What is Breadcrumbing in a Relationship?

With today’s dating apps and online sites, romantic options are as close as a virtual swipe. While it’s convenient, it can also leave you feeling vulnerable as a potential dating partner. And when you finally do connect, what if the person on the other side of the connection keeps you at digital arm’s length? That can send your feelings of vulnerability into overdrive. 

Welcome to the age of breadcrumbing!

What does “breadcrumbing” mean?

In the online dating world, if you’re being breadcrumbed, you’re being led on. The person at the other end of the messages has given you just enough positive interaction, or “breadcrumbs,” to indicate romantic interest. But it never seems to get beyond indirect messages or a surface connection. Are they interested or not?

When you’re dealing with a breadcrumber, you never quite know where you stand.

Signs a person is breadcrumbing you

Digital communication in general can make it hard to gauge someone’s interest and intentions, but breadcrumbing takes it to a whole new level. 

You might be dealing with a breadcrumber if any of the following apply:

  • They’re great at mild flirtation, but they’re never available to meet in person. 
  • When you try to make plans to get together, your breadcrumber cancels at the last minute or doesn’t show up because of an emergency.
  • If they do make plans, they’re usually last-minute or sex-motivated.
  • They take their time responding to you. 
  • When they do respond, it’s often a meme or gif instead of a clear response.
  • You constantly get mixed messages from them.
  • When you decide you’ve had enough and back off, they suddenly seem interested again.

Spend enough time being strung along by them, and it can leave you feeling hurt, confused, and used. You start to question yourself and wonder what you did wrong to make them act this way. Is there something wrong with you?

Why people breadcrumb

There’s nothing wrong with you. Breadcrumbers act this way because of their own insecurities and mental health issues. 

Common reasons people breadcrumb can include:

  • They need constant validation to feel good about themselves.
  • They’ve been hurt in other relationships, and they avoid connection as self-protection.
  • They have an avoidant attachment style that causes them to withdraw as soon as someone gets close.
  • They’re not able to make a commitment.
  • They’re narcissistic and manipulative, and this is just their game.
  • They're already in another relationship, but they still want that high from the pursuit.

While the coping mechanisms used by a breadcrumber will keep them from a real and meaningful relationship, your interaction with them also keeps you from that. 

How to respond

Once you recognize breadcrumbing behavior, it’s time to address it for your own well-being. 

If you’ve been the victim of a breadcrumber in the dating arena, know that you deserve better. Even if this is someone who really interests you, it’s obvious they’re not someone who’s going to respect you or enhance your life even if they did allow you to get closer. 

Breadcrumbing behavior can exist in ongoing relationships and even marriage. A lack of consistency or commitment in an intimate relationship can leave you feeling conditionally cared for and strung along. You may have even become dependent on the little emotional morsels they throw your way. If you’re divorced and dealing with breadcrumbing behavior by your co-parent, it can be sheer manipulation and control. 

So, how do you respond to breadcrumbing in different situations?

In dating

  • Don’t take their actions personally. As the old saying goes, it’s not you, it’s them. With someone who breadcrumbs others, it’s very true. 
  • Don't waste your time on someone who is breadcrumbing you. See others. Expand your other social outlets. 
  • Be honest with them. If their behavior doesn’t change, cut ties. Let’s be serious. Will they really care? Probably not. 
  • Don’t do it to others. Are you inadvertently breadcrumbing other people? It can be easy to do in the online dating world. Examine your own motivations.

In an intimate relationship or marriage

  • Be honest with yourself. Do you tend to attract people like this? If so, you might want to consider why. You may consciously or subconsciously believe you don’t deserve better. 
  • Look at your boundaries and what you’ve been willing to accept from others. Have you given them too many free passes for bad behavior? Stop giving them permission to control you and overstep your boundaries. 
  • Be honest with them. You deserve to be respected and not strung along. Find out what’s really going on with their inability to be direct, and discuss how to fix it. 
  • If breadcrumbing has been a constant in your relationship or marriage and you’ve tried to fix it on your own, it may be time to consider therapy or even going your own way. 

In co-parenting (post-divorce)

  • If you’re trying to have a healthy co-parenting relationship with your ex, but they’re inconsistent or missing in action, their breadcrumbing may need to be legally addressed. 

Whether it's a casual online thing or you’re married to a breadcrumber, feeling like you’re being taken advantage of is never pleasant. 

What do you expect from your relationship, and what are you willing to accept to get that? Setting clear personal boundaries for yourself and others is healthy and essential, from dating to divorce. 

If you’re struggling with someone who doesn’t respect your boundaries, we understand. At Hello Divorce, we are your one-stop resource for legal and professional services as well as emotional support. Schedule a free 15-minute introductory call to see how we can help. 


Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.