What is breadcrumbing? 5 signs someone is stringing you along

Woman experiencing breadcrumbing. (Getty Images)
Figures reveal 36% of daters have experienced breadcrumbing. (Getty Images)

Just when we thought we'd got our head ghosting, gaslighting and love bombing, another dating buzzword comes along to confuse us all over again...breadcrumbing.

The latest somewhat toxic trait for singles to look out for seems to be becoming more common, with as many as 36% having previously experienced it in a romantic relationship, according to a Lovehoney survey of 2,000 Brits.

But what exactly is it, what signs are there that we might be experiencing it and what can we do if we find ourselves on the receiving end of breadcrumbing?

Breadcrumbing is when someone leaves a trail of breadcrumbs – Hansel and Gretel style – in the form of flirty messages, DMs, or drunken phone calls to keep you interested and thinking that person is also interested.

However, despite the digital attention, when there's a suggestion of meeting up IRL or talking about future plans, these never really materialise.

“Breadcrumbing is when someone leads another person on, and makes them feel that there’s a possibility of a deeper and meaningful relationship in the future when in fact it’s unlikely to progress further than the stage it’s at," explains Ness Cooper, relationship expert at The Sex Consultant, who previously partnered with Lovehoney.

So how does breadcrumbing differ from its toxic counterpart, ghosting?

“When someone ghosts you, they simply vanish, however, when someone practices breadcrumbing, it’s a different scenario," relationship expert and counsellor, Georgia Sturmer told Diamonds Factory. "They might run hot and cold, being kind to you one day, and then unkind the next. They might ignore you for a while, and then get in touch when they feel like it. Their contact is unpredictable, intermittent, and can be a form of manipulative behaviour.”

Woman on her phone. (Getty Images)
Breadcrumbing involves giving just enough attention to keep you interested. (Getty Images)

Their actions do not reflect what they have said

They say things to their partner but don’t follow through with them. "This can be particularly toxic when they add gaslighting or avoidance to the mix, when called out on it or questioned why it hasn’t been seen through," Cooper adds.

They’re all about their needs not yours

If you’re finding they’re willing to take action in the relationship when it benefits them but don’t do the same when you need action, the relationship is all about them and not you.

They’re not interested in learning about your world

If they cut the conversation short when you share about yourself and your world, it can be a red flag that they’re leading you on and breadcrumbing.

They aren’t consistent

What they tell you doesn’t match up with other things they’ve previously shared with you. "They may change how they say things to manipulate you and keep you hanging on," Cooper adds.

There is a lack of communication until they want something

If they’re taking too long to reply to messages but are actively seen responding to others, then this can be a red flag for breadcrumbing.

Couple on a date. (Getty Images)
Breadcrumbing can be a toxic trait so its important to look out for the signs. (Getty Images)

Understand what the term entails

The trouble with breadcrumbing is that it can be hard to notice what’s happening. "You can also lose sight of how you are being treated and might end up believing that you are somehow responsible for being treated this way," explains Sturmer.

"This is why it's important to ensure you understand what this type of practice is, so you can pick up on it much quicker."

Ask yourself what kept you there

Once you have recognised the way you have been treated, Sturmer says it’s useful to think about the reasons why you stayed in the relationship. "Maybe it’s a lack of confidence or self-esteem, or perhaps a sense of loneliness," she advises. "If you understand this, then it can help you avoid repeating these patterns of behaviour.”

Consider whether you want to address it

If you’re being breadcrumbed by someone who you really like, consider whether you can address this with them. "Perhaps the relationship isn’t meant to be, but it’s also possible that the other person isn’t fully aware of their behaviour and the impact that it’s having on you,” Sturmer explains.

Watch: FONMO: The dating trend helping Gen Z recognise toxic dating patterns this summer