person, and when they don’t follow through, you might feel you’re interpreting the signals wrong.

‘When they ignore you, you can also feel as though you might be coming on too strong – which can really impact on your confidence.’

What to do if you think you’re being breadcrumbed

Once you’ve realised that you’re dealing with a breadcrumber, you have several options.

‘The first is to sever the toxic bond that’s playing out between you, assert your boundaries and instigate a conversation about how you could create a balanced relationship,’ says Cheryl

‘The second is to break the connection and walk away. Unfortunately, most breadcrumbers will lose interest in you once they’re asked to put more effort into the relationship.

‘This is because breadcrumbing is a self-serving strategy they use to get their needs met without having to be emotionally available, offer intimacy or demonstrate true commitment.

‘Unless the breadcrumber is prepared to acknowledge their issues, examine the deeper motivations that drive their behaviour and consciously choose to change, you may find that they’ll be in denial or become more interested in pulling in someone new.

‘Whether you choose to call them out or just walk away, the important thing is to remember to put yourself first and know that breadcrumbing isn’t something you wish to feed.’

Look at the part you’re playing

Young annoyed female character, sceptical face expressionYou deserve that whole loaf (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

As Cheryl suggests, this self reflection is vital.

‘Although it’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of breadcrumbing, you each played a part in the connection,’ says Rhian.

‘One reason that people become so locked into the dynamic is that they might be the kind of person who looks to the other in their relationships for attention and validation.

‘Breadcrumbers are generally avoidant types and attract anxious partners who lack the security to assert strong boundaries and state their needs from the offset.’

Attachment theory suggests that how secure we feel in relationships and how emotionally available we are is set up in childhood.

‘If you notice that you’ve often attracted breadcrumbers or that it’s been difficult to step away, it might be helpful to see a therapist or read about attachment theory so that you can prevent this happening again,’ Rhian notes.

If you suspect that someone you’re messaging, or are in the early stages of dating, is breadcrumbing you, it’s time to be honest with yourself.

Take step back and look at things with an objective perspective, and take the time to reflect on your core values and expectations. From here you can take a more clear view of the situation.

Rhian suggests one way of doing this might be to implement a ‘no-contact period’.

‘While you continue to feed the dynamics within the connection, you’re constantly deferring your own needs and living on an emotional roller coaster, which makes it impossible to find clarity or discernment,’ she says.

It’s useful to help you get a clear idea of what you expect from your relationships.

Rhian says: ‘Ask yourself whether you’ve been receiving the consideration, respect, time, attention and affection that you desire in order to feel like your needs within the relationship are being met.

‘If you know that your core values are being compromised by your choice to allow yourself to continue being breadcrumbed, it’s time to choose yourself first.’

Cheryl agrees that we need to take a certain amount of responsibility for our actions and must do what we can to make sure we value ourselves.

‘It’s our responsibility to ensure we believe some version of the following: “I get to have love in my life. Love is inevitable for me. My partnership is on the way, it’s only a matter of time before I experience this”,’ she says.

‘When we’re solid in this belief – we really know we deserve love and we get to have it – we act from this place. And when someone behaves in a funky way, we can shrug it off and continue on.’

What if breadcrumbing keeps happening?

‘If breadcrumbing is something that keeps happening to you, it’s always good to think to yourself, “what is about me that might make these things happen?”‘ suggests Emma.

‘Ask yourself about your past relationships – have they been good, respectful relationships? If the answer is yes, it’s probably just bad luck.

‘If, however you’ve never managed to sustain a relationship or you’ve been treated like this a lot in the past, then chances are you might be too forgiving, expect too little, or have flexible boundaries.

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‘These things result in people treating you as if they can pick you up and put you down at any time, as they know you’ll always be there.

‘If that’s the case you need to firm up those boundaries and be a bit more discerning and ruthless when it comes to your exectations of another persons behaviour.

‘If they don’t meet your expectations, you may have to cut them off.’

You deserve to be treated with respect and, if anyone isn’t doing that, it might be time to ignore the breadcrumbs and go in search of a whole loaf.

Dating terms and trends, defined

Blue-stalling: When two people are dating and acting like a couple, but one person in the partnership states they’re unready for any sort of label or commitment (despite acting in a different manner).

Breadcrumbing: Leaving ‘breadcrumbs’ of interest – random noncommittal messages and notifications that seem to lead on forever, but don’t actually end up taking you anywhere worthwhile Breadcrumbing is all about piquing someone’s interest without the payoff of a date or a relationship.

Caspering: Being a friendly ghost – meaning yes, you ghost, but you offer an explanation beforehand. Caspering is all about being a nice human being with common decency. A novel idea.

Catfish: Someone who uses a fake identity to lure dates online.

Clearing: Clearing season happens in January. It’s when we’re so miserable thanks to Christmas being over, the cold weather, and general seasonal dreariness, that we will hook up with anyone just so we don’t feel completely unattractive. You might bang an ex, or give that creepy guy who you don’t really fancy a chance, or put up with truly awful sex just so you can feel human touch. It’s a tough time. Stay strong.

Cloutlighting: Cloutlighting is the combo of gaslighting and chasing social media clout. Someone will bait the person they’re dating on camera with the intention of getting them upset or angry, or making them look stupid, then share the video for everyone to laugh at.

Cockfishing: Also known as catcocking. When someone sending dick pics uses photo editing software or other methods to change the look of their penis, usually making it look bigger than it really is.

Cuffing season: The chilly autumn and winter months when you are struck by a desire to be coupled up, or cuffed.

Firedooring: Being firedoored is when the access is entirely on one side, so you’re always waiting for them to call or text and your efforts are shot down.

Fishing: When someone will send out messages to a bunch of people to see who’d be interested in hooking up, wait to see who responds, then take their pick of who they want to get with. It’s called fishing because the fisher loads up on bait, waits for one fish to bite, then ignores all the others.

Flashpanner: Someone who’s addicted to that warm, fuzzy, and exciting start bit of a relationship, but can’t handle the hard bits that might come after – such as having to make a firm commitment, or meeting their parents, or posting an Instagram photo with them captioned as ‘this one’.

Freckling: Freckling is when someone pops into your dating life when the weather’s nice… and then vanishes once it’s a little chillier.

Gatsbying: To post a video, picture or selfie to public social media purely for a love interest to see it.

Ghosting: Cutting off all communication without explanation.

Grande-ing: Being grateful, rather than resentful, for your exes, just like Ariana Grande.

Hatfishing: When someone who looks better when wearing a hat has pics on their dating profile that exclusively show them wearing hats.

Kittenfishing: Using images that are of you, but are flattering to a point that it might be deceptive. So using really old or heavily edited photos, for example. Kittenfishes can also wildly exaggerate their height, age, interests, or accomplishments.

Lovebombing: Showering someone with attention, gifts, gestures of affection, and promises for your future relationship, only to distract them from your not-so-great bits. In extreme cases this can form the basis for an abusive relationship.

Microcheating: Cheating without physically crossing the line. So stuff like emotional cheating, sexting, confiding in someone other than your partner, that sort of thing.

Mountaineering: Reaching for people who might be out of your league, or reaching for the absolute top of the mountain.

Obligaswiping: The act of endlessly swiping on dating apps and flirt-chatting away with no legitimate intention of meeting up, so you can tell yourself you’re doing *something* to put yourself out there.

Orbiting: The act of watching someone’s Instagram stories or liking their tweets or generally staying in their ‘orbit’ after a breakup.

Paperclipping: When someone sporadically pops up to remind you of their existence, to prevent you from ever fully moving on.

Preating: Pre-cheating – laying the groundwork and putting out feelers for cheating, by sending flirty messages or getting closer to a work crush.

Prowling: Going hot and cold when it comes to expressing romantic interest.

R-bombing: Not responding to your messages but reading them all, so you see the ‘delivered’ and ‘read’ signs and feel like throwing your phone across the room.

Scroogeing: Dumping someone right before Christmas so you don’t have to buy them a present.

Shadowing: Posing with a hot friend in all your dating app photos, knowing people will assume you’re the attractive one and will be too polite to ask.

Shaveducking: Feeling deeply confused over whether you’re really attracted to a person or if they just have great facial hair.

Sneating:When you go on dates just for a free meal.

Stashing: The act of hiding someone you’re dating from your friends, family, and social media.

Submarineing: When someone ghosts, then suddenly returns and acts like nothing happened.

V-lationshipping:When someone you used to date reappears just around Valentine’s Day, usually out of loneliness and desperation.

You-turning: Falling head over heels for someone, only to suddenly change your mind and dip.

Zombieing: Ghosting then returning from the dead. Different from submarineing because at least a zombie will acknowledge their distance.


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