The early days of a new relationship can be nerve-wracking as you work through each other’s communication style. And sometimes, this can happen: You begin to think things are going well, only to have the other person start to send you mixed signals, blow hot and cold, or ignore you sporadically.
This distressing phenomenon—just enough attention to keep you interested, but with no real intention of commitment—has a name, says Danielle Laura, relationship counselor and author of Dear Love, I’m Ready for You. It’s called breadcrumbing.
What Is Breadcrumbing?
“Breadcrumbing is sending mixed messages to someone with the intent of leading them on,” says Cook. “This person sends a few texts or comments on a couple of social media posts—all in an effort to keep that individual hooked,” but with no intention of actually starting a relationship.
Since online dating and dating apps became popular, breadcrumbing has been on the rise, says Rachel Eva Dew, a board-certified doctor of natural medicine, integrative life transformation coach, and cofounder of the integrative telemedicine platform Modi Health.
“These apps provide a perfect opportunity to shift traditional dating and the pursuit of a sexual partner or a relationship in significant ways,” says Dew. “One of these is through playing a numbers game.”
That’s when the breadcrumber puts out feelers—drops crumbs—to see who bites, says Dew. “This numbers game requires very little energy, effort, commitment, or relational skills.”
A Numbers Game
According to Dew, there are many reasons a person may breadcrumb, including insecurity, lack of emotional intelligence, immaturity, and disrespect, whether intentional or unintentional.
It could also be a numbers game. The breadcrumber flirts with a number of people “with the intent of moving forward with the most interesting choice that will meet their desired goal—sex, love, attention or even simply entertainment,” Dew says.
Missing Emotional and Sexual Satisfaction
The pandemic has us all feeling stir-crazy, and craving attention and excitement, explains Laurel House, dating and relationship coach and founder of Love Actually Academy. She says breadcrumbing may be more common now as a result.
“Some people breadcrumb because they are not in a place where they can meet people right now, but they are missing the emotional and even sexual satisfaction of a relationship,” says House. “Conversations on the phone or text can lead to emotional connection. Suddenly you don’t feel so alone.”
But breadcrumbers, in the end, act out of selfishness. “I see breadcrumbing taking place from a completely ego-centered place,” says House. The breadcrumber “wants to feel good about themselves, and is typically breadcrumbing several people at once to gain a perceived emotional high.”
Breadcrumbing in Relationships
“You might be the center of someone’s world for a week, then they disappear for two weeks only to resurface and make you feel like the most important person on earth for another couple of dates,” she says. “Then they’re gone again.”
House sees this commonly, where one partner gives the other just enough to stay together, yet leaving them perennially unsatisfied. “You never feel like the priority because something else always is: work or friends or just anything but you,” she says.
The Red Flags
- They are less invested in getting together than you are. “[Breadcrumbers] make plans with you but cancel or don’t show up, and they seem too busy for you. “They might even go absent for periods of time,” she adds.
- You never know where you stand with them. Breadcrumbers “are sporadic, inconsistent, and unpredictable in their expression of interest” in you.
- They seem warm toward you but then turn cold. For instance, “they take a long time to respond to your messages,”.
- You can’t understand or explain their actions. “You are often left confused or frustrated after interacting with them,”.
How To respond if Somebody is Breadcrumbing You?
“Regardless of your relationship status with this person—friends can throw breadcrumbs, too—ask yourself what it is you want from this person,” says Cook. “If they aren’t able to provide what you need and want then you should limit interacting with them and set up boundaries to protect your heart and soul.”
Communicate Your Needs
If you want to stay in the relationship, clearly and firmly communicate your needs.
“It’s best to confront them by stating the behavior and kindly yet boldly share your boundaries and expectations with them, letting them know this behavior is not okay with you,” Laura says. “You’ll then see what their true intentions are by what happens next.”
However, if you realize this person doesn’t want commitment when you do, it’s time to cut off the contact and move on.
How To Recognize When It’s Time To Move On?
If you continue to clearly express your boundaries and expectations, and the other person still doesn’t change their behavior and patterns, that’s a cue it’s time to move on, says Laura.
Put Yourself First
Ultimately, as difficult as it might be, you need to gather the courage to put yourself first.
“If you’ve made efforts to ‘make it work’ but the relationship just isn’t going where you want it to go, cut through the woods and find a new trail free of crumbs,” says Cook. “Breadcrumb relationships aren’t meant to last or go anywhere. Some people just enjoy flirting and never intend to follow through.”
Cook cautions against losing sleep or developing anxiety and stress over someone who is breadcrumbing you. “Remind yourself your butter is too thick and creamy to spread on a few crumbs,” she says. “Wait for that slice that’s gonna treat you nice.”