New terms are becoming popular for many of the bad, destructive, and even toxic relationship behaviors that help people label what they are experiencing. Over the last few years, people have become familiar with gaslighting and ghosting. To add to that, the term breadcrumbing has become mainstream, adding to the ability to easily describe the difficulties you are experiencing in your dating relationships.

What is Breadcrumbing?

Breadcrumbing is the act of dropping little bits of attention through social media platforms or technology to keep the other person interested in the potential of the relationship. Accepting breadcrumbs means that you are settling for these small and virtual signals of the potential for the relationship.

Most people that engage in breadcrumbing are those who have a significant fear of being on their own or alone. To hedge their bets of not having someone to be in a relationship with, they focus on keeping multiple potential partners available. In some ways, they are also testing the waters with numbers of potential dates or relationships without committing to any one person. It is highly manipulative, even if the person doing it may not think they are doing anything harmful.

Signs of Breadcrumbing

People meet online on a daily basis. Online meetings have increased dramatically with the COVID-19 restrictions on in-person social gatherings. So how do you know if you are being breadcrumbed or if you are just in the emerging stages of a potential dating relationship?

To help understand these dynamics, here are some signs you are getting only the breadcrumbs in the relationship:

  • Random text or social media messages – these may happen later in the evening or at random times of the day and seem to have no direct correlation to any ongoing conversation. These are simply a need for the sender to feel reassured you are there to fill their need.
  • Inconsistent messaging patterns – you may receive a number of messages at one time and then not hear from the person for a few days or weeks. This pattern is very similar to ghosting, but you are more likely to receive a brief and vague answer to a text or social media message rather than no response at all.
  • May publically provide feedback – rather than text or private message, you may receive a generic type of response to a post. It is just enough to imply they know you, without making any type of meaningful statement.
  • Constantly vague – often these messages talk about finally getting to meet you or planning for something in the future. There are never any specifics or details, and if you try to press for a meeting, they go silent or make excuses.
  • Agree to meet for a sexual encounter – if they don’t want to meet you for coffee or lunch but text late in the day to meet for drinks with the implication they are expecting sex, there is a good chance you are one of many being texted or contacted using this strategy.

Ending the Pattern 

It is important to end the pattern of breadcrumbing for your emotional health. These types of relationships are wasting your time and your mental and emotional energy on someone who is only interested in ensuring their needs are met.

If you suspect you are being breadcrumbed, there are few simple steps you can take to identify if this is the case:

  • Set a date – ask to meet at a public place for a coffee or lunch. If the person keeps making excuses, block their number and block their interactions on social media.
  • State your needs for the relationship – if the person seems hot and cold in their communication or attention, state your needs for the relationship. If they cannot follow through and be consistent in supporting you, end the interactions.
  • Address behaviors directly – point out patterns of behavior in a non-judgmental way. For example, “We have planned to meet three times, and you canceled all three times at the last minute. How do you see this changing in the future?” Listen carefully to their answer.

Talk to a therapist or counselor or check out my program Wake up Recovery for Love Addiction, Codependency, and Toxic Relationships if you see patterns of bread crumbing in your relationships. I am offering a special $1 trial to join.  Learning to set boundaries and to value yourself and your needs can help to be comfortable in letting these types of negative relationships go.

Sherry Gaba, LCSW and Transformation Coach
Author of Love Smacked: How to Stop the Cycle of Relationship Addiction and Codependency to find Everlasting Love
And Wake Up Recovery for Toxic Relationships, Codependency and Love Addiction