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In an era where everyone is busy, and most conversations happen via text messages, new challenges arise in modern dating.
As someone who’s met his partner online, I think it’s fascinating how, nowadays, finding someone is super accessible while dating someone seems more complicated than ever.
If you’re among those who’ve had their fair share of online dating experiences, you’re probably familiar with ghosting.
But there are many other obstacles that you can encounter during the “getting-to-know-each-other” phase of dating.
One of the most unpleasant and deceiving attitudes you might fall victim to is breadcrumbing.
What is Breadcrumbing?
Most of us agree that navigating the modern dating scenery is a real adventure.
And when I say “adventure,” I mean you never know if the path you choose will take you where you want to go.
Sure, there are no guarantees when it comes to dating and relationships.
But what if the path looks like it’s taking you somewhere but is actually a dead end?
This is how breadcrumbing feels like.
In other words, breadcrumbing is when the other person lacks a clear intention but gives you just enough attention and validation to keep you hooked.
Whether it’s the occasional message, a “like” on social media, or a vague date plan, being led on is extremely confusing and frustrating, especially if you’re the kind of person who dives into the dating world with clear goals and intentions.
Some resort to breadcrumbing because they have several options and don’t know which one to go with, while others might struggle with commitment issues.
Why Would Someone Do This?
Not all ‘breadcrumbers’ string you along intentionally.
Many are unaware of how much frustration their flaky attitude inflicts upon others.
Although we’re not looking to justify or normalize breadcrumbing, I think it’s important to understand the motives that fuel this behavior.
Because They Don’t Know What They’re Looking For
Some people get into dating looking for a long-term relationship, while others are more into casual interactions.
There are also people who aren’t quite sure what they’re looking for, people who try to figure it out as they navigate the world of online dating.
While it’s perfectly ok to enter the dating world without having your priorities straight, I believe it’s fair and respectful to be transparent about it.
In other words, the problem isn’t that some people don’t know what they’re looking for but that they’re trying to figure it out at the expense of others’ time and energy.
The lack of transparency can complicate both dating and the ‘getting to know you’ phase of a relationship.
Because They’re Struggling with Commitment Issues
In essence, people with commitment issues have difficulty building and maintaining long-term relationships.
Although their romantic involvement is as authentic as it can be, they somehow feel unable to commit.
As you can probably imagine, a person with commitment issues will most likely breadcrumb you during the first stages of dating.
In my experience, one of the worst possible matches is a person with abandonment issues trying to date someone with commitment issues.
Without transparency, clear communication, and firm boundaries, it’s the perfect recipe for uncertainty and frustration.
Because They Don’t Know How to Let Go
Although breadcrumbing occurs often during the dating phase, it can also happen after a breakup.
In other words, if the person who gets dumped can’t accept the end of the relationship, they might resort to breadcrumbing or other manipulation tactics.
More specifically, they might try to win you back with promises of change or wear you down with “I miss you” texts.
Some may even try to turn a failed relationship into a ‘situationship’ where you keep things casual and cling to remnants of the emotions you once shared.
Being breadcrumbed by your ex is even more toxic as it can disrupt your healing process and prevent you from getting back into the dating game.
No Excuse for This Attitude
Regardless of the reasons, breadcrumbing is one of those attitudes you don’t want to deal with when surfing dating apps.
The problem is that it can be hard to detect.
After all, we all live busy lives, and sometimes, there can be a good reason behind a delayed response or a canceled date.
Let me share some ‘classic’ breadcrumbing examples which indicate the person you’re chatting with doesn’t have clear intentions or considers you a priority.
9 Breadcrumbing Examples to Watch Out For
1. They Give Off a ‘Strange’ Vibe.
Although it may sound like a cliché piece of advice, there are times when intuition doesn’t lie.
Generally, a breadcrumber will give off an insecure or distant vibe right from the start.
Maybe it’s the vague way they present themselves or the aloof attitude they display right from the first messages.
I’m not saying you should back out of the conversation or ghost them.
However, if they give off a strange vibe, be on guard.
2. They’re Open to Hooking Up, But Not Sharing Quality Time.
As I said, some people get into the dating game strictly for casual interactions.
That’s perfectly fine if you state your intentions clearly. Some online dating apps allow you to choose between relationship and something casual when you create your profile.
But what happens when a person is interested strictly in hooking up but does not say so?
Furthermore, they give the impression that they’re interested in more when they’re not.
That’s textbook breadcrumbing.
3. They Deflect ‘Personal’ Questions with Vague Replies.
Let’s say you’ve had several conversations that sparked your interest.
You want to get to know them better, so you ask them: “What are you looking to get out of this online dating thing?”
If they reply with a vague answer like, “I dunno, just going with the flow 😉” chances are you might be dealing with a breadcrumber.
4. They Reply Late and Superficially…
One of the most obvious signs of breadcrumbing is late or superficial replies.
You text them this evening to see how their day went, and they send you a dry “Sorry, I fell asleep yesterday” or “Pretty busy” tomorrow afternoon.
We’re all busy, but when there’s a mutual interest, we find a way to make time, even a quick 10-minute chat during lunch break.
5. …Or They Send One Long Message to Make Up for Their Absence.
Some breadcrumbers feed you short replies while others leave you on seen for a couple of days, then try to reel you back in with a long ‘I’m sorry’ message.
Here’s an example:
Hey, hope you’re still around lol. Sorry I didn’t text you back. Saw your message but I was crazy busy. We’re getting ready for spring sale and our manager had us working overtime. He’s a real pain in the a@%. Don’t know how long I can put up with s#%t job.
Even though you’re the one who was left on ‘seen,’ somehow the conversation becomes about them and their problems.
Don’t get me wrong, life is full of unexpected turns, and we don’t always have the time or mood to chat.
But when this dynamic happens regularly, that’s a clear sign of breadcrumbing.
6. They Ignore Your Messages but Interact with Your Social Media Posts.
This is the most frustrating thing someone could do during the “getting-to-know-each-other” phase.
When they ignore your texts but interact with your social media posts through comments or likes, that’s a clear sign of breadcrumbing.
7. They Are the Embodiment of Mixed Messages.
Whether it’s through vague answers or inconsistent messages, breadcrumbers often play the hot and cold game.
One day they shower you with interest and curiosity; another day (or several days) they disappear, only to show up again with a ‘neatly packed’ excuse.
Because of unhealed emotional wounds, some of us might be drawn to this toxic attitude.
Long story short, mixed messages during the early stages of dating are a clear sign of breadcrumbing.
8. They Keep You Hooked and Interested Through Vague Plans.
Being vague is a breadcrumber’s signature move.
They might tell you, “We should grab a cup of coffee and chat more,” but as soon as you try to set up a date and time, they immediately hit you with something like, “Uhh, gonna have a busy week. Will get back to you on that.”
In most cases, they don’t, and you’re left wondering if you’re still on for coffee.
On the one hand, you want to text them again to set a date; on the other hand, you don’t want to seem pushy.
In other words, their lack of clarity generates uncertainty on your end, which should be a red flag.
9. They Become More Involved as Soon as You Withdraw.
Let’s say you see all the red flags.
You feel confident enough and know exactly what you want (and what you don’t want).
You value yourself too much to tolerate their apparent lack of interest and consistency, so you decide to back out of the conversation.
But surprise surprise!
As soon as you withdraw, they make a 180-degree change in their attitude.
Suddenly, they become the curious, involved, and emotionally open person they were when you first met them.
It’s up to you to give them a second chance.
But if you are in fact dealing with a breadcrumber, chances are they will repeat this cycle.
How to Deal with Breadcrumbing
Dealing with a breadcrumber is somewhat like dealing with a toxic partner or friend.
Trusting yourself, communicating clearly, and setting firm boundaries are vital.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say breadcrumbing is as bad as emotional abuse, gaslighting, or other unhealthy dynamics we can face in relationships.
However, if you want to protect yourself, prioritize yourself.
Here’s how you can handle a breadcrumber:
Stay True to Yourself
I’m going to start by saying that low self-esteem can make you particularly vulnerable to breadcrumbing, ghosting, and other ‘perils’ you might encounter in online dating.
Although most of these toxic attitudes are indicators of emotional unavailability or immaturity, you can’t force others to behave maturely or show consideration for your needs.
After all, the dating world is a place for everyone.
But what you can do is stay true to yourself.
That means joining the dating game with clear intentions (regardless of what you’re looking for) and knowing exactly what you deserve and won’t tolerate.
Let me give you some examples.
Before I met my girlfriend, I used different online dating apps for about a year.
For starters, I knew exactly what I was looking for – a relationship. And I made sure the girls I chatted with knew this right from the start.
Those who didn’t share this dating goal disappeared pretty quickly.
In other words, being honest and stating my intentions helped me avoid some potential breadcrumbers.
Ever since I understood the importance of emotional self-care, I had zero tolerance for people who repeatedly canceled plans and never got back to me to reschedule.
It’s how I respect myself.
Lastly, if we chat for 2-3 weeks and I see no interest in my hobbies, experiences, preferences – in who I am – I would politely back out of the conversation.
I’m not saying these should be the ‘golden rules’ of dating.
They’re just personal examples, so you can better understand what I mean when I say to stay true to yourself.
I encourage you to do a bit of soul-searching before jumping into the world of online dating.
Call Out Their Inconsistency and Lack of Clarity
Just because you communicate openly and state your intentions clearly doesn’t mean the other person will treat you the same.
Some breadcrumbers are unaware of how frustrating their lack of clarity and inconsistency can be, and others simply don’t care.
One easy way to deal with the frustration you experience when someone ignores your messages, repeatedly cancels plans, or strings you along is by blocking or unmatching them.
But maybe you don’t want to promote the same toxic attitudes you’re so tired of seeing in others.
I believe the mature way of dealing with inconsistency and lack of clarity in dating is by calling it out.
For instance, if they leave you on read for days on end, you could reply by saying: “Look, I know that you’re super busy, but it’s kinda’ frustrating when I get a reply for you once every few days. I would like to know you better, so how about we grab a coffee and have a real conversation.”
Not only that you point out how their inconsistency affects you, but you also show understanding by offering an alternative.
Be Direct Whenever You Feel Like They’re Leading You On
Let’s look at another example.
Imagine you ask them out on a date a couple of times, but they keep coming up with excuses. They’re pretty active via text, but something always comes up when it comes to hanging out.
One way to approach this is by saying: “I take it you’re quite busy since you kept declining my invitations. Let me know when you want to hang out.”
The key here is to keep your expectations flexible.
If they don’t get back to you, then you have your answer.
If they get back to you, then you have a date.
Regardless of the outcome, at least you know you respect yourself enough not to let someone string you along.
Final Thoughts on Breadcrumbing
Regardless of the destination, a meaningful interaction does not involve uncertainty, suffering, and regrets.
Maybe you’re familiar with some of the breadcrumbing examples I’ve shown you earlier, so you know exactly how unpleasant it is to interact with people who keep you around without having clear intentions.
Honest communication, mutual respect, and emotional balance should be a standard in dating and relationships.
We need to feel appreciated, respected, and accepted, so bringing these needs into the dating game is natural.
If you want a mature interaction – whether it leads to a relationship, friendship, or even a casual thing – don’t settle for someone who’s breadcrumbing you.
Alexander Draghici is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, CBT practitioner, and content writer for various mental health websites. His work focuses mainly on strategies designed to help people manage and prevent two of the most common emotional problems – anxiety and depression.