Breadcrumbing: What Is It and How Do You Deal With It?

Stop me if you've heard this one. A girl gets a message from a guy on Tinder. They have a fun exchange and the messages move to WhatsApp. The conversation keeps up, but messages aren't as frequent as before.


Messages get further and further apart. 'Likes' replace flirty Instagram comments on her posts. The girl has been here before. She can tell when someone is losing interest.


After a few days of silence, a message lands on WhatsApp. The conversation starts up again. There's a mention of going to see some live music "sometime soon". She even gets a few Instagram comments again. Maybe she was wrong! Perhaps something came up.


Then the messages start drying up again. She can't see anything in her messages that would put him off. But the interest seems to be dwindling again. Just as she's trying to move on and talk to someone else...he messages again!


And so it continues. 


This horrible cycle is known as 'breadcrumbing'. If it sounds all too familiar, then read on to find out what it is, how you recognise it and what to do about it.


What Is Breadcrumbing?


Breadcrumbing was first used within web design. It showed the path someone followed around a website. They might go from the home page, to a shop page, to a specific item, to the shopping cart.


The visitor left a trail of 'breadcrumbs'. And it references the fairytale of Hansel and Gretel. Their breadcrumb trail stopped them getting lost in the forest.


The cute-sounding term dates back to 2017 as a trend in the dating world. 


It refers to the occasional messages someone sends when they have no intention of meeting or dating the other person.


But they send the messages to let the other person think they're interested. It's the practice of leading someone on when they know the relationship won't go anywhere. 


Breadcrumbing also happens when the person 'likes' social posts but doesn't comment.


However it happens, it's cruel for the person being breadcrumbed. Having someone blow hot and cold on you can wreak havoc on your self-esteem, and your faith in the dating process.



What Is the Point of Breadcrumbing?


The breadcrumber keeps paying you attention so you don't lose interest. But they're not paying you enough attention that the interaction can go anywhere.


They're giving you the impression they're interested or that they still like you. Yet they know nothing will ever happen.


In a way, it's crueller than ghosting. With ghosting, the person disappears and you never hear from them again. Depending on your dating style, you might decide you've been ghosted after a few days, a week, or even a month.


Point is, once you've realised you've been ghosted, you move on.


With breadcrumbing, you're never quite sure if the person is still interested. So you might keep your hopes up when you'd be better off investing that energy elsewhere.


There are three main reasons why someone might choose to breadcrumb someone else.


First, they're unwilling (or unable) to completely sever contact. Keeping up the messages is easier (for them) because they don't have to reject anyone out of hand.


For this group, it's a relief when you meet someone else and they don't have to break it off with you.


Second, they're 'hedging their bets' by keeping you around. They might do this in case things don't work out with someone else. Bear in mind 42% of Tinder users are already in a relationship! Or they may just enjoy knowing someone likes them, and they don't want to lose that attention.


Breadcrumbing can also work alongside benching. This is when a person keeps you in reserve while they look for someone better. Or they may be cushioning. This happens when a person in a relationship keeps other prospects around in case the relationship fails.


Third, they don't want a relationship but they like having a series of casual partners to choose from. They use breadcrumbing to keep the partners interested.

What Are the Signs of Breadcrumbing?


The first sign to watch out for is them being vague when it comes to plans. You might mention something you'd like to do, and they say "sure, some time". No plan is ever actually made. 


Don't confuse this with a person being scatty or disorganised. If they want to meet you, they will. Yet if they can't suggest a time/place, then they could be breadcrumbing you.


Another sign is a period of silence followed by a message that doesn't mention their absence. Life happens and things can crop up that get in the way of replying to a message. If someone is genuine, they'll let you know - even if that's apologising for the absence. But a message without acknowledging the fact they've ignored you looks like breadcrumbing.


These messages often appear just as you've started to move on, which usually knocks you back to square one.


Conversations might seem very shallow. No matter how much you try to get to know them, you keep hitting a brick wall. Generic messages are no way to form a lasting or genuine connection.


Watch out for breadcrumbs on different platforms. He might have seen and ignored your WhatsApp messages, but then he likes an Instagram post. It's not a direct overture of interest, but it's enough to keep them at the top of your mind.

How Do You Deal With Someone Who Is Breadcrumbing You?


If you realise someone isn't making much effort to get to know you, then you don't need to invest in them. Focus instead on those people who show they're interested. It takes more effort to act than it does to send a casual "what's up?" every few weeks. 


One option is to confront them. I'll warn you now, don't expect anything fruitful from this. It's unlikely their behaviour will change and they might even try to blame you. Gaslighting would be a sign you've got a manipulator on your hands and you need to hit that 'eject' button.


Still, if you want to try it, stick to a matter-of-fact message and throw the ball back into their court. You might say “I've noticed you like a lot of my Instagram posts but I haven't heard from you in a while. Had you noticed that too?” Or you might point out that they only text you late at night and they've cancelled all the plans you've made. Is there something up?


Keeping it straightforward and factual means you avoid being passive-aggressive or rude. You may also get an actual answer but don't expect anything useful.


Another option is blocking the breadcrumber. That way, you won't keep getting breadcrumbs tossed your way every time you post something. Why should they keep peeking into your life if they won't let you into theirs?


Focus on Building Genuine Connections


My favourite way to deal with breadcrumbing is by being pre-emptive! Check they're genuinely interested in you before you emotionally invest in them. 


Meet the person as soon as you can. Read their body language to look for signs of clear interest. If their WhatsApp messages say "I'm interested" but they constantly watch the door when talking in person? Move on.


If you’re keen to learn the basics of reading body language, then I have a treat for you! Pick up our behavioural profiling Bootcamp, 7 Days to See the Truth, for $35 right now. Learn to tell if your date is interested and ditch breadcrumbers forever!



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