The concept of breadcrumbing is often misunderstood as a quirk of dating.
However, it’s actually more complex, involving both intentional and unintentional behaviours.
Despite being commonly viewed as a form of manipulation, breadcrumbing can also be driven by an individual’s insecurities or attachment styles.
For example, someone with an avoidant attachment may reach out to initiate contact, then retract due to the overwhelming fear of actually meeting up.
Is that truly manipulation?
Is that truly breadcrumbing?
Regardless, whether it’s intentional or not, the behaviour still creates emotional confusion.
And so, to fully understand what breadcrumbing is, we need to acknowledge the range of motivations involved…
From the overt strategies to the subconscious defence mechanisms.
Breadcrumbing’s Twisted Motivations: From Thrill of the Chase to Fear of Intimacy
Thrill of the Chase: Some people who engage in breadcrumbing are attracted to the excitement and challenge of capturing someone’s interest. However once they achieve that goal their interest diminishes, leading to reduced engagement, which is typical of breadcrumbing.
Loneliness: Breadcrumbing can be a way to experience a sense of connection without having to be emotionally vulnerable. It provides the comfort of apparent closeness, which temporarily relieves feelings of loneliness without the complexities of a full relationship.
Unconscious Behavioural Patterns: There are individuals who may not even be fully aware that they engage in breadcrumbing behaviour. They might unknowingly act out patterns ingrained from experiences or relationships.
Dealing with Self Esteem: People who struggle with low self esteem might engage in breadcrumbing as a way to seek validation and feel wanted. They might continue through this cycle of behaviour as the interest they’re shown provides a sense of emotional fulfilment.
Fear of Commitment: Some individuals find the idea of commitment overwhelming. Breadcrumbing allows for a sense of connection while still maintaining a greater sense of emotional distancing.
Avoidant Attachment Style: Individuals with an avoidant attachment style may also find themselves inadvertently breadcrumbing. They might reach out for connection only to retreat back into themselves when they’re forced into a sense of emotional intimacy they’re not ready for.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Breadcrumbing may be a signpost that indicates the individual in question might have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). In relationships characterised by narcissistic dynamics, breadcrumbing can be used as a way to maintain control or as a tactic called ‘hoovering’ – an attempt to draw someone back into the relationship after a breakup.
Resulting from Traumatic Experiences in Relationships: Those who have gone through relationship trauma may engage in breadcrumbing as a defence mechanism. Having been hurt before they feel safer being the one who creates distance than being vulnerable to potential pain. This behaviour often stems from a fear of conflict and serves as a way to protect themselves.
Unmasking the Breadcrumbers: Don’t Let Flirty Crumbs Mask Empty Intentions
When we’re in the heat of the moment and we’re single and we’ve really been desiring communication and connection with people, it can be hard to figure out what people’s true intentions are in the dating world.
Our emotions can take on heightened senses and cause us to miss cues that actually we’re being led and breadcrumbed because we’re so willing to accept any form of contact no matter how small or non-committal
What Are 9 The Red Flags Of Breadcrumbing?
Inconsistent Communication: When you receive sporadic messages with long gaps in between it’s usually an indication that something is amiss. There’s no rhythm or regularity to the way the person communicates. They just pop up every now and then.
Unkept Promises: If someone frequently talks about plans or promises to meet up but never follows through, it’s a common sign of breadcrumbing. The plans that are talked about remain vague and there’s never a clear invitation.
Surface level Conversations: The interactions tend to stay on the surface level focusing on compliments or casual conversations. There’s an absence of meaningful or emotionally intimate discussions.
Mixed Signals: Breadcrumbers display increased interest or affection when they sense you’re distancing yourself or losing interest. However once they have your attention again they revert back to their behaviour.
Ambiguous Intentions: Breadcrumbers often avoid defining the relationship or stating their intentions clearly. They prefer to keep things ambiguous and non committal, so they can remain in their comfort zone.
Dodging Direct Questions: Whenever you try to discuss the status of the relationship or make plans, breadcrumbers tend to evade the questions by changing the subject or simply ignoring them altogether.
Imbalance in Online Interaction: A breadcrumber may show activity by liking or commenting on media posts rather than engaging in direct and private communication with you.
Late Night Messages: If you consistently receive messages late at night or at times that are convenient, for the sender it could also be an indicator of breadcrumbing.
Not putting in effort: The person involved doesn’t really make an effort to keep the conversation going. You might notice that you’re always the one initiating contact or trying to keep the conversation alive.
Gaslighting or denial: When confronted about their behaviour, breadcrumbers might deny it or try to make the other person believe they’re overreacting by gaslighting them in believing it’s all in their imagination and they’re dramatising the situation.
What Is An Example Of Breadcrumbing Texts?
If you’re unsure what breadcrumbing looks or sound like, here are some example texts:
Late Night Lures: The “Just Thinking About You” Dead End
Text 1: “Had a great time with you yesterday! 😊”
This message, commonly sent after a meeting indicates a degree of interest. However if it’s not followed up by any plans or continued discussion, it can be received as a breadcrumb leaving the recipient anticipating further communication which never comes.
Hopeful Ghosting: The Disappearing Act After a Great Time
Text 2: “Hey, been thinking about you…”
This type of message might arrive after a period of silence, bringing back a glimmer of hope. However it remains unclear what the intention is and lacks any conversation or concrete plans, leaving the recipient in a state of uncertainty.
Vague Promises: The “We Should Catch Up Soon” Dead End
Text 3: “We should definitely catch up soon!”
This text seems to suggest the possibility of a meeting. But it doesn’t provide any specific details. Without a date or time it comes across as a vague expression of interest, without any real commitment.
Busy Buffer: The Apology Breadcrumb with Nothing Behind It
Text 4: “Sorry, been really busy lately. Let’s talk soon.”
This is a common breadcrumbing technique used as a way to avoid communication by claiming to be busy while hinting at contact that is bound never to happen.
Empty Sentiments: The “You Crossed My Mind” Shallow Connection
Text 5: “You crossed my mind today 😌”
This text briefly evokes a feeling of connection and significance. It is often followed by silence. It’s classic breadcrumb that keeps the interaction minimal without deepening into anything more significant.
Emotional Crumbs, Damage Dealt: How Breadcrumbing Hurts
Breadcrumbing can significantly affect those who are emotionally vulnerable, very needy.
Those who haven’t been in a relationship for a long time or who may have experienced abandonment in their past or themselves have an insecure attachment style leaning more into anxiousness can be deeply affected by there never being a sense of payoff that comes from a face-to-face meeting because it creates rejection which may be one of the reasons why they’ve entered into the online dating world in the first place.
Narcissist Breadcrumbing: Love Bombing to Breadcrumbing
Narcissists often begin relationships with love bombing as they shower their partner with an almost unceasing amount of affection.
However, they inevitably transition to breadcrumbing, withdrawing themselves and becoming increasingly inconsistent in their interactions.
This shift aims to establish a very clear power dynamic where the “victim” is forced to seek the narcissist’s approval, which then creates the ‘narcissistic supply’ and attention which they crave.
The initial intensity of the love bombing can make it extremely confusing and emotionally unsettling for the victim when they experience the breadcrumbing.
BPD and Breadcrumbing: What Do They Look Like?
In relationships where one partner has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), breadcrumbing can take on a different form as it’s used as a tool for emotional manipulation.
Post-breakup the individual with BPD may send short messages such as “I miss you” or “I’ve been thinking about you,” moving subtly back into idealisation.
These breadcrumbs create uncertainty and guilt, within their partner particularly if there is a lingering sense of codependency.
If it’s not recognised, this tactic can lead to the partner being “hoovered,” as they’re drawn back into the toxic bpd relationship cycle.
In this dynamic, the breadcrumbing makes it difficult for the receiver to establish healthy boundaries and heal from the relationship.
Gaslighting and Breadcrumbing: Dual Manipulation Tactics
Gaslighting and breadcrumbing can both be used individually as manipulation tactics or they may be part of a broader play of keeping someone on the hook in a relationship.
In cases where they’re combined, the breadcrumber-gaslighter may create a situation where they string someone along and then completely deny any wrongdoing when called out on their behaviour.
In this situation, the person using breadcrumbing may deny acts of affection or promises (gaslighting) which only adds to the confusion, for the victim.
It’s a pattern of behaviour you’d usually expect from a narcissist, as they could possibly move through cycles of love bombing, breadcrumbing followed by gaslighting.
Responding to Breadcrumbing: Strategies and Advice
There are two schools of thought when it comes to responding to breadcrumbing.
The first is that you might simply want to move and not say anything, especially if it’s in an online dating scenario.
Why would you want to expend effort when there are so many red flags at the outset of a relationship?
But what if it genuinely is unconscious communication?
Do people deserve a second chance?
Sometimes life circumstances can over take us and promises that were made in good faith just can’t be followed through with in the way they were originally intended.
But is that always the case?
Breaking the Crumb Cycle: How to Respond to Breadcrumbing with Clarity and Power
We’re going to assume here that the breadcrumbing in question, whether conscious or unconscious, is causing emotional distress and dysregulation and you’d like to potentially move forwards with this person.
If it’s a case of narcissistic or BPD style relationship-dynamic, the best course of action would be non-response.
1. Cracking the Code of Crumbs
Track the communication patterns: Note the frequency, consistency, and content of the person’s messages. Look for inconsistencies, sudden drops in contact, and unfulfilled promises.
Reflect on your emotions: Pay close attention to how their interactions make you feel. Do you feel frustrated, confused, or manipulated? Where do these feelings reside in your body?
2. Initiating a Direct Conversation
Plan your conversation: Prepare what you’re going to say in advance and what outcome you’d like to gain from the conversation.
Focus on using constructive ‘I’ statements that veer away from attacking the person in question and explain how the lack of contact and progression has impacted you.
For example, “I feel confused when we go days without talking” or “I’m concerned about the mixed signals I’m receiving.”
Express your needs and expectations: Be upfront about what you require in terms of communication and attention. Don’t shy away from setting boundaries like “I need to hear from you more regularly” or “I prefer consistency over sporadic contact.”
3. Seeking Clarity and Closure
Ask directly about their intentions: The whole point here to figure out whether there is any value in continuing engaging with this person. Can they commit or can’t they? Be prepared for any answer, including the possibility that their intentions don’t align with yours.
Set a timeline for clarity:If the person in question still expresses uncertainty, it’s likely that they aren’t ready to commit and serves as another red flag. However, if there is something genuine there to explore, perhaps suggest a timeframe for them to decide their position.
4. Ending with Respect and Avoiding Ambiguity
Re-evaluate your priorities: Based on their response and your needs, assess if this relationship aligns with your values and expectations. Prioritise your emotional well-being and don’t hesitate to walk away if necessary.
Communicate your decision: If choosing to end the connection, do so clearly and respectfully. Don’t leave room for ambiguity or manipulation. You don’t want to shift from being the ‘breadcrumbed’ to the ‘breadcrumber.’
5. Prioritising Activities that Spark Joy and Refuel Your Soul
Focus on self-care: Refocus your energy. Prioritise activities and relationships that bring you joy and support your emotional well-being. Reconnect with people who truly value you, your time and your energy.
Seek professional help: If you’ve identified recurring patterns in the type of relationships you tend to attract, and the way in which you allow people to treat you. For example, passivity and people-pleasing tendencies, you might consider seeking guidance from a therapist or counsellor.
What to Do When You’re Breadcrumbing Someone
What if you’ve realised that you’re the one that’s been breadcrumbing?
Sometimes, if it’s an unconscious behaviour based on insecurities, it might slip under your conscious awareness for years.
Or, perhaps there is an awareness but a lack of capacity in how to address it?
If you do identify as a breadcrumber, understanding your motives and committing to being truly honest with yourself is essential to move from a place of emotional lack to one of security.
However, be aware, it’s ok to not want to commit to someone if it doesn’t align. It’s when you string the other person along, giving them false hope that the behaviour turns toxic.
Breaking the Breadcrumb Cycle: Committing to Authentic Connections
Acknowledge Inconsistent Behaviour: Notice if your communication is sporadic or non-committal. Are you often initiating contact without intending to follow through?
Analyse Past Relationships: Reflect on your previous relationships or interactions. Look for patterns where you might have engaged in similar behaviour.
Assess Your Motivations: Ask yourself why you breadcrumb. Is it due to a fear of commitment, a need for attention, or perhaps a habit formed from past experiences?
Monitor Your Feelings: Pay attention to your emotions during interactions. Are you breadcrumbing when feeling insecure or seeking validation?
Seek Feedback: Sometimes, it’s helpful to get an outside perspective. Talk to close friends or family about your communication patterns and listen to their observations.
Reflect on Impact on Others: Consider how your behaviour affects those you communicate with. Are they left feeling confused or frustrated?
Identify Triggers: Notice what triggers your breadcrumbing behaviour. Is it specific situations, certain types of relationships, or particular emotional states?
Journal Your Thoughts: Writing down your thoughts and interactions can help in identifying patterns and motives behind your actions.
Pursue Self-Improvement: Work on underlying issues such as fear of intimacy or low self-worth. Professional counselling can be beneficial in this process.
Commit to Change: Once you’ve identified your breadcrumbing patterns, make a conscious effort to change. This could mean being more honest in your communications or taking steps to engage more meaningfully.
Fostering Deeper Connections: Beyond The Promise…
Building deeper connections requires a significant shift in mindset and behaviour. You need to truly want to connect with other people, not just show up when it suits.
And that begins by prioritising depth and authenticity in relationships instead of short-term attention seeking sand validation.
That involves engaging in open and honest communication and being willing to be vulnerable.
But more so than that, it means having a desire to progress beyond what feels safe.
It means being willing to both initiate and follow-through with intentions and not simply trade on promise of what might be in the future that invariably never comes.
How deeply are you willing to connect?