What is Breadcrumbing? (& 5 Signs You’re Being Led On)

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Published Date|
May 11, 2024

What is Breadcrumbing? (& 5 Signs You’re Being Led On)

They’re perfect on paper. They say all the right things, make elaborate plans for the future, and you’re excited every time their name pops up on your phone.

But soon, you realize that the promises they make never seem to have any follow-through. They can’t wait to take that trip with you - but they’re not sure when they’ll be able to book the time off work. They’re so excited for you to meet their family - but their parents are really busy with their jobs.

Their inconsistent affections feel so good when they’re happening, but ultimately leave you feeling more confused than anything else.

Breadcrumbing can be complicated - but we’re here to help you understand it.

Here at KMA Therapy, we’re relationship experts. For over 15 years, we’ve helped our clients and community learn about the latest relationship trends and understand how they apply to their own lives.

After reading this article, you’ll know what breadcrumbing is, psychological reasons why someone would engage in breadcrumbing, and five ways to deal with a breadcrumber.

What is Breadcrumbing?

Breadcrumbing happens when someone is leading you on using small interactions, like sending you messages, to keep you engaged with them - without ever actually having the intention of committing to a relationship with you.

You follow these “crumbs” of attention in the hopes of reaching something bigger, only to realize the other person isn’t willing to offer you anything more than they already have.

5 signs of breadcrumbing are:

  • They make vague plans for the future (i.e. talking about activities but not setting a date)
  • They don’t reply to your messages for days but apologize profusely when they do reply
  • They interact with your social media posts but won’t respond to your messages
  • Their messages are surface level and they don’t ask about your life
  • They talk about shared interests but not your personal interests

While breadcrumbing typically refers to romantic relationships, it can also happen in platonic friendships and even professional relationships.

Any relationship where the other person makes vague promises to keep you engaged while failing to deliver on what they’re promising can be considered breadcrumbing.

The Impacts of Breadcrumbing

Research has shown that breadcrumbing isn’t just annoying - it can take a toll on your mental health.

Breadcrumbing can lead to:

  • Feelings of loneliness
  • Feelings of self-doubt
  • Lower self-esteem
  • Confusion

These impacts don’t only affect you in your current relationship. Experiencing breadcrumbing can influence the way you experience your future relationships and cause you to question future partners.

What is the Psychology Behind Breadcrumbing?

When someone is breadcrumbing you, it’s easy to feel like it’s a reflection of you - you start to wonder whether you did something wrong or if you could have changed something to make them behave differently.

psychology of breadcrumbing

When you feel this way, it can be helpful to understand the reasons why someone engages in breadcrumbing behaviour (spoiler alert: it’s not your fault.)

Someone who is breadcrumbing you can be doing it for a variety of reasons.

Psychological reasons for breadcrumbing include:

  • Relieving loneliness without committing to a relationship
  • A hesitancy to fully end the relationship
  • A fear of intimacy
  • Low self-esteem

People who breadcrumb you aren’t always doing it intentionally. People with an avoidant attachment style might breadcrumb you without realizing it - they might really intend to follow through with what they promise you, but become too overwhelmed to ultimately live up to their promises.

While understanding the reasoning for their behaviour can be helpful, it doesn’t mean you have to accept it.

How to Handle Breadcrumbing

One of the first things to recognize when dealing with breadcrumbing is that it’s not your fault. 

It’s easy to feel like you just need to try harder in the relationship or do things to be more interesting to the other person - but breadcrumbing ultimately says more about the other person than it does about you.

Follow these tips to help overcome breadcrumbing.

1. Understand what you want in a relationship

Do you know what you really want in a relationship?

Breadcrumbing can have a different impact on you depending on what you expect from the relationship.

For example, you may have a friend who you’ve been close to for years, but you’re both in the first year of demanding jobs. You may really intend to see each other more often than you do, but understand when the other cancels plans. In a friendship like this, flexibility can help both of you get what you need, and you have the mutual understanding and respect to know that you still deeply care about each other.

On the other hand, if you’re dating someone new and you’ve discussed that you both want to work toward a serious relationship, cancelling plans can feel completely different. You’re making them a priority and they’re not returning the favour.

Explore what you need from the other person in terms of:

  • Mutual expectations
  • Communication
  • Quality time

Once you know exactly what you want, it can be easier to express it.

2. Be direct about what you need

Breadcrumbing isn’t always intentional, so sometimes you just need to be direct with the other person.

Have a conversation about how their behaviour is making you feel and explain what you want out of the relationship.

This is an opportunity to find out if the two of you have common goals but different communication styles, or if you’re simply not compatible.

If you have a conversation where you agree to mutual expectations, but they continuously fail to follow through, it might be time to end the relationship and find someone who can give you the support and commitment you deserve.

3. Distract yourself

When you’re engaging with someone who is breadcrumbing you, it can be easy for them to become the center of your world.

You wait for their messages, and every time a notification pops up, your heart races for a second - until you realize it’s still not them.

When you’re only focusing on the breadcrumbing relationship, it can be hard to remember all the other aspects of your life that make it fulfilling.

Distract yourself by focusing on the other things that make you happy.

Do you have a sport you’re passionate about? Are you working on a creative project? Spending more energy on the things you enjoy can be a great way to feel more fulfilled (and it’s harder to constantly check your phone if you’re busy kicking a soccer ball or holding a paintbrush.)

4. Find other forms of social support

Don’t forget about the people in your life who don’t breadcrumb you.

Meet up with a supportive friend or family member to remind yourself of the people who show up for you in the way you deserve.

If your situationship keeps promising they’ll go to a movie with you, but is somehow so busy that they can never plan a time to go see it, take a friend instead.

The person breadcrumbing you isn’t making you a priority - so don’t feel obligated to make them a priority either.

5. Support yourself while moving on from the relationship

Dealing with someone who promises you the world but can never seem to deliver is hard.

Maybe they promised to go to a concert with you only to bail at the last minute - but sent you flowers as an apology. Maybe they forgot to show up to your birthday party, but brought you a nice present the next time you saw them in person.

One of the most confusing aspects of breadcrumbing is that they give you just enough to keep you wanting more.

Trying to navigate this all on your own can be overwhelming and cause you to question your own judgement, so it’s important to surround yourself with people who can remind you of what you deserve.

Whether you have a conversation with a friend or with a therapist, getting an objective perspective can help you see the relationship more clearly and realize what you do and don’t want from future partners.

Next Steps for Fulfilling Relationships

After reading this article, you know what breadcrumbing is and how to overcome it.

Here at KMA Therapy, our team of relationship experts is here to help you navigate complex relationships and get the support you deserve.

Register online to connect with our team or download our free Therapy 101 Guide to learn more.

If you’d prefer to keep reading, explore these related articles:

About the Author

Emily Weatherhead has a Masters in Community Psychology from Wilfrid Laurier University, where her research focused on improving post-secondary student mental health. She is passionate about finding new ways to make mental health research more accessible and break down the barriers that prevent people from receiving mental health care.

Author |
Emily Weatherhead (Guest Author)
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