Breadcrumbs: A Trail Leading to Nowhere
Dating and relationships can be complicated enough. Their complexity is heightened further as we try to navigate unhealthy behaviors and confusing terminologies. For example, most of us have heard of “ghosting,” but how about “breadcrumbing”? Learning about it is important so that you can successfully notice and avoid it if it ever happens in your relationships.
At its core, breadcrumbing means leading someone on in romance, while having no actual intention to commit. This is typically done by sending mixed messages and showing just enough attention to keep the other person interested.
At the beginning of a relationship, breadcrumbing can be a normal course of action. It’s common for people to not feel immediately comfortable introducing all of themselves, so they put out “crumbs,” allowing others to have a taste to see who likes the flavor of their personality. However, while sending flirty texts and liking social media posts might be par for the course at the beginning of the dating process, these actions can become problematic if they continue with no shift towards moving forward in the relationship. If someone likes the crumbs, it’s up to the breadcrumber to decide if they want to give more of themselves (e.g., by going on a date), or end the journey because they’re uninterested. If they continue breadcrumbing despite interest shown to them, then the breadcrumbing can become a method of emotional manipulation.
Breadcrumbing becomes particularly problematic when the partners have chosen to label themselves as “being in a relationship.” In this scenario, while one partner is fully committed, the other (i.e., the breadcrumber) has chosen to keep one foot out the door, present only enough to keep their partner within their grasp. This typically results in the committed partner feeling unsatisfied and wanting more. In practice, this presents as inconsistency with the breadcrumber’s investment in the relationship. The breadcrumber will make it seem as if their partner is the center of their world for a limited number of dates, messaging in between, commenting on social media, or agreeing to meet up for some form of intimacy. They’ll then disappear or otherwise be unavailable for a period of time (e.g., a week or three), and will inevitably come back with excuses for their absence. After being let back in by their partner, they will go right back to acting as if this person is the most important individual in the universe, showering them with attention and affection for another few dates before they disappear again. Over time, this can result in lots of confusion, insecurity, hurt and resentment for the committed partner being led on. Due to the unequal input of emotional energy, investment, and time from all participants, relationships with a breadcrumber are typically doomed to end with one partner feeling dissatisfied and disappointed.
Bottom line: Breadcrumbing means leading someone on a trail while having no intent to commit to them, and giving them just enough attention to keep them interested without spending the time or energy that would be required to maintain a mutually satisfying, healthy relationship. It undermines the potential for a healthy relationship, leading to hurt and confusion for the person following the breadcrumbs.
Written by: Silva Depanian, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Anger Management Counselor specializing in codependent relationships, anger management, anxiety, and chronic pain management.