Being Breadcrumbed? How To Clean Up The Crumbs In Your Dating Life

By Dr. Kurt Smith

January 10, 2024   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Being Breadcrumbed? How To Clean Up The Crumbs In Your Dating Life

 No, it’s not the crazed behavior of someone who’s been on Keto for too long or something out of Hansel and Gretel. In fact, if you’re being breadcrumbed, it feels a lot more like a nightmare than a fairy tale. 

Like catfishing or ghosting after you “Netflix and chill,” breadcrumbing is just another one of the unfortunate hazards of modern dating and relationships. And if you don’t realize what’s happening, it can mean weeks or months of mental anguish while you live in limbo. 

What Is Breadcrumbing?

What Is Breadcrumbing?
Photo : stylist

While the brother and sister duo made famous by the Brothers Grimm left a trail of breadcrumbs hoping to find their way home, breadcrumbing in dating will lead you down a far less productive path.

Breadcrumbing in the dating world is continually giving someone just enough attention to feel like there might be hope for a romantic relationship when you really have little to no interest.

Notice those words – continually, just enough, might be hope and future.

In other words, breadcrumbing is a manipulative way of leading someone on and keeping their romantic attention on you and off anyone else.

It typically involves social media, which makes it extremely easy to drop a “breadcrumb” without the pressure of personal contact.

What do I mean? See if any of these sounds familiar:

  • We should hang out sometime.
  • You’re super cute. You should post more pics.
  • No one gets me like you.
  • I’d really like to see you soon.

When these things, or anything similar, are combined with a pattern of no follow-through, it’s a breadcrumb.

Why Do People Behave This Way?

It’s important to remember being breadcrumbed isn’t a reflection on you and your worthiness. It’s a flaw in the behavior of the person doing the breadcrumbing.

People who routinely lead others on or try to inspire romantic feelings in others when they themselves have none are typically either,

They seek attention beyond wanting to feel praised or admired and push it to the point of feeling romantic desire. Feeling like they could “have you” or knowing that you “want them” is how they achieve validation and feel good about themselves.

But serial breadcrumbers rarely follow through after they’ve created interest. They may be,

  • Afraid of commitment
  • Convinced that knowing them better would destroy your interest
  • Be in another relationship
  • Have no desire for anything more than feeling wanted

Regardless of the reason, the prospect of a healthy relationship with someone who behaves this way is slim. And they may be doing this to more than one person at a time.

Spotting The Signs of Breadcrumbing

So, how do you know you’re being breadcrumbed or if it’s just bad timing for both of you?

Consider the following warning signs:

All talk and no action
Photo : mashable
  • All talk and no action. It is a big red flag to discuss making plans and wanting to see you but never making it happen. Making time for you is something a genuinely interested person will do.
  • They play catch and release with your feelings. Do you ever feel like they back off when things start to feel real? And when you’ve just about given up, they suddenly show interest again? The cycle of pulling you in just to push you away is a form of breadcrumbing.
  • You’re living on an emotional rollercoaster. The “do they, don’t they” nature of this kind of behavior can be frustrating and painful. No healthy relationship will make you feel this way. Any relationship that makes you feel bad about yourself needs at minimum to change and possibly end.
  • A midnight booty call is fine – a dinner date isn’t. This speaks for itself. Someone interested in you will be interested in more than just sex.
  • Things are one-sided. Alarms should be ringing if they know more about you than you do about them. Relationships are a two-way street and need to be balanced. Something is going on if they’re keeping you on the periphery of their lives.
  • Jealous and controlling behavior is part of their game. For example, if you finally decide you’re moving on, and they turn the heat up – especially if there’s someone else giving you attention. Or if they try to ensure you’re alone or sabotage your new relationship, that’s a problem.

How To Clean Up the Crumbs

Breadcrumbing behavior can create a lot of heartache and cause you to miss out on healthier relationship opportunities.

So, the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to recognize when something’s not right, or when you’re not being treated in a way that’s respectful and balanced. Then change it.

If only it were that simple, right?

If you suspect you’re being breadcrumbed (or possibly in an emotionally abusive relationship), keep the following in mind:

  • Their behavior isn’t your fault.
  • You aren’t being cruel or heartless by breaking free of a destructive cycle – no matter what they say.
  • Anyone who treats you like this isn’t the great love of your life.
  • Moving on will create a healthier perspective for both of you.

Knowing those things will allow you to,

  • Redefine your relationship and set new boundaries.
  • Feel confident that you’re doing the right thing for yourself.
  • Recognize the red flags of breadcrumbing behavior in the future.

A healthy relationship does take work, but it’s work done by both partners equally. Nothing good comes when someone keeps you guessing about their true feelings or emotionally manipulates you.

Dr. Kurt Smith

Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their relationships better.

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