Breadcrumbing: What It Is, 28 Signs to See It & Respond and Why People Do It

You might be asking yourself, “What is breadcrumbing?” Learn all about this ego-boosting method, how to tell if it’s happening to you, and how to react.

what is breadcrumbing

You’re here because you’ve asked yourself: “What is breadcrumbing?”

You should know that it has nothing to do with actual bread – but everything to do with ego. Experiencing breadcrumbing can be true agony. Recognizing the signs of breadcrumbing is key if you want to overcome the frustration and potential heartbreak that comes with falling for a breadcrumber.

Have you ever met someone and felt a click? The conversation is going really well, and you think something good may come out of it. It’s a heady feeling, for sure.

You’re texting all the time and even occasionally talking on the phone, but it doesn’t go past that. They’re not asking to see you or making any new plans – nothing. If this has happened or is currently happening to you, this could be breadcrumbing. [Read: 17 modern dating terms to help you master the evolving dating game]

What is breadcrumbing?

Breadcrumbing is when someone is consciously leading another person on only for excitement and an ego boost. A breadcrumber will flirt and engage in conversation, doing everything they can to get you hooked. They say just enough to keep you interested, without having the intent to commit at all. [Read: 15 signs you’re being used by a guy, and it’s time to ditch him]

Once that happens, they toy around with you, playing hot-and-cold games. They’re not planning to actually escalate. It sucks.

It’s always a good feeling when someone is interested in you. You feel a good connection – but you don’t want that person to be in it to enhance their own ego. [Read: 15 signs a girl is leading you on but taking you nowhere]

The psychology behind breadcrumbing and why someone would want to do it

Breadcrumbing, when done intentionally, is a narcissistic and manipulative act.

When a person uses breadcrumbing, they do it because they want to feel good about themselves. They need to feel wanted. Of course, flirting and feeling wanted feels good, but when a breadcrumber gets the sense that you’re into them, the flirting becomes a little darker.

When you use breadcrumbing, you’re building someone up just to knock them down. Some people get a real kick out of that because it makes them feel powerful. They get a big head, because you keep coming back for more.

Being able to answer the question, “what is breadcrumbing?” and knowing the signs of it means that you can avoid falling into a breadcrumber’s toxic trap. [Read: Toxic dating habits that you think are normal]

The impact of breadcrumbing

What is breadcrumbing? It’s a soul-sucking tactic that leaves you feeling confused and hurt.

Breadcrumbing can have a huge impact on your psyche and self-worth if done methodically. When you’re being breadcrumbed, it’s common to feel uncertain about the relationship or even that you’re simply in the relationship alone.

Those who have experienced breadcrumbing know that it’s a distinct form of rejection, which makes a person feel isolated, invalidated, and anxious. [Read: 36 healthy ways to handle rejection & respond positively]

The constant state of confusion will have you feeling emotionally exhausted in no time, and the diminished sense of self will leave you with nothing more than doubt and feelings of inadequacy.

How to respond to breadcrumbing

Sometimes, a breadcrumber doesn’t even know they’re breadcrumbing. The explanations for the inconsistent contact, canceled plans, and various ups and downs might actually be legitimate. However, you’ll never know until you bring it to their attention.

If your breadcrumber is being intentional with their actions, the best thing to do for yourself is address it.

1. Suggest a date

If you’re hooked on a breadcrumber, it’s easy to be sucked into an endless loop of fruitless conversation. They don’t suggest dates or follow through with making plans, so you do it for them. [Read: 47 really fun date ideas that’ll make anyone want more!]

The first thing to do is make specific plans. Name the day, time, and place. Don’t make it a question, but present it in a kind of assertive way.

Say something like, “Let’s go to the arcade Friday.” If you make it a more definitive suggestion rather than a question, you’re less likely to be met with wishy-washy responses.

2. If they cancel on you, let them know it’s not okay

If they bail on you last minute again, it’s okay for you to tell them how you feel. Pretending that you’re fine with it and that it’s no big deal only encourages their behavior.

Let them know that you were really looking forward to spending some time with them, and that it kind of sucks that you feel like you can’t make it happen. [Read: The signs & what you MUST do when your boyfriend doesn’t make time for you]

3. Don’t take it personally

Most importantly, don’t think that their behavior is your fault.

The way they act is a direct reflection of them – not you. A breadcrumber is going to breadcrumb, and it doesn’t matter who the target is. What matters is that they feel relevant and have gotten the ego boost that they were seeking.

4. Remember what you deserve

Everyone deserves a little bit of dedication, and you’re no different. Don’t invalidate your own needs for the sake of someone else’s self-importance. You don’t treat yourself poorly, so you shouldn’t allow someone else to do it either. [Read: How to be kind to yourself & love life]

5. Set clear boundaries and be direct

Boundaries are healthy, necessary, and can really save you a lot of time in the long run.

If you’re concise about what you want and you can make it known, you can very quickly weed out anyone who can’t or won’t meet your needs.

Letting someone else know what is and isn’t okay for you is also reaffirming it for yourself. You’re advocating for yourself and protecting your mental health.

6. Decide if the relationship is worth continuing

It’s time to take a seat and really examine your relationship. [Read: 21 signs of a bad relationship that signal a bad future]

Is it really worth the energy? Does the effort pay off? Do you feel like you’re being sucked emotionally dry? Are you already exhausted from simply thinking about it?

Define your boundaries. Decide if they have been (and will continue to be) trampled on. If this relationship isn’t meeting your needs, you should step away from it.

7. Notice red flags in the future

Watch out for the ambiguous but telltale signs of breadcrumbers. Keep them in your pocket so that you can use them to identify those behaviors in the future. Choose not to busy yourself with someone who isn’t as invested as you are. [Read: 25 ways to stop feeling ignored by someone you like]

Why are they breadcrumbing me?

There’s a reason for nearly everything, and breadcrumbing is no exception. Those who practice the sad art of breadcrumbing often have a variety of selfish and deep-seated issues that they refuse to address.

1. What is breadcrumbing? A way for them to feel better about themselves

A breadcrumber tends to lack confidence, despite the fact that they can seem a bit cocky. [Read: Confident or cocky? 16 subtle signs that separate arrogant & modest men]

The way that they lead others on gives them a huge spike in ego. They keep blowing you off, but you continue to come back, wanting more? What’s better for one’s vanity than being chased?

2. They don’t like to feel alone

A person who doesn’t have genuinely solid friendships or relationships might think it’s easier to keep a bunch of shallow relationships going.

They might feel distant from other people due to their lack of social connections, so they engage in breadcrumbing with several people at a time. They’ve always got somebody to talk to, even though the conversations are superficial and can’t really end their loneliness.

3. They need validation from others

Knowing that you want to keep talking to them despite their shiftiness provides them with validation. You’re giving them the sense of worth that they need to feel important and solidifying their action plan. Getting the results that they want encourages the breadcrumbing behavior to continue. [Read: The thirst trap – what it is and why it screams, “I Want Attention!”]

4. They’re narcissistic

Narcissism tends to make someone emotionally unavailable, which means that they aren’t able to give you a meaningful connection.

Narcissists crave attention and often exhibit attention-seeking behaviors. They play games that mess with your mind, making them feel powerful.

5. They’re already in a relationship

Maybe you’re being breadcrumbed because this person already has a serious relationship. This is sadly common with long-distance relationships and relationships with a similar dynamic.

Maybe their partner is a little distant, and they’re seeking some short-term care and validation. This would explain the inconsistent contact and inability to make or keep plans.

Obvious signs of breadcrumbing you can’t miss

Learn the signs of breadcrumbing to avoid it happening to you.

1. They blow hot and cold

This is something that breadcrumbers are masters of, and it’s a very clear sign that you’re being breadcrumbed.

One day, they’re very chatty and texting with you non-stop. They’re making you feel like you’re the only one. The next day, it’s like you don’t exist. [Read: Blowing hot and cold – the 3 stages to explain why and how someone does this]

2. They breadcrumb you through various channels

When someone is breadcrumbing you, they’re not just sticking to one form of breadcrumbing. Instead, they’ll leave you on read via text, but they’ll like your photo on Instagram or comment on a Facebook post. That way, they stay on your radar so that you can’t really forget or move on from them.

What is breadcrumbing? It’s a collection of several different strategies that are designed to confuse.

3. Conversations are normally pretty shallow

Maybe you’ve had a deeper conversation once or twice, but when you really take a look at what you talk about, there’s not much going on. Your conversations with them are simple and shallow. [Read: Shallow people lack depth – 30 signs you swim in the shallow end]

4. When they’re seeing other people

If they’re seeing other people while texting you, they’re clearly breadcrumbing you. They’re keeping their options open, and you’re just one of them. They want to date a lot of people without looking like a jerk, so they tell you that they’re ‘casually dating’. [Read: What is benching? 17 signs you’re being strung along right now]

5. What is breadcrumbing? When they don’t ask to see you

If someone likes you, they’re going to make time to see you. It’s really that simple. If someone isn’t investing time to hang out with you, they’re not interested in you.

6. They know exactly when you’re getting over them

When you’re almost getting over them, they contact you. It’s funny how that works. Maybe it’s their psychic abilities, or maybe they’ve recently stalked you on social media.

Regardless, we can put money on the fact that if they feel you letting go, they’re going to make you want to hang on again. [Read: How to tell if someone is a narcissist and recognize one instantly]

7. The only time they talk to you is when they want something

When they text you, do they ever do it just to see how you are? Probably not. Instead, they only text you when they need something, usually sex. They’ll send you flirtatious jokes and ask you a question or two, but give it a couple of minutes, and you’ll see their true intentions.

8. They’re all about the booty call

A booty call doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being breadcrumbed. If you both agreed on casual sex, it’s fine. But if not, and you don’t hear from them for ages until they suddenly and suspiciously get in touch with you late at night, you’re nothing but a booty call to them. [Read: Booty call moves that may look like true love]

9. Bailing on your agreed upon plans

You’ve made plans to see each other, but they cancel at the last minute. If this happens once, it’s understandable.

When it becomes a routine on their part, you’re being breadcrumbed. They have no intention of ever meeting you unless it’s for sex. [Read: Got people that flake on you? Here’s why you need to ditch them right now]

10. They don’t make you feel good about yourself

When you have a conversation with them, you don’t feel good about it. The flirting felt nice in the beginning. Now, you just feel disappointed when the conversation ends.

The feelings of sadness and disappointment aren’t signs of a healthy relationship. This person shouldn’t be making you feel these negative emotions.

11. They’re passive-aggressive when you confront them

No one wants to be caught playing a cruel game. Maybe you’ve confronted them about their actions, and they were passive-aggressive and manipulative in response. Don’t let their response affect you. Listen to and follow your gut instinct. [Read: The rage a narcissist feels when you confront them]

12. You wonder what you did wrong

Every time you talk to them, you feel like you may have said something that turned them off. That’s not the case! It’s part of their game. It’s easier for them to have you blame yourself than point the finger at them.

It’s easy to be confused when you’re experiencing the hot and cold behavior of someone who’s playing you and trying to breadcrumb you. Just remember that these cycles of confusion and stress are caused by them, rather than you. [Read: How to stop feeling guilty and start living for you]

13. Their actions don’t match their words

We know the flirting is giving you a different impression, but look at their actions, not words. They could have all the free time in the world, but they still don’t take the time to see you.

Breadcrumbing is a basic game of cat and mouse. The mouse makes a brief appearance out of the hole, and the waiting cat pounces, excited to finally see the mouse. The mouse goes back into the hole, pleased that their teasing tactic has worked.

14. They prefer to communicate at odd hours

This might be most likely to occur if they’re in a committed relationship. You’ll only hear from them when their partner might be asleep or at work. [Read: Snapchat cheating – what it is & the signs that it’s happening]

Using odd hours to communicate is also a good tactic to use if they’re just contacting you to drop another crumb. For instance, they text you at 2:30 in the morning, knowing that you’re not likely to respond. By doing this, they’ve reached out and made you believe they’re interested, but they don’t have to maintain a conversation.

15. They like to play the victim

Another favorite narcissistic behavior used by a breadcrumber is playing the victim. You know that it’s a habit for them to text you heavily for a couple of days and then essentially drop off the face of the planet for several more.

Suddenly, you get a series of texts accusing you of being careless because you didn’t text or check on them. [Read: Playing the victim – signs & reasons why it makes your life worse]

16. They don’t try to get to know you

They’re not investing too much energy in getting to know you, basically because they’re not planning on sticking around. Breadcrumbers are in it for themselves, not for you. They don’t care about anything other than getting their ego boost.

Is it only narcissists who use such tactics?

Definitely not. While narcissists will probably use breadcrumbing when they’re bored, it’s just one in a huge arsenal of manipulation tactics at their disposal. There are people of all kinds who like to breadcrumb for the ego boost.

When a person lacks confidence in themselves, they either isolate or try to drag others down with them. All you can do is feel grateful that you recognized their game before you truly fell for them. You don’t deserve such treatment, so cut contact and find someone who will show you more respect.

[Read: Cushioning – Why so many jerks use this dating tactic to keep you hooked]

No one deserves measly crumbs in a relationship. You deserve the whole loaf! Keep these signs of breadcrumbing in your mind. Not only will you be able to answer, “What is breadcrumbing?” but you’ll also know how to face it.

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Preeti Tewari Serai
Preeti Serai
Preeti, the founder of LovePanky, is an eternal optimist and believer in the beauty of love and life. With an exhaustive experience in love, relationships, and ...