young woman wondering how to respond to breadcrumbing

Here’s What To Do If You Think Someone Is Breadcrumbing You

You don’t have time for this BS.

by Nikhita Mahtani and Mackenzie Sylvester
Originally Published: 
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For three months, Blayke, 25, communicated with a guy who consistently planned dates with her. The problem? It started and ended with the planning. When the day came to meet up, he would just not reach out at all — almost as if they hadn’t intended on going out in the first place. “I’d text to ask if we were still on and sometimes he’d say yes, but a lot of the time he’d just say he fell asleep, forget he had other plans, or just wouldn’t respond until the next day,” she tells Elite Daily. “Every time we’d text or get together, he would act so excited like he was really into me,” she recalls. “It was super confusing.”

Have you ever met someone you seemed to naturally click with? You were on a roll texting each other back and forth, and you felt thrilled at the potential of hanging out and seeing where the relationship would lead. You kept your flirty exchange going on for a while... and maybe you still are. You've been waiting for more concrete plans, phone calls, or even just a little attention. But you never got it. Oof. Like Blayke, you have just been breadcrumbed.

What Is Breadcrumbing?

Breadcrumbing is when someone leads you on with texts, DMs, calls, and maybe even plans to meet up, but never acts on any of it. They leave you a little trail of hopeful breadcrumbs to keep you thinking there will be more to come. Essentially these people are “posing as someone who wants to invest and get to know you without really putting the work in to do just that,” explains Nicole Richardson, LPC-S, LMFT-S, licensed marriage and family therapist. “When you try to make concrete plans with them, they either stall or tell you it's not a good time. They rarely meet up in person and will often ghost.”

Often, people who are insecure will breadcrumb others to prove to themselves that they are desirable, according to Richardson. “Each time they get a response from you,” she explains, “they get a dopamine hit and it feels validating that they can elicit responses from others.” It’s thrilling and it’s an ego boost for these people to lead others on.

As NYC relationship expert and bestselling author Susan Winter puts it, “it's the 'hot' cycle in the game of hot and cold. Designed to lure in one's prey through attention, flattery, and sexual intrigue, breadcrumbing is completely self-serving,” she explains. “It's a head trip, played for control and domination.” So, yeah. That person you're getting butterflies in your stomach for is only using you for attention, and has no plans of keeping the relationship going.

It kind of sucks, but when you're head-over-heels infatuated with the potential of this new person, it's tempting to just make an excuse about how "busy" they are and how they’re obviously interested. Otherwise, why would they keep texting you?

Breadcrumbing isn’t just something that happens with potential romance, either. Kayla, 26, was ready for a fun platonic date she and a friend had planned. “I took off work the next day, and I was fully prepared to just have a good time and not worry about anything,” she tells Elite Daily. “About an hour before I was supposed to be at her place, she said she didn’t feel like it anymore.” Sometimes you really aren’t up for staying out all night — everyone has been there. But with this friend, this kind of callous cancellation happened all the time.

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How To Respond To Breadcrumbing

To know how to respond to breadcrumbing, you first have to recognize what’s happening. It's important to listen to your gut and notice the telltale signs. “Breadcrumbing consists of small doses of hope,” notes Winter. “Texts, comments on social media, perhaps even an extended conversation or meeting — all of which is crafted to hook you romantically,” she adds. “Who doesn't want to feel special and appreciated?”

Signs of breadcrumbing include texts sent when you can't answer and calls made when the person knows you can't pick up. It also involves flirty texts with no concrete plans of hanging out and random social media attention such as likes or comments. “A breadcrumber is keen to just flirt and not get real about anything or meet up,” offers Richardson. Are you getting weird responses when you ask for the person's schedule and vague contact messages like, “Speak soon” or “Let's touch base later on?" Yep, they’re breadcrumbing you.

At a certain point, you might take the bait in the hopes this person will finally acknowledge your presence properly again. But unfortunately, that's when you'll get radio silence — aka ghosting. “When you've finally given up hope, the breadcrumber psychically senses your absence,” Winter explains. “Suddenly, they resurface. Now, the game begins again with more flattery and alluring bait ... also known as the breadcrumbs.”

It's a constant cycle of back and forth, with no real destination at the end. But there's a way out. There are two ways to fight the breadcrumbing once you've recognized the common signs. The first? Confrontation. “Call them out on their bad behavior,” offers Winter. “Clarify you know this game and you're not interested,” she says. “Walk away ... and keep walking. There's no rehabilitation for an ego in need of this level of compensation.”

Breadcrumbers usually need the ego boost because they're insecure. They need to know someone is interested in them, so they use you as a pawn. Don't be fooled. By confronting the breadcrumber, you're showing that you're smarter than they might have expected. You're effectively removing the attention they need to thrive.

The second way to fight a breadcrumber is by simply ignoring them. Essentially, you're ghosting the breadcrumber — the same thing they’ve been doing to you. Lisa Brateman, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship specialist in NYC, suggests pivoting your mindset if you suspect this is happening. “Do not waste your energy on someone who will probably never exist for you other than online,” she tells Elite Daily. “If there are no plans to meet in person within the first few weeks, the reason is the interaction isn't intended to develop past superficiality.”

Brateman suggests by ignoring the breadcrumber and not giving the attention they’ve come to expect from you, you're allowing a way for the breadcrumber to move on and find someone else. Also, it'll feel great to have them vying for your attention for a change.

“If you have tried to initiate a hangout or set up a call and the other person doesn't make a plan,” Richardson says, “move on — you don't need a virtual relationship.” It sucks when you think there's the potential for more in someone who's really just being avoidant. But trust, things get better. You'll find someone who actually cares about you, and who will give you the time and respect you deserve. Why settle for breadcrumbs when you can have the whole damn loaf, anyway?


Nicole Richardson, LPC-S, LMFT-S, licensed marriage and family therapist

Susan Winter, relationship expert and author of Breakup Triage: The Cure for Heartache

Lisa Brateman, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship specialist in NYC

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