What You Need To Know About Breadcrumbing In A Relationship

Romance is tough, and it becomes even more complicated when you add in the nuances of online dating. Communicating with a crush online often means walking a tightrope of overthought timing, especially if you're still in the talking stage. How often should you message them? Will you look too eager if you answer right away? Is it weird that you liked that Insta post from three months ago?

Most of us muddle through somehow, just trying to keep some shred of dignity intact as we seek out our ideal match. But there is a certain subset of people actually using this uncertainty to their advantage in a new dating trend known as "breadcrumbing."

Breadcrumbing is when someone strings you along by leaving a sporadic, Hansel-and-Gretel-like trail of interactions across your texts, DMs, and social media accounts. "In a relationship context, breadcrumbing refers to a person who gives you just enough 'crumbs' of attention or affection to give you hope and keep you on the hook — but not enough to make you feel comfortable or assured the relationship is going well," clinical psychologist Dr. Gemma Harris explains to Psych Central.

More often than not, this means a lot of one-sided conversations and plans to meet up that never actually materialize. For anyone seeking a committed relationship, breadcrumbing may sound baffling and counterproductive. But experts have put forth a few convincing explanations about why some people seek this kind of surface-level interaction without ever going deeper.

Why does breadcrumbing happen?

Unfortunately, romantic partners have been leading each other on throughout all of recorded history. But digital channels have made it even easier to keep someone interested with minimal effort, whether this distant relationship dynamic is intentional or not.

Sometimes, the breadcrumber perpetrates this kind of behavior on purpose. Why? It could be that they have a fear of commitment or don't want to give up dating other people. Others turn to breadcrumbing to stave off loneliness or give themselves an ego boost. After all, doesn't it feel good when someone is eager for your attention? In some cases, a breadcrumber may actually be in a committed relationship already and simply like keeping other flirtations going for extra validation and fulfillment (via Healthline).

To be fair, there are also many times that someone might breadcrumb you without realizing what they're doing. They may have a very busy daily life, poor communication skills, or a short attention span. In this case, the behavior is not malicious, though it's still inconsiderate. On the upside, there is potential that this kind of breadcrumbing can be improved upon once the guilty party realizes that it's having a negative impact on you.

How can you tell if you're being breadcrumbed?

Wondering if you're being breadcrumbed or if your crush is just absentminded? There are some key traits to breadcrumbing that can help you tell what's going on. If you're being breadcrumbed — intentionally or otherwise — the other party will chronically avoid making plans. They will dodge your attempts to schedule a firm date with phrases like, "We should totally do that sometime." You're also much more likely to hear from them around the same time of day after periods of radio silence. For example, you may only get DMs from them late at night or during their work break, when they're likely to be feeling lonely or bored.

The quality of communication will also be subpar. Instead of engaging in your attempts at conversation, a breadcrumber may respond with "microcommunications" (via Verywell Mind). This could mean replying with monosyllabic answers and emojis or completely ignoring your texts to leave a like on your social media post instead. Any meaningful dialog is essentially escaped or unacknowledged.

Last but not least, if your interactions are limited to booty calls and hookups with no interest from your partner in pursuing anything else, they probably aren't as emotionally invested as you'd like them to be (via A Conscious Rethink). If this sounds like your situation, now is the time to take stock of your commitment to this would-be relationship and disrupt the status quo. Try speaking to the breadcrumber about the future of your flirtation, and lay out any expectations you have. This doesn't have to be a harsh ultimatum, but let it be known that you aren't interested in sticking around unless it's going somewhere.