7 Effective Steps to Respond to Breadcrumbing

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One of the things I love most about writing for Happier Human is the new trends and terminology I’m exposed to.  As a married woman in her mid-40’s with four kids, I’ve been out of the dating game for almost 16 years.

So when I see a term like “breadcrumbing” pop up on the article assignments list, I’m intrigued. What is breadcrumbing? While I could venture an educated guess, I was determined to read up on it.

And when I was given the chance to write this article on how to respond to breadcrumbing… I jumped at the chance. After all, breadcrumbing doesn't sound good on a paper, so I can only imagine how being on the receiving end must feel.

So let’s jump in and learn how to clean up this proverbial mess known as breadcrumbing fallout.

What is Breadcrumbing?  

Breadcrumbing is when someone you are dating lacks clear intention, but gives you just enough attention and validation to keep you hooked. Whether it’s the occasional text message, a “like” on social media, or an open-ended and vague plan to meet up… it appears they are leading you onBut why?

Feeling as if you’re in relationship limbo can be extremely confusing, frustrating and exhausting. This is especially true if you’re the kind of person who dives into the dating pool with an open heart with clear goals and intentions.

Now whenever I hear the term, I immediately picture my hens in their coop.  We sprinkle them feed and scratch and they come running, picking up little bits at a time, always waiting for more and wondering what’s next.

Their noises of delight seem to indicate there is more in store, but often there isn’t. We’re just going through the motions and maintaining our control and sense of ownership.

Breadcrumbing in a relationship is really no different, in theory… which makes it the perfect term for someone who is being indecisive and reckless with someone else’s emotions. Relationships are not a game and people should not be treated like animals, relying on you to fulfill a need.

How do I know if I’m a Victim of Breadcrumbing?

First of all, being self-aware and listening to your intuition is a good place to start. If it feels as if you’re being led on, you likely are. A sincere person will always be honest and forthcoming with someone they care for.

Still, if you’re not quite sure, there are some clear cut signs. Typically, the person breadcrumbing you will:

  • Be slow to respond to texts, emails, phone calls or online posts
  • Mostly engage in vague, one-sided communication
  • Breaks plans, often last minute
  • Be hesitant to commit to the relationship, always making excuses
  • Avoid having the “future” conversation with you or make long term plans
  • Use a lot of emojis or abbreviated responses when texting, rather than actual words

Why do people Breadcrumb?

People may elect to breadcrumb another person simply because they are scared or insecure about themselves. They lack the willingness to put themselves out there for fear of getting hurt.

Other people resort to breadcrumbing simply because they are narcissists, and enjoy watching people squirm and holding their emotions hostage. It makes them feel in control and they get a high from it.

And yet, there are those people that simply enjoy their independence too much. They don’t want to be tied down and want to feel free to explore their options… coming and going as they please.

It seems selfish to us, but perhaps they have mommy issues and were raised to feel as if the world revolves around them.

The Mess Breadcrumbing Causes

No matter how strong and independent you think you are, breadcrumbing will take a toll on your emotional health if you don’t know how to deal with it. This may include bouts of insomnia, stress, anxiety, low self-esteem or even depression.

If it’s really bad, you may elect to clean up your act all together and sweep that relationship under the rug once and for all… especially if it’s not worth saving or becomes abusive in nature.  And if you find it difficult to cut ties from this person you care for, there is help available to get the support and encouragement you need.

How to Respond to Breadcrumbing

Breadcrumbing doesn’t have to cause your relationship to crumble… not if you feel that it’s one worth saving. After all, maybe the other person is just really bad at communication.  The thought, I’m sure, has crossed your mind. 

Although if I am being honest, that is likely not the case. Everyone can use a smart device or computer nowadays. So if they are breadcrumbing you, it’s likely being done with some kind of motive. How you respond, however, will make all of the difference.

Here’s how to turn the tables on a breadcrumbing beau (or beauty) and take back control.

Step 1: Stop Living in Denial.

If you or someone you know has ever been in an addiction recovery program, you are familiar with the “steps”. And the first step in almost every one has to do with admitting you have a problem.

It’s the same for the stages of grief.  A person who is grieving typically goes through 5 phases that include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

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If you feel at one with yourself and comfortable in your own skin, regardless of the other person’s behavior, you will become even more attractive to everyone you meet. 

At its core, denial is a defense mechanism. Its purpose is to protect us, or others, from getting hurt or worrying too much. And while some may equate denial to the glass half full mentality, in which we refuse to see the negatives of a situation, there is another sect of people that believe denial is simply false hope.

If you are being breadcrumbed, admitting it to yourself is the first step in healing… and possibly putting an end to it. 

Retaliation Tactic: Say to yourself, “This behavior is not normal. I am not a puppy waiting to be given a treat for my obedience. I am a person worthy of your full attention and my time is valuable.”  

Step 2: Ice them.

If you feel as if the object of your affection is in control… and you find yourself waiting for their every text, email or phone call… stop! You must contain yourself and resist the impulse to respond the very second you hear from them.

But this step involves more than just ignoring them. You want them to know that you are aware of their attempts… yet it’s just not a priority for you to reply. Make yourself unavailable, while giving the illusion that you actually are.

Retaliation Tactic: Play it cool. Leave their texts and emails marked as “read” or “seen”.  This will let them know you saw the messages, yet simply have other things going on. And because they are human, their minds will start to wonder and they may even think you have met someone else or are having fun without them. How dare you?

Step 3: Act on the Counter.

If they are breadcrumbing you, you can try acknowledging their attempts in a very nonchalant way.  You may even need to be somewhat dismissive.

Do not be the first to reach out if you haven’t heard for a few days, wait for them. Once you do hear, keep the responses short and sweet.

You can also utilize posts and pics on your social media feeds to flaunt the fun you’re having solo. And if they reply, just give it a simple “like”.

Retaliation Tactic: You get a text from them after four days of radio silence. They are asking if you want to meet up at your place at 10pm tonight.  Your response, “Can’t, sorry. Maybe some other time.”

Short, sweet and keeps them guessing.

Step 4: Take a Break from Social Media.

You may have heard the proverb, “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?”.  This saying has been around since the 1800s to deter girls from moving too fast with a suitor before marriage. Namely, to warn them to steer clear of pre-marital sex.

That said, you can dissect and interpret this phrase in different ways, especially as times have changed quite a bit since it was first coined. In fact, my interpretation has more to do with wanting to keep the mystery alive.

There is something to be said for being pleasantly surprised by another person… especially someone you care for.

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Eat healthy. Practice yoga, mindfulness, meditation and journaling.

My husband can still surprise me to this day, doing something very uncharacteristic of himself, or showing a side of him that only our children bring out.

While it’s great in many ways, social media has essentially single-handedly eliminated the element of surprise. Well, at least the good kind of surprise. #catfishingisreal

If you put it out there for all to see, your partner likely won’t feel privy to anything special.  Conversely, the person who is breadcrumbing now feels as if he’s keeping tabs on you, which fuels his fire.  He knows when you’re sitting home alone binge watching a series, or enjoying happy hour with friends.

Retaliation Tactic: Take a break from all social media. They will now have no way of knowing what you’re doing or who you are with, short of asking around. And that requires them to make an effort, which they likely won’t bother doing.  Your hiatus will keep them guessing, which will likely make you more appealing to them.

Kick it up a notch: Block them from social media. Just know that by doing so, you are making a statement that you may be close to kicking them to the curb.

Step 5: Call their Bluff.

Honesty is the best policy.  I believe this to be true. 

I also think that the concept of telling white lies to spare someone’s feelings was invented by people who have real trouble with being truthful or forthcoming… but we’ll save that for another article.

If you think you might want to be in a relationship with this person, then you need to call them out on their breadcrumbing tactics.  It’s not fair to you. And to let it continue is an utter waste of your time and energy, when you could be pursuing someone who actually wants to be pursued.

Whatever the reason behind their behavior, what they are doing is one-sided and disrespectful. For all you know, they may be doing it to multiple people… even family members. It’s a manipulation tactic and you deserve better.

Retaliation Tactic: Send them a very direct text, “We need to meet this week to talk. I’m not happy with the way things are and need to know what you want from this relationship. I’m sick of standing still and want to make sure we are on the same page. I don’t like games.”.

Once you’ve set a date, there’s no turning back. If she tries to bail or reschedule, you’ve got your answer and should move on without any further explanation.

Step 6: Put yourself first.

We talk a lot about self care on this website. It’s important for your physical and mental well-being. But did you know that it’s also crucial for engaging in successful and meaningful relationships?

Think about it. If you don’t like the way you look, or suffer from anxiety, how are you going to put your best self out there for another person? If you don’t like yourself, why would someone be attracted to you?

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Quit them cold turkey. You’ve done all you can and it’s time to move on.

It’s very much about first impressions when it comes to dating. Something you say or do attracts another person to you and… the rest is history. Whether it works or not depends on both parties making themselves vulnerable and available. You should have things in common and want to be the best version of yourself.

If someone is breadcrumbing you, that doesn’t mean you should stop taking care of yourself and putting yourself first. You deserve to get back what you put out there.  If you feel worthy, either that person will see it or they won’t… in which case someone else will.

Retaliation Tactic: Keep up your gym routine. Eat healthy. Practice yoga, mindfulness, meditation and journaling. Commune with nature. If you feel at one with yourself and comfortable in your own skin, regardless of the other person’s behavior, you will become even more attractive to everyone you meet. 

Step 7: Walk away.

You’ve followed all of our steps for how to respond to breadcrumbing and it’s still happening. Why?

Honestly, at this point it likely has nothing to do with you. The person is broken in some way. And the most likely culprits are:

  • Issues stemming from their childhood (ie, divorced parents or abuse)
  • They’ve had their heart broken in the past
  • They are cheating on their partner or spouse
  • Sexually confused
  • A player
  • Devoid of emotion
  • A narcissist

Retaliation Tactic: Quit them cold turkey. You’ve done all you can and it’s time to move on. Cut all ties on social media, block them from your email and texts. Change your number if you have to.

You owe them no further explanation. If you don’t feel strong enough to simply walk away and never look back, there are support groups and online counselors you can talk to.

Final Thoughts on How to Respond to Breadcrumbing

At the end of the day, relationships are a two-way street that requires you both heed to the rules of the road. These rules are fairly simple but do take work and require your full attention for the ride to be a smooth one.

It goes without saying that relationships should foster respect and compassion, honesty and reliability. The most successful ones are built on friendship.  If you notice the warning signs along your journey, don’t ignore them.  

The road doesn’t have to be bumpy by choice, and choosing to remain with someone who breadcrumbs you may send you on an unnecessary detour towards finding “the one”. 

And if you're looking for more articles about relationships, be sure to check out these blog posts:

Nicole Krause has been writing both personally and professionally for over 20 years. She holds a dual B.A. in English and Film Studies. Her work has appeared in some of the country’s top publications, major news outlets, online publications and blogs. As a happily married (and extremely busy) mother of four… her articles primarily focus on parenting, marriage, family, finance, organization and product reviews.

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