There’s a new term floating around the modern dating scene, kind of a revamping of the phrase “stringing along.” The word is “breadcrumbing,” and it means sporadically sending someone flirtatious yet noncommittal text messages or random social media “likes” (i.e., “breadcrumbs”) to keep the person’s dating expectations of a possible relationship going, although the sender has no actual intentions of dating.
Breadcrumbing refers to the very old fairy tale (which was probably true) of Hansel and Gretel, two children abandoned in a forest. As their father led them deeper into the woods, they dropped a trail of breadcrumbs to follow home. Today’s version is no prettier.
A breadcrumber may send you a flirty text once every three months or “like” your Instagram photo one month and promptly drop off the map. These side-line actors want to keep you in emotional limbo in case they meet someone “better,” but they don’t want you to lose interest in them altogether so they strategically contact you (sort of) on occasion—and can keep this egocentric routine going for months.
Sometimes people try breadcumbing their exes; it maintains contact when they can’t stand to let the ex go completely, but doesn’t classify as outright stalking. Another group of breadcrumbers are just lonely people afraid of making face-to-face contact—remember when you could “poke” someone on Facebook? That’s their MO.
How do you know if you’re being breadcrumbed?
Check in with your body, first of all. If someone tangentially connected to your life—a one-off date, a classmate, a co-worker, an ex—starts stringing you along with random, nearly meaningless texts once in a while (what does the word “sup” even mean, really?), put down your phone and take a deep breath. How does your heart respond to this message? Do you feel tightness in your chest, and not in a good way? Your body knows what’s true when your head does not.
Breadcrumbers are intentionally poor communicators. But in their vague, noncommittal contact, they’re sending you a clear message: you don’t really matter to me. They won’t even commit enough to say, “I just want to hook up”—because that is enough to scare off someone looking for something more concrete, even if it’s just casual dating. At its centre, breadcrumbing is passive-aggressive behaviour.
To an emotionally vulnerable person (which is most of humanity), being played like this causes havoc on your mind. You wonder what you did wrong, what you could do differently, how to make this person like you better. Another classic sign is the ‘breadcrumber’ won’t make solid plans with you, even after you respond to their text and suggest something. In that situation, they just wanted to gauge your level of involvement.
How to cut off a breadcrumber
Although it can be argued that just texting back and forth is harmless behaviour and calling someone a breadcrumber is a form of shaming, that’s not the whole story. Language in the 21st century has become so fast and so pared down that texting is the standard mode of communication, and not just among teenagers.
If that’s the playing field, of course we’ll read deeper into a text message—humans are social animals, we want more information from each other. And thus the obsessing over, “Wyd L8r?”, or worse, just a notification that someone “liked” your picture.
If you suspect you are being breadcrumbed, well done: you can cut the person off now and save yourself from many more hours of headaches and eyestrain. The next time they send you a text at 1 am out of nowhere, don’t respond. Or, if you must, respond with less information than they sent you—“Oh, you again?” might work.
Really your best path for losing a breadcrumber is to be as clear with them as they refuse to be with you. Send this person a longer text or an email saying you don’t want them to contact you anymore, and then block their number.
Social media has finally begun to offer ways to shield users from stalkers, exes, and breadcrumbers—make use of these also. Your time is precious. Don’t waste it picking up tasteless breadcrumbs.
Do you need relationship help?
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.