The Difference Between Ghosting And Breadcrumbing

by Anjali Sareen Nowakowski

You may have heard of (and hopefully, weren't victim to) the practice of ghosting.

For those unaware, ghosting is the awful process of completely cutting off communication with someone without warning as a means of ending a relationship. It's cowardly, and it's a downright terrible way to treat another person.

But there's a new, just as awful, trend that's taking the dating world by storm: breadcrumbing. Breadcrumbing is essentially exactly what it sounds like: Leaving little tiny fictitious crumbs for another person to latch on to, leading them on even when you're basically over it.

Unlike ghosting, breadcrumbing doesn't end all communication. Instead, breadcrumbing is the deceptive practice of giving someone just enough to keep them interested, even when you're not. Breadcrumbing keeps someone around at your liking, taking the form of a half-hearted Instagram "like" once every two weeks, or even a text once every few months.

April Masini, a New York-based relationship expert, says that breadcrumbing is more insidious than it first appears. "Breadcrumbing is a lot like an older term, gas lighting — where someone begins to question their sanity because they've been manipulated and think they're going crazy," says Masini.

She added,

People breadcrumb because they want the other person in their life — so they can feel that they're there if they need them, but they have no intention of dating them at the moment, or ever. Sometimes they breadcrumb others because they're lonely, sometimes fearful of being alone, and sometimes sadistic, or simply selfish.

While both are terrible in their own right, here are a few key differences between breadcrumbing and ghosting, and a few reasons why you shouldn't be doing either of them.

Ghosting ends things definitively, while breadcrumbing leaves a window open.

Xavier Sotomayor/Unsplash

While there's nothing nice about the act of ghosting, it's at least a far more definitive way to end things than breadcrumbing.

With ghosting, although there might not be any healthy emotional closure like the ghosted person would like, at least it's closed. When a person stops responding to your messages and cuts off communication with you completely, you know where things stand: They're done.

Of course, at first you may wonder what happened. Did they get busy? Did they have something else going on that is keeping them distracted? Ultimately, ending things cold turkey means there's nothing left to do except move on.

Breadcrumbing, however, gives no such definitive ending. The whole point of breadcrumbing is to give little tiny bits to make sure the person stays hanging on, for whenever you might want them to provide you with attention. Breadcrumbing keeps the other person in emotional limbo.

Both clearly suck, but being led on using breadcrumbing is less favorable than being ghosted.

Ghosting someone is rude, while breadcrumbing someone is deceitful.

You can say a lot of things about ghosting, but at least when the ghosted person realizes it's over, it's over.

When you ghost on someone, you're not being as upfront as you should be, but you're at least ending things... in some warped way. It may not be the best way of going about it, but when you distance yourself from the situation, there's no possibility of a future relationship.

Breadcrumbing, on the other hand, is designed for dishonesty. It's designed to make the person think they still have a shot with you, or that you are still into them in some way, with a potential future on the table. It's selfish, completely deceptive, and it's going to more trouble than it's worth in the long run.

Anita A. Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love, says there's no actual point to the act of breadcrumbing, as it gets you nowhere.

"One of the worst things about breadcrumbing is that it wastes people's time," says Chlipala. "People might think, "If I just give them a little more time, they'll come around" or "I'll show them how awesome I am and then they'll reciprocate." What ends up happening is the partner gives more to the relationship."

Breadcrumbing isn't just the decision to lie to another human being one time, it's the decision to keep lying to them with continued dishonesty for an extended period of time.

Ghosting cuts off all communication, while breadcrumbing perpetuates unhealthy communication.

Kayla Snell

Ghosting clearly ends all communication. While the ones doing the ghosting do it because they need a bridge burned or a door closed, the people who are ghosted deal with this long after the ghoster is gone.

"People who are ghosted crave resolution — that is wrapped up in a neat package with a bow," says Masini. "The ghosting is all they get, and it's not what they want, but it's final."

Breadcrumbing, on the other hand, perpetuates unhealthy, awful communication that's just dragged out. Breadcrumbing makes it so that you keep someone hanging on by a string, purposely masking any direct emotion or feelings with the affection at a bare minimum.

"Breadcrumbers value attention so much that they continue to fake affection in return for an ego boost, and are so petrified of hurting someone's feelings that they lead them on in order to avoid an honest conversation," says life coach and founder of Blush Online Life Coaching, Kali Rogers.

The reason people do this is to keep their options open. Many people breadcrumb others because they aren't sure what's going to come along.

They don't want to fully commit to you, in case a "better" fit heads their way, but they also don't want to let you go completely in case they don't meet anyone else at all.

Ghosting is immature, while breadcrumbing is malicious.

Not having a simple conversation to end a relationship is as immature as it gets. Ghosters know they're immature, and Masini says it's because they often have a fear of disappointing others.

"They don't want drama," says Masini, "and they often don't feel good about what they're doing, but it's all they're capable of handling."

That said, breadcrumbing is on more of a malicious than just being immature. Breadcrumbers justify their own behavior, while completely ignoring the toll it takes on someone else.

"[Breadcrumbing is about] making someone think they're cared for, important and relevant — but the breadcrumbs are just a way to keep the person in the game," says Masini. "There is no relationship brewing — just these breadcrumbs. When the person being breadcrumbed finally realizes that the bread crumbs are all there is."

If you think you might be getting "breadcrumbed," just ask the person clearly what they want. If you aren't on the same page, end it fast, and don't waste your own time.

"Breadcrumbers actually pride themselves in being "sensitive" towards others' needs," says Rogers. "But, all the while, they are completely ignoring the fact that this behavior is not only wasting someone else's time, but it's also abusing somebody else's emotional affection in return for a boost in their own confidence. While both behaviors are repulsive, at least ghosters don't lead their prey on and continue to waste their time!"

No matter how you spin it, ghosting and breadcrumbing are both two dating trends that should be frowned upon.

Don't let yourself fall for either of 'em.