'Breadcrumbing' Is A Horrifying Dating Term — And It's Probably Happened To You

Breadcrumbing is far worse than ghosting.

Breadcrumbing tread is worse than ghosting Baylee Gramling | Unsplash

If you’re single and looking for love, there's a good chance you've been on the receiving end of some bad dating behavior, like ghosting. Ghosting is defined as "breaking off a relationship (often an intimate relationship) by ceasing all communication and contact with the former partner without any apparent warning or justification, as well as ignoring the former partner’s attempts to reach out or communicate." If someone ghosts you, they stop all communication with you without any warning or justification and ignore your attempts to reach out or communicate. Sadly, this disappearing act has become so commonplace that the word is now applied in many contexts beyond dating (such as the workplace: “The applicant ghosted the interview and never showed up…”).


However, as bad as being ghosted is, the new dating trend of 'breadcrumbing' may actually be more painful. What is breadcrumbing Breadcrumbing is defined as "the act of sending out flirtatious, but non-committal text messages (i.e. 'breadcrumbs') [...] to lure a partner without expending much effort" giving "just enough attention to keep their hope of a relationship alive." We have all been in that place when dating someone, and you aren’t entirely sure of your feelings yet. That’s certainly okay. What’s not okay is when someone realizes they don’t see a future with you or their feelings aren’t growing deeper, yet they keep stringing you along anyway.


They essentially throw you "breadcrumbs" of romantic interest but never fully commit to a relationship. So while the person involved isn't ghosting someone, what they're doing can cause long-term relationship problems that make you feel like you're constantly being dragged along, always with just enough of a promise to keep you invested in their relationship, even if they have no intention of making anything more out of it. So while it's much easier to understand how to respond to ghosting, learning how to recognize and respond to breadcrumbing can be much more difficult — and painful.

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Here are 3 reasons breadcrumbing is even worse than ghosting:

1. When you are ghosted, you know it’s over

You may not understand why things ended, and this ambiguity is a tough pill to swallow. But at least you have your answer. You can mourn the relationship’s demise or the dream of what the relationship could have been. When you are breadcrumbed, the flames of hope are still fanned. You may also keep yourself “off the market” for no good reason as you aren’t open to meeting anyone else. You continue to invest more and more energy into a relationship that will eventually yield nothing.

2. Being breadcrumbed often involves deception

Both ghosting and breadcrumbing behavior may indicate someone who is very poor at communicating. Both practices may also display a lack of empathy from the person perpetuating them. But unlike ghosting, it takes a higher level of deception and manipulation to continually keep someone in the game with no intention of real commitment. Such deceptions can take the form of lies, flattery, or seduction. This person is feigning interest for their own benefit at the expense of yours. You are being used to perhaps boost his ego, get lucky, or have a backup option if something else doesn’t work out.


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3. Mixed signals are harder to cope with than no signals

If you're ghosted, you do not get any more signs of interest at all. When you’re breadcrumbed, you get mixed messages of interest. These mixed signals may cause you to up the ante on your efforts to keep the relationship going. Mixed signals also cause more emotional distress. You will wonder what’s happening and why. You will also continually analyze his actions and what they mean. You'll feel like you're going crazy! Once you know what breadcrumbing is, how can you avoid it?

Here are 3 ways to avoid breadcrumbing as a single looking for love:

1. Set the standard from the get-go

Be honest about what you are looking for and don’t be afraid to stick to it. You don’t have to talk in a demanding or harsh way. You don’t have to freak them out by saying your eggs are rotting or your fantasy wedding is being ruined. Just give a general idea of what you desire for your future. For example, saying, “I am looking for a long-term relationship,” or “I am not interested in a fling.” If you say it, you should stick to it. Do not be wishy-washy or weak if you have expressed your expectations. Don’t respond to a 2:00 a.m. booty call if you want a real relationship!

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2. Communicate directly

You should effectively communicate by asserting yourself. You can comment on just what’s happening and why it’s not right for you. For example, “It’s been two months now, and you never take me out on a Saturday night … what’s up with that?” or “You seem to only want to text, but not get together or call me, that’s not really enough for me.” It’s even okay to ask them why they're doing it. Be brave and open up the discussion.

3. Hold them accountable

For every breadcrumbing-type action, there should be an equal and opposite reaction. There must be a consequence that states that such treatment isn’t okay! For instance, if you don’t hear from him for a week then you get your breadcrumb, don’t take it! Say “no” to the date. It’s okay to say, “I haven’t heard from you all week, so I made other plans.” No long complicated or punitive response is required. Just an appropriate response that matches the action.

Decide how long you want to put up with the breadcrumbs. Give him a fair shot. Give the benefit of the doubt. Give some room for a relationship to slowly develop. But if all you get are breadcrumbs and it doesn’t seem to be evolving anytime soon, decide your limit and stick to it! The quirky slang terms to describe poor dating behavior, such as breadcrumbing and ghosting, are nothing to laugh at if you are on the receiving end of any of them. These interactions can chip away at your self-esteem. Once you recognize it’s happening, don’t be a victim, stand up for yourself, and don’t accept this kind of behavior from anyone.


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Dr. Marni Feuerman is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice, relationship expert, and author of Ghosted and Breadcrumbed: Stop Falling for Unavailable Men and Get Smart about Healthy Relationships.