• Have you ever been chatting to a romantic interest on-and-off, but failed to nail down a time and place for a date?
  • Ever assumed you’d been ghosted, only for them to reply to your Instagram story two weeks later?
  • If this is sounding familiar, you may have fallen victim to breadcrumbing

What is breadcrumbing?

It’s hard to keep up with modern dating terms – there’s already wokefishing, orbiting and cushioning to contend with – so it’s no surprise if you hadn’t heard of breadcrumbing until now.

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According to brides.com, breadcrumbing is “the act of sending out flirtatious, but non-committal social signals (i.e. “breadcrumbs”) in order to lure a romantic partner in without expending much effort. In other words, it’s leading someone on.”

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Breadcrumbers might send you the occasional meme, but then not keep the conversation going when you reply – or they’ll like all your selfies but never arrange a date for you to meet up. Or maybe every now and then they’ll send you generic Snapchats that are almost definitely sent to about ten other people too. Breadcrumbing isn’t strictly a ‘dating’ phenomenon, either – you can also be breadcrumbed by a friend. Some people have even experienced being breadcrumbed in their marriage.

Why do people breadcrumb?

There are many reasons why people might breadcrumb. Speaking to brides.com, relationship expert Dr Kelly Campbell suggests that breadcrumbers are often narcissists. “Often, these individuals have a personality characterised by narcissism as well as a game-playing, shallow approach to relationships,” she says. “They don’t feel guilty about manipulating others and playing with people’s emotions.”

Of course, it’s also possible that your breadcrumber is actually so much of a people-pleaser that they’re scared of hurting you by rejecting you out-and-out. This doesn’t mean breadcrumbing is OK – after all, breadcrumbing is more likely to upset you than a short, sharp break-up – but it might just explain their behaviour.

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Another possibility is that they’re simply unsure about where the relationship is going. In which case, it’s likely “they are still ‘testing the waters’ in the relationship and want some space to do this,” Dr Marni Feuerman, author and licensed psychotherapist, tells Bustle. It’s vital to apply context to the situation: if you’ve only been chatting for a few weeks, it’s fair for your crush to want some space. But if you’re months into talking and still haven’t nailed down a time for a second date, there’s more valid cause for concern.

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Breadcrumbing can also be a sign that the person is actually in a relationship. “Often breadcrumbers are in a relationship they find unsatisfying and hope to enliven their life,” Dr Elisa Robyn tells Bustle. If you have reason to believe your breadcrumber is actually dating someone else, run for the hills, as it’s a sign they have serious issues with commitment.

How to tell if you’re being breadcrumbed

There are lots of ways to figure out if you’re being breadcrumbed. Speaking to Bustle, Dr. Robyn says that you might receive the odd text message from them – but not much more than that. “The notes are fun and perhaps a bit sexy, and then they stop again,” she says. “You might schedule a few dates, but for some reason, they are always canceled and followed by a short text. You feel like you are following a trail of breadcrumbs.”

Even if you do manage to see your breadcrumber IRL, they’ll still neglect to make you a priority. Writing for The List, Jorie Mark writes: “In person, breadcrumbing works a little differently – don’t be surprised if you get tons of attention, even some heated flirting, when you’re in a group setting, but then zero attempts to socialise with you privately.”

Other signs include: their actions leaving you feeling confused; ‘blowing hot and cold’ with you; or if you get the sense they’re much less interested in committing to a relationship than you are. Dr. Robyn also suggests “[watching] for a pattern of cancelled dates followed by several text messages, and then silence. There will be just enough communication to keep you confused.”

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Basically, trust your gut. If it feels like something’s amiss, it’s worth having a frank and honest chat with your breadcrumber.

What to do if you think you’re being breadcrumbed

If you think you’re being breadcrumbed, the most important thing to remember is that you do still have control of the situation. You don’t deserve to be treated like you’re second best – and you don’t have to be. You still have agency to walk away or confront your breadcrumber.

“The more direct we are, the more mature our confrontations are,” Dr Rosara Torrisi, a certified sex therapist, tells Men’s Health. “Own your feelings and then make a request.” Be specific – maybe you want one ten-minute phone call a day, or you’d like to meet up at least once a week. Maybe you’d just like clarification on where they think the relationship is going – because there’s no point continuing to see or talk to them if you’d like commitment and they’re not ready for that.

Dr Campbell reiterates Dr Torrisi’s sentiments. Speaking to brides.com, she says that “you set the example for how others should treat you, so don’t tolerate poor treatment. You deserve someone who is willing to give you the same amount of attention you are willing to invest.”

She’s right – acknowledge when someone is failing to meet your needs and recognise when it’s time to walk away. It may be difficult if you feel as though you’ve made an emotional investment in the other person, but ultimately if they’re not willing to match the time and energy you’re willing to give them, you’re going to be wasting your time.

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It can be difficult to wrench yourself away sometimes, but keep reminding yourself that they can’t be the right person for you if they’re not treating you with the respect you deserve.